Thought leadership

Back in 2012 The Chartered Institute of Marketing published its Branded Customer Experience Benchmark study. The report highlighted the considerable gap between the promises that brands make and reality of the customer experience, and investigated the reasons behind it.

The challenge for organisations is one of delivery. “Three quarters of businesses say that while the strategic vision is in place [and aligned to the brand promise], employees don’t necessarily understand it.” Take that one step further – if they don’t understand it, how can they possibly know what it means to their jobs? And that’s exactly what the study uncovered. Just 27% of marketing leaders strongly believe that they “empower and train customer facing staff in how to maintain the branded customer experience in real life when things go wrong.”

Given the news hasn’t been filled with stories of brands delivering a perfect customer experience at long last (you could argue the opposite is true), we can safely assume that not a great deal has changed in the year or so since the report was published.

So how can organisations engage their people with the strategic vision of their brand and at the same time equip them to deliver an on-brand experience for each and every customer (or colleague for that matter) in every interaction? The reason why brand experience initiatives – whether we’re talking employee engagement or customer experience – rarely succeed is because they happen in isolation of operational reality.

What’s needed is a Total Reality Check.

Whatever you’re asking your people to do – deliver a great customer experience or role model on-brand leadership behaviours, for instance – you’ve got to be upfront and honest about what stands in the way. Showing this respect, and acknowledging in the first place that the gap even exists, is Total Reality’s first step.

Step two is all about relevance. We’re talking about helping people to understand the impact of their own behaviour and showing them how they are personally able to contribute to achieving the ambition. Get this step right and they are not just able – they are completely willing as well.

The third and final step is about addressing reality once and for all. To achieve your ambition you are fundamentally asking people to do things differently, to change their behaviour to create experiences which reflect your brand. Take your ambition and place it firmly in the reality of their everyday lives – what does it look like? Then let them practice. And practice again, in the real situations they find themselves in with the real people they interact with. Until they know what it looks like – and feels like – to them as individuals.

Respect. Relevance. Reality. It’s simple in theory, but hard to do. Yet it CAN be done.

Why should brands do this?

The question really should be “why wouldn’t brands do this?” If you’re investing considerable sums of time and money developing your strategic vision, your brand promise or whatever you choose to call it, then why wouldn’t you equip your people to be able to deliver it, even in the most challenging of circumstances?

Consider the alternative… Disengaged employees who don’t feel connected to the brand purpose and are therefore much less likely to put in any discretionary effort on behalf of the organisation. Disgruntled customers who feel like the promises made to them have been broken and that their trust in the organisation has been misplaced. Both are worst case scenarios but the impact of either on a business – on its reputation, its top and its bottom line – cannot be underestimated.

What’s your Total Reality like?

Jill Dean is CEO and co-founder of Brand Biology Ltd, and presented one of the keynote sessions at this year’s Customer Engagement Summit alongside Virgin Media. To find out more about how Brand Biology has worked with brands such as Virgin Media on the delivery of their brand promise check out their website,, or read all about it in the next edition of Engage Customer Magazine due out in January 2014.

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