Recognizing that your customer experience is an integral aspect of brand isn’t a new notion. For years, companies ranging from Ritz Carlton and Starbucks to USAA and Costco have consciously used customer experience as a way to deliver on the promises their brands make.
What’s more recent is the broad recognition that customer experience is both a major driver of customer loyalty and a powerful competitive differentiator across virtually all industries. And as the body of knowledge around how to create this advantage grows, the connections between brand and experience are drawn in increasingly sharper focus.
That’s because the linkage between what customers expect from your brand and the experiences they actually get is unbreakable. Simply put, brand sets customer expectations. Experience is how those expectations are met – or not.
By no means exhaustive, what follows is a short list of things we’ve seen companies do to help ensure the experiences they are delivering are, in fact, the experiences their customers expect, and want.
1. Create a Vision that Inspires Your Employees
Most employees expect fair pay for their contributions. But what really drives them isn’t usually money – it’s the knowledge that what they’re doing matters. Inspired by a shared vision, and working towards a common goal. Customers “feel this” when it’s present, and love it. You cannot fake it.
2. Make Your Brand Values Explicit
Know what you stand for, and make sure your people know as well. If you stand for – for example – integrity, innovation, flexibility and reliability, there should be no question that this is exactly how your firm will behave.
3. Start Your Brand Marketing Internally
Your brand and your customer experience starts with your people. Make what you stand for and what you promise explicit – then make sure it’s clearly and consistently communicated, and that the implications are understood.
4. Articulate What it Means For Employees to “Live” Your Brand
By translating your brand – your promise, your values and your vision – into a clear set of expected behaviors for your people, it’s much easier for you to articulate their responsibilities. It’s also easier for employees to improve their capabilities, because they’ll know what their performance will be judged on.
5. Measure Yourself Against Your Brand Promise, and Your Values
It’s been quoted so many times by so many people, I cannot confidently point to a single source. Which doesn’t change the truth of it: What gets measured gets improved. Regularly “listen” to your customers and your people to learn exactly how well you’re delivering on what you promise – and do better.
6. Identify, Engage and Nurture Your Brand Advocates
When it comes to improving customer experience, many companies focus on those that score lowest on the loyalty/satisfaction scale – their captives, detractors or runaways. While you can’t ignore them, the most successful companies also focus on (sometimes even more so) their brand advocates. They do this to better understand and serve the customers that love them most – and learn how to make more customers like them.
7. Recognize That Your Brand is No Longer Just Yours
It used to be that companies could control their brands. No more. Today, there are hundreds or even thousands of others in the crowded relationship between you and your customers. Social influence means that control of your brand is the hands of others – and that experiences that don’t align with customer expectations your brand sets will be quickly, broadly and mercilessly communicated.
8. Ensure That Your Business, Brand and Customer Experience Strategies are Aligned
I talked a bit about this at the top. It’s important enough to say it again. Simply put, brand sets customer expectations. Experience is how those expectations are met (or aren’t). And these both need to tie back to, and support, your business strategy.
9. Don’t Discount the Power of Emotion in Your Brand, or Your Experiences
When customers come into contact with your brand or your company, they “feel” a certain way as the result of that contact. Good, bad or indifferent, each interaction evokes a blend of emotions each customer intuitively measures against their expectations at each touchpoint, and across each journey. Simply put, you MUST understand how customers feel as a result of interacting with your firm.
10. Be “Real”: Authentic Brands Deliver Authentic Experiences
The more authentic your brand, the stronger the emotional connection can be between you and your customers. That is to say, the more and more consistently you deliver on the promises you make, the better your customer experiences and more positive customer perceptions will be.