Consider, for example, the services provided by an online software company called Bazaarvoice. Founded in 2005, Bazaarvoice compiles ratings and reviews of products and services posted on hundreds of brand and retailer websites, allowing companies to use those insights to strengthen their capabilities for reaching customers. (Its business partners include Salesforce.com, SAP, and Booz & Company, the publisher of this magazine.)
Global manufacturer 3M also gathers Bazaarvoice data and uses it in both marketing and R&D. It has collected thousands of reviews and comments from more than a dozen retail sites and mobile apps, as well as Facebook postings, using them to improve marketing campaigns or create new ones. In one case, the company’s Precision Ultra Edge nonstick scissors were selling below expectations. 3M changed its product copy, quoting the language consumers used online (“they’re great for cutting fabric and photos, with a comfortable grip”). Among the results was an increase in the click-through rate for banner ads. Customer feedback gathered online also led to the redesign of other products.
Listening to customers, both through social media and with more traditional research methods, requires going beyond what customers say to better understanding their emotional experience with the brand. For example, Maritz Research conducts some of its customer-experience research with a “make or break satisfaction” methodology, surveying customers to understand the key encounters that either made a brand experience great (like finding unexpected treats in a hotel room) or broke the connection (like finding bugs in a hotel bed). Insights like these can help marketers better understand the implicit and emotionally charged elements that the consumer took from the experience, elements that can significantly shape future interactions with or perceptions of the brand.
Companies need keen customer-insight capabilities to make sense of customer feedback and respond effectively. They need to integrate consumer perceptions gathered from multiple touch points. One company that is building its listening capabilities this way is Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental, Alamo Rent A Car, and WeCar. Enterprise uses surveys and social media to track customer experience. Information on factors such as perceived wait time is gathered, analyzed, and reported from all the branches and representatives. This drives clear frontline accountability for delivering an exceptional customer experience. Enterprise’s commitment to listening led it to create a customer care team that monitors tweets and comments posted on social media sites from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each day. Whenever a negative comment from a distressed customer is posted, the team immediately reaches out to the customer to resolve the issue. Enterprise’s leaders also consider the customer perception information when they redesign the company’s services.
Engage: Humanize Touch Points
The brand experience is no longer restricted to the traditional organizational silos of advertising and marketing. Now, the entire company takes part in strengthening relationships and brand advocacy. This might involve mobile marketing (with the smartphone acting as a connection point across the full purchase journey from the customer’s couch to the store shelf), store displays (where brands can engage shoppers with solution-oriented merchandising), the anticipation of future behavior from past customer behavior data (through vehicles such as frequent-shopper cards), and the redefinition of technical support (as in Best Buy’s Geek Squad or Apple’s Genius Bar). In the most farsighted companies, mobile marketing is a means of bringing the community to the shelf. When an apparel shopper photographs a garment and texts “What do you think?” to a friend, the friend’s positive response may activate social emotions that solidify the brand connection.
Building a high level of customer engagement through experience can require broad-based cultural change within a company; employees must align their actions with the values of the brand. This type of corporate alignment is often perceived in the breach — when an environmental disaster, quality crisis, or ethical scandal damages the company’s reputation and bottom line. By now, many consumers are looking for authenticity, and companies can only “walk the talk” by creating cultures where brand values are expressed every day. With the right kind of cultural initiatives, training programs, and incentive structures, the actions of frontline employees — who represent the part of the organization that customers usually see — can be a critical component of the brand experience.