The Year of the Customer

December 4, 2005

Let`s start with the catastrophes. If you`ve got a pulse, you`ve probably heard the stories about the numerous, always shocking, customer experiences from hell: the NJ couple who were labeled as îJew coupleî by restaurant staffers, the financial services company that addressed a US citizen as îPalestinian Bomber,î and the angry customer service reps who changed a telecom customer's name to îBitch Dog.î

Not surprisingly, customer experience management became a critical objective during 2005. Customer Experience teams and enhancement initiatives have emerged everywhere. Companies of all shapes and sizes now are dedicating themselves to identifying, isolating and managing their customer interactions, both to improve satisfaction and to retain their most valuable assets.

Business-ease has become more important than "business as usual."

We see this in our work every day. One executive, in describing the desire to make it simple, told us that his services needed to be as "easy as Google." Another talked of leapfrogging the competition by offering simpler transactional forms and intuitive interfaces. By recognizing the power of everyday media and communications to reinforce brand strategy, each of these companies ñ and others like them - are setting a trend that will gain steam over the next few years. They are breaking down functional silos, desegregating marketing and operational budgets, and beginning the process of refocusing frequent and often unheralded touchpoints to better deliver enhanced customer experiences.

This is particularly exciting to us at CoreBrand. Because of our enduring passion for the power of corporate brands, we know what it takes to tie strategy to implementation and to unlock brand equity. We also know that brand alignment and consistency are prerequisites for improving the customer experience ñ especially when the brand has been damaged by isolated events such as those above. And in partnership with our clients, we know that customers respond well to our efforts. A former financial services client estimated the savings from clarifying applications and presenting fewer opportunities for defection at $8 million annually! Who can afford to ignore these results?

So as we close 2005 and prepare for 2006, let's remember why customers matter. Brand is a total reflection of a company and the experiences of its customers. Without customers, brands lose meaning. Meanwhile, customer experiences are a constantly changing reflection of brand strategy and how effectively it is delivered. By acknowledging the strong correlation between simpler and more transparent interactions and higher customer satisfaction scores, the lights came on in 2005 for many skeptics. Fewer companies now question whether returns on customer experience investments justify the expenses. I predict this trend will continue in 2006.

- Patrick Ohlin pohlin@corebrand.com

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