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Five ways to create dramatically different customer experiences in a digital world

15th Sep 2011
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Shaun Smith and Andy Milligan share CEM findings from their research into their latest book.


Customer experience is everything your brand does. It can make or break your business.
“From the store windows, the store touch-points, the website, social media or a magazine: it has to be one pure customer experience, not just to gain market share but to gain mind share.” Angela Ahrendts, CEO Burberry.
Never have consumers had so much choice. You can buy whatever you want, whenever you want from hundreds of suppliers. Because of the fierce competition and the efforts of organisations to improve their performance over the past few years, service is generally good too. But good is not good enough. To get the ‘share of mind’ that Angela Ahrendts talks about, you have to be different to your competitors - in fact, you have to be dramatically different and that difference has to be evident to your customers no matter which channel they choose to buy from. Only then will you create an ‘indelible memory’ to quote Tom Ford, that puts your brand at the forefront of your customers minds whenever they need the kinds of products or services that you offer.
The challenge for organisations is how to design and deliver this kind of experience so that it works every day across every touch-point and every channel. The bigger the organisation the harder it is. So how do the brands we researched for our new book ‘Bold - how to be brave in business and win’ do it?
  1. Firstly, be very clear what your brand stands for and make that as distinctive as possible. As Robert Stephens, the founder of technology support company the Geek Squad advises; “This is where companies go wrong; they don’t take a bold enough point of view. That’s what brands are for, to make you distinct from other entities”. The Geek Squad does this through their employees who they call ‘Agents’ These employees are dressed in a distinctive ‘geek like’ uniform and carry police style badges bearing the company promise ‘We’ll save your ass’. This tone of voice and the distinctive metaphor is carried through every touch-point; from the agents to the call centre (called ‘Mission Control’ of course) to the web.
  2. Secondly, deliver the promise through a customer experience that creates iconic moments for your brand. Blandness is the enemy of creating a memorable experience so it is important to choose to invest in creating touch-points that become hall-marks for your brand. Six Senses, the luxury resort operator frequented by celebrities, promises ‘Intelligent Luxury’. By this it means luxury that is natural rather than ostentatious; more ‘conscientious consumption’ than ‘conspicuous consumption’.

    A brand hallmark is when guests arrive at the resort their designated host will invite them to take their shoes off and drop them into a bag labelled ‘No News. No Shoes’. For the duration of their stay guests get to enjoy walking barefoot on the powdery sand even in the restaurant and bars. And by the way, the ‘no news’ part means just that-unless guest particularly request it they will not have their peace disturbed by CNN or newspapers. It requires an element of bravery to say ‘no’ to customers; you have to be prepared to turn some customers away if they do not fit your target segment.

  3. Thirdly, empower your people to deliver a consistent ‘experience’ not a formulaic response. The fundamental benefit that a brand bestows is predictability. If you want to really upset your customers provide them with wildly different experiences from location to location, day to day or between one service provider to another. The response therefore, from many organisations has been to seek to control the experience by standardising it. In many cases these service standards have been set at the level of the lowest common denominator and thereby created robotic service encounters.

    ‘Have a nice day’ has become a symbol of this ‘design by numbers’ approach to customer experience. And yet, all too often, employees have a very loose understanding about what the brand stands for or what experience customers should receive. The correct answer is to keep a tight control over what your brand promises and the design of the experience but to give freedom to your people to behave in a way that will meet individual customer needs. Zappos has created a culture that empowers its employees to ‘deliver happiness’ and gives them the freedom to create what it calls ‘Wow!’ moments for customers.

  4. Fourthly, make the marketing of your brand a dramatic experience. Ever been stuck behind a bulldozer? Not the fastest or most exciting things are they? Unless they’re a JCB that is. This manufacturer of industrial vehicles was so excited about the powerful diesel engines they had developed for their military range of diggers that they wanted to create a customer experience that would dramatise the benefits. How? By building a vehicle that would use their diesel engines to break the land speed record.

    With the fastest man on earth, Flight Commander Andy Green, at the wheel, Dieselmax reached 670km an hour on the salt flats of Utah. JCB also puts on ‘Dancing Digger’ events around the world where these 8 tonne machines perform synchronised balletic displays to showcase their manoeuvrability. Sir Anthony Bamford, JCB’s Chairman, calls it ‘selling the sizzle’ and it has helped them achieve sizzling results.

  5. Finally, align marketing, operations and HR around the customer experience. In many organizations the customer experience is fragmented. One function owns the contact centre, another runs the retail operation whilst marketing communicate new propositions forgetting to first ensure the front-line can deliver them. Worse still, management announce a new customer experience initiative only to back-track at the first sign of pressure on the share price. 

    One organisation that understands this need to take a sustained approach is the mobile phone operator O2. It is the market leader in the UK and has achieved the highest level of advocacy in the segment. It has done so through aligning its marketing, operations and HR function behind the brand promise of ‘Helping customers connect’ The brand realises that in order to deliver this promise it has first to ensure that it is lived internally. As Ronan Dunne, O2’s CEO says: “When you embark on the journey you can’t stop halfway and say, ‘You know what, I believe in customer experience, but I’m not going to do that’ or ‘we can’t afford to do that’, because it only works when it all works.”  

The big lesson we learn from BOLD brands is this: it is only through taking a holistic view of the customer experience, one that aligns all functions and transcends all channels that you can achieve the kind of mind-share that Angela Ahrends talks about. But when you do that the results are remarkable.
Shaun Smith is founder and partner at smith+co the customer experience specialists. Andy Milligan is an international consultant on brand and business culture.
'Bold: how to be brave in business and win', is published by Kogan Page. If you wish to find out how your organisation compares with the Bold brands you can download our free ‘Bold - how to be brave in business and win’ iPad app from iTunes or the Apple Store. To see a video of the app being used go to

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