“If there’s one reason we have done better than our peers, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience, and that really does matter.”
Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Here’s a great, possibly apocryphal story about Amazon – according to legend, for all board meetings they leave an empty chair to represent the customer’s impact at the boardroom table.
Whether it’s a corporate PR tall tale or the truth, it’s a nice thought that reinforces how focused Amazon is on the way people experience their various services.
But how many other brands can say that they really care about that customer experience?
For the most part, there’s a stunning lack of empathy with the customer in large modern businesses. We bombard people with targeted and re-targeted advertising, social posts and email and then, when they’ve accepted the invite to interact with us, it often turns out to be a crap experience.
Many people’s reaction to actually taking the time to browse a brand’s store/website or trying to solve a product/service problem is reminiscent of this:
Anyone out there with an Irish Mammy will know that when you invite visitors over, it’s expected that you’ll have the best silverware out, the good biscuits on display and that everyone will be welcoming and on their best behaviour.
But most businesses flout these basic rules of hospitality.
Theodore Levitt coined the term ‘marketing myopia‘ in the ’60s and it’s never been more apt. According to Ted, “a business suffers from marketing myopia when a company views marketing strictly from the standpoint of selling a specific product rather than from the standpoint of fulfilling customer needs.”
It’s pretty simple – most people care much more about what a brand actually does, than what it actually says.
So why do most brands not realise this?
New research shows that the experience is actually far more important than many think. Outsized feelings of affection for a brand (“brand love”) are driven by rational benefits too, such as product quality. It’s the experience that often creates subsequent emotional appeal.
Emotive, buzzworthy advertising is merely a substantiation of great customer experience, not the precursor to it. Often, brands get this the wrong way around.
As Jeff Bezos hints at above, all the advertising in the world is about as effective as lipstick on a pig when the actual product/service is crap.
I’ve seen many big Irish brands pump money into beautiful advertising and paid media filled with emotional promises, and then send people to an awful website, a poorly designed store or to wait on a phone for half an hour.
It’s like a hotel spending millions on the facade and not bothering to change bedsheets or cook the food properly.
Logically, as a lay person looking in you’d expect a big company to understand that providing a great, consistent service would earn them more customers (and more net promoters) than spending big on an ad campaign without backing it up.
But logic doesn’t come into it when you’re examining big companies. Group think, politics, short-termism and disconnected, siloed processes are at play.
If I’m on the marketing team and my KPI is to make people aware through advertising, then my annual bonus doesn’t rely on how people actually experience the brand, so why would I spend budget on better website UX or better in store I.T.?
And so, the problems never get fixed.
Much more than ad spend, experience is a real sustainable competitive advantage that’s often an afterthought.
And paradoxically, a piece of brilliant advertising that leads on to a poor experience can actually be more harmful to your brand than mediocre advertising that leads to an ok experience.
Why? Because it makes the disconnect between marketing and experience so obvious.
People can readily see that your business has spent big on a TV ad while wilfully ignoring the most important part of the process for them – the piece after the ad when they actually interact with your company (online or offline).
In a financial era when most big organisations can’t afford to waste precious marketing budget, the biggest, most wasteful problem with modern marketing is that most brands talk the talk without walking the walk.
Great brands should focus on product experience rather than brand appeal, because it’s often easier to get people to experience rather than to actively think.
That’s why Intercom is such a potentially enormous business.
It’s why Apple think long and hard about their store service.
It’s why I’m so excited about Wyldsson.
It’s why, despite selling commoditised products that are often poorer versions of what you can get elsewhere, Zappos and Starbucks are revered.
It’s why the biggest tech companies Amazon and Google are relentlessly focused on minor details like the particular shade of a button.
As the excellent Gareth Kay says (I love this quote)…
“Thinking through how we can deliver the brand in a more distinctive way is one of the biggest opportunities we have to break brands out of their commoditised sea of sameness. Perhaps one small thing we can do right now is to stop systemising brands by what they are trying to say and how they look in favour of how they behave.”
In advertising, there’s a golden rule that it takes sustained media investment to drive growth in market share. (One rule of thumb from Binet & Field’s ‘The Long & Short Of It’ holds that an extra 20 points in share of voice has the direct result of a sustained 1% growth in market share per annum.)
But given the fact that so many companies forget about it, a relentless focus on experience is another obvious way to outperform the competition without having to outspend them.
And that’s something we’re all looking for.
- UPC and the customer experience gap
- Designing experience – Gareth Kay
- The Hare and the Tortoise – Charlie Ebdy
- Customer Experience Ireland Report