Robert Heard writes about the critical role of employees in delivering positive customer experience. Are companies setting themselves up to fail with extravagant advertising laced with aspirational claims and imagery? How many times have we all been induced by powerful marketing claims by companies, but when it actually comes to purchasing or consuming their product or service the whole experience is something of a let down and certainly not “as seen on TV”. Unfortunately it is an all too common situation across much of the retail and service sectors. We all know of companies who fall short on the promises that their brand, implicitly or explicitly, makes to customers. Boasting a newer, shinier, better experience, they continue to repeat the same old mistakes, with inconsistent service, poor information, under resourced or under trained staff, and no surprise we get the same old excuses and outcomes.
So how can companies better deliver what they promise in times when customer expectations are so high? The optimal customer experience recognises the simple fact that customers have needs and they want these fulfilled with the minimum of fuss. They want to receive a consistent experience that satisfies their expectations across all the channels through which they interact with you, from the shop floor, to contact centre, to the website and for this to continue even after they have made a purchase. When this occurs, a state of congruence exists in the customers minds with what they were told would happen (through various marketing messages) and what they physically experienced. In this joined up thinking a key component of the equation is so often overlooked, the role that employees play is the crucial. Operating at the sharp end, in other words, the customer-facing part of the business, employees are a critical yet under-emphasised element in delivering the positive customer experience necessary to build a strong brand. Countless studies show that employees have the biggest influence over whether a customer interaction is a positive or negative experience. The behaviours and emotional intelligence of employees at these key moments of truth is crucial. Organisations must therefore take steps to ensure their employees are engaged with the vision and values of the organisation and capable of delivering the right customer experience each and every time. The alignment of brand values and culture is a significant part of designing an end-to-end Customer Experience. Ask yourself, are my employees "bought in to" what the company is trying to achieve? Have they got the right tools for the job, are we rewarding employees for customer service, for truly "living the brand", do employees know what is expected of them and their role in delivering the customer experience? If the answer is yes, then your organisation is definitely on the right path to implementing an integrated customer and brand strategy. If we look at the brands lauded for their success, Virgin, American Express, First Direct, Marks & Spencer, what do they have in common? At the heart of their business is a real commitment to the customer, the experience is celebrated as more than just a transaction and employees are integral to delivering a congruent Customer Experience. The process of interaction is carefully managed, employees understand their role in the process and what the branded customer experience is designed to be and because of this comes a visceral connection between customer and company which in its self is the essence of the desired brand and corporate strategy. Today to become a successful brand you have to embed "the right customer experience" in every aspect of the business design. Once you have achieved a fully integrated approach that addresses values and culture, processes and customer communications then your brand will become a powerful tool for achieving sustainable competitive advantage.