The Role of Customer Experience in Building a Powerful Brand

Posted by Mark Gibson on Sep 28, 2016 11:33:10 AM

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Delivering an exceptional experience consistently is really hard. That’s why it can be a powerful competitive advantage for organizations that get it right. 

Differentiating Through “Delivery”

How does a great customer experience contribute to building a strong valuable brand? Nigel Hollis, Chief Global Analyst at Kantar Millward Brown, tells us, “If purpose is the difference a brand promises to make in peoples’ lives, then delivery is how well the brand fulfills that purpose.” In other words, a great customer experience actually delivers the brand to the customer.

It's often really difficult to advertise superior service, because the claim falls on deaf ears until a prospect actually experiences it. But you don’t need to advertise great service. You just need to deliver itYour customers do the rest!

Managing money is stressful for most people, and having someone go out of their way to help at a stressful time can leave a significant positive impression. This creates a more positive emotion around your brand than any advertisement. The impact of good customer experience has been directly linked to financial growth by many organizations and research studies, including the two books cited in this article.

Hollis also tells us that service brands tend to be weaker at customer experience than do product brands.

He offers three reasons why service brands suffer:

  • They rely on systems and processes that are often poorly aligned to serve customer needs, particularly when things go wrong.

  • Human interaction is intrinsically variable, and can create strong emotions – both good and bad.

  • When things go wrong, it’s often difficult for customers to switch, leading to negative emotions and bad word of mouth, which in turn detracts from the brand.

Can a service brand – especially a financial institution – overcome these challenges to create a powerful, attractive brand? Absolutely! And many have. They share three critical characteristics: process design, human delivery, and a well-orchestrated customer listening process.

Exceptional Service Is No Accident 

Professionals who have attended Disney’s Approach To Quality Service, Zappos School of WOW, or Ritz-Carlton’s Memorable Customer Service courses know that consistently delivering exceptional customer service requires as much planning and discipline as designing a jet airliner. Service organizations need to spend time and resources to design processes that create a simple, intuitive, and effortless experience.

This design process needs to identify and eliminate pain points before they happen. And if you can’t eliminate them immediately, at least proactively communicate them to customers so you don’t disappoint them, according to John Goodman, ‎Vice Chairman, Customer Care Measurement and Consulting. 

Because the brand is the experience, marketing needs to have more influence on the actual experience where customers learn about, purchase, and use the product. That means the brand needs to come to life when customers visit the website, sign on to online banking or bill pay, use the mobile app, ask a question in the branch, or call customer service with a problem.

Marketing needs to ensure that all these touch points deliver on the brand promise. Otherwise, you have a disappointed customer on your hands, poor reviews online, and negative comments on social media. And you're left with a weaker, less valuable brand to manage.

People Really Do Matter

“For service businesses, human delivery is the heart of brand experience. A company culture built around the brand’s purpose will help ensure consistent high-quality service delivery,” Hollis reminds us. “By effectively handling the human elements of the business, a service brand can set itself apart as something truly special.”

But this is much easier said than done. It takes two ingredients that most companies get wrong. First, front line employees need to be empowered and have the information and tools to fully handle a problem. Also, Goodman suggests that these same employees be trained and encouraged to educate customers on how to get full value from the product.

Second and even more difficult, an organization needs to have a culture that at its core is based on helping people. This needs to permeate every decision made, every process created, and every system installed. It also needs to be embraced and visibly displayed by every colleague at every level of the organization, particularly at the top.

The most successful service organizations share an understanding that customers are the reason they exist, and that serving them to the best of their ability is their top priority. These organizations also realize that in order to do that, they need to hire people who are passionate about serving other people and create the best possible work environment. To attract them and keep them, it takes much more than financial rewards. Exceptional people want to believe that what they do matters and makes a difference. Great service organizations often have a mission around improving peoples’ lives, and they will show each employee a direct line of sight to how their work actually does that. 

Listen and Learn

The third secret ingredient of great service providers sounds overly simple: they listen to their customers.  What organization doesn’t effectively listen to its customers, you ask? Most of them. They may do research and focus groups. They probably gather and categorize complaints. They may even field customer satisfaction or “net promoter” surveys after each service encounter. But where does all that information go?  How does it instruct and inform major decisions? And how does the organization learn and improve based on all this rich customer insight? 

The first step in getting this right is counter-intuitive. You need to encourage your customers to complain!  That’s right. You can’t improve service if you don’t know what you’re doing wrong. And believe me, every organization is doing plenty wrong. Experts say that less than 15-20% of service problems get reported.  It’s the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” Think about all the ways you can encourage your customers to provide feedback, and make it easy for them to do so.

Second, build a “voice of the customer” process that collects information from all over the organization across the full customer experience. Make sure this process integrates the information into a single picture of the customer experience, focusing on areas you know are the most important to them. And make sure executive management is leading the way. Goodman’s most recent book, Customer Experience 3.0, has plenty of advice for any organization who wants to improve their VOC process. 

Now that we understand why exceptional service is a powerful brand’s secret weapon, next week we’ll pull it all together in time for you to incorporate it into your marketing plan. Join me for my webinar, "The Seven Imperatives of Marketing Planning 2017," where we will discover the steps to take to make next year your most successful and measurable year yet. Click below to sign up!

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Sources:  BRAND Premium: How Smart Brands Make More Money by Nigel Hollis, Palgrave Macmillan, 2013; Customer Experience 3.0, John Goodman, AMACOM, 2014