Experiences are shared. They are shared by those who participate “in the moment” and by those who relive them via social media. For brands who are delivering a great customer experience and have cultivated a pool of loyal, raving fans, experiences are powerful marketing and branding tools that put them in a position of strength and pave the way for continued growth and engagement. For brands who are delivering underwhelming or negative experiences, the customer experience can be equally if not more powerful – however, it often comes at the cost of maintaining a strong reputation, customer loyalty and audience growth.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, Pepsi and United Airlines have faced a steady stream of backlash for delivering undesirable customer experiences. In both instances, social media was instrumental in spreading reach and rallying more voices in opposition. While these brands are far from the first to under-deliver on the customer experience, both serve as timely reminders that word of how one treats their customers and fans spreads quickly and has a lasting impact on brand equity and loyalty. As your company or cause works to hone its own customer experience, keep these marketing best practices and key questions top-of-mind.
Intentions and Expectations vs. Reality
Just as retailers design and manufacture in-store experiences, companies and causes create the experiences they want stakeholders to have with their mission, vision, products, programs and services. They take the time to identify the type of reaction and connection they want you to feel in association with their brand, as well as how they want your journey with them to progress (oftentimes the continuum of transitioning from awareness to action).
While these brand experiences are often carefully planned, it is critically important to be aware of any gaps between the intended customer experience and the actual customer experience. Monitor company emails, social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.), online review sites and other communication channels to ensure those who are sharing their experiences are conveying the intended experience and that negative online buzz isn’t detracting from one’s brand. If there are notable gaps, take the time to address them promptly and make the refinements necessary to maintain brand loyalty and an enthusiastic pool of brand ambassadors.
Data shows that customers who complain via Twitter expect a response within an hour. Further, Brandwatch reports that 96 percent of people who talk about brands online don’t follow the brand’s own social media channels. Conveying the importance of both a timely response and online monitoring, this data shows that (1) social media is perceived as a customer service tool by many clients and customers and (2) just because your company isn’t present on a platform or seeing negative commentary posted or directed to your branded channels doesn’t mean stakeholders aren’t talking about your brand.
When managing stakeholder feedback, it is important to identify what type of response is best suited for which type of feedback. For example, if a customer was dissatisfied with an in-store experience, a phone call may best address the situation. If a product under-delivered and a customer posts a photo of the end product on social media, an online response coupled with a request to email more information may make the most sense. The best approach to customer-relations is far from one size fits all and brands that deliver a satisfactory or exceptional customer experience are keenly aware of this. They are nimble, responsive and tailor their response to best suit the situation, which in turn builds trust among stakeholders and minimizes the potential for negative brand buzz.
As customers’ expectations for an outstanding brand experience are heightened by those brands who consistently demonstrate a genuine investment in customer satisfaction and delight, the need for an online reputation management program is heightened as well. From the “first impression” through post-sales, it is critical that clients and customers maintain a strong connection with your brand and remain willing ambassadors to share their brand experience.