Coherence between a company’s brand and the service delivery operational model is critical in the pursuit of extraordinary customer experiences. Coherence is a critical element in the successful design of any firm’s operational model for service delivery.
Two simple examples of “coherence” may clarify the concept.
One luxury travel company advertises itself as expert in identifying “the best fit” between your vacation desires and various properties around the world. Yet, when consumers ask about specific details associated with a hotel (i.e., how convenient is the hotel to the Bilbao Guggenheim?) it rapidly becomes clear that the service representatives are not skilled enough, nor familiar enough, with the travel destinations to support a high-end clientele. There is an obvious coherence mismatch between the “luxury” brand identity and the experience or training of the service representatives.
In another case a major credit card company advertises its service as world class. However, billing disputes cannot be resolved over the phone or web, requiring instead written correspondence with supporting evidence gathered by the consumer from the merchant. Truly world class companies handle these same requests by phone and intercede on behalf of the customer with the merchants; requiring the merchant to provide proof rather than the consumer. As the bar for service has already been set extremely high, a new entrant trying to attract high-end consumers must match or exceed competitive offerings. Promising high-end service, then not delivering, has a more deleterious impact on loyalty than setting expectations low and consistently meeting a clear standard.
Coherence encourages self-selection among potential customers, increasing the likelihood that investments in advertising, marketing and sales will payoff in revenue growth. A strong, clear brand identity reduces the cost of sales by chasing away the vast pool of prospective customers who are unlikely to convert to paying customers.
A clear brand identity that is married to a coherent service strategy also establishes an expectation threshold that can dramatically decrease the number and intensity of customer complaints, thereby reducing the cost of exception handling tremendously. Consumers who know they are shopping in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart will have lower expectations than the fanatical fashionistas scouring the Manolo Blahnik seconds at Century 21. Sure, they’re only paying $250 for the $725 Tuccio Watersnake Pumps, but they want perfection slipped into that discount wrapper.
A lack of coherence may be evidenced in relatively subtle ways, but these discontinuities are picked up by the consumers, consciously and subconsciously, creating a barely perceptible unease or discomfort which reduces the customer’s propensity for repeat business. Customer deviations from the norms of loyal behavior creates, at a minimum, excessive marketing costs, at the extreme, this lack of repeat business translates into adverse word-of-mouth and the ultimate collapse of the business. Restaurants, bars and nightclubs are the classic canaries in the coal mine for this phenomenon. Without a solid core of repeat business (or extremely high non-repeating tourist traffic) a restaurant without this word of mouth cannot generate sufficient traffic through advertising alone to stay open.
Consumers easily compartmentalize their expectations and are quite comfortable shifting their demands as they enter different expectation frameworks. Parents may eat at The Fat Duck in Bray (selected best restaurant in the world in 2005) one night and take the family to Outback Steakhouse the next night; still viewing both of those disparate experiences as entirely satisfying. A consumer may drive their Maserati Quattroporte to Central Park for a $2 hotdog and not sense any dissonance because their expectations are bifurcated appropriately. Travelers can comfortably stay in the Taj, New Delhi, one night and camp under the stars in Rajasthan the next. Consumers are not, typically, demanding of the utmost in luxury and refinement from each experience they are simply demanding that each experience fit within an appropriate framework of expectations.
A company’s brand identity is one of the most powerful ways in which that framework of expectations is set. The service environment supporting the brand is the other critical factor. If the brand identity is diffuse or dissonant, and the service standards unaligned, then the consumer is unable to settle on an expectation framework that fits and they do not establish a pattern of “loyal” behavior relative to that company. Repeat business is diminished and the consumer does not provide positive feedback to the word-of-mouth buzz that is so critical to long-term revenue growth.
By establishing coherence between the brand identity and the service delivery model companies can begin to establish a strategy that will lead to extraordinary customer experiences.
Copyright © 2007, Lotus Pond Media
Steven Grant is a former customer service executive from American Express with over 25 years devoted in Fortune 500 companies analyzing, improving and delivering on enhanced customer experiences. Share your experiences and suggestions on improving the customer experience at [http://www.customerresearchcenter.com] or email Mr. Grant at [email protected]