The topics discussed at Skilful Minds fall in a range of challenges involved in translating strategic business goals, and the complex needs of people, into exceptional experiences, for employees who provide products and services and those who consume them, whether the latter are customers, users, learners, or just plain people. Commentators and practitioners of experience design tend to focus on the latter while largely ignoring the former. A few recent posts by influentials speak directly to these concerns and merit specific attention for their insights into experience design and brands.
The underlying theme is that brands are not simply about the way customers view products and services. The way employees engage customers in the design, development, and delivery of those products and services is also crucial to brands. However, exhorting employees to live the brand and talk customer-centricity is a prescription for failure when isolated from transformational changes to a company’s engagement with customers.
Brands Don’t Talk to Customers, Employees Do
In his Experience Matters series in Harvard Business Publishing, Adaptive Path’s Peter Merholtz posts, Is Your Company Designed for People?, offering the following insight about the slow pace of organizational change when compared to communication technologies.
As I’ve been thinking of this technological revolution, I’ve realized we need an organizational revolution. The organizations many of us work in remind me of the state of computer technology from five years ago:
They’re remarkably confining.
We’re placed in hierarchical org charts, remnant of railroad and factory operations of the 19th century, and find ourselves in silos that prevent us from collaborating with our colleagues.
We’re given job titles with an explicit set of responsibilities, and discouraged to perform outside that boundary.
We’re discouraged from being too social, from engaging honestly about our emotions, as such behavior is “unprofessional.”
We thus leave the office having only engaged a small part of who we are.
Is it any wonder that most companies deliver such poor customer experiences? They can’t even create a good staff experience, and that’s something they have a higher degree of influence over!
Peter’s point builds on a growing interest among experience designers to approach the provision of services as a design problem. Tim Brown of IDEO also notes that designers ”tend to take rules and regulations as part of the existing constraints.”
Professionals working in customer experience management often note that consumers trust a company more when they think it treats employees well. Consider Leigh Duncan-Durst’s recent comments on The truth about CEM .
Specifying the Brand Dialogue Strategy
Adding specific data points to earlier observations on the engagement gap, Duncan-Durst points out that while many companies attempting to implement social media achieve the ability to speak the language of customer-centricity, most seem to fail to make the operational and organizational changes required to provide a seamless experience for customers. Indeed, a more recent post by Peter Merholtz adds to the point from the design side by noting that all design teams need a multi-channel employee composition. Unfortunately, the reality of customer experience seems far from achieving such a goal. Summarizing from several sources, Leigh offers the following key research findings, among others.
83% of companies have no executive tasked with improving customer experience across channels 74% have No single set of customer performance scores applied across the organization 73% claim that customer experience is not well defined & communicated 71% do not meet with customers regularly(DOH!) 76% say employees are not well-versed in how to delight customers. 71% believe employees do not have tools and authority necessary to solve customer problems Less than 44 % believe their companies deserve customer loyalty About 42% say their product/service is not worth the price they charge
From my take on it, Leigh is making the point that providing customers with a good experience requires using insights gained from engagements with them to inform efforts to transform culture, operations, strategic planning, and programmatic execution within companies. As Nick Marsh at Choosenick recently summarized,
well written and thoughtful brand values are a vital input into the development of any service, particularly where the service delivery is about tone of voice and style. Any service delivery principles should never contradict any brand values – if they do someone’s doing a bad job somewhere.
In short, to paraphrase Leigh Duncan-Durst, We can’t buy customer love for brands. We have to earn it.
Speaking the language of customer-centricity is not good enough. Brands must talk-the talk and walk-the-walk. Brand strategies are most effective when based in the design and delivery of business services themselves. As noted here previously, a brand dialogue strategy is the increasing challenge for companies as they design products and services to deliver good experiences for customers.
An experience design strategy that aims to increase brand loyalty and retain customers is more likely to succeed if it displays its own loyalty towards customers, and employees, in all its processes by consistently following through on its promises. Strategists increasingly recognize that listening to customers, engaging them in dialogue, and acting on what is learned lies at the heart of experience design’s relevance to brands, customers, and social media. It makes the design of dialogue strategies an essential resource for companies to mold their brands through developing an emotional connection with customers.
The point has become increasingly obvious, even to some Public Relations experts who now assert that the fate of PR lies in mediating the customer experience, and managing customer touch points across channels of engagement. In other words, listening is not enough. Those listening for a brand, whether employees or outside agencies, require an understanding of how a complaint, product suggestion, opportunity, or request heard on a social media channel (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) relates to the brand’s business services and the processes that regulate them.
Posted by Larry R. Irons
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