Positive Customer Experiences Will Build a Solid Brand

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Online marketers were misguided last year as they attempted to build brands by simply buying ad impressions.


What they failed to realize is that a brand is not just about awareness. It is not logos slapped on every possible surface. It is not even about the Web site's look and feel. A brand is the sum of what customers think and feel about a product, a service or a company.


The way to create those feelings and thoughts in the minds of customers is to give them a great experience every time. This is where the warm and fuzzy brand image is really created. A series of good experiences builds the valuable asset known as brand loyalty.


Unfortunately, lots of positive feelings can be undone by a single bad interaction. Seems unfair, but that is how consumer behavior operates.


One graphics-heavy, slow-loading order confirmation page. One tired, cranky operator on the phone. One broken or missing item in the product package. One billing snafu. There is not a lot of wiggle room here for marketers. And, as you all know, dissatisfied customers tell their friends.


So what is a marketer to do? Manage the sum total of brand experiences. Get on top of that larger set of contacts that the consumer has with the brand. It is not just about the Web site, the e-commerce experience or the e-mail. It is every point at which a customer comes in contact with the product, service or company.


So Web marketers need to think big and think way beyond the mere marketing function. They need to think about the entire operation and strive to create a great experience for customers at every point of contact.


This is a fairly daunting prospect, so you need to break it down into manageable steps. The best way to begin is by pulling together a list of every possible customer touch point - every contact a consumer might have with your brand. Some of these you can control and some you probably cannot. But the first step is to list them and then analyze them.


To spur your thinking, the following is a preliminary checklist of spots you might consider. They are grouped in order of the customer buying process. You might find it easier to organize your thinking around functional departments or individuals in your company, or by your internal employees and external partners. There will inevitably be overlap. Buying is a complicated process and so is serving customers.


Pre-sales.


• Marketing communications (advertising, collateral, Web site, direct mail, e-mail, events, speeches, publicity, search engines and bulletin boards).


• Inquiry/leads (call center, collateral and Web site).


Transactional.


• Point of sale (Web site, store, field sales, distributors, resellers and delivery service).


• Merchandise (packaging, out-of-box experience, package inserts and packing slip).


• Billing (invoices, statements, accounts receivable and collections).


Post-sales.


• Customer service (call center and in-store).


• Returns (call center and in-store).


• Word of mouth (bulletin boards, Web sites and publicity).


• Ongoing communications (newsletter, loyalty program and survey).


Of course, many of these can be broken down further. For in-store, you would consider the merchandise experience, the salespeople's interaction, the customer service desk, the signage, the location and any element that impacts a customer's impression. You would consider how you can accept e-commerce returns at your retail stores and other ways to provide a seamless, integrated brand experience. Regarding the Web site, you would consider navigation, design, ease of use, page load times and so forth.


The next step is to analyze these contacts. Pull together people from all parts of the company. Go down the list and discuss whether each contact point is as good as it can be. Brainstorm ways that it can be better. Finally, develop metrics around each one, and hang incentives for the employees who are involved in that touch point. Bonuses work wonders. And empowered employees increase customer satisfaction.


You will be frustrated to notice that certain touch points will not be controllable. What can you do when the United Parcel Service man cops an attitude with your customer at his doorstep? But with some creativity, you may find ways to influence these fuzzy touch points anyway.


Companies have come up with all kinds of clever ideas over the years to take charge of the brand image beyond the usual.


Consider prowling message boards and pointing out the benefits of your product when it is relevant to the discussion. Or building the company image around a charismatic CEO through advertising and public relations. Or cutting special deals with your business partners to upgrade the level of service they provide to your customers. Or organizing publicity stunts to call humorous attention to the company or product, which can add a coolness factor to tide you over the occasional rough spots in your service levels.


Optimizing the total customer experience is not about the Web marketing function, the marketing communications function or even the marketing function. The entire company interacts with the customer or influences the result of an indirect contact with the customer. So everyone in the company has a marketing responsibility. Everyone is about customers.


To be successful on the Web, you need your companies to operate as nothing less than marketing cultures.


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