When the experience betrays the words: How to get the right balance between sales messages and the actual customer experience
Nokia became the latest company to get the ratio between the sales message and the actual experience wrong. I know many organizations are struggling to find out the right balance but I can’t stop wondering how Nokia could make such an amateurish mistake. I read in a Wall Street Journal article last week that the company expanded its apology for using misleading marketing materials for a new line of phones. Nokia had previously acknowledged it didn’t use the PureView camera of the Lumia 920 to shoot a portion of a video in promotional material for the phone. A video was meant to show off the smooth effect of Nokia’s new PureView technology on their new Lumia phone and imply a superior technology over competitors. Except it wasn’t shot on the phone but on a different camera. They used a hand-held video camera and lighting rig rather than the Lumia to create the material in question.
What’s worse, Nokia was called out by independent blogs for not having disclosed that the images weren’t captured by a Lumia.
This is like a commercial for a video game which doesn’t feature actual game footage and not have a disclaimer at the bottom saying “not actual game footage”. Sounds amateurish, doesn’t it? Amateurish because they got caught early in the game?!
Yet most organizations actually do the same thing, only some get caught later in the game. That is when their customers start to complain or walk out of the door. It is estimated that only 2% of dissatisfied customers complain. So in many instances companies might not be aware of the full scale of the problem. Also it’s worth knowing that defecting customers will tell their bad experiences on average to 8-10 people, whereas one in five will tell 20 people. And if things go viral in the social media (as with this case) then you have a crisis to manage. In addition every customer you keep represents at least 3 that you don’t have to attract.
Yet in many instances when customer experience/ customer service/ aftersales people bring this debate to the table marketing still gets the upper had as it’s hard to argue against the hard proven numbers versus the uncertainty or the “fluffy” concept of customer experience and keeping to one’s promises.
In moments like this the company’s true orientation emerges. Just like with people, if you are a family oriented person and your boss asks you if you could stay and work till late chances are that you’ll refuse or that you won’t be happy to say the least. But, if you are a career oriented, that won’t be a problem. Similarly with organizations, if an organization is solely focused on the short term revenue targets it will treat the customer as a transaction and will try to close it as soon as possible.
Take Apple as an example. John Sculley, who ran Apple from 1983 to 1993, was a marketing and sales executive from Pepsi. He focused more on profit maximization than on product design after Jobs left, and Apple gradually declined. “I have my own theory about why decline happens at companies,” Jobs has said in an interview. “They make some great products, but then the sales and marketing people take over the company, because they are the ones who can juice up profits. When the sales guys run the company, the product guys don’t matter so much, and a lot of them just turn off”.
Think of company sales messages like “impossible is nothing”. Those just raise expectations too much. And when the service betrays the words, customers lose the trust in those organizations. This also has a spiral effect that some may not have thought of. Such messages create angry customers who then shout at customer service people. And when the voice of customer service and customer experience people is not heard by executives and changes are not made, those same people, that are supposed to work towards a better customer experience, have no other choice but to close within their shells to avoid being emotionally hurt by customer complaints and turn sarcastic towards their own organization. When employees don’t believe the organization they work for is of highest standards, that feeling is eventually transferred to customers as well.
We also worked with a recent start-up telecom in the Middle East and as all new companies they were led by Marketing and Sales with a strong focus on customer acquisition. They had a huge success with an exponential growth but that came up with a price. The number of complaints and call centre contacts were skyrocketing. They were in risk of losing customers if a new competitor entered the market. When we did a research to see where they needed to focus their efforts to improve the experience the number one thing we found was “keeping its promises”.
So how organizations can make sure that the customer experience they deliver is in line with their brand promise?
To make a brand come to life through behavior, don’t stop with formulating a brand identity. You need also to align the organizational goals to the brand values, and clearly define behaviors to help employees bring the brand to life.
When Gallup conducted research across four banking brands in the Asia Pacific region, they found that many front-line employees, when asked about brand behaviors, could relay only lofty organizational goals instead of specific actions. They knew about customer-centricity, for instance, but they couldn’t name specific behaviors that truly bring it about. Similarly, we at Beyond Philosophy conducted a research amongst customer experience professionals in Telecoms and only 30% of them believed their front level employees would be able to articulate what is the experience their company is trying to deliver.
Therefore the first thing an organization should do is to define what the customer experience is they are trying to deliver so that all departments are aligned to that. The way we usually do this is by crafting a Customer Experience Statement. Whilst the brand is intended for communication outside the organization and often doesn’t provide clear guidelines as to what is the experience employees should make manifest, the Customer Experience Statement is intended for internal communication and to be used as a guiding light to the behaviors and experience the organization should be portraying, like the way sailors used the North Star to guide their way. Without having defined the experience you want to provide, different departments (and people) will have a different view as to what is the right thing to do and the result will be a disjoint experience.
If such manifest doesn’t exist or is too vague, everyone will do what they think is the right thing and the end result will be a disjoint experience. Here’s an example that Neil Davey, MyCustomer.com, gives in his blog: “A chain of retail stores decided to improve the customer experience. Later when they looked at what the store managers had done in response to this, because the direction was very vague, some of them had focused on training their staff to greet customers, and one had decided to bring in fresh baked cookies every day! Now which of those is correct? If either?”
That takes us to the next bit. Once you have defined what you will stand for (i.e. the experience you want to deliver) this needs to be drilled down into departmental behaviors.
One organization that does this really well is Lush. One of their key brand values is being green but unlike many other brands they actually mean it and have turned that into concrete actions and behaviors to an extent that when a customer orders something online they ship the product packed in organic biodegradable material like popcorn rather than plastic bubbles. They are also very serious against animal testing and most of their products are vegetarian. They have also employed people who share their views such as vegans, vegetarians etc. even if those people are all in piercing and tattoos. What those people who share the same values and goals bring is “passion”. That’s a key and real differentiator for one’s experience because passionate employees, who really believe in the brand, will go out of their way to defend it. That’s one of the reasons why Qaalfa Dibeehi names Lush as his personal favourite for a best customer experience company in his blog.
|Zhecho Dobrev is a consultant and project manager for Beyond Philosophy. He has worked with a wide array of large corporate companies. Zhecho’s expertise includes customer behaviour analytics, customer loyalty, complaints management and journey mapping. He holds an MBA and Master’s degree in International Relations.
Zhecho Dobrev on Twitter @Zhecho_BeyondP