Thursday, April 26, 2012

Employee Passion Drives Results

Image courtesy of John T. Spencer
I've been recording episodes of Undercover Boss, and over the weekend I was able to catch up on a few of them. I won't summarize the episodes like I did in a previous post, but I will touch on a common theme that seemed to thread throughout the episodes I watched: employee passion. Except for a single employee highlighted in one of episodes, all of them had a real sense of pride, a sense of ownership in the business. I was truly impressed. The staff that the CEOs trained under weren't in high-paying or high-level jobs, and yet they wanted to make a difference for the business. How refreshing is that?

It is often said that customers buy from brands with which they align, whether that alignment is with the brand's purpose, the corporate social responsibility policy, or something else. Employees want to work for companies with which they are aligned, as well. That's where passion comes in. How can you be passionate about doing something or being a part of something you don't care about or that doesn't fit your values? Before I move on, think about this, as it relates to both customer and employee acquisition (and ultimately retention): Does your company clearly communicate (live up to) its brand purpose or brand values in everything it does?

I quoted Jim Collins in my last post earlier this week on employee experience, and I'll do it again here, but this time from Built to Last. He's talking about the type of people to hire; I believe the retailers in those three episodes have found them - and should hang on to them!

"Core values and purpose are not something people 'buy in' to. People must already have a predisposition to holding them. ... the task is to find people who already have a predisposition to share your core values and purpose, attract and retain these people, and let those who aren't predisposed to share your core values go elsewhere."

When employees are connected with your purpose and passionate about what they are doing and who they do it for, there is a real benefit: they are more focused (on what they do and on the success of the business), want the business to succeed, and will do anything to ensure it does.

There are other benefits, as well. These employees are...
  • Proud to be part of something bigger than themselves
  • Feeling a sense of ownership
  • Inspired, happier
  • Team players
  • More productive
  • Less likely to leave
  • More likely to recommend the company, which attracts new talent and customers
  • Willing to defend the company and its reputation
  • More apt to make suggestions to improve the business
Without a doubt, all of these benefits ultimately translate into a great customer experience, too.

The employees highlighted in the Undercover Boss episodes I watched offered suggestions on how to make the business better, and subsequently, to grow the business. Does your company value and appreciate that type of input and innovation from employees? Does your company have employees who are that passionate about the brand?

Ken Blanchard said: "Remember, people who feel good about themselves produce good results, as well as people who produce good results feel good about themselves."

The bottom line is: that's a win-win-win scenario. Employees are happy >> Customers are happy >> Shareholders are happy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

It's Time to Focus on Employee Experience

Image courtesy of zzkt
If we're going to make a dent in this thing called "customer experience," we really need to start with, and focus on, the employees and their experiences.

You know the saying, "People buy from people." It's not just a cliche; it's true. Ginger Conlin with @1to1media spelled out that notion very succinctly in the compelling blog she wrote yesterday called, "Are Your Employees Your Biggest Fans?

We say that "companies" need to do this or "companies" need to do that, but, guess what? Those companies are led by, and made up of, people. So let's fix the people situation first, and then the customer experience will follow. And let's not just throw money at employees and think that's what creates engagement and commitment; money pays the bills and that's it. It does not make the world go around when it comes to the job that they're doing, day in and day it. If that's the case, then it's "just a job." Money does not create employee engagement; it gets the right people in the door, but it's not necessarily what keeps them there.

Gallup defines engaged employees as "those employees working with passion and feeling a profound connection to their companies; they drive innovation and move the organization forward." Disengaged employees, on the other hand, are "checked out and just putting time, but not energy or passion, into their work." They're actually a drain on the engaged workforce, and they "undermine what their engaged coworkers accomplish."

So let's focus on the pride, the passion, the sense of ownership, the profound (emotional) connection to companies or to brands. How do we get there? We definitely need to make sure we hire the right people. Yea, I'll say it: "Hire for attitude, train the skills." Get the right people in the door - not just those folks who fit your culture or your values but also those who truly want to be there, for the right reasons. Or as Jim Collins says in Good to Great, "Get the right people on the bus." By that he is referring to people who don't want to get on the bus because of where it's going but because of who else is on the bus.

Define what "right" means for your company. If you have the right people, they will attract other "right people." Think about the example in Ginger's story, referred to above. Wouldn't Lady Footlocker be a fun place to work, if you heard that others there were so excited about the brand, excited about what a great place it is to work?

Because of that enthusiasm and passion for the brand, for the business, employees are eager to contribute to its success. And when we're all working together for the success of the business, I believe that, ultimately, customers will win, too. As will your shareholders.

Different people may have different reasons for loving the brand, but that's OK. As I always say, "Everybody I hire brings some unique experience and value to the table, and that's what makes us learn and grow." I think that holds true for the reason behind the brand passion, as well. It's OK if it's unique; that's what makes it fun.

And, by the way, hiring the right people is not just about the frontline staff - it's about the executives, the leadership team, too. If you have the wrong people at the top, your organization will be challenged from a variety of angles. That probably goes without saying.

You also need the right culture. That culture is going to support and facilitate the passion of your employees. Culture is defined as a set of values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors shared by a group of people. Define the values and beliefs you want to live by, do business as. Culture helps get the right people on the bus, too. Think about the Zappos culture. Whenever I hear the word "culture," honestly, Zappos is the first company that comes to mind. They even publish a book every year - by their employees, in the employees' words - about their culture. I believe that culture is key to employee engagement. Again, it facilitates, drives, and encourages that passion, that sense of ownership, that the employees have about "their company."

The culture needs to allow employees to be creative and entrepreneurial. Don't stifle new ideas and innovation. I can speak from experience when I say that that stifling creativity, growth, and innovation is painful and kills engagement quicker than anything. Make sure that employees have the right tools to do what they were hired to do, and then let them do it. They know their roles, and they'll work together to get it done. A little bit of empowerment goes a long way.

I'll be writing more about the employee experience in upcoming blogs. If you'd like to read what I've previously written on this topic, please take a look at my post about engaging employees as part of your VOC initiative and another that outlines the employee experience cycle. There's more to come! I'm going to start using the hashtag #empexp to talk about the employee experience on Twitter.

In the meantime, speaking of employee engagement and employee experience, as you probably know, Stan Phelps launched the What's Your Purple Goldfish project a couple of years ago and recently published a book about the 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe he collected. Purple Goldfish is about the customer experience. This past Sunday, he launched his next venture, The Green Goldfish Project, for which he is seeking 1,001 examples of lagniappe as they relate to employee experience. If you've got any great examples, please reach out to him.

Great vision without great people is irrelevant. - Jim Collins

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Proactive vs. No-Active

Image courtesy of tahewitt
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog asking if proactive service was still a moment of truth. Today, I'll answer that question with a few prime examples to show that it truly is. Proactive service done right is a delighter. It is an opportunity to build a stronger relationship, to show your commitment to your customers - similar to the commitment that you want them to show to you. That two way street, that commitment to each other... that's called a relationship.

OK, off that soapbox and on to the proactive, er, no-active, service examples. I have three examples that show how proactive service could have really been something special, could have solidified the relationship. I'm not saying that I'm leaving these providers - the pain isn't great enough... yet; but I am saying that they have missed some real opportunities to keep my eyes from wandering.

Recently, Shep Hyken wrote about a tangential phenomenon in his article for The Social Customer titled, New Customers Shouldn't be the Only Ones to Get Special Pricing. I guess my post should be titled, "Existing Customers Should Have Their Accounts Evaluated on a Regular Basis."

Example #1: Wells Fargo
I have been a Wells Fargo customer for almost 25 years. Yes, TWENTY FIVE YEARS! You would think that they know me by now... or at least have something in their computers that they're all clacking away on as soon as you call that would tell them a little bit about me. (O gosh, I sound like my mom! LOL!) And you would think they would honor that relationship tenure, appreciate my business, and ensure that I have the right accounts for the way I bank with them. But, alas, tis not so.

I was recently doing some online banking and became increasingly annoyed at a monthly service fee that had grown on and off over the last couple of years. At one point, they stopped charging me a fee (because I have direct deposit), and then they started again; the fee went down a little and then crept up by a dollar a few times... enough that it was noticeable but not enough to make me scream, "Highway robbery!" Yet. Until this week. I searched their website and found a checking account type that was fee-free, as long as I used direct deposit and maintained a certain monthly minimum. Fair enough. That matched my scenario. Although, let me just point out, that had been my scenario for many years prior. And now I wonder how long I shouldn't have been charged a fee.

I called Wells Fargo about changing my account. Now, mind you, I believe that, as a 25-year customer, I deserve some appreciation and a "O gosh, sorry, let me take care of that for you right away." (Whenever I call AAA, of which I've been a member for just as long, if not longer, the first thing they say is, "Thank you for being a member for ## years. How can we help you?") Nope. The first thing out of the Wells Fargo rep's mouth was, "You have a large balance. Would you like to open a savings account?" And that sales schpiel wove throughout the entire conversation. Had he taken a look at my account, he would have seen why I had a large balance and that I have a savings account with another institution. (He would have caught this by regular the transfers to that bank.)

If it wasn't painful to switch banks at this point, I would have switched rather than call. And that isn't out of the question just yet.

In the end, he apologized for the inconvenience and suggested that I call in regularly to make sure that I have the account that is right for me. Hmmm, ouch. So no proactive service here. What a delighter that would have been. Does your bank do that?

Example #2: Verizon Wireless
Years ago, when I was working for J.D. Power and Associates, AirTouch was a client of mine. They also happened to be my cell phone service provider. As we were discussing the results of some of the customer feedback they received, they talked about putting into place an algorithm that would look at your cell service usage versus your cell contract and reach out to you if you were in a plan that did not meet your usage needs... and offer to switch you to a different, more-appropriate plan.

After a series of mergers, AirTouch became a part of Verizon Wireless, a company with whom I have now also been a customer for almost 25 years. While they have tools on their website that you can use to determine if you are in the right plan, there was never a proactive outreach to say, "Your contract is for 2,000 hours a month, but you only use 1,000 per month; perhaps you should switch your plan." Of course, now they have unlimited plans, so it doesn't matter, but, again, no proactive call from them.

Does your cell carrier check your plan against your usage and offer to put you in a plan better suited for your needs?

Example #3: Cox Communications
A few months ago, I wanted to pare down my home and office landline calling plans because I wasn't making as many calls with my them as I used to. As I did my research, I was irate to find out that Cox had unlimited calling plans for $29.99 plus the cost of features... when I'd been paying HUNDREDS of dollars every month for my long distance calls! I've been a Cox customer for 10 years. How long have I been overpaying?

Has your phone company switched to better plans and pricing, but you're still paying exorbitant rates?

OK, let's put this out there. I'm an adult. I am responsible for my own expenditures. But does all of the onus fall on us, as customers, to make sure we are using the right plans? Companies are the ones to make changes to their pricing, plans, etc. Should they not notify us when this happens? Or, as Shep Hyken notes, are these offers only for new customers? Do companies not have the right data and tools to do the right thing for the customer? Or do customers need to jump through hoops to figure out if they are in the best plan?

The Bottom Line
To answer the question: Yes, proactive service is a moment of truth. Too bad companies aren't more proactive.

Here's the bottom line: companies are not putting the customer first; they are putting shareholder value and profits first. If they put the customer first, then profits would happen naturally.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Customer Experience is More Than Just Customer Service

There's a difference!

I was recently engaged in a job search in the VOC and CX space. Among other tools, I used Google Alerts and Simply Hired saved searches (which emailed me new postings every morning) with keywords to target my search results. One of the observations I made throughout this search was the very misleading job titles that are being used to describe certain positions. I saw postings for jobs with titles such as Director of Customer Experience or Vice President of Customer Experience, which to me would have been golden. Except... these titles were being used to describe positions that oversaw customer service or technical support departments. When did "Vice President of Customer Service" go out of style? Because one of my search keywords/phrases was "Customer Experience," I also happened to spot other Customer Experience titles, like Customer Experience Associate. Companies were using that title to refer to their store associates or sales clerks. That's not really appropriate, either.

I read something yesterday that reminded me of this phenomenon, and it compelled me to tweet about it (see below) and to write about why companies are using these titles now... and incorrectly, at that.


I didn't get any takers on my tweet, but I do believe that using titles like these, in the manner they are being used (as described above), really devalues or discounts the larger, more-encompassing role of a true Vice President of Customer Experience or other roles that are truly about the customer experience (and all that those roles entail). It leads to confusion and lack of clarity.

Do companies/people not understand the difference between "customer service" and "customer experience?" Customer service is only one part of the entire customer experience. It needs to be executed well, yes, but it is just one piece of the pie.

Take a look at the Customer Experience Lifecycle to the left (click the image to enlarge), and if you get a moment, read my blog post on this topic. You can see that the experience starts long before the service event. Keep in mind, too, that not every customer experience even includes a service event.

There was a great post on the 1to1 Blog about two weeks ago that nicely summed up the differences, to which I remarked:  "Amen! Needed to be said!" And here I am, saying it again.

When I tweeted the article, Mark Gunn responded to it by saying:


Have you had to make this distinction to your co-workers, executives, or clients? How do we get organizations to think about these two concepts in a different way? What are your thoughts?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions

Image courtesy of LearningLark
"Feedback is the breakfast of champions" is a quote often attributed to Ken Blanchard, who is an author, speaker, management expert, and business consultant. I thought this would be a great quote to build on in today's blog post.

As we all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day! (You do know that, right?!) Without a good breakfast, you won't have the energy to get through the day! Likewise, without feedback, the organization starves. It operates in a vacuum, and cannot improve, adapt, or evolve.

I don't have to preach about the need to gather feedback. As I mentioned in my last post, 98% of organizations collect feedback. And there is no lack of listening posts or sources of feedback: there are solicited (e.g., surveys) and unsolicited (e.g., social media) channels, with structured and unstructured feedback.

Where I do need to continue to preach is on how that feedback is used. Think about this: If you don't fuel your body in the morning, you'll pass out by mid-day. (Well, I know I will... probably long before mid-day!) If you don't take that feedback you've collected -- or that has been sent to you, unsolicited -- and socialize, analyze, strategize, and operationalize it, (a) you're missing out on some great opportunities and (b) you will eventually fail.

Keep in mind that, unlike champions in the sports world, focusing on the score is not the approach you want to use in the business world. VOC is not about the score. But even in sports, feedback is critical, so that you can adjust your game to adapt to the opponents' moves and strategies.

Image courtesy of Belle-Vous Photography
I always tell my clients that getting used to reviewing and acting on your feedback is like having your morning cup of coffee. If you think of it that way, you'll review it and respond to it every morning, just like your email. Make it part of your routine, and get addicted!

Listen
Act
Close the Loop
Evolve

So, eat your breakfast... drink your coffee... and do great things! Be a customer experience champion!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Tips to Help You Close the Loop with Your Customers

Your VOC initiative is about to get underway. You'll be collecting feedback from your customers, partners, employees, vendors, etc. (I'll collectively refer to them as "customers" for the purpose of this post.) But don't forget that VOC is not just about listening to the voice of the customer; it's also about acting on that voice.

Your customers' feedback is a gift, and you need to decide what to do with it. I recommend you take it seriously and do something constructive, i.e., preferably, make some improvements!

One of the ways you'll need to use, or act on, the feedback is to close the loop, which means circling back with your customers after they've provided input about your products and services and their experiences. It's the first step in operationalizing your VOC efforts. It lets customers know their feedback:
  • has been received
  • has ended up in the right hands
  • is being used to make improvements, and
  • has been (is being) acted on (and how)
Closing the loop with customers is a valuable part of your VOC efforts because it shows that:
  • you care
  • you value their feedback
  • you do something with their feedback
In my post about VOC communication needs, I outlined various forms of communication and ways to close the loop. In this post, I'm referring specifically to the need to follow up with every single customer that provides feedback via a survey or by some other listening post. While this is quite tactical in nature, the strategic element comes in when you look at common themes and conduct a root cause analysis to determine why an issue is occurring and what you'll need to do, structurally, to correct it (so that you save time and money by not receiving future feedback from other customers about the same issue!).

Closing the loop will also help to:
  • increase future response rates or the likelihood that customers will provide feedback again in the future... because they know it hasn't been a waste of time, i.e., you are actually using their input to make improvements
  • increase their likelihood to recommend, simply because it's an unexpected delighter; in my experience, when customers respond to surveys, they honestly don't expect companies to follow up with them, even if they say they will
Several factors that you need to consider before you even begin gathering feedback are outlined below. Yes, I said before you even start. Once you're underway, it's too late. (Well, not really, but you'll suffer a lot of pain, and you'll have a lot of catching up to do. So, please plan ahead!)

Prepare yourself by considering the following:
  • Who will you respond to? Every respondent? Just dissatisfied customers?
  • What resources do you need to ensure that you can respond to customers in a timely manner?
  • Do you have enough people to handle the potential volume?
  • Who is going to respond? At what level?
  • How will you respond (phone, email, etc.)?
  • How do you define "a timely manner?"
  • What's the process workflow going to be? 
  • Will the response be an acknowledgement of the issue (if negative feedback) with a promise to follow up with a resolution or improvement when corrective action happens?
  • Which tools will you need to keep track of the feedback loop?
  • Who will coach employees on how to respond appropriately?
  • Have you created the right culture within the organization such that employees won't view this as "more work?"
As you've heard me say before: do you have the right tools, right people, right processes, and the right culture in place to get this implemented?

One final note...
Remember that closing the loop is not just about acknowledging, addressing, and resolving the bad experiences; it's also a way to celebrate the good. If the feedback is positive, thank your customers, share the good news, and give kudos and recognition to employees, where due. If the feedback is negative, respond to the issues with your customers, but don't forget to coach employees so they can learn what's expected of them in the future. 

95% of companies collect customer feedback.  Yet only 10% use the feedback to improve, and only 5% tell customers what they are doing in response to what they heard. -Gartner

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A New Friendly Neighborhood Grocery Store?

It's so easy to write about customer experiences gone wrong. I've done that several times now, and I feel bad that I never have good things to write about! (OK, I have written about one, so far. Just one!) But that's just the nature of the beast.

It's tougher to write about the good experiences, mainly because there are so few! Ask Stan Phelps about how long it took to come up with 1,001 examples of marketing lagniappe! Why are these memorable experiences so few and far between? Why do companies focus on numbers and profits rather than on the customer experience? Why don't they understand that the experience is what drives growth and profits? (And that employees drive the experience?)

Well, finally, I can write about another good experience! And it's not just one lone interaction that motivated me to write this post; I've held off writing about this company because I've been waiting to see if my interactions with them would continue in the same manner, i.e., was this a fluke? or is there a pattern/consistency?

The object of today's blog post is Albertsons, a grocery store chain on the West Coast. Yea, that big, hairy grocery store that has had its share of negative stories. Trust me. I have had my share of bad experiences with them in the past. 

I also used to shop on Albertsons.com and have my groceries delivered - until they revamped their website to make it more "user friendly," which not only caused my history and favorites to be lost but also rendered the site quite unfriendly. I have not used this channel since then.

But I've seen a pattern of improvement lately in their physical stores, and it's not just in one store but two that I shop at regularly. (I know; two is not a pattern!)

There are two Albertsons that I shop at: one is just around the corner from where I live, and the other is close to the gym and the boys' Taekwondo school. It's convenient. I stop in at the second one almost as much, if not more, than the one around the corner from my house. I've witnessed some amazing things in the last couple of months that have really impressed me. Listed below are just a few examples.

After my morning workout, I often stop at Albertsons to grab some coffee at the Starbucks located inside the store or to pick up whatever items I've run out of. 

One morning, after my workout, I was in the produce department of the Albertsons closest to the gym; one of the produce guys greeted me immediately and asked me to let him know if I couldn't find what I was looking for. Then the produce manager spotted me and let me know that if there's anything I'd like to sample, he'd cut some fruit for me! What?! And without waiting for me to respond, he walked up, asked me if I'm hungry (I'm famished, of course, after my workout!), and suggested a few fruits (including a honey tangerine - yum! - and a unique pear that I've never heard of before) for me to try. He cut them for me, got me some napkins, and I was on my merry way. Simple gesture, but it left quite the impression on me. I'm still talking about it now!

Prior to this, all of the employees in the produce department had always been friendly, greeted me,  and offered assistance, if needed.  I've ordered cakes for my kids' birthday parties from their bakery, as well, and the bakery team has been great, making recommendations for flavors, decorations, etc.

Two nights ago, I stopped in after the boys' Taekwondo class to pick up some berries. I walked into the produce department and was greeted immediately. As I went to grab a container of raspberries, the produce manager stopped me and said that if I'd wait a minute, he'd go in the back and get a fresh box of berries that had just arrived. I didn't really see anything wrong with the four remaining containers of raspberries, but I was certainly pleased by the offer of getting the freshest ones available!

The last story that I'll tell about this particular Albertsons is about another morning that I stopped in to do some post-workout shopping. (Yea, there's a theme here... workout, eat, workout, eat.) This time, I needed to pick up more than just produce and ended up with several bags of heavier, awkward items. While checking out, I mentioned that I was going to grab some coffee at Starbucks, and the guy bagging my groceries asked if I wanted a cart. I declined and said I'd be able to carry it all. Despite that, while I was ordering my drink at Starbucks, he brought me a cart. Thank goodness because I really couldn't have carried it all without dropping something.

Even when I enter this store just to grab some coffee, I'm greeted by the folks at the registers. They know who I am, acknowledge me, and say "hello" or "good-bye" every time. Simple little touches that leave lasting impressions.

What's my point? It's the people! The people make all the difference. The people drive the experience. People buy from people. Remember, this is a large, chain grocery store. You can just be a number, or you can help make a difference. These employees have chosen to drive change in this organization, be friendly to their neighbors, and make the shopping experience pleasant. I'm not aware of any cultural changes within Albertsons, so if anyone has insights, let me know. I'd be curious to see if this is just a "local thing," or if others are seeing a similar change in other locations. 

On to the other store, the one closest to my house. This one also has a Starbucks, plus it has a pharmacy inside. I do my big, weekly grocery trip at this location and have for the last 10 years. Many of the same employees are still there (even after the very long grocery workers' strike several years ago). It's generally a good experience. I can't say anything negative about shopping there. The cashiers and baggers are all friendly and make conversation, and if I stumble upon an employee down an aisle, he or she will generally ask if I need help finding anything. When I check out, they always ask if I found everything I was looking for. I can't say that I've had the same consistently great experience in the produce department as I've had in the other store, but it's not been a negative experience either.


And that begs the question, is a non-negative experience the same as a positive experience? It's not a remarkable experience, but it doesn't detract from how I feel about the brand. Is that a good thing? I guess that's a topic for another blog post.

But I digress. Back to the topic at hand.

What I do like about this store is a nice personal touch. Every couple of months, I receive a hand-written letter from the store director. The image to the left shows a letter, with which he included his business card, that I received from him just yesterday. I'll forgive him for spelling my last name wrong (hey, even my mom gets it wrong every once in a while). I appreciate the gesture and the offer to contact him if I need anything. This has been an ongoing thing with this particular store (even through a change in store managers) since I started shopping there; the letters seem to come more frequently now, though. In addition, one of the other store managers greets me whenever I see him. I've seen him in the store on "off duty" days, and he's no different. He says "hello" and asks about my day. This is a great example to set for your employees!

OK, so Albertsons is not Trader Joe's, but they really are making an effort. I never get a hand-written letter from TJs! So you might ask: "If you're writing about great grocery store experiences, why didn't you write about Trader Joe's?" Glad you asked! I LOVE Trader Joe's. But I also expect to have a great experience at Trader Joe's, so it's not really newsworthy, is it? Or is it? A great experience is an expectation. A bad experience is a story.

To wrap this up, why did I write about Albertsons? I've taken notice. There's been an improvement, a culture change. It's been consistent. It's been memorable. It's all about their people, their employees making a difference.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

7 Steps to Brand Insistence

Image courtesy of kudumomo
Many years ago, I worked for a market research firm that did a lot of brand research. In our brand studies, we asked respondents to evaluate a brand in accordance with how they placed it on the "ladder of the mind," as it was referred to then. The ladder, which has seven steps along the brand preference continuum, reflects the fact that consumers tend to think about brands in terms of consideration sets rather than in terms of purchase probabilities. An added bonus of using the ladder and its respective verbiage is that the scale is designed to be internationally acceptable, something that is often called into question with a numerical purchase intent scale.  You'll see what I mean as you review the responses to the "ladder of the mind" question. The response are...

  • This is the only brand of [product] I would ever consider using
  • This is one of my preferred [product] brands
  • This is not one of my preferred [product] brands, but from what I’ve heard about it recently, I’d like to try it/try it again/learn more about it
  • This is not one of my preferred [product] brands, but I’d use it under certain circumstances
  • I’ve heard of this brand of [product] but don’t know much about it
  • I’ve never heard of this brand of [product]
  • I would never choose to use this brand of [product]

Each of those seven response choices is given a short-name category, with the categories shown in the rungs of the ladder in the image above. Clearly, the hope/wish/dream is that, as customers move through the customer experience lifecycle, the experience with the brand is such that they also move up the rungs of the ladder and  ultimately say: "This is the only brand of X that I would ever consider using." What a powerful statement that is! This is when you've reached the state of brand insistence, defined by BusinessDictionary.com as:

A type of exceptional consumer loyalty to a particular trade named product where they actively pursue its acquisition and will not accept a substitution or generic product instead. The ultimate test of a successful marketing campaign for a business brand is the degree of brand insistence that it generates for the product among consumers.

All that to say that the customer has achieved a stage of brand preference whereby he/she will accept no alternative, pursue no substitutes, and will search until that brand is found or what until it is available.

It takes a lot of work by an organization for a customer to get to the point of brand insistence. The brand is backed up by a culture and an organization of people who support what it stands for, who work tirelessly every day to make sure the brand (and its promises) are well represented. I would argue that the definition above also needs to make reference to the customer experience, not just to marketing. The experience must be done right. You must live up to your brand promise. You must be remarkable. You must be consistent. You must earn your customers' trust.

"Your brand is created out of customer contact and the experience your customers have with you." -Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Chairman, EasyGroup

If all those things are done right, customers form an emotional connection with the brand. Until the customer sees consistency from the brand, that bond can be easily broken. Consistency begets trust, and once there is trust between the brand and the customer, that emotional bond becomes solidified, and brand insistence takes over.

Can you think of a specific brand (in a given product category) with which you've achieved brand insistence? There are probably the usual suspects, e.g., Apple, Harley-Davidson, or Nike, but what others would you declare?

"A brand that captures your mind gains behavior. A brand that captures your heart gains commitment." -Scott Talgo, Brand Strategist