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  • September 21, 2017

Branding as a Framework for Customer Experience Management

In today’s digital, social, and app-driven economy; companies face an increasingly complex environment when it comes to managing their customer experience. Customer touchpoints are diversifying — spanning apps, websites, social platforms, chats, advertisements, live events, physical locations, virtual and augmented reality and more — making it more important than ever for brands to develop strategic frameworks for managing the customer experience.

Much of the discussion around managing experience centers around two practice fields:

1) User Experience Design

User Experience (UX) is a field of design which provides tools for designing individual products or services according to user needs. 

2) Customer Experience Management

Rooted in the field of customer relationship management, Customer Experience (CX) Management takes a business perspective and looks at the entire customer experience which can include purchase, awareness, attraction, discovery, interaction, cultivation, and advocacy.

You can think of CX Management as the global view of the user experiences of individual products and services offered by your company, and encompassing additional touchpoints like customer service, social media, advertising, retention programs, community management, and policy.

The question is, how do you set benchmarks for your customer experience? How do you define success? Often missing from most CX discussions is the concept of brand strategy. Your brand strategy is in fact, the only reason why you would think about your customer experience in the first place. Without a promise to customers, there is no accountability to deliver.

Branding as a Framework for UX + CX

Let’s start with a simple definition of brand from Entrepreneur.com:

“Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be.”

Customer experience is just one component of an overall branding framework. Here are others:

1. Unique Value Proposition (UVP)

Also thought of as product positioning, what is the unique benefit, feature, or capability a product, service, or organization provides? This can also be thought of as the “promise” of a brand — what does the brand promise to offer you?

2. Personality

Effective brands have a personality, also known as a brand identity; such as luxurious, youthful, innovative, or fun. Customers identify with your brand’s personality, which is expressed by your brand’s values and messaging.

3. Mission

Strong brands express a sense of purpose and do so through their mission. Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, emphasizes the importance of the mission well; “whether it’s the challenge to do your best in sports and fitness or the affirmation that the cup of coffee you’re drinking really matters”.

4. Experience

This is where CX Management and UX design fit in. What are your customers’ actual experiences with your brand? Does your product or service meet their expectations and does it go further to delight them?

Embody A Strong CX Strategy

One company that embodies a CX strategy built on a foundation of a strong brand message is the Four Seasons Resorts and Hotel. Isadore Sharp, the hotel’s founder, states that he developed his hotel’s brand on a redefinition of luxury. Sharp says that luxury is less about luxurious or expensive surroundings of the hotel itself, but rather the way guests feel during their stay and in their interactions with personnel. 

For the Four Seasons, their user experience encompasses their hotel, their staff, and all their communications with their guests and members. Their digital user experience specifically spans their social media, email outreach, websites, and mobile apps. Most importantly, the Four Seasons executes a CX strategy centered on its brand mission, which they articulate as:

"We have chosen to specialize within the hospitality industry by offering only experiences of exceptional quality. Our objective is to be recognized as the company that manages the finest hotels, resorts and residence clubs wherever we locate. We create properties of enduring value using superior design and finishes, and support them with a deeply instilled ethic of personal service. Doing so allows Four Seasons to satisfy the needs and tastes of our discriminating customers, and to maintain our position as the world's premier luxury hospitality company.”

The Four Seasons uses five specific policies to realize this brand promise through on-the-ground action:

1. Empowering Front-Line Employees to Innovate

Employees are encouraged to try out new ways of providing great service to guests, such as giving out free sunscreen at the pool. Ideas that work are circulated and spread throughout the company.

2. Removing the Fear of Failure​

Every morning, each Four Seasons' hotel staff team reviews a “glitch report” on missteps and failures in customer service. These are discussed in a positive light, as opportunities for improvement.

3. Living by the Golden Rule

Sharp believed deeply in treating his hotel’s staff as true stakeholders, and rewarding them. By treating his employees well, he’s been able to create a culture where his staff is motivated to treat guests with exceptional service.

4. Infusing Great Service into Their Digital Experiences​

The Four Seasons mobile app offers an in-app chat feature where guests can instantly get answers from a friendly staff member about any of its hotels. This is a small detail, but one that reinforces the company’s brand message.

5. Granting Employee Bonuses Based on Positive Reviews​

When guests leave positive reviews and mention the name of a staff member, that employee receives a bonus. By tying employee compensation to a specific outcome that reinforces an important brand priority (great service), the company aligns motivations and improves its customer experience.

Start With a Simple Approach to CX

When benchmarking the success of your customer experience efforts, a good starting point is to measure how well your CX is fulfilling and reinforcing your brand’s value proposition, personality, and mission. When thinking through your CX approach, it’s helpful to keep your customer experience simplified, so as to provide customer experiences that are managed as carefully as the product, the price, and the promotion of the marketing mix.

Start with your brand (UVP, mission, or personality; whichever is most relevant), then identify goals and success metrics that relate to your brand goals. In this way, you can frame your thinking about CX and UX around your brand, providing a clear context for prioritization and goal setting. For the Four Seasons, they started with their brand goal of providing exceptional service, which they measured through customer feedback. They then tie employee bonuses to the same metric, enabling them to better deliver a real customer experience that delivers on their brand promise. They also pay attention to the details, delivering exceptional service even within their mobile app. In the same way, you can frame your thinking about CX and UX around your brand, providing a clear context for prioritization and goal setting.

Your brand is your promise, your customer experience is its fulfillment.

Customer Experience Simplified

Featured image source: pexels

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