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Virtual heckling on media sites, comment boards, blogs and forums has been prevalent almost since the advent of the Internet. But there are now more sophisticated and indiscriminate ways to inflict damage on the corporate brand reputation, and these attacks are no longer just the remit of marketing or customer service. Cross functional attacks need to be dealt with cross functionally, so you can meet detractors wherever they go on the offensive.
Witness the inception of customer complaint apps that take the idea of ‘one-to-many’ further than you’d imagine. You want your gripes and groans published to multiple websites and social networks in seconds? You got it. The old ways of resolving your issues now seem positively outmoded. Letters, phone calls, emails and tweets just don’t cut it – your customer now wants to make it very, very public. Very, very quickly.
At the extreme end of the scale, basic heckling has given way to more sinister tactics – such as denial of service (DDoS) attacks – designed to overwhelm organizations’ web platforms and other routes to market, crippling commerce sites and impacting sales. Wherever you look, big business seems to be under threat from citizens and cybercriminals.
All of this serves as a useful reminder that a well-positioned, customer-focused company must be underpinned by the alignment and shared strength of its functions, in order to perfect one of the most effective firewalls a business can deploy: its brand.
Conversely, enterprises that demonstrate a lack of transparency, openness and fair play in their markets may become vulnerable to attack. And, for those corporations that do, the cost is much more than the loss of an unhappy customer. It’s the loss of your ability to do business and sustain a positive, marketable reputation.
So, this all leads to a central question – is it possible to please all of our customers, all of the time? If we take some of the responses to a recent LinkedIn discussion, it would appear not. “A customer that makes a rational decision will almost never be satisfied”, says one. Another highlights that: “setting a goal to exceed customer expectations is pointless.”
However, Christine Crandell – a contributor to Forbes.com – offers a more somber analysis: “Practitioners and analysts are abandoning the customer experience (CX) label in favour of customer engagement (CE) because, in truth, vendors will never be able to manage or shape a customer’s experience, only customers can.”
This is an interesting and compelling argument that flies in the face of what many generations of service, sales, commerce and marketing professionals have been led to believe. But if we accept that the digitally-driven, non-linear customer journey has replaced the very concept of a sales funnel, the idea of customer autonomy holds a lot of water.
In truth, whether we’re talking about customer experience or customer engagement, every function involved in delivering it needs to adapt to the modern realities. This means accepting that they might not meet customers at the point in the “sales funnel” that they were expecting to, and having the versatility to deliver an outstanding experience - or engagement – wherever they do.
This is vital for all firms, but particularly those that operate in the mainstream markets – neither luxury/premium, nor discount/commodity. This is where the “price versus CX battle is being played out”, according to one of our Customer Concepts readers. And it’s true.
For these brands, in particular, the price of their product/service is merely the cost of market entry. To obtain true competitive differentiation, you need to deliver exceptional customer experiences. And this manifests itself at every touch point – online, POS, contact center, F2F, logistics. All of this means that a seamless, omni-channel experience has become more important than ever.
Get it right and you’re not just building a protective firewall around your business. You’re starting a fire beneath your brand that will keep your customers warm for life.