Consumer behavior is in a constant state of evolution. Likewise, companies must also shift to meet new expectations and think strategically about which levers to pull to drive their business forward.
At the beginning of the last century, competing on product was seen as the main lever to pull to differentiate in the market. Product was soon dethroned by price during the Industrial Revolution as products increasingly became commodified. At this point, companies needed to leverage their own differentiating brand promise that communicated a distinct value against competition. The next lever to be pulled was that of excellence in customer service.
Today, we know that all of these levers matter to deliver a well choreographed, meaningful customer experience (CX).
The importance of the customer service lever appears obvious today, but there was a time when it was only considered a cost center limited to managing complaints without strong service-level agreements (SLAs). In fact, the brand and customer service lever must operate together.
As an example, let’s look at Apple. The iPhone was seen as revolutionary when it first launched in 2007. Fifteen years later, the smartphone as a product is no longer revolutionary for the customer, and the price is neither a brake nor motivation for purchase. However, the Genius Bar, which is a free, face-to-face, personalized technical assistance service for customers, is a key distinctive feature for the brand. Former Apple VP of Retail Ron Johnson defines it as “the heart and soul” of Apple Stores.
Ever since social media redefined the way we communicate with each other, poor customer service is now an immediate and very real threat to a brand’s reputation. In 2017, United Airlines learned this lesson the hard way. After numerous customer service scandals (including everything from mishandling pets to shoving customers to consistent flight delays), the airline company faced backlash after a customer was violently dragged out of a plane for refusing to give up his seat to accommodate a United staff member’s request.
The video of the incident, which shows the screaming bloodied man desperately trying to cling to his seat before United crew members dragged him from the plane, was posted on social media and generated close to two million reactions using the #Bumpgate hashtag. On the financial reputation front, the poor customer treatment caused a 4% drop in the stock market for the company.
Reputation is not just something that legacy brands have to manage. For digital-native organizations, who initially changed the game with built-in high-quality service, the battle is not that simple either. In its early days, booking an Uber used to mean more than just getting a ride from one point to the other. The ride came with a neatly dressed chauffeur who greeted the customer by name. In addition, the chauffer would offer a bottle of water, some light snacks and so on.
As Uber’s prices lowered and amenities were scaled back, consumers would go on to feel frustrated by the decrease in quality—and voiced these frustrations online. Yet, a failure to engage the consumer, as well as a failure to make staff comply with shifted operating standards, each offer only a partial explanation. Together, they both serve to highlight how the company’s internal organization became public-facing at a detriment to customer experience, and overall perception of the brand.
Today, investing in customer service is a no-brainer. “Service”-led transformations are ongoing in all industries. But is this enough?
With the democratization of the Net Promoter Score (NPS)–a calculation that, per its developer Satmetrix, positions service as a key differentiator for brands—Chief Experience Officers earned a seat at the top executive table. NPS started to push companies to reconsider their deeply rooted patterns and move towards an experience-driven state of mind.
Organizations who have fallen behind in pulling the customer service lever are now racing to keep up. But many will continue to fall short until they can first understand the new paradigm: all business levers must be deployed in step to deliver on holistic customer experience. If what a brand says it offers and what its customer service delivers are disconnected, customers will sense it and will call out the inauthenticity.
Simply put, brand is all about making promises. Customer service is about keeping those promises. Experience is what happens when a customer sees promises made become promises kept.
Patagonia is one brand that understands this well. With a mission statement that reads, “We’re in business to save our home planet,” Patagonia’s existence has always relied on its commitment to nature a desire to protect the planet, long before it became fashionable or trendy. To this day, the company practices what it preaches.
Here are some examples of how Patagonia pulled different business levers to win on CX.
It’s in the name of experience that some brands started to bet on experiential, in-person concept stores. One of the most notable ones would be the Pierre Hermé x L’Occitane Parisian store that offered an original sensorial experience to the user. The user could not only smell the freshly made macarons, but could also see select portions of their manufacturing process.
Another interesting Parisian example would be the Adidas flagship store. The sports brand chose to recreate a workout environment where their visitors could customize their products in the Creator Hub, discover Paris via a VR (Virtual Reality) experience, play basketball in the in-store basketball court, and so on.
It may seem counter-intuitive for retail, but these experiences don’t necessarily include the purchase of a product. Just because someone patrons Pierre Hermé and Adidas stores does not mean they will automatically walk out of with arms full of purchases. However, the memories created from those experiences will become signature moments that make them want to come return, deepening their relationship with the brands.
With omnichannel strategies, phygital (the combination of physical and digital) and the metaverse, the number of customer touchpoints is multiplying. So, too, is the opportunity to deliver on experience or risk falling short of expectations. To influence buying behaviors, organizations must offer a full expression of the brand in every aspect of the customer experience.
Experience must be the starting point for each transformation program, product launch, marketing campaign and so on. Our conviction at frog is that as popular as a brand may be or as good a product, if the entire customer experience does not generate a pleasant memory or emotion, it will not connect with consumers long-term.
Consequently, leaders need to find ways to address the rising need for hybridization within their organization. The key question they face in meeting this evolving need is this: How can our organization work as one team—strategic planners, product designers, experience designers, marketing experts, services leads and so on—to create something cohesive and bring a valuable experience to the user?
These principles define the way we work with brands at frog, starting with our own. By combining best-in-class, multidisciplinary teams across services, data-driven insights and extended capabilities as part of Capgemini Invent, we can support our clients end-to-end as they make their mark and build the future by having a holistic approach that looks across brand, business, experience, enablement and activation.
It is a time of turbulence for brands, as their ability to act on their promise is systematically tested: the dichotomy between greenwashing and sustainability illustrates this. Consumers can sense inauthenticity and are not afraid to be vocal about it. The organizations acting with yesterday’s logic will get into reputation trouble tomorrow.
As a result of this unprecedented change in consumer behavior patterns, companies must shift from pulling traditional business levers as individual mechanisms toward thinking across holistic experiences. It is the dance of these business levers together that counts—each one keeping step with customer as partner.