4 Cornerstones Of Customer Experience

Thomas GadNovember 6, 20195 min

There are four factors that create a sustainable, extraordinary, successful customer experience in any kind of businesses. These four factors, or cornerstones, of customer experience are:

  • surprise;
  • joy;
  • trust;
  • respect.

All of them are important and what follows is just the briefest summary of the most important aspects of each factor. The difference between surprise and the others is that surprise, by its nature, is the most unexpected and the least obvious. Joy, trust and respect are classically and commonly accepted as success factors in business. But all four together form the fundament for successful business.

1. Surprise – The Unexpected

The airline KLM provides an effective surprise business case. They surprised passengers by giving them small, individualized gifts based on each passenger’s Twitter or Facebook posts. The smiles of surprise were genuine, because the surprises were both relevant and unexpected. The viral effect of these surprises was huge, with over a million very positive Tweets from one day’s activity.

2. Joy – A Constant Positive Reminder

While surprise creates the initial (and periodically updated) ‘wow’ effect, joy is what creates continuity in the pleasant and positive relationship with the brand. When Uber was introduced, it was an amazing surprise to see, live on the screen of your smartphone, your vehicle actually approaching – a joy that never seemed to fade even for loyal, many-times users of Uber.

This repeated joy as a customer and user can be created in many different ways, including using intuitiveness, ease, lightness, smartness, elegance and intelligence among others. Another effective method is the popular concept of ‘gamification’, a game-like playfulness or amusement that borders on humor.

Another good example is BMW, who focus their brand on joy. For a long time now their brand motto has been ‘Joy of Driving’, and in their advertising back in 2010 BMW made the following statement:

BMW creates joy.

We do not make cars.

We are the creators of emotion.

We are the keepers of thrill.

We are the guardians of one three-letter word: Joy.

When I attended an engineering session at BMW I didn’t understand much of their deep technical discussion, full of jargon, but all of a sudden one of the BMW tech people exclaimed in German: ‘Aber das hat mit Freude am Fahren gar nichts zu tun!’ (‘This has nothing to do with the joy of driving!’) It was amazing to experience how the brand idea was maintained in a technical discussion among engineers, yet this was very typical of BMW’s brand-guided engineering culture.

3. Trust – Belief In Delivery

There are three building blocks on which you create the foundations of trust: expectations, needs and promises. I learned this from the real expert on trust, Vanessa Hall who wrote The Truth About Trust in Business and holds seminars all over the world to teach us trust.

Trust takes place only if all three building blocks are solid and in place, when the:

  • expectations of your brand are met, or managed;
  • needs are met;
  • promises made are kept.

Recognize that every piece of communication, every single ad, every PR event and every branding activity builds up expectations, taps into needs and makes promises that you must fulfill if you want true, sustained success. There is no room for excuses.

It is important to consider all expectations and promises, including the implicit ones as well as the explicit ones. Also, remember that some expectations do not depend on you as brand owner. Some factors are outside your control, but as brand owner you still need to take care of them.

It’s important to consider that people are different and have different priorities when it comes to needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs defines the most important human needs: physiological, safety, social, esteem and self-actualization. Match your different types of customers with those different types of needs.

A good example on the theme of trust is Sephora. This cosmetic retail brand was founded in 1970, in Paris, and introduced to the USA in 1998. It has grown quickly ever since and continues its rise with a double-digit organic revenue growth in 2019. Sephora has more than 1,600 points-of-sale, including over 430 locations across North America, and a significant market share despite the hard, established competition from department store retailers like Macy’s. Sephora’s brand idea is to sell only premium brands and products. Its aim is to be experienced as if it were an independent, trusted advisor.

Through this, Sephora has attracted younger customers, offering a superb customer service that focuses on color, fragrance and skin care. They also have an effective cross-sell of their products, organized alphabetically while department stores are still organized by brands. In the largely not-very-trustworthy cosmetic world, Sephora is an exception and has gained an amazing relative trust.

4. Respect – Demonstrating Empathy And Humanism

Respect is, in many ways, the most difficult of the four pillars of customer experience. For a business, respect is the ability to really identify with customer needs, and feel what your customers are feeling. This is easy in theory; most suppliers think they can use their personal experience as customers when delivering products or services. The problem is that you can never really do that. The moment you become a supplier instead of a consumer, you irreversibly change your perspective and lose your independence. You become a producing pro, no longer an innocent user-amateur.

Respect is about being sensitive to the weak customer signals. It’s usually about going one step further than expected. This is why I like to use Apple, and particularly Siri, a voice control interface across all Apple products and platforms, as an example of respect in the context of customer experience.

Within the customer experience, better design and easy-to-use products are directly connected to respect for customers. The opposite of respect is arrogance and, when compared with Apple, a lot of tech companies were generally perceived as very arrogant in terms of respecting customers’ needs for good design and ease of use. Siri, shows respect for both the needs of users and for the natural human behavior of users. A voice-interface like Siri is, in many ways, more sensitive and has to be more respectful to differences in culture, tradition and language, which is a great challenge in being respectful to customers and users.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Thomas Gad, excerpted from his book Customer Experience Branding, with permission from Kogan Page publishing.

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