The customer experience, or brand experience as I call it, is a critical business component these days. Focusing on the brand experience has become an important way for an organization to achieve success – and differentiate themselves from the competition. What exactly is the brand experience? How does it differ from customer service? And why should your brand be concerned about it? Let’s dive in!
What is ‘Brand Experience‘?
I look at organizations from a holistic perspective, bringing everything the company does into the picture in order to understand how it is performing. I define the brand experience as the sum of all interactions a customer has with a brand. This can include everything from the initial awareness or discovery of a brand, product, or service – progressing through the purchase and use of those products and services. Together these all add up to the critical moments – the touch points – the create an organization’s overall brand experience.
How Operations Affect the Brand Experience
As a brand strategist, I’m often focused on developing a brand that the team clearly understands, believes in, and agrees to live by its values in order to attract, engage and develop deep relationships with its ideal audience. Working through the internal processes are important, but they are only one side of the equation.
Once the team has a solid understanding of the brand, what it stands for and how it works to improve the lives of its customers, the next step is to evaluate how the team processes and handles the customer experience. In other words, the operations and mechanics of the processes in order to deliver a seamless customer experience are just as critical to the overall brand experience.
An example I like to share is Starbucks’ mobile app. The mobile app is a fantastic extension of the Starbucks brand and offers a simple, seamless experience to order, customize, choose a coffeehouse location, and pay for your drinks. However, the coffeehouses sometimes are understaffed and overworked, leading to an operations breakdown.
The mobile app generally provides an estimate of 3 to 8 minutes until your order is ready. There have been times when arriving at a Starbucks to pick up my pre-ordered and paid for coffee, I’ve had to wait an extra 15 minutes plus to get my order, thus hurting the experience I just had with the mobile app.
The operations of the coffeehouse are not aligned to the brand promise made by the mobile app.
I recently ordered a movie from Best Buy to pick up in-store before closing. The online process was simple, seamless, and easy. I received an email immediately letting me know I’d receive a second email when the product was ready to pick up.
At the store, the brand experience quickly fell apart. The product was not at the in-store pickup area as the email stated. The Best Buy employee did not appear to be well-trained, causing me to question if I had purchased the movie or was at the correct store.
Again, the operations did not align with the brand promise from the online experience, which then hurt the overall brand experience.
What’s the Key Learning From These Stories?
The brand experience moves us beyond the traditional definition of customer service – those individual moments when employees are providing direct service to customers. It’s about the bigger picture of what happens before, during, and after these service interactions.
Bruce Jones, senior programming director at Disney Institute wrote about the customer experience in Harvard Business Review and how it differed from customer service, explaining
To truly gain an understanding of customer [brand] experience, you must know that it encompasses every aspect of a company’s offering – from the quality of its customer care to its reputation management, marketing, packaging, product and service features, ease of use, reliability, and beyond.
Three Actions to Improve the Brand Experience
- Develop a Shared Purpose – a shared purpose is a clear explanation of what you want the brand experience to at an emotional level. It is the essential foundation on which all other service decisions can be developed. Think of it as combining your vision and mission, explaining to employees why the brand exists and what it stands for. This shared purpose is your primary tool for getting all team members on the same page.
- Align Operations to the Brand Experience – many organizations are moving online and with that, they are developing new customer experiences. But what happens when the online experience and the physical experience are tied together, such as with the Starbucks or Best Buy examples? By assessing the brand promise you are making online and aligning it to your operations, you can deliver a consistent, seamless experience to your customers.
- Treat Exceptional Service as an Economic Asset – the experience your brand delivers determines the lifetime customer relationships, so the return on investment for providing consistently exceptional service clearly justifies the short-term cost.
Brand experience is about much more than just customer service. It is about fostering employee engagement, truly understanding your customer, and developing a plan for delivering exceptional brand experiences on a consistent basis.
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