Some might argue that reach is the making of a brand but, as Nikki Phillipson of 10 Associates explains, giving great experiences to customers is the key to keeping them on board
Think back to the last person you met who made a real impression on you. What were the circumstances? What was it they did or said that was so memorable and how did the whole experience make you feel?
Given we don’t tend to remember mediocrity, there’s a good chance the experience would have been either highly positive or negative. It would have either appealed to your values or jarred with them. It would have been pleasurable or uncomfortable. It might even be a happy anecdote or cautionary tale that you share with friends and family. One thing’s for sure: the experience would have helped you determine whether or not you wished to engage with that person further or not at all.
Now imagine that person as a brand. All interactions – big and small – that a person has with a brand form their opinion of it. The experiences are a large part of what humanises the brand, so it’s no wonder that in recent years more and more focus is being applied to making these experiences not only positive but memorable too.
We predict that this year we will see brands pay real attention to how they engage with customers, citing ‘brand immersion and experience’ over ‘brand reach’ as the way to prosper in 2016 and beyond.
So what is a great brand experience?
Experience, by its very nature, is highly personal, so trying to control the factors that lead to it is not necessarily an easy or achievable task. Where you can trip up is if your intention isn’t genuine. The motivation behind an activity needs to come from an authentic starting point to hold gravitas and increase your chances of success. This isn’t about stunts to fill column inches or blog posts.
For instance, a story emerged earlier this year from a customer of fashion brand Zulily. Kelly Blue Kinkel shared her experience of the brand on Facebook, saying that it had been ‘one of the best customer experiences of her life’.
Upon receiving a coat from Zulily, she had decided to return it. When she called their customer services team to enquire about how to go about this, she was informed that she would be refunded in full. However, she was also told to keep hold of the coat and donate it to a charity or someone in need. Not surprisingly, this unexpected response got quite a bit of traction on social networks. It’s not clear how it came about as Zulily haven’t commented on it but this heartwarming experience has endeared the brand to many.
Such an act is unlikely to be a rigid policy, as it doesn’t take Richard Branson to tell us that a business wouldn’t survive by giving away every returned item. But perhaps they had a short-run initiative for that week to help people in need or maybe they allow their customer service employees to deliver a certain number of ‘acts of kindness’ and this was the result of one of them. It could even be that the employee just went rogue and has now been sacked. We don’t know for sure but what is clear is the power of the act far outweighs any marketing attempts to humanise that brand.
The empowerment of people to make decisions that directly affect a customer’s experience of your business is something we came across when working with AO.com on its rebrand. The company recited tales such as how it paid for a dad who was busy ‘wetting the baby’s head’ to get a taxi home from the pub to take delivery of a washing machine. Another story told how a family of four got a pizza delivered courtesy of AO.com so they wouldn’t go hungry when their new cooker’s delivery driver was held up in teatime traffic.
The cost versus the reward is invaluable in cases such as this. Not only that but these are the stories that customers share with their friends and family, and the value that these recommendations hold to any business is pure gold. However, as these examples suggest, it doesn’t have to be sporadic acts that capture people’s hearts and minds. You can implement policies within your business to provide memorable moments for your brand and customer to share.
Larry Olmsted, a journalist for Forbes, was staying at the Hotel Hassler in Rome with his wife. As they were leaving, the doorman stopped them and one of the concierges approached to inform them that he thought they might have left some jewellery in their room. Sure enough, his wife realised that she had left all her jewellery, including her wedding and engagement rings, in the room. He writes about the relief they both felt and the worry they were saved by the hotel returning this to them before they left.
The hotel, recognising the inconvenience that customers – and to some degree the hotel itself – experience when an item is left behind, has a policy to minimise this. The owner of Hassler explains that hotel staff try to check rooms as soon as a guest checks out, so anything which might have been left behind can be returned to the owner before they even leave the building. Another hotel in Yorkshire actually calls its guests half an hour before they are due to arrive to ask if they are on schedule and if they would like a bath running for when they arrive.
These things don’t cost anything, other than a little extra effort, time and thought. Every business needs to look closely at their own customers’ journey to identify where they can truly enhance their experience with the brand.
This article comes courtesy of Nikki Phillipson, account director at 10 Associates, the brand and design consultancy.