A Caribbean Branded Experience
There is a quiet revolution underway in which leading companies are changing the way they’re thinking about customer service.
Since the advent of the “total quality” movement in the 1980s, companies have been happy designing customer service to “meet or exceed customers’ needs or expectations” and to provide “excellent
Marketers are now saying that this approach is not sufficient and that they want customer service that fulfills an important role in brand building. In other words, they’re saying that service quality must do more than meet expectations. It must also create a “branded experience” that the company can use to clearly differentiate itself from competitors and deeply embed itself in the customer’s
When companies fail to create a branded experience, they run the risk of either providing a bland experience that customers do not value or even creating a negative experience that customers actively avoid.
Such is the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup currently underway across the West Indies. The promise seemed simple: create a world-class event and cricket lovers the world over would come.
Unfortunately, the delivered experience has driven away local fans and turned off visitors, and there is universal recognition that something must be done to correct this.
What could the ICC Cricket World Cup organisers have done to prevent the fallout that’s now occurring? What went wrong in their planning? What can regional companies do to prevent their own customers from abandoning them at key moments?
In our most recent endeavor at Framework, we have been looking at this question for several clients—and we think that the ICC could have followed a simple process to craft a precise experience from inside the world of their customers, create channels to deliver the experience consistently, and ensure that interventions to restore the desired experience are timely and authentic.
Customer’s Experience vs. Customer’s Expectations
As companies change the way they think about the customer’s experience, savvy firms are focusing on creating specific “experiences” comprised of actual emotions they want their customers to retain after an encounter with the company.
For example, customers of an excellent hotel may leave their weekend stint having had experiences of “care, opulence, and comfort.”
In this context, the experience is a possible differentiating factor, built by the hotel, based on an understanding of what its target customers want—and what the hotel can actually deliver. Obviously, no set of experiences are universal and apply to all customers. Equally obvious is the fact that not all hotels are interested in delivering the same experience. A different hotel might be interested in creating an experience of “adventure, thrift, and practicality” for its customers.
If both hotels were effective in creating these experiences, they would appeal to very different segments, with brands that overlap only rarely.
In the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the “world-class” experience that’s associated with sporting events in developed countries has done much to turn away local lovers of the game.
The truth is, although half of the world lives on less than US$2.00 per day, the idea of what is world-class probably wasn’t defined with the “lower half” in mind. Instead, it most likely came from feedback gained from the 20% of the world’s population in the developed nations who consume 86% of the world’s goods (and perhaps even more of the global, live sporting events.) Here in the Caribbean, with our developing economies, we are hardly a part of the influential 20%.
A conversation with the average man in the street, or a visitor to the region, would reveal that our cricketing customers are very different from those envisioned by the typical customers of world-class events. The experiences we value are very different— more noisy, spontaneous, and reliant on people interacting with one another.
The ICC seems to have realized that a mistake was made and that the experience they were intent on delivering is not the one that customers are interested in having—even if it is “world-class.”
Unfortunately, companies in the region often assume that world-class is better. This is an excellent example where that thinking is just plain wrong.
The problem was created when the term “world-class” was not translated into specific experiences.
For example, a great deal has been made of the fact that local customers have not appreciated that tickets have been available online for several months. In a world-class event, an e-commerce channel is usually experienced as “helpful.” In the Caribbean, where less than 20% of our citizens have Internet access, the experience was one that was “exclusionary” and “difficult.”
Furthermore, foreigners have been complaining that the cricket experience they are having is sterile, and “not Caribbean enough.” One visitor quipped that if he wanted that kind of experience he would just have stayed home in England.
Shifting from vague ideals such as “world-class” to specific experiences is more than just a cosmetic play of words. When experiences can be understood as a combination of critical emotional outcomes, practices can be customized to produce them.
Take, as an example, interactions between the flight crew and customers in the airline industry.
A company that intends to create the experience of “peace and quiet” would train the staff in very different practices from one that creates the experience of “spontaneity.” The practices would contrast in tone, length, volume, and warmth.
To illustrate, Southwest Airlines is well known for the jokes, contests, and songs that its flight crew (including the captain) tell over the intercom at different points in the flight. As a customer of Southwest, which specializes in short-haul flights, I can report from the experience that it was fun.
However, I also truly appreciate the peace and quiet provided by a British Airways business-class seat on a long trans-Atlantic flight.
As another example, here in the Caribbean, a company that tries to deliver the same experience to its clients, regardless of the culture of each client’s home country, can run into serious trouble. A Trinidadian customer may respond very differently to an invitation to go out for drinks and a lime after work compared to a Barbadian in the same situation.
A savvy company accounts for regional differences and customizes its practices to carefully produce the desired experience, while monitoring the actual experience its customers are having.
Unfortunately, international research conducted by Bain & Co. shows that most companies are in the dark. Some 80% of companies believe that they are delivering “a superior customer experience,” while only 8% of their customers agree.
The best companies go further than customizing their practices, however. They also define what happens for customers at each point at which the company interacts with the customer.
Delivering the Experience Through Touch Points
Critical to delivering the experience and customizing practices is understanding that customers build up their experience of companies through what are called “touch points.”
Recently I made my first visit to a new bicycle shop here in Kingston, Jamaica. The outside looks rather ordinary, as the shop is tucked away between other stores behind a very shallow parking lot. However, when I entered it for the first time, I had only one thought: “This feels like America!” The layout was superb, the store was air-conditioned, and the merchandise was well lit and attractively displayed.
It was a vivid touch point, and I have not visited another bicycle shop since then, as this one is a clear step above any others in terms of its environment.
Perhaps the owner designed the store’s interior with a particular experience in mind: “inviting.” If so, he has succeeded—the layout invites the customer to linger, and, in my opinion, it’s the only bicycle shop in Kingston that comes close to accomplishing this feeling. The first entrance into the store is a powerful touch point.
We at Framework have developed tools to help companies define the desired experience, inventory the touch points, and define standards of behaviour and process that deliver the experience. (See the footnote to this ezine about how to obtain more information on one of these tools.)
When I first did this exercise for Framework Consulting, the insights I gained were stunning. When I stepped into our customer’s shoes, seemingly trivial details became critical.
When I made the first list of touch points, I realized that the firm’s brand was being experienced through multiple channels, some of which were as follows:
• A visit to the company website
• How long it took to get a reply to an email
• The length of the voice mail message I heard when I called
• The fit between my proposals and the client’s budget
• A casual encounter in the mall or on an airplane
• A speech heard at a conference
These are all valid touch points, and they all work together to create our company’s particular brand and some overall experience for our customers. I found that I was managing a mere subset of all potential touch points.
Unfortunately, in the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the touch points that I personally encountered were a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences:
• The press was full of reports of things that we West Indians were not allowed to do on match day
• When I called to order tickets, I was told quite unprofessionally that “they were sold out”
• When I bought a ticket online the following day, the website was confusing and would not allow me to pick the row or seat, just the “section”
• When I picked up the ticket, the agent appeared unconcerned that I was given incorrect information
• It was amazingly easy to be transferred from the parking lot to the ground itself
• The degree of security (in crime-ridden Jamaica) was wonderful to behold
• I was told I could bring in no food or drinks, but I saw people do both
• The ground’s vendors ran out of decent meals, and my family ended up eating something awful for lunch
• Sabina Park never looked more beautiful, or better prepared, as a physical facility
• There was none of the noise that’s always a part of cricket in the Caribbean
• The brand name of the toilets was neatly (and bizarrely) covered with duct tape . . .
All of these touch points together—good and bad—helped to make the total experience.
A note about the duct tape on the toilets: While covering the brand name on a toilet may have something to do with a world-class standard (i.e., ambush marketing), the feeling of outrage that I felt at that moment has stayed with me. (Apparently, the manufacturer declined to be a sponsor, hence the peculiar need to hide its name from the public.) I cannot imagine that too many West Indians would take this particular tactic lightly, and many sportswriters have written about the greed and selfishness that it exemplifies. Clearly, this touch point created an experience that was foreign to the majority of the ICC Cricket World Cup customers.
Taken together, the mixed bag of experiences, via different touch points, has resulted in empty stadiums (to date) and a bitter taste in the mouths of many fans—a bad taste that the organisers are now desperately trying to correct.
Unfortunately, some recent public pronouncements by the executives of the ICC Cricket World Cup have only added more negative experiences. Apparently, they deliberately decided to overlook the
customer’s experience and instead tried something bolder—to “change Caribbean culture,” in the words of Stephen Price, the tournament’s commercial director.
Needless to say, it’s much more difficult to “change” customers than it is to provide a particular experience that customers value, and more recent actions seem to indicate a course correction.
This is not to say that there aren’t aspects of the Caribbean culture that work against us, but the customer is the wrong element to try to change. Instead, the tournament staff—those who deliver the bulk of the experiences to the customer—should be the real point of focus.
Interventions to Deliver the Desired Experience
Companies that decide to transform themselves to deliver a consistent customer experience must start with the people who deliver the experience. Coaching and training interventions are the best way to change the knowledge, skills, and motivation required.
Unfortunately, the average employee in the Caribbean region is at a severe disadvantage.
One benefit of being a service worker in a First World country is simply having consistent exposure to companies that deliver better service, or even world-class service. Contrasted with the average Caribbean employee, First World employees can more easily become savvy service providers as a result of having had a direct
Here in the Caribbean, however, the average service provider just hasn’t had that same experience. In fact, the average Caribbean national is hard-pressed to identify a single company with which they interact that provides excellent service.
That doesn’t mean that Sandals, for example, isn’t providing excellent service. However, the income gap between our average service worker (earning perhaps US$200 per week) and the average Sandals customer (paying $US200 per night) means that the majority of workers will never spend a night at Sandals.
Caribbean service workers are therefore in a bind—How do they meet customers’ expectations when theirs have never been met? How do they provide a service level that they’ve never personally witnessed? How do they effect behaviours that deliver an experience that they’ve never had?
This question is not an easy one to answer, as we at Framework are finding, but we have had some success by taking the following two steps.
1. Use Specific, Familiar Language
Managers must define the customer experience in terms that the service worker can appreciate and understand. This may mean using language that’s colloquial, based in patois or local jargon. The point here is to make it easy for the service worker to remember and focus on delivering the experience.
The benefit derived from making the experience explicit is that the service worker is better able to judge whether or not the experience is being delivered. When general terms such as “world-class” are used, that actually communicates very little to the service workers—leaving them unable to correct their behaviour, even if they want to.
This is quite different from a situation in which a manager asks his worker whether or not a particular customer was “delighted, inspired, and energized.” A manager who uses such terms is more likely to get an intelligent response than one who asks whether or not the customer was merely “satisfied.” Using specific language is
the key to communicating what the goal of each interaction actually is.
2. Develop Emotional Intelligence
Managers must train workers to develop aspects of their emotional intelligence that emphasize the ability to recognize, and respond to, the emotions of customers—especially when those emotions might be negative.
At one extreme is the kind of worker who cannot recognize the emotions of others, even when those emotions are obvious. These workers probably should not be in the service industry at all. Further along the spectrum are those who recognize the feelings of others, but react in a way that’s inappropriate because they cannot
control their reactions.
The emotional intelligence needed to consistently deliver a customer experience can be learned. With consistent coaching, an employee with a basic level of empathetic skills can learn how to use touch points to accomplish the company’s goals.
Most are not able to turn themselves into experts overnight, however. Managers must make time to not only train, but to serve as role models for the standards it takes to create a desired experience.
The best managers believe this rule: service workers will not deliver an experience to a customer that exceeds the experience that they’ve had with their own management. The best managers give enough of the “right” experience to their front-line workers in order for those workers, in turn, to be able to give that experience to others. For this reason, the first-level, or front-line manager’s role is a critical one.
Long after the ICC Cricket World Cup has come and gone, companies in the region will be able to use the example of its citizens direct experience to see that delivering good service is not merely a matter of repeating what is done elsewhere.
Instead, it takes the precise application of touch point standards and interventions in every case—and when the job is done well, the customer’s experience is assured.
P.S. We would like to offer you a paper with more details on Framework’s Service Inventory — a tool to capture critical information at company touch-points. To receive the paper, send email to email@example.com
Tips, Ads and Links
I will be speaking at the upcoming Jamaica Employees Federation conference from May 3-6 in Ocho Rios on the topic: Building Bridges across the region: Networking Strategies and Techniques for the New Breed of Caribbean Managers.
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