Is there a secret formula for Sustainability in Customer Experience? Like it or not, people are hedonistic by nature. We love to talk about ourselves and our experiences to anyone who will indulge us even our cyber audience – existent or not. Thanks to social media opening up unlimited brag pages, the millennial pass time is not only comparing ourselves, but subconsciously trying to outdo each other in the amount of good or bad fortune that has been imparted our way!
#amazingtime@… is slash tagged tens of thousands of times every second of the day! Whether we are delighting in our particular form of paradise or rating the latest iPhone, we just can’t resist broadcasting our current status… even for a few seconds of media time! As participants or captive onlookers, it’s hard to resist tuning in an ear to the buzz.
Given the hype over customer experience, can we actually sustain this shift in the competitive landscape? Multi-nationals, as well as start-ups, know too well that the moment you have niched out a small mark in the war on brand awareness, the competitor comes along and imitates your painstakingly crafted brand promise and lures away a sizable portion of your clientele. Then another emergent comes along and jumps on the bandwagon. Soon your brand formula is not so secret anymore and your brand not so special.
How to Sustain Unique Customer Experience
So, how do we feasibly sustain unique customer experiences for the long term? Let’s turn back the clock and reflect on a case that did happen that may give us some insight… It may feel like just yesterday, but in 1985 to be exact, Coca-Cola will never live down the decision to reinvent itself by changing its proven 99 year formula and introducing the New Coke. In attempting to be a true game changer, executives did not anticipate the public outcry that resulted. They also did not predict the extremes people undertook to acquire any remaining stock of the original formula Coca-Cola.
In retrospect, executives quickly understood they had missed a key element – “the bond consumers felt with Coca-Cola” (Conversation staff, 2014). Their loyal customers felt the company had abandoned them and some even lashed out emotionally at anyone who was remotely associated with the company! It forced execs to rethink their game plan and do some quick damage repair by putting the original formula back on the shelves. Coca-Cola was reborn under the name “Classic Coca-Cola”. For its diehard raving fans, the tantrum was appeased. You know the saying… “If it ain’t broke…”
For Coca-Cola fans, emotional loyalty prevailed, but at a big price tag. In this case, re-invention was not only expensive, but it turns out, confusing for the customer. Let’s face it, the business landscape has changed, but it’s not just about changing your ‘secret formula’. In fact, it’s about defining your secret formula and the ingredients that it takes to make it a winning one. A unique offering is essential to customer experience, but the core ingredients for sustaining it? I like to call them the four powers.
The Power of Purpose
It cannot be understated. People do define their identities by the products and the people with whom they associate. Moreover, identities are further ingrained by the emotionally related experiences from which they stem. Clearly knowing what you are all about… your purpose… needs to be clear to your people and to your customers (Sinek, 2009). It is this kind of ‘value’ that customers seek, and which businesses can only hope to achieve. However, it is the enduring value that will sustain you – something Coca cola had already acquired, but completely underestimated. So, how do you foster something as elusive as lasting value?
Companies need to remain vigilant to customer preferences to sustain positive relations. The solution? It is two-fold on every level of sustainability and here’s why. You can have amazing products and services, but that’s not interesting enough for today’s expectant millennial customer. The real test is far less tangible. It’s about connecting on a deeper level… an emotional level because emotions – from love to hate – persist over time. Creating extraordinary customer experiences is not just about capturing their attention, but it’s about holding their attention over time.
Today people are looking for experiences that succeed at something more immaterial. The millennial customer is marked by their willingness to pay a little extra for something that has intangible value… beyond their immediate benefit. They understand about buying power and their ability to make a difference even if it just means with their wallet. It gives them a sense of control as if they are contributing in some small way – from friendly consumer advice to a greater socially conscious impact. Anita Roddick (founder of the Body Shop) always believed that a broader scope interest and pride in helping people had more lasting value than money. So, it’s all about connecting more intrinsically with customers, which eventually trickles down to your bottom line results.
By connecting with customers on a deeper level – emotionally – you connect differently. You tap into the emotional triggers that will create buy-in for the longer term. If your business value system speaks to your customers, then you have set the stage for longer relations. “And a great customer experience naturally aligns with being more sustainable while still meeting financial goals (Pinn, 2016).
Easier said than done, right? As Coca-Cola execs learned, really knowing your customer is critical. Not only must your values stay in line with the customer you cater to, but you need to appeal to them differently if they are to become and remain your raving fans! If you can do that, your customers will not blink an eye about lining up for hours to get your product. It means you have to get it right in all areas, but especially the customer passion that drives loyalty. So how do you tap into the love? “And those companies who can connect with their customers’ emotionally are likely to keep them for the long-term” (Miller, 2010).
Value YOUR PEOPLE… your ‘always connected’ connectors to the customers who are actually buying your product. They are your tuned-in brand ambassadors who are chatting up and reading your customers every day. Moreover, there is power in their numbers and the potential to create a much greater impact than your C-suite.
Your people are your most vital link to staying attuned to your customer in real time. It starts with having the right people representing your brand. Attract and keep people who effortlessly connect with others, it sets up opportunities for authentic dialogue and customer exchanges. Character is innate so hire pro-active millennial mindsets. They are the information funnel that gauge just how you’re really doing in real time… especially on the human front. Great people will create and sustain the emotional vibe for how customers feel about your brand.
The challenge is to keep your people in line with the organization’s goals. Take pains to inform your staff about the bigger picture benefits and values… meaning your ‘purpose beyond profits’. It doesn’t mean preaching to them, rather it means laying your trust and belief in them as integral players in the organization. Harnessing authentic employee energy and commitment means also connecting with them on an intangible level. It gives substance to “What’s in it for me?” beyond the monetary payday. This kind of empowerment strikes a different chord – an emotional one – and inspires them to be your best spokespersons and promoters.
A customer-centric focus needs to flow at a much deeper level… through every vein of your organization. An approach of this scope requires a complete organizational cultural shift. For some conventionalists, this may require completely flipping your paradigm on its head. For others, it means wrapping your head around the idea of putting customers’ needs before those of the organization and understanding the bottom-line link. It is estimated “the competitive position of companies will erode by 15 percent to 20 percent per year without strong relationships with their customers” (Angel, 2004).
By looking after your customer, you look after the organization, and by definition, its people. Of course, you still have to ‘pay the piper’, but the customer and the company need to be considered one in the same, not as separate entities. In other words, the customers’ needs are the company’s needs.
So, it’s all about people… inside and out. By developing a culture with a people-focused mindset, your staff understand the role they have in channeling customer information and sustaining a desired customer experience. They are your voice. When they convey this attitude in the way they interact, customers will take the time to speak to frontline ambassadors because they know that their opinions actually matter. It becomes conceivable to customers that their feedback could be converted into action points.
Equally, staff need to feel free to share their interpretations of customer feedback no matter how seemingly insignificant. It’s about instilling a mindset of empowerment. It is not just the power of the collective opinion, but also the ‘initiative mindset’ of internal game changers that can have a lasting impact. It sets up an environment where each employee feels accountable for the success of the company (Wartzman, 2014).
The human front is integral to transforming exchanges into desired customer experiences and translating them into sustained meaningful customer relations.
If you are as agile as Coca-Cola execs proved, you learn to recognize missed opportunities as well as new opportunities for sustaining engagement on an emotional level – through every vein of the organization.
Hence, creating an inherently sustainable customer experience is a two-fold equation because it starts with shaping a climate of continuously enriched emotional experiences, inside and out, and cultivating it with emotionally connected people, both inside and out. In essence, this is your power… your intangible secret formula!
Human relations are the new conduit to the bottom line (Fullan, 2001)