Monday, August 25, 2014

How Does Customer Experience Impact Branding?

I would like to introduce David Jacques to my blog. I met David through my social media activities, specifically through Twitter and Google Plus circles because we share a like mind about the importance of customer experience marketing. David (a Canadian and former New Yorker) is Founder and Principal Consultant of Customer input Ltd., based in Hong Kong, and a pioneer in the field of Customer Experience Management. Recently, David and I discussed the impact of quality customer experiences on branding, and highlights of our discussion follow. 

QUESTION: How do you define customer experience?
DAVID JACQUES: There are a few good definitions of customer experience out there that practitioners tend to agree with. For me there are two key points: First, from the customer’s point of view, and second, through any and all active or passive interaction with an organization. I specify from the customer’s point of view because customers will only consider what is relevant to them. And the higher emotional involvement or outcome, the more important any single interaction experience will have on the future relationship. I think the term can be used for a single interaction but it's also the sum of all. And the breadth of interactions that are part of the customer experience goes beyond the customer lifecycle. I call it the customer experience lifecycle, which starts long before and continues long after the traditional definition of customer lifecycle.

Customer experience now means different things to different people. What is important is defining how it is managed and that’s where you see if a company understands it. To manage customer experience, companies must have a holistic view across and between all channels, touch-points and departments. It's not sufficient to look at a single channel in isolation because customers move from one channel to another, and this transition must be seamless. And that’s why customer experience management requires cross-departmental collaboration.

Some companies will talk about customer experience with a focus on a single channel or even a single interaction. They may spend a lot on experience improvement projects for interactions that have little impact on the overall and long-term customer experience, like opening an account (since this is done only once). Companies must not lose sight of the forest for the trees. And the proverbial forest is customer value.

On a side note, I wrote the first definition of customer experience on Wikipedia based on an article I wrote almost 10 years ago. It was eventually removed under the pretext that it was not a recognized term (and that I was breaching my own copyright), and later another similar definition came through customer experience management. Today both definitions exist and I do think there is a difference between customer experience (CX) and customer experience management (CEM). One is the result from the customer’s point of view, and the other is the framework from the company’s point of view.

QUESTION: Where does customer experience fit in a business strategy?
DAVID JACQUES: I think it is well recognized now that customer experience is directly tied to a company's bottom line. Most executives will say that it is core to their strategy but don’t really know where it fits. Customer experience management must be front and center in the business strategy.

Discussions about the customer experience must be at the executive table and the processes to measure and improve it must be embedded throughout the organization. It's not something done on a project basis; it is an ongoing effort and part of everything a company does. Although I have been an external consultant for most of my career, I know very well that to be sustainable, customer experience must be something managed internally in organizations. Companies have matured in terms of customer experience and are starting to understand this, which is why I am now more interested in finding the right fit for a client-side role as opposed to consulting; to take ownership of a company’s customer experience and have more impact.

QUESTION: How has social media changed customer service?
DAVID JACQUES: Social media has changed customer service forever; it has brought a company’s responsiveness to the public front and center, exposed for all to see. Customers take their questions or complaints to social channels. How a company responds will be seen by dozens or thousands of people and will affect the likeliness to buy from that company.  It has obviously created a huge challenge to companies who are not responsive. But it has also created great opportunities.

Social customer service is the new marketing. I recently did some research which shows that a company’s image of post-sales service responsiveness has a dispositional effect on customers’ sentiment toward interactions with a company, more than any other factor. In other words, customers who perceive a company as being reluctant to provide post-sales service are more likely to be dissatisfied through any interaction regardless of the actual quality of the experience. On the other hand, a reputation of caring post-sales service results in customers being predisposed to be satisfied – and more forgiving in the case of a breakdown. Given this, we can understand the importance of social media customer service since it exposes a company’s customer service attitude.

QUESTION: Please provide three examples of brands that understand customer experience marketing and why.
DAVID JACQUES: Difficult question, because I don’t see many brands providing an excellent customer experience all around. Of course classic examples everyone uses like Amazon come to mind. The customer is really at the core of the organization, and that’s made very clear by the CEO. I used to take Apple often as an example but not longer. I still think their products are great when I don’t have to take them to repair. They have done many things well but recent experiences as a customer suggests the apple has fallen far from the tree in this post-Steve Jobs era. I wouldn’t use Starbucks as an example. While it has a great customer-centered culture, its aggressive expansion at the expense of smaller local coffee shops doesn't create community goodwill. That has affected my customer experience with them. The Starbucks machine has lost steam (pun intended). I still admire these companies for different reasons, but not necessarily for their overall customer experience.

My thanks to David for his insights. Connect with David on Twitter and on LinkedIn.

Image Credit: Stuart Miles via