04/21/2014 12:53 EDT | Updated 06/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Stop Marketing a Great Customer Experience and Start Providing It

With technology easily replicated overnight, corporations truly need to address consumer issues rather than paper over them. Whether it is complaints concerning customer service, product reliability or the overall product or service experience, addressing these issues will be critical to maintaining corporate competitive advantages in the future.

Currently, every established corporation and industry is facing an unprecedented level of disruption on a number of fronts including technology, globalization and business model fundamentals. The impact is most visible from the customer interaction perspective. Increasingly, consumers are being put back in the driver's seat in a number of industries including telecommunications, transportation and even health care. No longer are consumers willing to accept bureaucratic runarounds or lengthy processing delays. Now more than ever, consumers are demanding instantaneous quality service at an affordable price and this trend is spreading to nearly all sectors of the economy.

The root of this trend can be traced back to the early 21st century with the prevalence of "massclusivity" in the retail sector. While a marketing concept initially, in which to-market products as exclusive or luxurious but really designed for the mass market, "massclusivity" has taken a life of its own by becoming a mindset. Today, startups are taking this marketing concept and expanding it further by improving and individualizing the customer experience. Startups such as Uber and Munchery are improving the customer experience by de-emphasizing process and emphasizing individually tailored experiences. With this trend continuing, a number of established corporations and industries are attempting to catch up. The question becomes now becomes: are they effectively adapting?

Today's consumers are no longer ill informed. In large part due to social media, consumers are more informed than ever, and they have grown more cynical and skeptical of marketing and propaganda. Hence, corporations can no longer use traditional methodologies to convince consumers that they are "new" or "different" since consumers catch on very quickly. Indeed, consumers are increasingly getting adept at discovering what is corporate marketing spin and what is an authentic customer experience.

For consumers, signs include:

(1) Not Fixing The Fundamental Problem:

As established industry players attempt to fight back against startups that provide a better consumer experience, they add a new technology or product and service thinking it will address consumer complaints, when they are in fact ignoring the fundamental issues. Take, for instance, the taxi industry and its response to Uber, an app that connects passengers with drivers and vehicles for hire. A number of taxi companies have attempted to earn back business from Uber by introducing technology such as the Flywheel app, an app that connects registered taxis with potential passengers as well as provide payment options similar to Uber, but they haven't addressed the fundamental flaws in the original customer experience, such as unclean cabs and unruly drivers. Until taxi companies address the true roots of a poor customer experience, they will continue to have a difficult time competing against startups that provide a superior service.

(2) More Process or Fine Print:

Consumers have become wise to process. More often than not, in the minds of the cynical consumer, process is designed to obfuscate, delay and even encourage consumers to forget their issues or complaints. To many consumers, process is the non-legal step before litigation. Hence, when consumers see a program/service with either new processes or fine print, they are tend to be wary due to the high likelihood of hidden fees or onerous terms.

(3) Like Putting Lipstick On Pig:

Consumers are increasingly aware of advertising or marketing that doesn't resonate with either the perception or reality of a corporation's operations. It is too easy for consumers to check blogs or social media channels to get an "authentic" perspective of a corporation's culture and operations. Increasingly, it is futile for corporations to paper over fundamental flaws with additional marketing funds as corporations no longer control the critical marketing channels that directly influence today's consumers.

If corporations now need to deal with more cynical and better informed consumers, what do they need to do to succeed in capturing their hearts and minds? The answer is complex and transformational. To succeed, corporations must:

(1) Be Authentic:

With the increasing number of purchase options available to consumers due to the Internet and globalization, consumers are increasingly purchasing products and services that reflect their personal values and beliefs. Consumers are no longer willing to settle to an inferior service. Purchase decisions are increasingly made based not only on cost and convenience, but on the consumers' personal values and beliefs. To survive this change in purchase behavior, corporations need to be authentic by having their operations reflect their brand and their marketing. However, brand and marketing consistency alone will not be completely successful if operations don't also reflect what is being marketed.

(2) It's Not Process, Stupid:

Consumers are now increasingly unwilling to "take a number", demanding personalization that is tailored to their needs. Any corporation that attempts to address this consumer demand through additional process is doomed to failure. In an age of mass individualization and customization, attempting to build processes that satisfy individual preferences is impossible and only leads to ineffective processes. To succeed, corporations increasingly having to trust intangibles such as employee empowerment and corporate culture.

(3) Truly Addressing Consumer Issues:

Processes or technology are no longer going to win the day in today's hypercompetitive global business environment. With technology easily replicated overnight and with processes hyper-optimized due to armies of consultants and competitive pressures, corporations truly need to address consumer issues rather than paper over them. Whether it is complaints concerning customer service, product reliability or the overall product or service experience, addressing these issues will be critical to maintaining corporate competitive advantages in the future.

Today's corporations are entering an era where the norms of the old are increasingly becoming irrelevant and are actually an impediment to success. No longer can corporations only focus on process and other "traditional" elements of business in a silo fashion. It is increasingly important that corporations adopt a holistic approach to their operations and marketing. This means managing the customer experience. Hence both marketing and operations will simultaneously be an increasingly critical determining factor for corporate success.


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