Quality is universal and it really doesn’t matter which car you pick or which phone you buy. There is no difference between the brands in what they do. The only difference comes from how they do it. By association, how the companies do it. By implication, how the people in the company do it.
So where does marketing come into the picture, if all products essentially say the same thing about the same thing at the same time? How is an ad campaign going to make a difference when the difference in the product, by definition, is experiential? Do you even know why your customers are buying your product or service? If you don’t know for sure, then you don’t know what you’re selling.
Do more. Talk less.
Brands are built inside out. A company’s brand is determined by the culture of the organisation. Businesses that are process driven, hierarchical and bureaucratic rely on marketing to justify a product or service which was created in an inconsistent manner based on internal metrics. Value and cost are not seen as parallel paths, but rather as conflicting. Maximising customer value in the product or service is seen as a cost issue. This saving is later wasted through marketing campaigns, which have to leave the impression of greater customer value.
Process driven business tends also to be very inconsistent in how it presents itself to customers. Whereas the ads are glitzy and cool, often things like instruction manuals are completely unintelligible. Customer service when buying is hands-on but getting support after the purchase is a nightmare of online forms and call centres. Inconsistency, while technically everything has been done right, ensures that it is no-one’s fault when customers complain.
Furthermore, the idea that the customer will make a purchasing decision based on more than the practical product or service benefits, is often not acknowledged. The reputation of the company, the social media fall-out from employees, the reaction to the company by suppliers and partners, all contribute to an image of the company in the eyes of the customer, none of which can be controlled through marketing. Or rather, traditional marketing.
Marketing is not a campaign
Marketing has never been more important in business. Whereas the value of the marketing department has decreased, the value of marketing is increasing. However, this marketing cannot be run by a department. Instead, everything that a company does must contribute to the marketing of the brand. In fact, if there is anything that the company does, that does not contribute to marketing, then it shouldn’t be done at all.
This type of marketing is a long chain of events, which all support each other to achieve a desired end result of a satisfied and returning customer. Marketing must be viewed as everything. What the CEO says at the staff meeting to inspire or harangue the staff is marketing. Staff’s attitude in manufacturing or servicing will directly contribute to the customer experience. And if that experience is for whatever reason, not as good as it should be, the customer will consider not returning.
Marketing doesn’t happen in the marketing department
Delivering a positive experience to the customer, along all possible touch-points between customer and company, cannot be done from one single department. By definition, the customer may interact with everything from staff, digital tools, physical packaging, the product or service (whatever it is), customer support, advertising, articles written about the company as well as opinions voiced about the company on social media. In order to ensure, that all of these touch-points are consistent, requires the company to be consistent in everything it does from how it treats employees to the warranty conditions associated with the product. This is not the job of the marketing department. This kind of marketing is the job of the whole board, starting with the CEO.
Witness the companies that we admire. More often than not, they’ve been consistent in delivering upon a core promise for decades. Some for centuries. The staff that work there, work there because they believe in that core promise. There is a built-in purpose to the company, that animates everyone from the CEO down to the newest employee. A shared passion.
This passion also simplifies decision making, because almost everyone is capable of making strategically correct decisions. Meeting customer complaints or making incremental improvements in the product or service are easily and quickly done where they happen. Most things never need to go up to the next level.
Touch the touch-points
The idea of touch-points, interaction points between customer and company, isn’t new. But the topic has become much more important as it has become apparent, that companies have many hundred touch-points with the customer, which often are not at all positive. This combined with the customer’s power to communicate her disappointment via social media immediately, makes it incredibly dangerous to presume that some mass-communication along with questionnaire after a transaction are enough to ensure a positive customer experience.
Ironically, companies are often not even aware of the amount of touch-points nor how they relate to each other in this omni-channel world. A shop visit may continue on the mobile phone, but if the website features different stock than the bricks-and-mortar store or the logic of the selection is different, then the customer may back out and not return to either place again, because there is always an other option. And if the customer returns, it may very well be because she, at that moment, feels that there are no options, rather than be satisfied with the experience.
Consistency is more important than originality
In delivering a continuously improving experience for the customer, marketing becomes something wholly different from the campaign driven stuff that has been done since WW II. Word of mouth has again become the most important medium, but it is now online and managed by your customers and reaches millions instantly. In fact, rely on customers to spread the word. Your job is now only to make sure that they want to. And that is the marketing of today — ensuring a customer experience worth a) coming back for and b) sharing. But it can’t be done in campaigns. Instead it is a process of continuous improvement more closely associated with design and LEAN manufacturing than it is with traditional business methods.
Design the product, the service and the experience
Brands are built from the inside. Focusing resources on improving internal communication and how the service or product is delivered to the customer, will improve customer loyalty. Happy customers will gladly recommend you. Happy staff will stay longer. A cool company attracts better staff. Applying service design to how the company works and meets the customer at all touch-points has many advantages:
– it can be done incrementally, with small improvements contributing to a whole;
– it pays for itself quickly;
– it can be learned and internalised, made part and parcel of how the company works
There is only one downside. It starts in the boardroom, with a recognition that the way companies used to work, doesn’t work anymore. This is mainly, but not limited to the fact, that often companies have independent departments, that do not cooperate. In the worst case, the departments are silos that compete with each other. (The latter being quite detrimental to a positive customer experience.)
Tear down this wall, Mr CEO
The pre-condition to delivering an outstanding customer experience actually depends on the whole organisation working together. Each department and function supporting the other to deliver a seamless whole.
Consider the customer’s perspective of a bank, for example. For the customer there is a single brand and one door to pass through, and it would make sense for the customer to just talk to one person and get all problems solved. Banks, on the other hand are actually a multitude of separate businesses from leasing, factoring, retail, wholesale, credit, etc. Each one has its own way of working slightly differently than the other departments and often requires the customer to have a separate contact person. And information that may be good enough for one section isn’t good enough for the other. Hardly conducive to a positive experience.
This same situation exists in most businesses but we often choose not to notice the small hindrances that we place in the way of our customers. Until those customers discover that there is an easier way to get what they want, somewhere else.
Establishing service design methods as a means of organising and delivering a product or service helps tear down internal walls. It improves internal communication, steers resources to where they create most value for the customer and turns customers into advocates to market your brand much more effectively, than you can do yourself.
Service design, as a working method, is focused on continuous learning and improvement, where all activity pulls the organisation in the same direction. By working in small, iterative steps and involving all parties and focusing on where value is created for the customer, returns big results in a relatively short time period. Over time, this manner of seeing the world from the customer’s point-of-view becomes second nature to the whole organisation. This is the marketing of the 21st century that everyone needs. First come, first served.