Why the marketing function must take responsibility for delivery of a consistent customer experience

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Brandworkz' head of marketing Anna Cotton.

Customer experience is becoming a key focus in marketing right now. A report just published by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Marketo found that three quarters of marketers surveyed predicted that in three to five years time the marketing function will be almost entirely responsible for overseeing customer experience.

You know things really are changing when the long-time bad boy of customer service, Ryanair, starts prioritising customer experience. In November last year, I saw Kenny Jacobs, Ryanair’s marketing director, speak at an industry conference about how the airline had embarked on a rebrand refocusing on customer experience and a friendlier image.

It isn’t just lip service. For years I refused to fly with Ryanair until a friend insisted that we use the airline last year to fly to Barcelona. I was staggered by how different the experience was. From the moment I arrived at Stanstead, Ryanair staff were on hand to guide me to the right queue, minimise waiting times and advise about gates, all with a smile and genuine desire to help. No more customers arguing loudly with staff, no more measuring hand luggage clearly within the size guidelines and insisting on outrageous extra payments.

The results for Ryanair so far have been impressive, with reports last week (2nd Feb) revealing revenues up 17 per cent and roughly 2 million more customers.

Customer obsession

Big brands can sometimes learn from very small businesses. You won’t have heard of the one-off, high-street retailer I’m going to describe next, located where I live, clinging to the outer edges of London. However, it is a shining example of consistent customer experience.

Known affectionately as ‘the everything shop’ by its customers, it sells an eclectic mix of items - pretty much anything you are ever going to need, hence its name. If you ask for something not in stock, one of the three wonderful guys working there will get it to you in a couple of days. They’re friendly, busy and intent on making sure I leave with what I want. I love them, and perhaps the feeling’s mutual, as they gave me a Christmas present this year!

The ‘everything shop’ is the biggest brand on our local high street, despite steely competition from Pain Quotidien, Café Nero and even Mary Portas. It doesn’t have a website, and I’d be amazed if it had ever articulated its values. What it does is provide an amazing customer experience and a cloud of positive association.

This business lives out what, a retail world away, Amazon terms ‘customer obsession’, and the result is a brilliant customer experience that you want to revisit, again and again.

Amazon’s main interface is the screen, and we rarely interact with its people. According to news reports, its fulfilment centre staff are apparently fed up with walking 11 fast miles a day across its quarter-mile warehouses to fetch the items you have ordered. However, CEO Jeff Bezos preaches never settling for 99 per cent and, at some level, its employees must be buying into that, because I for one haven’t had a bad experience as a customer yet.

Shop floor downfall

Sometimes your brand values don’t make it as far as the shop floor, call centre or online experience and there is a shortfall between what your customer expects and what they get. Take H&M’s clothes recycling initiative two years ago; its flagship Oxford Circus store staff drew a blank when I asked about it.

Starbucks runs an annual online countdown to its red Christmas cups and their much-celebrated, very on-brand design. But did anyone in the eight central London branches I visited in December know anything about their special red cups, apart from their place on the counter? It made me wonder how well the company educates its internal teams about its brand. It wasn’t about the cups; it was the disconnect between what Starbucks corporate were saying and what its frontline staff knew that made me question how joined up the company is internally.

This is increasingly going to become our remit, so what can we as marketers learn and how can we ensure an integrated customer experience?

• Work on making your brand message consistent right through your business

• Educate your staff and internal teams with a clear understanding of brand values and how to communicate well, whatever their job role.

• Give your people a centralised online hub where they can go to find the information they need to understand your brand stories, positioning, values and to deliver on your brand promise.

Anna Cotton is head of marketing at Brandworkz.

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