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Customers can engage with brands in more ways and places than ever before. As a result, customer expectations are higher than ever. We expect consistent and continuous products and services with instant access, always, on any device.

If the 1990’s and 2000’s were about building strong brands; the 2010’s have been about delivering exceptional customer experiences.

Working with clients, I consistently find branding and customer experience two conflicting organisational silos.  Branding, or the marketing department, is often focused on delivering messages about the brand proposition and employing marketing and communication strategies to build consumer expectations of the brand; whereas customer experience is focused on delivering the customer experience, primarily through service. My firm is usually brought in to help with customer (experience) strategy and people are surprised when we begin to talk to brand and marketing.

Isn’t marketing about what the brand ‘is’ and customer experience about what the brand ‘does’? If the customer experience is where the brand comes alive physically, emotionally and virtually in its interactions with the customer, shouldn’t the two be intimately entwined? Brands need to tell a coherent and authentic story; and customer experience needs to adhere to that brand story, consistently across all touch points.

Customer experience activities without brand alignment represent a lack of strategy. Branding without customer experience cannot truly exist as the brand comes alive through customer interaction.

It is puzzling that only 18% of companies use their brand as the base for their customer experience strategy, according to a recent report from Forrester.

There is opportunity for organisations to more closely align brand and customer experience. I am seeing increasingly the merging of marketing and customer experience within one department. This alignment should help alleviate any issues that arise from a disconnect between the expectations set by the brand and the experience that it delivers.


Brand or Branded Experience?

Should the experience be a Brand Customer Experience or a Branded Customer Experience? Is there a difference?

A brand customer experience is where the brand’s essence, promise, values, and all that it stands for, come alive through its customer experience. The brand sets customer expectations for experience. Customer experience then delivers on those expectations through an intentional and guided design framework so that the experience that customers encounter is clearly true to the brand. An example here might be John Lewis where its customer experience is in tune with its brand values of ‘Quality Service and Value’.

A Branded Customer Experience goes one step further where the experience itself becomes unique and is recognisable. The customer experience becomes a source of competitive differentiation. An example here might be Lush where the core brand value of ‘handmade’ is elevated through its immersive and sensory experience.

Lush’s stores are ‘home made’ themselves and are reminiscent of a homespun deli or unrefined grocery in feel. Customers are encouraged to pick up, smell, and touch products as they explore. Staff show how products work and what they can do by way of demonstration. This all builds on their natural and simple positioning.

For some organisations, a brand customer experience will be appropriate; for others, it will need to deliver a brand customer experience. It depends very much on the context, market and strength of the brand itself.  Whatever the ambition or level of synergy between brand and customer experience, the experience is the reality of the brand.


Aligning Brand and Customer Experience

Some marketers appear not yet to be engaged in delivering the brand through its customer experience. There is a continued sense that consumers are to be ‘influenced’ through marketing communications, rather than customers’ brand perceptions being an outcome of the customer experience.

The degree to which this last point is true begs several probing questions.

  • Is your brand delivering on its brand promise to customers through your customer experience?
  • How and where do customers interact with your brand?
    • What do they say about it?
    • How do they feel about the brand and the experience that it delivers?
    • Is the experience the same at any point in time, at any touch point?
  • How would customers describe the customer experience themselves?
  • How would customers articulate the promises that a brand is making to them?
  • How does this fit with the brand essence?
  • Is the brand consistently represented through the behaviours of people?

To align brand and customer through the experience, companies should look to align three areas o f what we called an ‘Aligned Experience’.

Customer Intimacy:

  • In depth understanding of the brand and its influence on the overall customer experience
  • Intimate understanding of the emotional and rational customer journey
  • Integration of and access to all sources of proprietary customer data (structured, unstructured, formal, informal, requested, unrequested)
  • Articulation of the brand story and establishment of the brand narrative to be told through the customer experience

Agile Execution:

  • Translation of the brand promise into experience principles/rules
  • Optimisation and improvement of the experience based on customer value, that follows these rules:
  • Consistent delivery at each touch point
  • Collaboration of marketing, brand, insight/research and customer experience

Connected Organisation:

  • Employees are motivated, they embody the customer and brand promise in their interactions with customers
  • A sense that everyone is equally responsible for ‘living the brand’ – inside and outside of the organisation
  • A high degree of coherence between brand, products, services, sales, marketing, IT and operations

At the end of the day, two of the greatest assets an organisation has are 1) their brand and 2) their relationships with customers.  The brand must inform the customer experience and motivate employees and customers.

 “Your brand is a story unfolding across all customer touch points”(Jonah Sachs storyteller, author, designer and entrepreneur).

In an increasingly digital world, customer experience leaders have understood this. They align a distinctive and engaging brand promise with a coherent and fulfilling customer experience – wherever, whenever brand meets customer.

Smiling Companies, Happy Customers.



Image via Alpha Stock Images – http://alphastockimages.com/

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An Insurance policy should give us confidence that we and our possessions are taken care of at a time of need. If something does go wrong, and customers make a claim, our chosen insurance company be helping to get life back on track at difficult times – not making life harder.

Our daughter, who passed her driving test 8 months ago, turned 18 in early February. Unfortunately, she was recently involved in a no-fault collision on her way to school. This first accident was stressful for all concerned. As if her life wasn’t busy and complicated enough, as she is nearing her A-levels and moving away from home to go to Medical School in September.

According to research by Accenture, a staggering 83% of customers who had made an insurance claim and who had reported a dissatisfaction with the way their claim was handled, said they had switched or planned to switch to another insurer. A claim is clearly a key moment of truth/ a make or break time for customers.  Claims are also an opportunity for insurers to deliver great customer service and an elevated customer experience.

I can associate with Accenture’s survey respondents, right now. I had hoped that the insurance policy that we have taken out for our daughter would respond and simplifying an all too common event, as the insurer’s processes kicked into place. Car accidents are unexpected, high-stress experiences that can leave insurance customers in a state of confusion and anxiety. Dealing with your car insurance claim should be straightforward, easy and efficient, but unfortunately, as we have found, it is often a major inconvenience.

Handing the customer off to someone unreliable
Despite buying the  policy from one insurance brand, we were immediately passed off from them to their outsourced claims partner. This third-party claim’s administrator is used to help ‘improve operational efficiencies (for insurance companies) and to consistently demonstrate service excellence (to customers)’. This ‘passing over’ was unexpected. I, possibly naively, thought that by buying a policy from the insurance company that they had a responsibility to deliver the very product (claim service) that I had paid in advance for. It appears, however, that they have no interest when things go wrong.

The subject for this piece isn’t the time consuming and arduous experience of proactively coordinating the moving parts of this claim ourselves and engaging with their designated partners to move the claim forward. The feature of my writing has arisen from a process failure of the outsourced partner, that led to disruption and angst.

Exhibiting a complete lack of empathy
It took 5 days to get a replacement car. There were a number of reasons to do with our daughter’s age, the cover and her authorisation, but we eventually got one.

We duly completed and returned the required hire agreement for this courtesy car so that she could be up and running as soon as possible. That’s when some of the problems began. We had a call from yet another unknown company, telling us that because we had failed to return said paperwork, that they were coming to collect the paperwork directly from us. We explained that we had sent off the documents and scanned copies and offered to repeat the process for them – as clearly their moving parts in the process had lost them.

This morning, I received a troubled message from my daughter at break time. She had received a text, despite us asking all parties to liaise directly with us (her parents).  The text is below:  

Can you imagine the shock, fear and distress that this has caused? She is at school with no credit card and now stranded with no means to travel the 25 miles home after school. Shame on you, insurance company.

The tone of the message is perturbing. “Please cease”, “no longer insured”. For “refusing to co-operate”, or, if you can’t manage to get through on one of our many different numbers to any one of our many anonymous people who are all on the phone, when you are not in lessons and during our working hours.

This is totally unnecessary. Their left hand does not know what their right hand is doing. This organisation has been disorganised, unhelpful, unresponsive and rude – and now has shown a complete lack of empathy and consideration.

Putting the customer out (again)
I was about to publish but I felt compelled to add today’s episode of this troublesome Customer Experience saga.

We once again scanned and sent off the documents to now a named person who seemed to be taking ownership for the issue. They agreed not to bother our daughter again and that things were now resolved.  

Imagine, our annoyance this morning when our daughter received a text message from the 3rd party of the 3rd party of our insurer (keeping up? we have struggled) to collect said documents that we though they no longer needed. The guy confirmed to our daughter on the day, whilst at school that he would be at our home (25 miles away) at 2pm today. Fortunately, I was working locally and came back from a meeting specially, arriving on time. The collector, despite confirming 2pm, arrived early and then showed his annoyance directly to our daughter because I wasn’t there and that he couldn’t wait any longer for personal reasons. For the Brits, amongst you, piss up and brewery come to mind. We are now arranging to have the documents couriered to them so they will have at least 4 versions of the same thing in differing areas of their business. What an epic failure.

Averaged scores hide poor experiences
I looked up our insurer’s partner’s rating on TrustPilot. They don’t look too bad at first sight. They score 3 stars out of 5. But when you dig deeper, the real picture is exposed. Their overall score is 5.6/10 which is not good and doesn’t give you confidence in such an important risk product. They are 196/203 in their category. Yet, my actual insurer clearly thought that they were up to the job – maybe that’s why they don’t tell you up front that that parts of the customer journey such as claims, vehicle hire, body work, settlement values are being outsourced.

What’s more, the distribution of their ratings reveal an inconsistent customer experience.

So, it you looked at this as you would nps, Excellent and Great add up to 44 and Poor and Bad to 46% - net a score of -2%.

On reading their reviews, some people have had a good experience. Others have had bad ones, like ourselves. Like many experiences, customers are being subjected to a lack of consistency in organisation’s delivery. 

Experiences must get better for customers
I recognise that even the most deliberate, seamless claims process can be derailed by something that begins as a relatively minor problem and is then exacerbated by the accumulated stresses of the initial incident and the claims process.

At the very least, insurers need to improve the basics if they are to hold on to their customers and ensure a better experience. These 10 things would have helped our experience and made it a vastly better one:

For Happy Customers:

  1. Manage and set customers’ expectations to ease their anxiety
  2. Be transparent about the claims process - what will happen, who will be involved and how long it will take
  3. Make the whole process simple, speedy and above all effortless on the part of the customer
  4. Openly and visibly show your support for your customer even if you have handed them over to a partner organisation
  5. Make it clear who is owning their problem and how they can easily access help

For Smiling Companies:

  1. Map the lived customer journey based on real evidence including all your chosen partners and stakeholders
  2. Work back to the internal delivery processes, systems, people and behaviours that are causing problems
  3. Prioritise pain point fixes that will have greatest impact for the customer
  4. Be more customer friendly in interactions and communication and less process oriented
  5. Make sure that someone takes ownership of the customer and their problem through to resolution and closure

We are left feeling frustrated and frankly exhausted. We have been left alone by our insurer and handed over to inconsistent and unreliable partners. Our insurer has not once followed up since the initial accident reporting to show interest and demonstrate that they care. This could not have been much more complicated or stressful that it has been. We worryingly still have some way to go before the claims process is complete.

As it stands, I will be one of the 83% of customers who will look elsewhere when this experience is over and I doubt our insurer will notice, or even wonder why.


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We’ve all seen the attention-grabbing headlines about Artificial Intelligence (AI). The Telegraph’s headline in April this year asserted ‘AI is the future of Customer Experience’. Digital transformation of the customer experience has seemingly become the silver bullet.AI in its current form is only part of the solution. AI requires a deeper understanding of customer needs so that it is an enabler rather than the answer for its own sake.  The balance of AI vs. human interactions in the Customer Experience needs to be carefully orchestrated.Chatbots currently account for business cost savings of $20m globally.[1] This is projected to increase significantly. According to new research recently published, Chatbots will cut business costs by circa $8 billion by 2022. Savings driven through redeployment of employees and a lower interaction cost delivered by AI. [2]This same study highlights that between 75% and 90% of queries in sectors such as healthcare and banking will be handled by Chatbots within the next 5 years. [3]Currently Chatbots lack the ability to deal comprehensively with all human problems and queries. Bots can give customers speedy answers on chat, phone, website, text or social media. They can answer routine, common questions that customer service agents are asked every day. Some organisations are already seeing an immediate impact on their customer service stats.The success rate of Bot interactions where there has been no human intervention, is currently just 12% [4]. A series of tests conducted have revealed that, examined against the human IQ, Bots intelligence is currently that of a 4-year-old child.[5]  Naturally, there will be advancements in AI that will signify more human like capabilities, presenting the opportunity to replace more and more traditional customer service type activities.Hilton Hotels give an example of how a number of day to day customer service interactions can be interchanged with a Bot. “Connie” is a concierge robot who interacts with guests. She answers their questions about hotel amenities, services and hours of operation and assists guests in a friendly way. The more guests that Connie interacts with, the cleverer she becomes; she adapts, improves and personalises her recommendations.The extent to which, and how quickly AI will replace human interactions and optimise the customer experience will depend to an extent on the industry sector to which it is applied. A human touch will be necessary in healthcare for a long time to come for clinical decision-making given the absence of the widely available and extensive clinical knowledge data. What’s for sure, is that Chatbots have the ability to process data in higher volumes and can respond to straightforward, less complex queries. So, more and more companies will inevitably offload basic and generic customer service and customer care type activities.In order to maximise the benefit of AI, companies need to determine how AI will fit into their overall customer experience and how the various touch points (Chatbots and technology included) within the business can and will work together to deliver what their customers need and expect both functionally and emotionally.There are six factors for successfully designing a connected digital and human experience.Make sure:
  1. The role of AI in the customer experience is well-defined
  2. The touch points which can best deliver what customers’ needs functionally and emotionally are agreed and prioritised
  3. The implications for optimisation of the current delivered customer experience are recognised
  4. The implications for innovation and transformation of the customer experience in the future are defined
  5. The way in which the physical and digital touch points will work hand in hand and complement each other is clarified  
  6. The limitations of digital and human/physical touch points are established
I’ve used a journey mapping approach with many clients in sectors as diverse as healthcare, automotive, travel and telecom’s. Despite some people’s cynicism that journey mapping may have had its day; my view is that there is more need for it than ever.Not only does it help organisations navigate, manage and optimize their multi-touchpoint experience, it also ensures that they work seamlessly together. It also places the customer at the heart of all development work, even if they are not physically present. The stories that journey maps tell visually, done well, are a perfect way to engage the organisation around the customer; their needs, expectations and emotions. It also helps root any technology initiatives in the reality of the customer experience.Acknowledge the current limitations of AI, recognise the potential but root it in the customer journey.  After all, it’s not a coincidence that companies who use a customer journey management approach realise 50% greater YoY growth without.[6]  Seamless, effortless and personal engagement = Happy customers
Cost savings and technology exploitation = Smiling companies


[1] Juniper Research

[2] Juniper Research

[3] Juniper Research

[4] Juniper Research

[5] University of Illinois

[6] Aberdeen Group Research

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30% of senior leaders are confused about who should take ownership of customer experience. They know that it should be the top priority but are seemingly unclear about who should be in a leadership position. Customer Experience must be coordinated across silos and vertical divisions of organisations; but where should ownership for the Customer Experience really lie?There are some who believe that one functional group e.g. marketing should own the customer experience. If it’s to be one individual from one part of the organisation, will the issue of an inconsistent, fragmented customer experience be resolved? Will those leaders take ownership for the whole customer journey, across all touch points including call centres and digital?In my view, this is more a question about the person as much as their job title. What counts is their passion and obsession for the customer, their analytical yet open mind and the way that they can harness the business around the customer. The difference will come from the values that they instill; the way that they can broker, facilitate, steer, collaborate, empower, enthuse and lead the business to be ruthlessly and single-mindedly customer oriented.  Others credit the entire business with ownership of the Customer Experience rather than one person. That has its drawbacks too. If Customer Experience is more of a philosophy without a tangible focal point, you may find that everyone is ‘responsible’ but no one really has ownership.If we take a look at leaders in Customer Experience; the likes of first direct, John Lewis, Emirates, Amazon, giff gaff, Amazon, Richer Sounds – they don’t all have Customer Experience Directors or Officers as such. Some do, but most don’t. What’s common is that they have a C-Suite level person responsible for the customer and critically that the CEO is committed to customer experience.The point is less about a title or a name and more about clarification of ownership, accountability and responsibility for the customer and engagement of the wider organisation.Ownership should ultimately be with the CEO. CEO’s are equipped to horizontally bridge the vertical divides of the whole organisation and have influence over all moving parts of the customer’s journey. The customer (and experience) must be championed from the very top of the organisation if it is to be successful.In the Genesys report ‘The value of experience: How the C-suite values customer experience in the digital age,’ the Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed over 500 senior-level executives across 21 countries. A key finding from that research was that "Companies which believe that they are much more profitable than their competitors are significantly more likely also to have their CEO in charge of customer experience initiatives. Whereas 58% of companies who say that they are much profitable than their competitors report that the CEO is in charge of customer experience, only 37% of less profitable companies say the same. We can say therefore that there is a clear link in our survey between CEO ownership of customer experience and profitability."
One of the most often but still best examples is first direct. It’s no accident that they are ranked no. 1 for their customer experience in the UK. Their CEO, Joe Gordon, comes from a customer service background. He is committed to the customer and drives that pledge from the top to bottom of the organisation.Accountability does need to be placed on a day to day basis with a senior person who has the capability, passion and respect to deliver the customer experience strategy and ensure that what customers want and most need is delivered. Choose whichever title works for your organisation.Key elements of that role should be:
  • Engaging with digital and technology to ensure that solutions are developed with the customer in mind
  • Collaborating with HR to ensure that the employee experience is lined up with that of the customer
  • Enabling the organisation through the collation and sharing of customer data
Responsibility should be placed across the entire organisation – whether employees interact directly with the customer or not. For customer experience to be effective everyone needs to be aligned.  People need to support each other in cross functional initiatives and efforts. Individuals must have a voice and feel that they are empowered to take responsibility for the customer experience within their sphere of influence. These people are likely to be the owners or team members for customer experience change initiatives.Customer Experience success will depend on:
  • A committed CEO
  • An engaged and collaborative C-Suite
  • A clearly articulated customer experience vision and strategy
  • Empowered employees
Does your C-Suite champion the Customer Experience? Is your CEO committed to Customer Experience success? The protagonists in your customer experience need to be shrewdly put in place.We use our Customer Alignment™ model to baseline where companies are today and how well positioned they are to be successful in customer experience. This highlights where to focus and where to make changes. At the end of the day, strategy, design, structure, processes, capability, people and measurement need to be aligned to deliver value for both the customer and the organisation.As is often quoted, Customer Experience is not a department; it is a culture, a mindset and a way of doing business. CEO’s need to lead from the top, instilling this philosophy whilst harnessing their employees to deliver a consistent and valuable experience for customers over the long-term.After all. as Forrester’s Kate Leggett said: “In the age of the customer, executives don’t decide how customer-centric their companies are — customers do.”  
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According to KPMG Nunwood research, customers in the US are 15 times more likely to have a great customer experience than a UK customer.I was on holiday in the US last week and having read the results of the KPMG Nunwood research, I was looking forward to assessing (and enjoying) the research’s accuracy. Over the week, I kept an eye out for examples of great experience whether empathy and attitude of members of service staff, resolution of any problems that we had, management of our expectations or any other golden nugget of customer experience.The US are pushing ahead of us BritsThe margin between the two countries is getting bigger. US brands are now 6% ahead of those in the UK. This difference stood at just 2% last year according to the above-mentioned report. There is a glimmer of hope – the UK’s average score did climb in 2016 but brands on this side of the Atlantic are not keeping up with the pace of improvement exhibited by US companies.KPMG Nunwood measures brands against six measures of customer experience – personalisation, integrity, time and effort, expectations, resolutions and empathy.There are many more ‘excellent’ brands in the US in terms of customer experience. Some 58 brands (up from 24) in the US this year are categorized as delivering an ‘excellent’ or outstanding customer experience, according to the KMPG Nunwood calculations. Compare this to just four companies who cross that threshold in the UK. Evidently this means that brands in the UK are lagging by a factor of 15.Those four shining lights in the UK are First Direct, John Lewis, Lush and Emirates. Four very different brands from three different sectors which will not surprise anyone in the UK.A noticeable difference is a greater number of high performing grocery retailing stars in the US rankings. What’s the difference? What’s holding us back?Employee engagement plays a decisive role for companies that do well in the US, which is something UK brands “haven’t quite caught hold of”, says David Conway of KMPG Nunwood. Conway also believes that for US companies “their target for a great experience is far higher than companies in the UK.” The bar needs to be raised for UK consumers if the gap between experiences for customer in the UK and the US is going to be closed. Good is not good enough.What’s holding back UK companies?
  • they are less structured around the customer and tend to be more silo’d in culture and operation
  • they are less focused on how employees interact with customers, the type of behaviours they use and the service levels they aspire to
  • they focus less on getting the basics right
  • they are less consistent, systematic and ruthless in their execution
  • they do not understand as well as their US peers how to manage resolution in the right way and how to turn bad interactions into great ones
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning” – Bill GatesThe biggest attribute gap in the study between UK and US companies is managing complaint resolution. If UK companies could fix this then perhaps the £37bn that complaints and poor service cost UK companies in 2016 would be reduced significantly.What is the difference between the UK and the US here?
  • Leading US organisations are structured in such a way to encourage responsibility for resolution, where ownership for the customer through the end to end journey is much clearer
  • It is generally within the gift of employees to resolve issues in whatever way is appropriate for each customer
  • They focus on the ‘service recovery paradox’ – a problem being resolved in such a way that it leaves the customer feeling better than they did before the issue arose
The ROI of Customer Experience
One other difference appears to be the understanding of the economics of customer experience which appears to be more of a finger in the air approach in the UK.“We do it because we think it is the right thing to do, and that’s true, but in the US, they are much more focused on the financial outcomes of an experience and the value it adds,” Conway concludes.So, after my holiday, my conclusion? I can’t help feeling this Jeff Bezos quote rings true in the UK more than it does in the US:“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”Ultimately, to be powerhouses in customer experience, organisations in the UK need to better understand the reality of their end to end customer journey. They need to clarify and encourage ownership for the customer and their problems. It would be great to see the evidence of more ‘service recovery’ rather than problem avoidance or dismissal. Employee engagement, experience and empowerment are critical.Come on UK, let’s turn this learning into action and catch up.

by Amanda Forshew. Connect with Amanda on LinkedIn

How well you are you delivering Customer Experience? Where are you falling down? We use our Customer Alignment Model™ to audit and trouble shoot your current customer experience efforts. This helps you to prioritise resources, optimise the customer journey and to plan for the future customer experience in the digital world. 

Feel free to give us a call on: +44 (0)7811 192316 or send us an email via amanda@customeralignment.co.uk We look forward to talking to you. 

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