Monday, August 15, 2011

Customer Experience: More On-Line than In-Store?


At past BrandSmart conferences, sponsored annually by the Chicago chapter of the American Marketing Association, the talk around "customer experience" centered on the Nordstrom Model; a highly interactive, personal shopping journey. From handheld selections to handshakes at the sales counter, this model truly defined every brand manager's concept of customer service.

Something was very different at BrandSmart 2011. Of the eight sessions that focused on brand promise fulfillment, only one talked about meeting customer expectations the "old fashioned way" - through personalized, in-store interactions that support the brand strategy.

BrandSmart 2011 speakers - featuring, by the way, marketers from some of the top brand companies in the U.S., focused on the on-line customer experience versus the "in store" experience as the new model and metric for customer satisfaction and loyalty.

For hospitals and other health-related organizations, this kind of insight from "outside the industry" sheds all kinds of interesting ideas on how to create a positive on-line customer experience in support of your brand strategy.

Think through your brand's on-line customer experience and how it meets or exceeds their expectations and creates differentiation in the marketplace.

  • As always, start with strategy. Determining your on-line customer experience needs a context. From ascertaining in which on-line channels your brand will appear, to content and "voice," your brand strategy - as always - acts as the guiding light. Inherent to your brand strategy is the promise you're making to your marketplace - make sure your on-line tactical execution both defines and reinforces this idea.
  • Review from an on-line customer's POV. Just as you walk through the halls or sit in waiting rooms to get a firsthand feel for how your customers experience your "in store" brand, it's a good idea to audit the same with your on-line brand. Is your brand easy to access and navigate? Are icons large enough to see on Facebook and Twitter pages? Is there a consistent "voice" and personality as you move from one social media channel to the next?
  • Sync on-line content with your brand promise. Seems obvious, but still amazing how many brands lose their differentiation and appeal on-line. What a great opportunity to build into each and every on-line interaction that unique selling proposition that separates your organization from the rest.
  • Build your on-line platforms from your strategy. Marketers have an abundance of tactics and tools to use to create an on-line experience. While this can be quite liberating, it's often very intimidating. There are many new "apps" out there every day which may or may not make sense for your organization. Once again, go back to your brand strategy - assess what it is you're promising - and make tactical decisions accordingly. In reality, that's liberating!
  • Speaking of "apps," are you mobile yet? In addition to the majority of BrandSmart speakers talking about the on-line customer experience, all referenced the mobile world and how, increasingly, this will define the on-line world of the future. Look at Google's recent acquisition of Motorola! Is your brand easy to download and read on mobile applications or is it just a smaller version of your web site?
  • Not an IT issue. As interactive and social media channels continue to define the future of brand marketers, the predictable "taffy pull" is occurring throughout various organizations. Who's in charge? More marketing departments are emerging victorious as leadership recognizes that - from a customer experience perspective - it's not just bells and whistles. It's about the sounds they make and that's for a brand manager to orchestrate.
So, that's the skinny on BrandSmart 2011. Glad a few of our clients could make it this year as we all walked away with a bit of a "d'oh." The new customer experience really does start on-line and the same attention spent on in-store brand support needs to be paid there as well, if not more.

Remember that the front door to your "store," (hospitals included) is a portal. And it's not the only one where customers access and experience your brand. In the future, as in-store is replaced by on-line (RIP Borders), your brand needs to greet customers in new, exciting, and very different ways.

Rob Rosenberg is President of Springboard Brand & Creative Strategy, a brand development and communications firm located in Arlington Heights, Illinois. For more information on Springboard or to discuss this and other ideas, please contact Rob at 847.398.4920 or at rob@springboardbrand.com