Brands of all shapes and sizes are operating in an increasingly competitive world. Everything from the rise of social media platforms to the increasing relevance of the influencer economy has shifted the way that businesses stand out.
Simply put, every business cannot sit still. In fact, most recognize this reality. Brands are always searching for ways to separate themselves from the pack. This can include a simple change in a tagline or a slight variation on your current logo. But having said this, it can be as large as targeting an entirely new group of potential customers or an extensive ad campaign using a brand-new social media platform.
The search for a key differentiator is a perpetual task. Moreover, the brands that experiment and try different things will be rewarded. There is one severely underrated mainstay, however, that can help differentiate your brand from competitors. It isn’t an immediate fix, yet if you stick with it, this trait will pay off in spades down the road.
We are talking about customer experience.
If you are able to offer a stellar experience for all of your customers, you are sure to evade many of your competitors. In fact, you will likely gain significant market share from them. And the best part? All our businesses can provide a terrific customer experience.
Ultimately, by placing the customer experience at the front of mind, we can make a great step forward in accomplishing our business goals.
At this point, you may be thinking to yourself: “Yes, I know that customer experience is critical. My team and I treat our customers well. But why should I devote even more attention to the customer experience—especially considering that I have so many tasks on my plate?”
It’s a fair thought. All businesses know that they should treat their customers well. That’s a given to creating a successful business. If you don’t treat your customers well, you will quickly see the results in your company’s income statement.
But in the context of brand differentiation, customer experience can be your secret weapon in separating your company from its rivals. It is so important to find this key differentiator for several reasons, but one of the most important can be summed up in two words: the internet.
In today’s day and age, your customers are going online and sharing their experiences with their family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Some statistics are illuminating here. One study revealed that 72 percent of customers will share a positive customer experience with six or more people. But if you provide a bad customer experience? 13 percent of those will share their terrible experience with a whopping 15 or more people.
These statistics don’t even account for the widespread effects of an extremely positive (or negative) post on social media. As just one simple example, it is helpful to look at one of the most reviled companies in America today: United Airlines. In 2008, Canadian musician Dave Carroll was traveling on a United Airlines flight when his guitar was broken in United’s custody. After he learned what happened, Carroll had a terrible experience with United’s customer service department, which he later documented in a song called “United Breaks Guitars.” The song immediately went viral, and within four weeks of being posted online, United’s stock price fell 10 percent (roughly equaling $180 million in value).
While not all of your customers are going to write viral songs or create viral videos about their experience, the United Breaks Guitars video shows how poor customer service can quickly tarnish your brand. On the flip side, however, a positive customer experience can be your secret weapon in separating your company from competitors. If customers receive an out-of-this-world experience, they won’t hesitate to tell their friends, either on social media or through word of mouth. They will rave about your company and this will convince other prospects that your company is worth a shot.
Ultimately, a terrific customer experience is a way to build positive brand equity in your sector. If you think about it, it is a way to generate free, positive advertising for your organization. In sum, this is the sort of advertising that money can’t buy.
Understanding that a great customer experience can be a brand differentiator for your business, you may be wondering how you can improve your customer experience. This is an important question and one that you should thoroughly discuss with your team. Nevertheless, there are some general principles and strategies that you can leverage today.
First, it is helpful to measure how your customers currently feel about your business. Before making any corrections, you must know where you stand today. Therefore, take some time to figure out how your customers (and even prospects) feel about your business. This can be done in many different ways, from conducting one-on-one surveys with customers to leveraging a Net Promoter Score (“NPS”) program. The bottom line? However, you do it, get a better sense of how your customers feel right now about your business. Try to stay as objective as possible and don’t take any criticism personally.
With this data in mind, you next want to think about the jobs that your customers are trying to solve. This is an underrated, yet extremely effective way of offering a better experience for your customers. The jobs to be done framework was created by legendary Harvard University professor Clayton Christensen. The essential idea is that customers do not buy products or services. Instead, they are using these products or services to solve an underlying job in their lives. The most basic example is that customers don’t necessarily want a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole. Using this framework, you can better create a customer experience that provides value for what customers really want.
Finally, a key part of a stellar customer experience is paying close attention to your digital presence—especially on mobile devices. The simple fact is that customers are increasingly looking to engage with your company on the internet, whether that is on your website or social media platforms. A terrific customer experience starts with a website (on both desktop and mobile) that is free of bugs and is extremely easy to navigate. But beyond that, you should ensure that it is extremely easy for customers to access customer support on your platforms. Doing all of the above will create a better, more seamless digital experience that your customers will love.
The three strategies above are just a handful of ways to create an outstanding customer experience. But to better understand how some of these strategies work in practice, it is helpful to look at several case studies on how companies have created a unique approach to the customer experience.
To start, let’s look at Zappos. Ever since its founding, Zappos has been laser-focused on providing the best service and experience for its customers. The company, whose motto is “Delivering Happiness,” ensures that customers get an unbelievable experience when shopping for their next pair of shoes. Some of the initiatives carried out by Zappos’s Customer Loyalty Team include unlimited call times, no phone tree or scripts, a 24/7 call center, a 365-day return policy, free shipping and returns, and no upselling. Ultimately, Zappos customers rave about the company and it has stood out as the place to purchase shoes online. The company made so much positive noise that in 2009, Amazon acquired Zappos for $850 million.
From Zappos, there is Warby Parker. Ever since Warby Parker was founded in 2010, the company, like Zappos, focuses on delivering a stellar customer experience, which has made it one of the most recognizable companies in eyewear today. Warby was one of the first companies to start a “Home-Try-On program,” where potential customers can choose five potential frames from Warby’s website, receive those frames at home, try them on, and keep the frame that they like the most. More recently, Warby created an app that lets users virtually try on frames by uploading a photo of their face. Even the company’s retail stores are designed to make it extremely easy for customers to find their next great pair of glasses. In sum, Warby has designed its company to put customers first, which has generated rave reviews from its customer base (along with a near-two-billion-dollar valuation).
Finally, there is Away Luggage. Away is another startup that has designed its products to make customers’ lives easier. Simply put, Away luggage determined their customers’ jobs and designed a piece of luggage to address those underlying jobs. This luggage includes features like 360-degree Hinomoto wheels, an ejectable battery that charges your phone, an interior compression system, and a hidden laundry bag. These features, and terrific customer service for all customers, have made Away one of the most respected and admired brands in luggage today.
When searching for that key differentiator for your brand, we hope that you will place an inordinate emphasis on customer experience. Creating a great customer experience takes time. You may need to rethink key processes and allocate resources to new, untested initiatives. However, by following the tips and strategies above, we are confident that you will start to see positive results.
Therefore, we encourage you to get started today. Get a sense of how your customers feel about your current customer experience. With those insights, develop a plan on how you can make that experience extra special. In doing so, you will generate significant brand equity that you can use to separate yourself from competitors.