Why Strategic Customer Experience is a Gift for Reputation Management
While studying for my first degree, the theme of better customer service (not customer experience yet!) was a recurring theme, concerning earning customer loyalty and market share, although not so much explicitly in the context of reputation management. There was a massive upsurge in the 90s of paying lip service to customer service as a competitive vehicle. That ethos seems to have waned considerably as service seems to be decaying in places we used to expect it, and yet it’s never been more important.
These days, the focus goes, rightly, beyond customer service to consider the entire Customer Experience, how the customer or client of your business experiences all of the elements that make up your brand at every stage of any transaction with your company. These transactions accrue into positive building blocks for favourable brand reputation and strategic reputation management. Identifying all the touchpoints your customer can possibly have with your brand, products and staff and having a strategy for influencing and planning how every interaction is handled is the very essence of it. I think of CX as CXE – Customer Experience and Engagement because the opportunity for engagement, to get information, feedback and ideas from the customer are where the magic really happens.
Why Leaders show care about Client and Customer Experience
We build brands to differentiate but also to build a reputation, against which hopefully a premium can be applied and repeat custom and advocacy can be extracted. The brand sets itself up, makes a promise, delivers it, delights and builds and reinforces a reputation for quality, reliability and other great things. More than ever the opportunities that lie in fostering and nurturing great customer experiences should not be squandered. With more choice than ever available to customers in some domains, CX is ever more relevant and the thinking behind how CX is implemented can make it transformational. It can make it a gift for reputation management.
Transactional to Transformational Thinking – the value of CX
Transactional thinking would limit the scope of CX. Clients and customers when purchasing are not purely acting on calculated algorithms for buying into an offering. There is a great deal going on in hearts as well as minds. However, viewed logically, the purest person to person service element, usually post a purchase or immediately preceding it, and generally as an aid to that sale, actually occurs quite deep within the relationship/purchase funnel. The added value is in everything else leading up to the sale, and after that, you ideally want to exercise some influence over. You want to have the privilege and access of speaking into the spaces either side because when you factor in desirable brand love and loyalty, it’s instructive that conversion does not end with the person who has bought, as they can help you convert others. This is the power of favourable reputation and an opportunity for reputation management.
Putting CX at the heart of Projects
Leaders and staff should have a clear view of their roles and responsibilities in sustainably and successfully delivering customer experience (CX), but it should be ultimately driven by brand strategy. CX can be the arbiter of your brand values and perception. Bearing out and translating the purpose and the values the business espouses through CX buttresses and validates your customers’ perception of your business. Reputation Management starts here. Credit is gained and credibility advanced that indemnifies a brand in terms of sustainable brand reputation and reputation management. Now, it’s been my experience through numerous Change Programmes, that there is generally limited consideration of the programme’s risks and impact to the brand and the business’ ability to consistently meet customer and clients’ expectations. This is because they are often driven entirely by internal, operational factors, external triggers tend to be obligations to and duress from regulators and monitors but I believe customer experience is an equally legitimate driver. Reputation Management is not something that’s only addressed in the event of an adverse event, like savings, reputations must be shored up against rainy days.
I think this should change. Even when it isn’t the causal factor for a programme, it absolutely should be part of the standards and metrics by which that programme is deemed a success. It, therefore, follows that demonstrable improvements to the processes and operating models delivering high-quality customer experience, or at the very least, strong evidence that it is not put at risk or degraded, should form a primary part of the business case.
If projects were incepted with an eye on the customer and transformation focused on making things better for customers and staff, that is if PEOPLE were actually valued and central to the impetus for projects, very possibly, less oversight might be needed as businesses would be policing themselves according to their own stated purpose and values. Hmm!
So…..where is the problem? What could go wrong? Ahhhh, yes. Of course.
When there is no visible commitment to those stated values.What an indictment that is on the way we do business – it means that whenever a customer’s experience of your brand fails to bear out your values, you may be seen as only paying lip service, as inauthentic. The worst of it, of course, is that your customers can see and sense the disconnect. Of course, they can, they get it a sense of it through the entire experience! That’s it – the whole point. If you are talking about customer experience but not really considering satisfaction of customers and motivation of those who deliver the services that form the experience, you are just paying lip service to customer experience, much the same as people did in the 90s. And your customers can tell!
If you don’t think this matters, I give you Aldi and Lidl. If the leading supermarkets were listening, they would have known and acted on the customer data that Aldi and Lidl have exploited, as Tesco have only just recently started to do hence this update to the blog. It’s taken several years to mount this offensive, but apart from anything else, the customer experience at Tesco was obviously not sufficient to sustain the custom of those with an option to go elsewhere. Tesco’s reputation has also suffered considerably in the past decade an effort to refocus on customer needs might have aided their reputation management. As it was, it appeared to make them more vulnerable to incursions by the challengers.
Other sectors are not exempt. The banking sector sees challenger banks popping up. I give you Tide and Monzo, reported to have deep satisfaction amongst customers. They are starting with a commitment to the customer experience and meeting needs that the existing banks do not, even though they say they want to. It’s amazing when you think about it.
So, dear business case owners, sponsors, C-suite people, transformation programmes should not lead to a deterioration in staff morale and customers’ perception of the brand. Therefore, business strategy and change should absolutely have dependencies on your business brand imperatives and benefits realisation must be within the context of meeting or exceeding customer brand expectations. Even if it is not the causal factor for the programme, it should be in there somewhere! There should be, on every programme board and Steering Committee and Executive Committee etc., somebody who has responsibility for Brand Standards and CX. There, I have just created that brand new role. Feel free to use it because it’s critical, now more than ever, to focus more on people – both in and out – and ultimately serve your brand better.