In this digital age, customer experience really is the new brand. No longer can you persuade, cajole or influence through empty promises or trickery. Consumers are totally empowered - able to find out in seconds about you or your competitors and to make well informed decisions about where to put their loyalty. And that loyalty is fleeting too. The age of sticking with a brand for life is just as outdated as the notion of a job for life. You as a brand are no more than the sum of the experiences your customers enjoy or endure. Your brand is not what you say it is, its what your customers experience and what they say it is. Take two examples from my own recent experience.
If you're a parent with young kids living in the UK you've probably enjoyed the delights of Nando's - the upmarket fast food restaurant specialising in Portuguese-style chicken dishes. Recently my 12-year old visited with a few friends. During the service one of the assistants dropped a glass, splashing my son with Coca-Cola. It was all resolved quickly and without fuss, but the manager insisted on taking our details and recording the incident. All very good. All very standard.
However, a few weeks later we got a typed letter from the area manager apologising for the incident. Not a pro-forma letter mind you. A personalised letter detailing the exact incident in detail, outlining measures taken to stop it happening again (i.e, training) and offering a small compensation by way of a "Chicken Cheque" (great name!) for my son and his friends to have a free meal in future. Now that's impressive. Which all means that whenever I now pass a Nando's I point it out and recommend to the family we go for lunch or dinner there.
Result : Great experience. Happy customer. Loyalty strengthened.
Compare that to a recent experience with a major airline. I'm a frequent flyer with British Airways and always fly BA when possible. But on a recent family holiday, I decided to make a change to an airline renowned for great customer service. The booking process and pre-flight experience was fantastic. Lots of promises and expectations of a sleek, contemporary experience. However when we got seated on the plane we realised with horror that we were sitting in a row alongside the toilets. Normally toilets are located in the galley area but on this plane configuration (which I've never seen before or since), the galley had been removed and extra rows of seating put in. The result was that if you were seated at the end of our row (as my wife was) you could reach over and touch the toilet door. So that's six hours looking directly into the toilet and/or closing the door as people left it open. Given we were expecting two meals on the trip, you'd have to say if a restaurant sat diners that close to the toilet they'd be shut down. Needless to say the holiday didn't get off to the best start. We complained to the cabin crew and filled out the usual complaint form. I, however, assured my wife that taking to social media would be more effective and as soon as we landed I tweeted my disgust direct to the airline. At this point you're probably thinking the social media team jumped right on it and calmed me down. Sadly, not. In fact neither channel got a single response from the airline. An experience totally at odds with the initial promises.
Result : Poor experience. Unhappy customer. I'll never fly that airline again.
So, be warned. No matter what industry you're in, the digital reality is bringing about a massive transformation in which the customer experience has become your brand. And that ultimately is the gauge of your success. Now, who's for a Nando's?