Experience is the new brand

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Mercedes-Benz has abandoned the idea of achieving customer satisfaction. That doesn’t mean that the company doesn’t think that customer experience is important, though. Far from it. Customer experience is so important that satisfaction is not enough. Instead, the company is looking to ensure that customers are delighted.

Brands in the collaborative economy

We already know that in the new collaborative economy, customer experience is key. It is that search for unique experiences that is really driving the collaborative economy. But what can brands do to ensure that customer experience is excellent?

Stephen Cannon, President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz, says that customer experience follows employee experience. And that means really good employee engagement. But as we’ve commented before, there is much more to employee experience than simple engagement. Cannon claims that culture is key. Without a culture that means that employees really want to come to work, he claims that customer delight is unlikely if not impossible. Mercedes-Benz has, for example, invested $4 million in a programme to ensure that staff have had the opportunity to drive a Mercedes, after a company poll discovered that 70% of employees had never done that. Every employee will also have the chance to attend an immersion session to see the standards which are applied to building the cars.

But why are employee engagement and culture so important? It is, as the Cluetrain Manifesto made clear, all about being human. Customers are people, and more and more, they want to engage with real people within the company. And that means that employees need to be fully engaged and living as brand ambassadors. Cannon’s genius, perhaps, lies in recognising that Mercedes-Benz customers are not engaging in a transaction. Instead, they are buying an emotional experience. In order to sell that to them, employees also need to buy into it. Mercedes-Benz now sees its true competitors as Nordstrom and Four Seasons, rather than Audi and BMW, because these are the other brands and experiences that its customers are consuming.

The importance of touchpoints

It’s not just about face-to-face interactions in a showroom or shop, either. Customers may come into contact with a brand in multiple different ways and places. Marty Neumeier, a brand expert, described any place where customers come into contact with a brand as a touchpoint. This could be through stores, traditional or new media, or even casual conversations about their own or others’ experiences. Every touchpoint adds to their experience of the brand.

That means that every touchpoint, every customer contact, is important in creating a delightful brand experience. Every employee matters because every employee has a role in contact with customers in some way, and every customer can now influence others through social media. As Phil Whitehouse of Ogilvy Australia has pointed out, word of mouth has always been more influential than advertising, but now word of mouth includes Twitter.

Like Stephen Cannon, Martin Zwilling, founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company which provides services to start-ups around the world, believes that culture and employee engagement is key. He argues the importance of defining culture, and then setting out what behaviours will achieve the desired culture, with appropriate rewards for those behaviours. He also points out that culture change is largely achieved not by training, but by reminding people over and over again of what behaviours are expected.

Zwilland also suggests that it is crucial to stop doing surveys of customers, and start building relationships. Not only does this echo the Cluetrain Manifesto’s plea for human-to-human contact, but it also resonates with ideas from Lippincott, the brand consultancy.

Discussing Experience Innovation, Lippincott’s term for creating new experiences for customers, two of Lippincott’s senior partners argue that brands need to be customer-focused but not customer-led. After all, they argue, customers may not know what they need if they have never been offered it. Opportunities may lie beyond your current products and market, if you look at the whole ecosystem, and think about the brand experience across the customer ‘journey’.

A simple equation

The move from customer satisfaction to delight is simple in concept, but difficult to achieve. To make it, brands need engaged staff who really believe in the brand. They also need to recognise that every touchpoint, however small or insignificant, is part of each customer’s brand experience, and each customer’s brand experience is unique, but has to be equally good. No wonder Mercedes-Benz’ CEO Stephen Cannon believes that company culture is vital, and that having nearly 70% of staff fully engaged is not good enough.

Image credit: Ethan Robertson

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