Optimizing the brand experience feels almost like a natural extension of improvement in order to continue to win customers and keep them coming back. But consumers are tricky. Focusing too much on efficiencies can hurt the brand experience for the consumer. In this article, you’ll begin to see that some streamlining can enhance the brand experience, and some won’t.
When looking at the operations of an organization, sometimes it makes sense to eliminate human employees for part of the process. Micah Soloman, author and thought leader on customer service says,
What doesn’t work and is inherently hazardous is making your goal the removal of humans from the process. Let’s go back to that prize we should be keeping our eye on: a happy customer.
I recently had to search online for a five-year-old movie for my wife for a school project that I could order online and pick up in-store before they closed at approximately 9 pm. It was approximately 6 pm. I found the movie easy enough from several brands, but none allowed me to pick them up within an hour.
- Amazon: Had the movie in stock, the quickest I could receive it was 2-day shipping
- Walmart: Had the movie in stock, but was not available for in-store pickup
- Target: No copies of the movie available within a 100-mile radius of our zip code (seriously?!)
- Public Library: 32 copies available across the city; the library closest to me claimed to have the movie, but apparently did not know where it was. (again – seriously?!)
Streaming the movie was not an option as the internet at the school was not very fast. Because the movie had to be projected onto a screen, several online options were eliminated, even if it was for teaching purposes. Options such as YouTube, iTunes, and Vudu all do not allow movies to be shown via a projector.
It was now almost 7 pm. Most stores closed within 2 hours. The search continued.
I found the movie available at Best Buy, and to my luck, was available for in-store pickup in about an hour. There was a store 1-mile away from our condo, and I had 2 hours to complete the mission.
The brand experience of ordering the movie online and requesting in-store pick up was simple and seamless enough. I was able to buy it and reserve it, then received an email letting me know the order was being put together.
About 20 minutes later, now closer to 7:30 pm, I received an email letting me know the order was ready and I could go pick it up.
When I got to the store, that is where the brand experience started to fall apart.
I had my ID, credit card, and email with purchase code ready to go. In theory, it should be just as smooth as if ordering food from Panera and picking it up at a cafe from the shelf full of orders. The customer service representative fumbled through the process, took questions from other customers while apparently looking for the product I had already paid for, then radioed to the warehouse as if what I had come in to pick up was not certain, but just a question.
This made me lose trust in the entire process. Having already been out of luck with several other brands, battling a time crunch, and wanting to ease the stress on my wife, this was not very comforting hear.
As a millennial, it’s not that I don’t like interacting with employees at stores, what I don’t like is employees making the process more of an inconvenience, rather than enhancing the experience.
I eventually received the movie, as it was still in the warehouse and was not brought up to the in-store pickup in a timely manner.
How Can Employees Enhance an Automated Process?
In my Best Buy example, the employee made the otherwise smooth process an inconvenience. They ended up adding layers of confusion to the brand experience, rather than enhancing it. Instead, if the employee could have offered meaningful advice or other products to enhance the movie I just purchased, that may have been valuable to me.
Soloman points out in his article that what millennials view as valuable is different from what older generations may have viewed as valuable in their time.
For example, a hotel concierge highlighting a route in yellow on a paper map offers very little value, versus an address that Apple Maps could map for me. But if the concierge were to provide recommendations for an authentically local dining experience, then provide the name and address? That is much more valuable.
The Brand Experience Must Match Core Competencies
When a brand encourages their customers to forego one of their core competencies, they are practicing the most dangerous type of streamlining. Hotels are built on their cleanliness and efficient housekeeping operations to provide an exceptional customer experience. When I book a hotel, I want the room to be spotless in terms of cleanliness.
Hotels that offer a “green choice” to forego housekeeping may be doing a disservice to their overall brand reputation. If the hotel touts a full-service experience, but encourages its customers to forego housekeeping during their stay, what message are they sending?
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Can you optimize and streamline to the point where the brand experience falls apart? How far is too far when streamlining? What elements must stay to keep the brand feeling personable?