June is always exam time. So, if we were to test the performance of customer experience in Ireland, it’s probably fair to say that those involved here would get a collective B+, with a note about ‘room for improvement’!
To be fair, customer experience is getting better. There is increasing focus on what matters most in the customer journey and on progressing that. But the fact remains that customer experience standards in Ireland lag behind that of our UK and US counterparts.
Most companies in the Irish market are still at the stage of identifying and ‘fixing’ what is wrong. The Ryanair experience is fairly typical. The airline has claimed that the first two years of its ‘Always getting better’ programme were essentially about improving the existing offering by fixing the things that, to quote Michael O’ Leary, "unnecessarily piss people off". As the programme takes hold, the third year will see Ryanair move into a new space with customers, responding innovatively to changing consumer behaviours and use of digital technology.
As Irish companies mature and the delivery of great customer experience becomes the norm, we too need to go beyond ‘repair’ and boldly and rigorously re-imagine and deliver the ideal experience.
Obviously the key to designing a great customer experience is to understand what customers want as well as what they need. But how do you create a customer experience that differentiates from competitors, delights your customers and matches your culture and capabilities?
The answer lies with your brand.
Companies spend hundreds of thousands of euros every year on advertising which makes implicit and, sometimes explicit, promises about the experiences customers can expect in store, online and on the phone; promises that you need to keep. The risk of not doing so is amplified in today’s society where customers now share disappointing brand experiences on social media. A case in point was when McDonald's launched a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #McDStories. The corporate giant was hoping that the hashtag would inspire heart-warming stories about Happy Meals. Instead, it attracted disgruntled detractors who turned it into a #bashtag to share their #McDHorrorStories #McDonalds.
The ultimate goal, when you practice what you preach, follow through on your brand pomise and deliver great customer experience on the ground, is brand authenticity. In this way you’ll turn deeply satisfied customers into the sort of brand advocates that support a tangible lift in sales as well as shareholder return. As Jeff Bezos of Amazon says:
Great customer experiences deliver on the promises and exceed the expectations that are at the heart of a brand.
This all sounds great in theory, but in practice it’s more challenging. Here are some basic principles which we believe work:
- Understand and live your brand promise
It seems obvious, but the first and most critical thing to do is make sure everyone in the organisation – and especially frontline employees – have a shared understanding of what the company stands for and of how they can contribute to bringing the brand promise to life. Ideally, this will be arrived at through a process of exploration rather than imposition, so creating a sense of ownership, pride and common purpose.
A great example may be Bord Gais Energy which calls itself the helpful energy company. As such, their customer experience is built, simply and clearly, around a brand promise of making things easy for their customers.
- Think through and deliver on the detail
When it comes to creating a stand-out customer experience strategy, the devil is in the detail. It’s got to be developed and articulated within the organisation and on the ground in a way that leaves no room for ambiguity. Statements like: ‘our aim is to delight customers’ are too vague. What does this mean in practice? When will you delight customers? How will you delight them? Employees and partners need to have a clear understanding of what’s in, what’s out and what delivers best for the brand. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has a customer charter which details the levels of service that customers can expect when dealing with them. Equally, employees know exactly how they are expected to deal with customers.
For the benefit of all parties and the business, a customer experience strategy must be clear, specific and memorable – and built round the brand.
- Measure the brand experience
Tracking brand awareness and perceptions is a mainstream activity nowadays. But how many of us are measuring how well the brand is showing up in the customer experience delivered on the ground? This is a critical assessment if we are to understand and progress how we deliver the brand promise.
We give the last word here to Kerry Bodine, author of Outside In:
And the answer is - they can do so, simply but oh so powerfully, by delivering on the brand promise.
Managing Director, W5 (CCXP) Article published Marketing.ie July/August 2016