IKEA: A Branded Experience Is More Important Than Customer-Centricity

Sampson Lee
World's 1st CX Certification's founder
Global CEM
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This article originally appeared on Customerthink.com.

The IKEA mission is to produce quality furniture at affordable price.

After my 2006 article, IKEA’s Branded Experience came out, I heard from readers in different part of the world who had similar emotions. I wrote how I hate the IKEA in-store shopping experience and yet have continued returning to IKEA over the past 20 years. Others don’t like (or even hate) the long queue, the crowded in-store environment and the DIY service, but they love IKEA.

An Israeli reader said IKEA is sometimes called the third temple. Another, from England, lets his wife shop without him.

Even though not every single aspect of the in-store experience is great and some aspects even induce pain in customers; it remains effective in generating positive memories and delivering the brand values of IKEA—the natural outcome of a branded experience. A branded experience is not necessarily a great experience at all touch-points. On the contrary, a branded experience requires you to allocate your limited resources to create significant pleasure peaks (those that perform way above the average, such as product and price) and limit “pain” to an acceptable level.

It’s not hard to understand the philosophy behind IKEA. To get quality products at a price level you can afford, you have to “do it yourself” more. IKEA’s primary target is the general masses, and its strategy is to select some, but definitely not all, of the critical needs of this target group and focus its resources on performing superbly well on fulfilling the select critical needs.

‘IKEA’s primary target is the general masses.’

As a business executive or owner, you may think you well understand the concept and appreciate that. But I would argue that you don’t. Let me just ask you one simple question: Are you and your company being customer-centric?

We all talk about customer-centricity. To be customer-centric, you have to listen to the voice of the customer. If you have ever conducted any kind of customer satisfaction survey, you should probably know what the “importance-performance quadrant” is.

Figure 1 illustrates IKEA’s importance-performance quadrant. The chart indicates the attributes or drivers located on the dimension of importance (to the customer) and performance or satisfaction of the IKEA in-store experience. It’s easy to interpret it as showing that you should reduce or minimize the spending on those attributes with low importance to the customers; maintain the investment on those of high importance and high performance; and focus your resources on enhancing those with high importance and low performance.

Figure 1: Importance-performance quadrant of IKEA in-store experience

For IKEA to follow the voice of the customer as illustrated, the company has to enhance the bulleted attributes in red, namely the car park, staff service, choosing stock, searching stock, check-out, delivery and installation (these are part of the subprocesses during the in-store experience; we can actually link all the subprocesses in a natural time sequence to form an emotion curve) because they are important to the customers but poorly performed. However, if IKEA really did all that, we wouldn’t have the great IKEA brand we have. Simply put, there will be no pleasure peaks during the whole in-store experience because the company’s resources would be spread too thin among the various attributes without any focus.

There’s nothing wrong with listening to the voice of the customer, and it’s necessary. But, basing your follow-up actions or even your entire strategy wholly on the voice of the customer could be both dangerous and wrong.

Strategy is about making choices. Designing an effective customer strategy—and the corresponding branded experience—means making choices on resources allocation, too. No matter how big your company is, you can never fulfill all of the customer needs. For one thing, customer needs can be never-ending, and for another, it is not an effective way to manage customer experience.

To deliver a differentiated, branded experience, you have to select and focus. You must factor in the brand element while you listen to the voice of the customer. Subprocesses that are important to your customers may not be important to the brand. That means you should focus your resources on those subprocesses that are important both to the customers and to the brand, as long as other subprocesses don’t fall below what you deem to be an acceptable level. The blue stars in Figure 2 represent IKEA’s subprocesses of product quality, price, display setting, product trial and the canteen.

You need to deliver your brand values and satisfy the critical needs of your target customers at the peak and end experiences because those represent the only points that customers recall.

Figure 2: Importance level to brand and customer of IKEA in-store experience

An experience is not effective unless it is both remembered and branded. No matter how many resources you expend on creating a positive experience, they are all wasted if your customers cannot remember the experience. Similarly, if your customers remember the positive experience, but they don’t connect the experience to your brand, it is though you did charity work. An unbranded experience will have no impact on building brand loyalty.

In addition to discovering the voice of the customer, you may want to measure the effectiveness of customer experience. The experience-centric voice of the customer (the x-VOC) measures your customers’ emotions in a specific experience process, from start to finish. Your survey sampling size must have relevant statistical significance, and you need to segment your customers. Different segments may have different emotion curves, and their critical needs are different and so will affect the effectiveness of the experience differently.

Customer-centric could be wrong if you don’t take a paradigm shift from measuring efficiency to effectiveness of experience; if you don’t build in brand values into the experience; and if you don’t have guts to select the critical few to focus on and limit “pain” to an acceptable level.

About Sampson Lee

Sampson Lee, founder of Global CEM and creator of PIG Strategy

Sampson Lee uncommonly proclaims Striving for an Effortless Experience is a Wrong Strategy and boldly preaches Stop Practicing Fake CX. Sampson is an author of HBR and invented the Branded CEM Method which was first licensed in the Netherlands and Belgium. Lee founded Global CEM which runs the world's 1st CX certification workshop in 19 international cities participated by senior business executives from 69 countries.

The 62nd workshop will be held in Bahrain on Jan 27-28, 2019. Early bird discount of USD300 expires by Dec 15. Register now!

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