Advertising The Customer Experience

My research director Harley Manning has a lot of quips that we affectionately call Harleyisms. One of them goes like this: All ads promise one of three things — you’re gonna get rich, you’re gonna live forever, or you’re gonna get (um, I’ll be polite here) some nookie.

While this might have been somewhat true during the golden age of advertising, I’ve noticed a new ad trend over the past several years: More marketers are advertising the customer experiences that their companies deliver. Here are a few examples:

  • Apple’s iPhone and iPad ads put viewers in the perspective of holding the devices in their own hands, all while demonstrating how easy they are to use and the real-world value they provide (like finding the best price on a book or getting step-by-step cooking instructions).
  • JetBlue promoted its customer experience in a series of hilarious ads that poke fun at the draconian policies employed by its competitors.
  • Virgin America’s San Francisco subway ads say, “LAND WITH AN EMPTY INBOX. SFO -> DALLAS FORT WORTH WITH WIFI.”
  • San Francisco bus ads for Saint Francis and Saint Mary’s hospitals promise: “ER WAIT TIME: UNDER 30 MINUTES.”
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Apple Store 2.0: Why Customer Experience Leaders Should Care

This week, Apple upgraded its in-store experience. In case you missed all of the hype, iPads placed next to every Apple product now provide interactive product, service, and support information — and the devices also give shoppers the ability to beckon a store employee to their side at any moment. In addition, the updated Apple Store app provides shoppers visibility into the number of people in line ahead of them and the wait time to talk to someone at the Genius Bar.

Customer experience leaders outside of the retail space might be tempted to file this away in their cool-but-not-quite- relevant-to-me drawers. But I see three compelling reasons why executives should take notice, regardless of what industry they’re in.

Reason No. 1: Apple continues to raise the bar on your customers’ expectations.

Brands no longer compete solely against the companies in their immediate industry. Why? Because customer experience leaders like Apple (and Zappos.com, Disney, and a handful of others) delight their customers on a daily basis. These great customer experiences, in turn, continually reset people’s expectations for the types of interactions they believe they should be able to have with the banks, insurance companies, TV service providers, and airlines they do business with. The Apple Store 2.0 has yet again upped your customers’ expectations for the type of in-person customer experiences they now expect from your brand.

Reason No. 2: Even with a heavy technology focus, human help seems even more accessible.

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Why Seth Godin's Service Design Tips Miss The Mark

In Seth Godin’s recent post, "Who’s responsible for service design?" he points out several service issues with questions like, “How many people should be answering the phone at Zappos.com on a Saturday? What’s Southwest Airlines' policy regarding hotel stays and cancelled flights? Should the knobs on the shower at the hotel go side by side or one above the other?” He then goes on to say, “Too often, we blame bad service on the people who actually deliver the service. Sometimes (often) it’s not their fault.”

I’m totally with him up to that point.

But then he goes on to blame two sets of people for service delivery issues: overpaid executives and service designers.  Yes, executives set the direction for customer experience. And yes, there is a growing cadre of service designers in service design firms and in-house design teams. But I’d argue that these professionals are responsible for just a tiny fraction of the service experiences that exist today. Unfortunately, most companies just aren’t aware of the field of service design or the value it brings, so they haven't hired service designers to assist with customer experience efforts.

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The Root Of Most Customer Experience Problems

I recently read a story about the butterflies in Zion National Park. Apparently, there aren’t as many of them as there used to be. And after decades of research, scientists have finally figured out why.

Zion National Park was developed in the early 1900s — and with that development came an influx of tourists. Scared off by human foot traffic, cougars retreated from certain areas of park. And with no natural predators, the deer population exploded. These cute (but ravenous) animals became unstoppable in their quest to devour everything in their path — including cottonwood tree saplings. And with fewer cottonwood trees reaching adolescence and maturity, the streambanks lost their primary source of erosion protection. Soil erosion made it difficult for wildflowers to bloom — and fewer wildflowers meant fewer butterflies.

Natural ecosystems, like the one in Zion National Park, comprise complex interdependent relationships that change over time.

A customer experience ecosystem is quite similar. It encompasses a complex set of relationships among a company’s employees, partners, and customers — and it’s these people’s decisions and actions that collectively determine the quality and characteristics of all customer interactions. 

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