Customer Experience and Branding

I love hearing from readers who are passionate about customer experience. I got this back from a reader in response to one of my articles on Customer Experience Management.
"The brand often functions seperately from CEM and the management of customer experiences. Although the goal of CEM is to smooth the way to the altimate goal of a purchase CEM is more concerned with extended customer lifecycles, customer loyalty and their effectiveness in redefining the brand promise."
This instantly triggered a red flag for me. I totally disagree with the assertion that the brand functions separately from customer experience management and the fulfillment of brand promise. Customer loyalty and managing the customer lifecycle had very well better be branding concern! At every phase of adoption, the brand may mean something different to a customer - and if our programs aren't designed to address these customer needs and perceptions, we lose!

I have heard this distinction before from a few individuals in the past. After probing, I have found that they either posess a systems integrator background (viewing CEM from a toolset perspective) or a really "old school" marketing background. They're making dangerous assumptions, however. The truth is, there's a huge problem when individuals try to separate brand management from customer experience management. Consider the following:

There's a big difference between the "Aspirational Brand" (that is, what we aspire to become known for) and the "Actual Brand" (or, what the true market perceives us to be). As marketers, we've gotten pretty adept at defining what we want to become ... and what we aspire to deliver from a value proposition perspective. However, in the day and age of channel proliferation and real-time communication, architecting customer experiences in a manner that truly delivers the aspirational brand promise and effectively shapes market perception is what really counts.

You can't divorce aspirational brand development from customer experience because they work together - or nothing works at all. We design our experiences around customer need and aspirational branding, and we measure the outcomes to refine and improve. Market perception, customer loyalty and other leading indicators help us measure how we're doing ...

Brand equity is a cumulative outcome of customer experience over time:

If I could add to this formula, I'd add a disclaimer that it's also across many customers. That's why customer experience architects have to zero in on customer segmentation and understand the adoption continuum for each segment. Aspirational brand goals must integrated with the experience across all stages of adoption. Unless this happens, what we create won't match our promises. In the end, success requires our experience to be crafted to accomplish the following:

For the widest base of customers: Establishing the broad foundational experience that supports the delivery of the fundamentals consistently and effectively over time.

For high value customer segments: Refining, enhancing and customizing and the experience to reward and reinforce customer loyalty in a manner that creates differentiation and cements relationship.

So, CEM and Branding are one big enchilada (yes, I know that's a burrito picured above. Cut me some slack!) Just my .02 cents on a Tuesday...

Customer Experience: How to Bite off What You Can Chew

The effervescent Karl Long at Experience Curve recently posted a great article on Customer Experience Management (CEM). One particular piece of it caught my eye as being very helpful to those of you who are striving hard to figure out how to grasp the CEM reins. As quoted from Karl's article (emphasis and formatting added) ...
Bite Size Customer Experience Management - Customer Experience Blueprint

Customer Experience Management seems to be such an enormous task, that many companies just ignore it because so many stake-holders own so many aspects of the customer experience. The last thing we need is another Chief Anything officer. That’s why I added the byline “don’t **** this up”: Instead of trying to manage the entire customer experience, try figuring out what just one or two things that your company should be “trusted” with. This is different for every company. Black smoke pouring out the back of a UPS truck is not going to undermine the brand as much as it did for Crystal Springs [water - see article].

Once you figure out the one or two things your company should be “trusted” for, map out the customer life-cycle and all their interactions, from being a prospect to being a repeat customer. For every point in that customer life-cycle, note what the customer is going to experience or interact with from the standpoint of product, communication, environment, and behavior, and at that point you need to make an evaluation: Is (the experience) supporting the key things we should be “trusted” with?

Some categories of things to look for when evaluating the customer experience are:

  • Product. Package Design, Placement, Logo (from a process standpoint: Finding It, Buying It, Opening It, Using It, Getting Support)
  • Communication - Instructions, Brochures, Uniforms, Signage, Packaging, Presentations, Sales Collateral, Interactive Tools, emails, Templates
  • Behavior. Phone Scripts, Interactive Tools (including IVR), Sales People, Delivery People, Vehicles
  • Environment.Signage, Space, Interaction (I really need an architect to help me out here)

  • Karl's CEM analysis categories are similar to what we've defined as the five layers of Customer Experience Management. His "Product" and "Environment" categories above align directly to our definitions... and what he calls "Behavior" essentially combines with our "Customer Layer" (demographic and behavioral dynamcis) and the "Interaction layer" (human-to-human; human-to-technology).

    To create a visual picture of how we align Communication (messages, programs, offers, etc.) to CEM, I have been using the following diagram:

    So yeah! Go Karl. Good stuff. Totally agree. I love the simplicity of the concept: Figure out what your company can be trusted with, design and test the experience around it. Brands that are applying the experience fundmentals understand the power of the "Three Word Rule." As companies attempt to describe their focused "core competency" they should definitely reflect what the brand can be trusted with!

    In terms of biting off more than you can chew, I'd add this simple thought. Creating the experience map for the customer across phases of adoption should be guided by a really clear understanding of customer segments. This isn't your momma's segmentation, either. When it's time to prioritize, it's really important to think about customers in a manner that weight the following considerations:

  • Profitability. What is the projected or real dollar value of the customer's current, potential, future business?
  • Influence. How much influence the segment will have in creating market perception? Are they small but mighty?
  • Maintenance. What will it cost to acquire and support the customer across the adoption lifecycle?

    As we design the experiences around segments with these considerations in mind, it's easier to develop a clear understanding of the minimal experience required to fundamentally support all viable customer segments to maximize return on investment. It also gives us a better understanding of where we should invest to create more optimal experiences that capture the affinity of the most valuable customers.

    Thanks, Karl!
  • Path Analysis: Discovering Customer Experience Pitfalls

    In Northern Virginia, we are plagued by shopping centers with the most horribly engineered parking lots have ever seen. We have many shopping centers with lots capable of holding thousands of cars -- with as little as ONE entry/exit channel! On top of this, many of these goofily engineered areas seem to be plagued with "parking pockets” … Just when you turn a corner and think you’re on your way to escape from the “lot of doom,” you dead-end at a random curb and are forced to turn around and find another way…

    As I toured one such parking lot this weekend, frustrated and digging my nails into the leather on my steering wheel, it occurred to me how much this is like customer experience on a larger scale.

    Imagine a plot of land from the top down. Beyond a parking lot, your landscape may be a piece of land that is a raw or relatively untouched terrain, or a plot of ground with existing buildings, roads, signs and features. Let’s call this parcel of land your "landscape for brand discovery."

    People can enter your property in many different ways. They may drive right through it, follow a trail, fly by, hike through the forest, paddle in on a canoe, drop in with a parachute, hitch a ride with someone or heck, swing in from a vine! Sometimes we can predict where they'll come from, and sometimes they'll just surprise us. You get the picture. These are our customers.

    We are marketers, product managers, business planners, customer service experts, designers, IT professionals. We are the architects – the engineers – tasked with collectively sculpting the landscape to create an organized, safe and pleasing environment for exploration and discovery. Our job is to anticipate where the people will come from and carve out a system of paths, signs, instructions that will lead customers to a desired and satisfying end.

    The challenge is that many times, we work in teams in a disjointed manner. As a result, we can often fail to fully complete and/or connect customer pathways (at a programmatic level) to ensure customers have a cohesive experience – or set of experiences. As a result, the customer landscape is often complicated by challenges that can frustrate the journey and undermine success.

    In an age where customer experience is playing an increasing role in economic value, loyalty and market differentiation, it’s important to recognize these areas of disconnect. Jumping into the customer’s shoes and exploring the landscape for brand discovery is a great way to search out the common pitfalls that damage customer experience. Consider the following:
    Dead ends. Leaving customers with no outlet or a sense of "unfinished business" can contribute to frustration and a very negative brand perception. Steer clear of creating dead-end conversations with customers and always provide clear direction, “navigational” options and an outlet for resolution.

    Roadblocks. Are there obstacles on the path that prevent your customers from taking the next step or getting what they really want? Forcing your customer to deal with unanticipated and/or irresolvable barriers (e.g. price, availability, features or service) will taint their experiences and lead to dissatisfaction.

    Detours. Are there areas of the cross-channel experience (gaps, disconnects or distractions) that invite customers down an undesirable path? Good programs keep audiences focused by proactively anticipating and responding to customer need and staying the course to drive desired outcomes.

    Loops. Nobody likes to get the run around. By checking the logic of your interaction and dialog sequences - within and across programs, you can identify dynamics that have the potential to run customers in circles. It’s important to fix these areas of circular logic in every channel to minimize frustration and produce satisfaction.

    Rough Terrain. Are there areas of your experience that exhaust the customer? Are they asked to jump through too many hoops on the pathway to loyalty? Asking too much of customers can establish barriers to entry that negatively impact results. Ease the journey to ensure customers feel like coming back.

    Hazardous Drop-offs. These are especially predominant in the post-transactional areas of service and support. Does experience unexpectedly drop off in any area - leaving the customer cold, or causing injury to customer relationship? It’s important to remember that how we finish is as important as how we start. We are stewards of our customers and their experiences. It’s important to guide them in safe passage if we want future loyalty.

    Merges. As customers move from one path to another (e.g. Silver to Platinum Member) are the changes presented clearly - and celebrated as necessary? Over time, customers often shift segments. They also may participate in multiple programs or offerings, and purchase multiple times. It’s important to ensure the relationship between transactions, programs and offerings clearly presented and seamlessly offered across channels.

    Entry, Exit and Access Points. Do customers “circle the block” looking for your driveway? Is it intuitive for a customer to find you, or access transactional information, products and services? Make it easy for any customer to engage and disengage with appropriate ease.

    Way Finding. Is the way clear? Is the path well illuminated and marked? Do your customers know where to go, how to transact and what your benefits are? Shoot for an ergonomic experience that naturally fits with customer behavior patterns and is intuitively simple. Test and improve this constantly.
    Taking the time to rise above our limited perspective can help us more rationally assess the terrain and the pathways we have created for customers. In doing this, we can also better understand customer perception, behavioral patterns, logic, timing and movement across channels, programs and segments. This helps us uncover and correct the common pitfalls that disrupt positive customer momentum. As we heed the lessons learned, it also works to make us wiser and more agile in meeting changing customer needs.





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    I’m Leigh Durst, a 20 year veteran in business, operations, customer strategy, ecommerce, digital & social media and marketing. Simply put, I’m a strategist that helps companies (start-up to blue chip) achieve business shift, create more compelling online and offline experiences. I also write, speak and teach about experience design and next-generation business. I’m a futurist, visionary, strategist, doer and connector with a passion for people and helping others. When I’m not on the road, you’ll find me in the San Francisco bay area, working, beaching it and hanging out with my family and dog.


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