[Part four of a six part series]
Until a company is delivering an optimal customer experience through excellent and consistent customer service, it is not well positioned to achieve maximum benefit from advertising or any other marketing activity. The marketing process should begin and end with the customer experience. Service perfection is not a realistic goal, of course, and even the most committed companies find it difficult to achieve and maintain high standards consistently. It requires a shared commitment among leadership, sustained institutional attention, and deliberate practice over time. But it’s a critical starting point for the entire marketing planning process.
The best advertising leverages something inherently true and valuable about a brand and delivers it up to current and new customers in a compelling way. Advertising invites people to experience the brand and makes an implicit promise to deliver what it’s selling. If that promise is broken by a surly, inattentive or otherwise disengaged employee, more harm than good is done to the brand. When the customer’s experience of the brand—his impression of what it’s like to do business with the company—fails to meet the expectation set by the advertising, it creates a disconnect. That disconnect is often irreparable, and in some circumstances, it has the power to create a passionately disaffected customer, otherwise known as a “brand terrorist.” Research on word-of-mouth communication suggests people are 10 times more likely to talk about a negative experience than a positive one. And social media makes it easy to share the misery with the world.
Great customer experiences have the opposite effect. An army of wildly satisfied customers can function as brand ambassadors and dramatically reduce the need to advertise in the traditional sense. Starbucks, Harley-Davidson, and Container Store are just a few of the companies that rely almost exclusively on positive customer experiences to do the bulk of their advertising for them. And while Chick-fil-A is a heavy advertiser, the company’s high customer service level allows it to steer clear of promoting product discounts—a margin-erasing tactic that drives the rest of the industry. Instead, Chick-fil-A uses its advertising dollars to build and reinforce its already formidable brand and create further identity distinction in a category consumed by parity. Its legions of loyal followers are the envy of the industry.