Branding: It's All About the Experience

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I recently bought my 7-year-old daughter, Claudia, a new hairbrush. It has a metal frame that allows hot air from a blow dryer to flow through it. Claudia scrutinized the brush with a wrinkled nose and furrowed brow when I gave it to her, and turned it over in her hands to examine every detail. Then she suddenly stopped and said, "Oh, look, it's a Conair. That's the same name as my hair braider. It must be a good brush." And therein lies the secret of branding: Deliver a positive experience on a consistent basis. Claudia enjoys using her hair braider, and just as important, she enjoys how stylish she feels with funky braids in her hair. Believe me when I tell you that there are few people more picky than my child. But with one simple word, Conair, the brush went from nearly being returned to being a prized styling tool. Conversely, a poor experience--whether it be with a curt contact center agent, a faulty product, or a complicated IVR--can damage or end even a strong customer relationship. In a recent conversation I had with FedEx Vice President of IT Scot Struminger about meeting customer expectations, he said, "Companies will go to great lengths and spending on sales, but all their efforts--and cost savings--can be wiped out by one bad customer experience." (For the complete interview, see "CRM Delivers for FedEx," page 45.) Marketing executives may take the lead on developing and delivering brand messaging for your organization, but it's everyone's job to support that message by creating and delivering consistent, positive customer experiences. That said, is it worth worrying about the experience of every individual customer? In "Profits, One Customer at a Time" (page 32), Executive Editor Jason Compton unravels the mystery behind customer profitability. The article reveals what understanding the profitability of individual customers can and cannot do for the organizations that make the effort to analyze profitability to that granular a level. Some basic opportunities for surprising customers with a positive experience--or losing them with a negative one--are often overlooked by far too many organizations. In "The 6 Most Overlooked Customer Touch Points" (page 40), journalist Eric Krell examines how companies can use such interaction points as customer reference programs, billing, and sales quotes to build relationships. For some companies, though, it seems that the emphasis is placed so heavily on brand building through the media that they overlook the actual customer experience. Take for example my several recent trips to Gap Kids. Everything that could go wrong did: lack of stock, long lines, brusque cashiers. When I finally voiced my feelings to a manager, Claudia looked at me and said, "Everything is bad service to you, Mommy." I'm not that bad. Really. Yes, I'm a tough critic (I'm finished with shopping at Gap Kids). But my expectations for a consistent, positive customer experience are not unique. Your customers' expectations are likely as high. Are you doing everything you can to meet them? Ginger Conlon Editor-in-Chief
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