Mind the Gap!! The Risk of Falling Down Between the Brand and the Customer Experience

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Anyone who has ridden the London Underground Train system will be used to hearing that familiar warning “Mind the Gap” as one steps on and off the trains at any platform. This iconic statement is one novel customer experience piece that we assimilate when using this practical and famous tourist service.

When I first rode the Underground some twenty five years ago it was not always a great customer experience. In those days of Margaret Thatcher people looked stressed and barely looked at you or spoke to you on the trains, and the old service was hot and dirty as it clattered along the various lines snaking across London. The unions were just as likely to call a snap strike or an accident or a breakdown could occur somewhere on the line, making journeys hard to plan and predict in the English summer, especially near bank holidays.

Last summer I again spent 3 weeks in London around the time of the 2012 Olympics where I was housed up at Trafalgar Square. In contrast the trains were new and loaded with tourist maps and info, the trains were on time despite moving record amounts of Olympic tourists, the people were chatty, friendly, and superb hosts, and every fourth Londoner seemed to be a guest ambassador for us tourists. It was a superb customer experience each and every day I was there.

What had happened was that there had been privatisation of parts of British Rail with the likes of Sir Richard Branson acquiring rights to operate lines through private companies. He explained that he brought the total customer experience ethos to what had been a union dominated culture and that others as well had changed many aspects of rail culture, technology and practice over time. In many businesses I consult to now there should be a sign swinging in the wind outside the shop proclaiming “Mind The Gap”. The gap we are talking about here is the one between the brand and its related advertising versus the actual customer experience that a customer has with that brand. In The New Economy the brand of any company is no longer to be found primarily in its logo or the artefacts of the business which have the brand or logo adorned on them. Neither is it in the advertising or marketing literature that creates the expectation or image.

A brand is a perception that is held in the minds and hearts of the consumer and is the internalised view that the consumer holds about that brand and the company behind it. As such we all hold an expectation about a company and that too is part of the brand. The initial expectation that is wrapped around a brand is that which is often conveyed by either the\ company brand marketing and advertising which may try to evoke a feeling about the company such as the AFL which is a high arousal fun experience brand. However some brand marketing and advertising may set an explicit expectation or promise based on a theme, a set of implicit or explicit statements or gestures, or conveyed values.

There may also be the expectation set by a friend or by a prosumer website of customer reviews about experiences they had in hotels, cars or with some product or service. Celebrity endorsement may be used to garnish credibility and recognition to a brand or a product such as Miranda Kerr with David Jones.

Regardless of how the expectation or promise was set then the actual customer experience must meet or exceed the expectation or promise set by the brand, otherwise you will have consumers who walk away having emotionally a poor or neutral experience. This is where the gap can appear. The common gap that exists in many Old Economy businesses is that the expectation or promise is not met in the customer experience. In fact it can be a brand damaging experience that can damage real business value and lead a business towards a decline in sales and profit over time or overnight.

Many businesses I have consulted to actually do not understand the expectation that their customers have of them as a brand and as a business. Many businesses are unconscious to the mixed signals and messages their marketing and branding touch points have in the target markets they interact with. The role of the brand and customer experience audits that Conscious Business Australia conduct are aimed to expose both parts of this equation. We firstly look at ideally what is the expectation or promises(s) being made, and what conflicting messages or signals exist in attempting that function, and then we map the actual customer experiences to see what fit or what gap exists between the expectations and the experiences.

The result can often be a type of spaghetti where tangled strands at one end are a mish-mash of contradictory promises and expectations set across a number of different platforms, and/or products, which can reveal a company confusing its audience as to what brand values or even which business it is in!!

At the other end you may find varying and contradictory experiences across the various business channels, with different levels of service, different policies, prices, product variance, varied service and contrasting lived values depending on which business channel or at which market touchpoint you engage with the brand.

One conscious business that has worked hard to engineer its customer experience and its overall business model towards have little or no gap in the way in which they execute their business is Sense IT Recruitment. This boutique professional business services recruitment agency punches above its weight in the fiercely competitive recruitment space. The recruitment industry is a true Old Economy transaction consciousness mindset. The industry is target and transaction driven, with most agencies viewing personal candidates as commodities to be traded to client companies for a recruitment fee.

The process is dehumanising for both the candidates who feel like a piece of meat, or just a CV or a number, and often feel dehumanised by the recruitment process. Many candidates report that they never find out their attempt at placement had not succeeded. Some are left unresolved whilst others get an automated email system message along the lines of “You were not successful in this instance.” Meanwhile the client companies often report being bombarded and harassed by agencies desperate to place a candidate or to renew the contract of a replacement, all which are fee triggers for the agency concerned. Yet others report that the same recruitment companies then hide behind emails and websites when there is an issue the client company wants sorted out but finds it hard to engage with a person from the recruitment company who will engage in the issue. H.R. surveys have reported that the staff working in recruitment agencies often feel like battery hens, being asked to produce a golden egg every hour. The internal competition and target based culture results in recruiters practicing predatory behaviours. This can span cutting corners, poaching colleagues’ accounts and candidates from each other in the heat of the rush to fix targets, or using an excuse or lie to claim a placement was theirs and not that of someone else. Staff will feel stressed and anxious under these conditions and worker turnover and absenteeism is often high in these firms as a result and so client accounts often change hands regularly such that strong relationships cannot be successfully built over time. The problem traditionally has been that\ there has not been a vast difference between the working cultures of the key agencies that a recruiter, a candidate or a client could seek to engage with.

Sense IT Recruitment view the business they are in is not recruitment bur “relationships”. They are not focussed on the mighty dollar but on building bridges and relationships between themselves and clients, themselves and candidates, and then candidates and clients. Sense have the good sense to get to know and fully understand each stakeholder to the process of recruitment so the right placement takes place.

This takes time and it takes building a relationship with all concerned. The staff at Sense feel safe, unhurried and supported in doing a job that is their passion and which they love doing. They spend more time with face to face meetings with clients rather than nervously looking at statistics and measures. They look after the relationships and the money looks after itself. Sense carefully plan the customer experience they want their candidates to have with them, the experience they want their clients to have with them, and the experience they want their candidates to have with their clients. There is very little gap between the expectation and the actual experience as a result of this innovative firm engineering their entire business around the Conscious Business ethos and operational dynamics.

Sense IT Recruitment stands alone as a result of being able to offer company clients a 100% guarantee if a placement candidate turns out to be a dud for some reason. There is a lot of Talent out there claiming to be conscious in business but Sense is one of the few who make sense in this Conscious Business way. They are a profitable and happy bunch up in West Perth as a result. Given this type of experience is so rare to find then it is no wonder that consumers are now cynical about all forms of marketing and advertising. A recent 2012 survey showed that 82 per cent of consumers are cynical in that they do not expect the customer experience to match the hype of the brand and related advertising.

Remember that whether good or bad it is your customer experience that is your brand experience. This means that for all your hard earnt monies spent on marketing and advertising it remains true that it is the customer experience that dictates your brand. Deliver on your promise and create trust with your customers or break your promise via a poor customer experience and expect the same negative reaction that one gets when someone breaks a promise with us at the personal level. You cannot escape reality and accountability when you act out of integrity.

The other problem is that in the emerging New Economy any grievance or discrepancy is easily reported through social media or can be captured through the camera of any mobile media device. The “gap” can be easily exposed and reported on any number of consumer review sites to the visible detriment of the company concerned so there is nowhere or no way to hide any more.

The lesson here is to spend your marketing and branding monies on training staff to create a “wow” customer experience so you can position to meet or exceed the consumer expectations and the promise you have made to them through your brand. Slick glossy marketing can set you up for a fall as it may create cynicism or it may create an elevated expectation. If you as a business cannot deliver to that expectation then your marketing is actually undermining your brand and not supporting it. In the New Economy the total customer experience is what counts in your business and what should command your attention.

Just like the London Underground which has overhauled itself in the last few years, you now find the cry of “Mind The Gap” no longer has anything to do with the gap between the enthusiasm of wanting to ride the Tube versus the quality of that experience you now normally get in doing so. Can you say the same about your business? Conscious Business Australia is uniquely positioned to assist you in your business journey towards the new economy. We transcend traditional old economy business and leadership coaching and consulting models by bringing to bear our innovative and leading edge Conscious Business Methodology.

Our unique combination of skills, insight, experience and methodologies enable us to stand apart from the tired old coaching and consulting “experiences” that still dominate the business world using old economy constructs and principles. Come across and try the Conscious Business Australia “experience” which is built on the intersection of psychology, neuroscience, design, project management, marketing, channel design, and digital and physical product design/innovation/imitation philosophies. Have a look at our website www.cbau.com.au for more information, for a much more detailed version of newsletter articles, and for further articles and notifications of other courses and events that we run on a regular basis.

Richard Boyd is CEO and Founder of Conscious Business Australia which offers an innovative and thought leading consulting service for new entrepreneurs, existing business in decline or those who are seeking to update, re-engineer or deal with systemic problems within systems, processes, people or products.

Mob 0407577793
email: richard@cbau.com.au

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