No Matter What You Call It, the Customer Experience Must Be Consistent

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Marketing experiences. CEM. Customer Experiences. A new term has just come out, and it is becoming quite fashionable to speak about the experience your customer has with your company. I am sure it will be just a short while before companies are speaking about PEM (partner experience management), EEM (employee experience management) and all kinds of "EM" acronyms.

It’s nothing new. Thinking about customer experiences has been in the minds of marketers for a long time. It is something so logical that when you hear about it, you think "yes, it is obvious." But at the same time, you get the feeling you’ve just discovered hot water or air conditioning.

I have spent the last four years of my working life thinking about how to make a total end-to-end customer experience something that differentiates companies from others and can give them a competitive advantage. It all started at a CRM conference. A speaker from the United Kingdom was talking about the Virgin brand. Suddenly, I realized, "This is it! It is so obvious." But what is experience? And how can we design it and implement it so customers perceive that we, as companies, behave differently?

Wikipedia’s definition for experience is "a general concept" that "comprises knowledge of or skill in or observation of some thing or some event gained through involvement in or exposure to that thing or event." The history of the word, "experience," aligns it closely with the concept of "experiment." That does not say much for the marketers who use it.

Connections
Experience, however, is a very simple concept. It is the connection between your mind and your heart after getting in touch with a service or product or process with one of your senses. This also sounds complicated. But as grandmothers used to say, "You should not just be but also appear to be." That is, you should be consistent with who you say you are and what you do. That is experience. It is the consistency between who you say you are and how you act with customers. It is how you communicate your brand and how you execute every time you interact with a customer.

Companies implement it by being consistent with the values a brand has and the values customers perceive as a result of interacting with them. If your brand positions your company as agile, then your customers’ interactions at all contact points, sales or service points should be agile. Your sales, service, returns, claims management, payments, provisioning, order handling—all customer-related processes—should be agile. You cannot afford to solve a customer problem in a week. You have to do it quickly, so you must behave according to what you are promising your customer with your brand.

If your brand positions your company as innovative, you cannot just sell your products in retail stores. Your customer expects you to be innovative in everything, including the way you sell. That will be a true moment of truth for your customer. He won’t be surprised to see a mobile campaign from your company. Your customer will appreciate innovation in the way you treat him and in the way you contact him.

If you position your brand as beautiful, you cannot have a billboard or an ad or a web site that is not beautiful. The brand touches the heart. It’s the emotional relationship with customers. Interaction touches the mind, the rational aspects of that relationship. And senses play a very important role when the product or service you are selling needs to be seen, smelled, heard or tasted. You can have the greatest football developed. You can have a strong brand that communicates experience in sports. But if you go to a store and the salesperson does not have any idea of what a football is or has the wrong attitude, you won’t sell your product.

At the last telecommunications company I worked at, being simple and trustworthy were very important values for customers when we started implementing our experience strategy. We worked very hard on our billing and claim management processes to reflect that. Making an invoice simple while making sure customers had all the information they needed to gain trust in us was a challenge. We created online reports they could use as value added to the invoice. We sped up claim solving, so it would take no more than three days when it involved third parties—banks and other operators. As a result, we became leaders in our satisfaction measures against all telecom providers in those two processes, and it made the difference.

True moments of interaction—touch-points, contact points, customer points—may be through the Internet, over cell phones, in retail stores, by way of referrals, through salespeople or service people, in a call center IVR, through an advertising campaign. Regardless of the mode, all touch-points need to be aligned to project the image you are promising with your brand in a consistent manner. Customers experience your company at those points. Processes you execute at those points need to be designed accordingly. And people who interact with customers at those points need to live those brand values. They need to act accordingly, as well.

Customers’ experiences are not difficult to design. If company leaders really understand not only what customers need and want but also what they value the most and incorporate that in their brand message and behave consistently in all touch-points, that company will create value for customers. It will definitely have a differentiated behavior that will take a while for the competition to copy. And at the end of the day, the experience your customer has with your company will make the difference.

Olga Botero
C&S Customers and Strategy
Olga is an Information Technology executive with over 20 years of experience with large corporations in financial services, telecommunications and technology. She is the founding partner at C&S Customers and Strategy. Previously she has been CIO of Grupo Bancolombia, Director of Customer Service, Marketing Operations and Corporate Sales at Orbitel (UNE Telecomunicaciones) and Director of Quicken Business Unit at MECOsoft.

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