In essence, customer experience (CX) is the customer’s perception of how well you live up to your brand promise. If you fail to meet the expectations you have created, then that brand promise can become a stick to beat yourself with. The power of social media means that such a stick can be quite devastating because individual customers can cause more damage to your brand than ever before.
Most businesses want to create a compelling brand promise… otherwise what’s the point of having a brand? I’m assuming you’ve already put your brand promise out there, so below I cover four different strategies you can employ to avoid that promise becoming a stick.
The Knock it Out of the Park Strategy
Some brands simply deliver on their brand promise so spectacularly well that the standard of customer experience can only be admired. This is the “knock it out of the park strategy”. It is hard to implement and may be expensive to maintain, but it is the most powerful strategy and brands that adhere to it tend to stand the test of time.
There is no brand that embodies this strategy more than Disney. They simply go further to deliver on their brand promise than almost any other company on the planet. A great example of this is the Disney utilidor system, which is a vast network of tunnels under Disney World in Florida. The utilidor system helps maintain the magical illusion created above ground, by hiding some of the less magical things that might be seen in a theme park. For example, rubbish collection and staff in headless Mickey Mouse costumes all move about underground so they don’t detract from the experience the awestruck patrons are having overground.
The Under Promise and Over Deliver Strategy
If you promise a customer something and you deliver what you promised along with a little bit more, that is a great customer experience. The emphasis here is on over delivering and going that extra mile to surprise a customer with the quality of your service or product.
Lidl is a German-owned, but very much internationally operating, discount supermarket chain. Their stores fall into the stack ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap category. Products are typically sold out of their transport packaging rather than being stacked nicely on shelves. To put it bluntly, their stores create a perception of being cheap, and they are cheap.
Where does Lidl over deliver? It is on the quality of their own brands. They do let the ball drop occasionally, but most of their own brand products are just as good and sometimes better than more expensive branded equivalents. The price and the context in which the purchase is made result in a very positive experience when you get home and taste their fresh orange juice or deli meats, for example (emphasis on over delivering).
The Create the Perception of Over Delivery Strategy
Very similar to the previous strategy, but different because the under promising is more intentional than the over delivering. There is a hint of deviousness about this strategy, but if executed well it can be very effective. The aim is to promise customers less than the company normally expects to deliver so that average performance appears to be over delivering.
Ryanair is a low fares airline and Europe’s second biggest airline in terms of passenger numbers. As a brand, they essentially promise that they will get you there safely, on-time and for the lowest price.
To be fair, for the most part, they deliver on that promise. But over the years they have definitely employed this strategy across pricing and scheduling. For example, on arrival at an airport, the cabin crew always announce how much ahead of schedule the plane has arrived (assuming it is ahead of schedule). Up until a couple of years ago, they used to play a mildly annoying jingle that emphasised the point even more. The trick is that they always add some padding to the flight time to allow for a few small delays so that even if the flight is late, it appears to be on-time or even early (emphasis on under promising). As long as you, the customer, have built your schedule around the arrival time they quoted, your customer experience is one of over delivery.
Many other airlines add a little padding, but few have leveraged it from a CX perspective as well as Ryanair has.
The Be as Honest and Transparent as Possible Strategy
This strategy involves telling customers exactly how things are going to go before it happens, especially when you work in a way that is unfamiliar or even disliked by the customer. This is the purest strategy in the context of managing expectations.
Wagamama is a hugely successful Japanese themed casual dining out chain of the UK. The environment is pretty informal and when you order your food the server informs you:
“Because everything is cooked fresh, your dishes may be delivered to the table separately.”
What? You mean my wife might get her meal 5 minutes after me? (That actually happens)
If that were to happen in any other restaurant, you would be fuming. But somehow it becomes okay because Wagamama flag it as soon as you sit down. The real genius is that they also create the impression that most other restaurants’ food is not quite as fresh as theirs. It is a brilliant piece of CX strategic thinking and is indicative of why the chain has grown so rapidly. Transparency is a bit of a buzzword these days, but it can be hugely valuable if used properly, and this is an excellent example.
Note! While researching this article I noticed Wagamama’s cookie notice, which is below. If you can’t read it, it says:
Wagamama Cookie Notice — https://www.wagamama.com/about-us
This proves that they have some smart CX minds in Wagamama that see and take every opportunity to make the customer experience that little bit better.
The key lesson here is that branding and the creation of customer expectation are enormously important in a CX context.
Whichever one of these strategies you choose to employ, your entire organisation needs to be geared up to execute on it. It only takes one Disney employee to ruin the experience of dozens of customers. And if one Wagamama server forgets to tell customers about their served when ready policy, they run the risk of getting a whole host of negative reviews.
I’m sure there are plenty of other strategies and examples that could be mentioned here. I’d be very interested to hear any suggestions you might have in the comments below.