CEO Adviser: Making Beautiful Music

By Dennis Haugan October 25, 2013


This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Seattle magazine.

Imagine an orchestra with no conductor. Without someone determining what instruments participate and when they engage, its just noise. That same scenario plays out today for many brands with the customer experiences they generate. Instead of instruments, they have departments, agencies, campaigns, products and projects. Each one doing its own thingyet they all come together for the customer, just like those instruments in the orchestra. And just like that orchestra with no conductor, it often is just noise.

Today, an individual customer experience quickly becomes a shared experience. Often, companies work feverishly downstream to address customer experience issues, but rarely move upstream to address them proactively. It takes a lot of marketing to overcome the gap created when a brand promise is broken. You not only have to resell the brand to your customer, but also to those with whom the customer shared the experience.

The challenge is that most companies still build customer experiences within silos, defining the customers wants, needs and goals differently. These independent efforts often come together for the first time within the customer journey. The odds that they organically come together effectively are slim, much like the odds that a group of instruments are somehow going to come together effectively to produce beautiful music. Without a composer and a conductor, both efforts simply end up generating noise.

In the past, sharing a poor experience was limited to word of mouth. Social media now amplify and dramatically expand the shared experience reach, so customer experience matters more than ever before. Eighty-nine percent of adults in the United States switched to a competitor because they had a bad customer experience with a service provider, yet 86 percent of Ameerican adults will pay more for a better customer experience. Most companies recognize this situation as both a problem and an opportunity. According to Forrester Research, 86 percent of companies believe customer experience is a top strategic priority, but most dont know where to start.

Based on my work with clients, I have learned the most effective starting point is with the brand promise made to customers. We can all think of brands that we feel really deliver the experience we would expect, but honestly, how many of these brands can you list? Often, there is a gap between the brand promise and the actual experience, which is ironic since the holy grail of marketing is delivering the essence of the brand.

This is why I define customer experience as the intersection of the brand promise and the actual customer experience. If you dont start with your brand promise, you are starting too far downstream. And if you dont align all the fractioned groups around a shared methodology, then you are continuing to create disconnected experiences within silos that do not deliver against the brand promise.

I find it works when you align disparate groups around a shared methodology, design with the same customers in mind and think about their needs and goals throughout the journey. To me, it is about designing a customer experience that delivers the right content and tools at the right time at the right location to help your customers make the decision to buy, stay with and evangelize your brand. This is called Customer Experience Design (CED).

I used CED for years within campaigns, website redesigns and omni-channel optimization. By far, the easiest to start with is campaigns. Here are steps you can follow to align your campaigns with CED.

1. Start with a creative brief that has been modified to account for all stages of the customer journey.

2. Expand your customer personas to include targeted customer needs and goals.

3. Map out the top three to five customer scenarios across primary touch points in customer journeys.

4. Brief your agency using the expanded creative brief, needs- and goals-based personas, and customer journey maps.

By starting at the beginning of the journey in partnership with your agency, you will have an on-brand campaign message that flows well beyond the awareness layer, content that helps customers make decisions, and integrated experiences that deliver against your brand promise while helping the customers meet their goals.

The next time you watch a TV commercial, see if you can discern the brand promise it is making. Then stress test that brand promise by visiting the website, the retail store or calling customer service. Will you find these touch point experiences were aligned to the brand promise made within the campaign? Or will it turn out to be just a bunch of noise?

DENNIS HAUGAN is managing director of customer experience design at Strong-Bridge Consulting in Tukwila. Reach him at [email protected].

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