Culture club: Inside brand experience
Customer experience relies on a clear brand strategy, a positive internal culture and the ability of the company to adapt to changing customer needs. A discussion held in London with brand and customer experience directors and jointly-hosted by Rufus Leonard, examined the case for strategic approach to experience. Brittany Golob reports
Before dining out, or shopping in a new store, customers will research the brand online or receive recommendations from their networks. If they are
met with poor service at a restaurant or a difficult shopping experience in a retail environment, not only is the customer experience falling short of the promise, but the brand is damaged in the minds of consumers.
Customer experience and brand affinity are inherently linked. By creating a customer experience that generates positive satisfaction, the brand then benefits by earning brand loyalty. Additionally, aligning the customer experience with the brand values ensures a consistency that engenders trust in the business.
At a roundtable discussion, senior brand and customer experience professionals debated the relationship between experience and brand strategy. Ross Timms, strategy director for customer experience at London-based brand consultancy Rufus Leonard – which supported the event – says, “Unique brand experiences are built by connecting your brand’s purpose to your customer experience. Customer experience strategy is the process that connects those two elements, ensuring a consistent brand experience for each individual experience of that brand.”
Attendees addressed that relationship but also focused on the way customer experience, when approached with an effective strategy behind it, can change how business is carried out in different sectors.
A brand director for a services and facilities provider to the public sector pointed to a shift in the way ROI is approached in prisons and the ways in which business efficiency has arisen from linking experience to operational changes in hospitals. In regards to prisons, he says judging success based on low reoffending rates is not only cost efficient to public sector clients, but has changed the way prisons prove ROI across the board. Hospitals too have benefitted from implementing a better standard of service – in one case, empowering cleaners to report empty beds generated a higher turnover rate and lower waiting times.
He says, “The manifestation of the brand is through the experience. You can communicate and set up a promise, but if you’re not delivering it you’re going to fall over very quickly. It’s how you ensure that everyone’s connected to the operational aspect and how you design those services that I think is absolutely critical.” This is the case for consumer-facing brands too, says one customer experience director for a major telecoms provider, “Understand your end customer and how you want them to feel and then design around that. Balance the business needs as well.”
For a smaller business or one in the charity sector, experience is more closely linked to personal relationships, the challenge for those organisations is to maintain that level of attention as the business grows. A luxury lingerie company’s customer experience manager adds that the digital customer experience must match the physical, “Having an FAQ section on our website won’t quite cut it. How can we keep this highly personal, luxurious customer experience going as we grow?”
“The manifestation of the brand is through the experience. You can communicate and set up a promise, but if you’re not delivering it you’re going to fall over very quickly. It’s how you ensure that everyone’s connected to the operational aspect and how you design those services that I think is absolutely critical.”
But customer experience is no easy sell to business leaders. Often, business ROI and the needs of the customer are at odds, says a London museum’s director of communications. To avoid business objectives taking priority and negatively affecting the brand, “You need to put brand experience right at the forefront,” he says. “Even if it’s not on your strategic ROIs.”
The facilities management brand director says customer experience relies on a shift in organisational philosophy. “You have to redefine things organisationally to make sure you’re not compartmentalising customer experience. Look at the outcome you want to achieve on behalf of that brand, think about and really understand what those experiences are going to be, reengineer them and constantly evolve. That’s how you deliver efficiency savings and stronger outcomes.”
Business evolution has led to the focus on digital brand experience. For some businesses, the online experience should reflect that of the physical and for others, it should complement, but not mimic it. Without a consensus, attendees determined digital experience should be developed based on the needs of the sector and on individual brand strategy. The museum communicator says his organisation focuses on driving visits to the physical site, thus its digital platforms serve to encourage visitors, not replicate a visit to the museum. Yet for the services and facilities management company, digital is an enabler that allows for more efficiency in high-impact sectors like the military or healthcare. “The link between the engagement of your employees and the ability to deliver your experience has statistically been proven many times over,” says the brand manager. “Culture is the most critical thing over everything else.”
A well-defined internal culture is a major contributing factor to a successful customer experience. Charities and non-profits are ahead of their corporate peers in this regard because employees are often drawn to the organisation and the cause simultaneously. The telco’s customer experience manager says customers recognise motivation in frontline staff, which feeds into the brand experience.
Creating a positive, motivational culture relies on the articulation of a clear, relevant brand objective that staff can buy into. Timms says, “What we’re always trying to do is connect the purpose back to that manifestation of brand values. It’s a human thing, it’s an emotional thing. It’s the founding philosophy. That evolves into the brand and that evolves into the brand experience.”
The legend documenting a NASA janitor’s response to President John F. Kennedy is an anecdote most brand experience managers know well. “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?,” said the president. “Well, Mr President,” the janitor responded. “I’m helping put a man on the moon.” That dream is the one to which all brand experiences should aspire.