Category Archives: customer service

What Constitutes an Authentic Customer Experience and Which Brands Are Role Models?

By James D. Roumeliotis (with content/survey by Ian Golding)

Customer Loyalty Service Support Care Trust Business Concept

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As a big proponent and practitioner of the total customer experience, I often cringe when I and many others endure displeasure when transacting with established brands. The companies in question happen to possess deep pockets which constantly communicate about how wonderful they are doing business with. In actuality, they fail miserably in delivering on those messages. The blame goes to their frugality and/or complacency along with their dysfunctional business practices.

Building emotions into the brand’s DNA

According to Derrick Daye, partner at The Blake Project, in his intriguing article,Igniting Brand Growth Via Emotional Connectionshe states that research shows that, on average, 50% of purchase decisions are based on emotion and that a ‘Right Space’ – the core emotions a brand seeks, is what its customers should feel across every single interaction/touch point with which they encounter.  He further states that “Marketers that understand this and that harness the power of emotions are today’s true brand builders and are uncovering new opportunities for growth faster than their competitors.” A case in point used is with Apple. The brand utilizes four emotions that drive customers to loyalty. They are delight, surprise, connection and love. This video displays how Apple succeeds at accomplishing this.

Survey says

In January 2015, Ian Golding, a Certified Customer Experience Professional and Customer Experience Specialist based in the U.K., conducted an independent survey of people across the world to find out who their number one Customer Experience brands are and most importantly what makes them top of mind for this purpose. Below he reveals the findings of the research. It is fair to note that much of this material was derived from Ian Golding with his permission.

top-10-brands-customer-experience

The right customer experience is commercially rewarding

The sheer mention of ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Customer Centricity’, is still often greeted with a rolling of the eyes by those who are more focused on sales targets, operational efficiency and tasks. The irony though is that the former makes the latter much more successful. Also, it’s no coincidence that each of the top 10 brands has recent performance milestones to be proud of:

  • Amazon Q4 14, net sales increased by 15% over Q4 13
  • Apple 39.9% profit per product (3 months to end Dec 14)
  • First Direct Moneywise “Most Trusted” and Which? Best Banking Brand
  • John Lewis profit before tax up 12% in 2014 vs 2013
  • Disney Earnings per share up 27% in year to Dec 2014
  • Air New Zealand Earnings before taxation up 20% in H1 15 vs H1 14
  • Mercedes Revenue increased 12% from 2013 to 2014
  • Starbucks Revenue rise 13% in Q1 FY15
  • BMW 7% increase in vehicle sales in Jan 15 vs Jan 14
  • Boden Shipping 12,500 parcels each day

Is it just a coincidence that the brands you are saying are the best at Customer Experience all seem to be faring well on the commercial front? It appears as though all of the brands that are ‘great’ at Customer Experience share common characteristics

These organizations have common characteristics

I wanted to know what it is that your favorite brands do to make them your #1 at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. I asked for up to three reasons from each respondent and received 575 comments. Following verbatim analysis, 13 categories were identified, each distinct but interlinked. They were, as follows (with the percentage frequency they appeared):

  • Corporate attitude 15.9
  • They’re easy to do business with 14.9
  • They’re helpful when I have a problem 11.4
  • The attitude of their people 9.4
  • Personalization 8.0
  • The product or service 8.0
  • They’re consistent 7.5
  • The way it makes me feel 6.3
  • The way they treat me 5.1
  • They’re reliable 4.4
  • They do what they promise 4.2
  • They’re quick 2.6
  • The technical knowledge of their people 2.3

We will look in more detail at what we mean by each of these in a moment but to view at any one in isolation would risk limiting what is being achieved by these organisations. This diagram shows how interdependent each area is in aligning with the corporate attitude and ultimately organizational goals and the very purpose for why the business exists:

characteristics-of-customer-experience-brands-by-j-golding

Focusing on these attributes is what moves companies from fighting a rear-guard action to fix issues of their own making to creating a compelling a sustainable brand for the future. It also means that customers are increasingly exposed to better experiences as they go about their daily lives and that’s important because it keeps nudging the bar of expectations higher. This is why the brands that do these things are ones that people consider to be the very best at delivering consistently good Customer Experiences. Digging deeper into each of the 13 areas we can build a picture of how the companies who get it right control the way they do business.

  1. Corporate attitude

It’s another way to describe organizational culture and it underpins everything that happens to or with a customer. More specifically, in the words of those who responded to the research, companies who have the right attitude:

  • Put people before profits and non-human automation;
  • Know they’ll make more money in the long-run with this approach;
  • Test all experiences thoroughly (to eliminate unintended consequences);
  • Listen and demonstrate they understand their customer;
  • Pay serious attention to detail;
  • Empower their staff to makes decisions and act straightaway;
  • Stay true to their values, admit when things go wrong and fix them;
  • Ensure their staff are fully trained and informed;
  • Recruit for attitude and alignment to brand values.

They also said: “…they treat each customer as we would a guest in our home” and “…they balance customer obsession, operational excellence and financial rigor.”  Almost every other category is a sub-category of this one. It shows how important the right culture is.

  1. They’re easy to do business with

It’s obvious to say a company should be easy to do business with and yet that’s not always the case. What respondents meant by “easy” included:

  • There are no barriers in the way for doing what a customer needs to;
  • It’s simple to get information, purchase and use the product;
  • Needs are anticipated and catered for;
  • Customers don’t need to repeat information;
  • They can switch from one channel to another with no impact on progress;
  • Products can be returned or fixed with minimum effort on the part of the customer;
  • They are available when and where customers want; they can be reached without waiting and won’t limit the hours of their support functions to office hours if customers are still using their products and services all day every day;
  • They are proactive in taking responsibility, for example: Finding products at other stores and having them delivered;
  • Customers have no objection to self-service because it has been well thought through;
  • Information is presented in a timely, clear and relevant way.
  1.  Helpful and understanding when I’ve got a question

Being easy to deal with is critical when a customer needs help or simply has a question. On the assumption that good companies do respond (a recent Eptica survey found more than 50% of online inquiries go unanswered), helpful companies are ones who:

  • Listen to understand before acting;
  • Give a customer the feeling that they are trusted and respected;
  • Will provide an answer and additional, relevant help;
  • Provide certainty and manage expectations about what will happen next and at each stage;
  • Empower employees to make decisions;
  • Resolve issues first time and quickly;
  • Have employees who are happy to give their names and direct contact numbers;
  • Pre-empt problems and solve them before customers are aware;
  • Fix customers’ mistakes without blame or making them feel awkward;
  • Follow-up afterwards to check everything was sorted and is still as it should be;
  • are not afraid to apologize when they get it wrong.
  1.  Attitude of the people

Individual employees who are interacting with customers become a proxy for the brand. If they demonstrate the wrong behaviors the damage can be hugely expensive but getting them right does not cost a huge amount of money. Most often a function of the corporate attitude, the most appreciated characteristics are:

  • Being courteous and friendly;
  • A positive, “I’ll sort it” attitude;
  • They are good at listening;
  • It’s obvious they care about, and are proud of, the product/service;
  • They are professional and not pushy;
  • They are helpful and proactive;
  • They are genuine and humble;
  • They smile;
  • Hey are engaging and interested in the customer;
  • They have personality, not a corporate script;
  • They are patient;
  • They show respect for their fellow colleagues.
  1. Personalization

We are all individuals and like to be treated as such. Having “big data” was seen as the answer but as these companies demonstrate, it’s not only more important to have the right data and do the right things with it, but it’s also linked again to corporate attitude. Those who get the personalization right:

  • Understand, anticipate and are proactive;
  • Keep customers informed with relevant information;
  • Shows they listen and act, not just collect feedback;
  • Create a relaxed environment because a customer’s needs fits neatly into what they are offering;
  • Create a feeling of respect, that they care and have “taken the time to know me, to make things easier for me”;
  • Make it feel like dealing with a person where there’s a connection, not just a transaction;
  • Allow their customers to control the degree of personalization in terms of frequency and content;
  • Remain flexible and adaptive to the circumstances, not scripted.
  1. The product or service itself

Making it easy, personal and rewarding will be wasted effort if the core product or service doesn’t live up to expectation. At the end of the day, your business must have something of value to the customer to sell! When it comes to products and services, the #1 Customer Experience brands are those who:

  • The right mix of choice, relevance, quality and innovation;
  • Well designed, so it is easy to get it to do what it’s supposed to;
  • Quality is complemented by relevant innovation, not technical innovation for the sake of it;
  • Obsessive about the detail;
  • Paying as much attention to secondary products, such as food on airlines;
  • Good at turning necessary evils into compelling attributes – Air New Zealand’s legendary on-board safety briefings, for example;
  • Adept at keeping up with, ahead of and shaping basic expectations.
  1. Consistency

As customers we like certainty and predictability. It means that the decisions we make carry less risk because we can confidently trust the outcomes. It also demonstrates stability of, and a shared understanding of, strategy. For our respondents, consistency is about experiences that:

  • Look and feel the same;
  • Can continue easily wherever, whenever and however;
  • Match or build on the positive expectations created last time;
  • Have continuity in not only what happens but how it happens; tone of voice, quality, different locations, store or franchise, people and processes, performance;
  • Provide the same reliable answers to the same questions;
  • Integrate with other services.
  1. The way it makes me feel

Emotions are a function of how good the other two cornerstones of Customer Experience – function and accessibility – are. How they were made to feel, whether intentional or not, is what people remember. Being the personal consequence of most if not all the issues covered here, it is what drives our behavior about whether or not we will do the same next time and tell others to do the same. If people think they are part of something special, connected to a company that lives by like-minded values, they will FEEL special. And as human beings, we appreciate that. Survey respondents cited a number of great examples:

  • “Get on an Air New Zealand flight anywhere in the world it already feels like you’re home”;
  • “The packaging increases the anticipation when opening a new product” (Apple);
  • “Interactions with employees don’t feel like processes out of an operating manual”;
  • “There is (the perception of) a genuine relationship; it’s not just about them selling every time they are in touch”;
  • “They make me feel as if I’m their only customer” (Land Rover).
  1. The way they treat me

At the root of how we feel and therefore behave is often down to how we are treated. Good and great companies have experiences that:

  • Demonstrate respect;
  • Show an empathy with customer needs;
  • Don’t do things like asking a customer to repeat information if handed from one colleague to another;
  • Keep customers posted on feedback they’ve given;
  • Recognize their customers both by staff individually in-store and organizationally;
  • Have a consistency of treatment even when not spending money in-store;
  • Create relevant retail environments so that customers feel they are treated as if they are somewhere special;
  • Develop meaningful loyalty programs that acknowledge past purchases and reward future ones;
  • Are not patronizing in tone.
  1. They’re reliable

Not surprisingly, reliability is cited as a key attribute. Although we simply expect things to work as they did last time or as it was promised, we probably won’t get too excited if that is the case. However, the consequences of it not happening will result in additional time, effort, inconvenience and sometimes cost to the customer; not what a brand would want to be blamed for. There are some markets where the mere hint of a lack of reliability in its truest sense has serious consequences for a brand. More generally, reliable customer experiences are ones that:

  • Give confidence and a level of trust that what we ask for when we buy is what we get – there are no nasty surprises;
  • Understand that they are key to repeat purchases and advocacy. No-one will put his or her own reputation on the line to recommended any brand product or service that is unreliable.
  1. They do what they promise

Again, this is a character trait we appreciate in friends, family and colleagues and it’s no different when dealing with a business. It can be seen as a subset of “the way they treat me” but it is also critical at a strategic level too; the brand is what people say it does and so that has to be consistent with what it’s promising, just as its employees need to keep their own promises to customers too. There’s a real financial benefit here too where unnecessary and costly rework can be avoided. How many enquiries coming into the business are because “You said you’d get someone to call back”, “You said you’d send me a copy of that statement” or “Where’s my fridge, I’ve had to take the whole day off work and there’s still no sign of it.” Customer experiences that do what they promise:

  • Live up to the expectations they set;
  • Have employees that do what they say they will do;
  • Do it all consistently;
  • Fix it quick if they fail;
  • Are good at managing expectations.
  1. Timely

As customers, time (alongside money) is a commodity we trade with. A company who appreciates the finite and precious nature of it will create a distinct advantage. In today’s everything-everywhere-now life it’s not surprising that speed is an issue. Expectations are rising all the time where customers interacting with other brands see what can be done. Timely customer experiences are ones that:

  • Move at the right speed for customers;
  • Show respect by having have good reaction times once a customer has initiated part one of a two-way activity;
  • Manage expectations, so if it’s not “quick” as defined by customers there are also, no disappointing surprises;
  • Are not just focused on speed of delivery but are quick to answer the phone, flexibility to find ways around rules and respond to questions.
  1. People knowledge

Having people who are technically competent with their product knowledge is another character of top brands. Companies that possess employees like this have an invaluable asset who are:

  • Able to translate the concerns and questions;
  • Able to articulate complex issues in simple language;
  • Are not patronizing;
  • are proud that their knowledge can help someone else.

In Closing: Be your Chief Customer Officer

Through my personal research and experience ─ and those of the authors credited above, one arrives at the conclusion that Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

Stellar customer experience is not only reserved for the big brands. It can exist with businesses of all sizes and stages. It is about a mindset ─ the right attitude and culture within the organization where everyone is customer centric which matters more than solely the bottom line.

As a final point, the leadership of the brand, whether with a title of president, managing director or CEO (C-suite), he or she should be the “chief customer officer.” According to a survey that The Economist Intelligence Unit recently conducted of how global companies manage their customer experience programs, 58% of companies that are much more profitable than their competitors report that the CEO is in charge of customer experience management. Indeed, the commander-in-chief of the company is the one who sets the tone and culture for the organization. If the CEO of a publicly traded company focuses on quarterly profits to satisfy its shareholders’ demands at the expense of being customer centric, everyone else below him or her will do what it takes to fulfill their boss’s expectations and requirements. It is quite a regrettable situation which occurs often with many public corporations.

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The Art of Sparking Emotions: Building Desire for Your Brand

By James D. Roumeliotis

Couple in Love

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Whether offering products or services, a business is expected to create connections and engage in conversations with its prospective clients ─ but equally important, with its existing clienteles. While these connections might come in the form of attractive print ads, or utilizing social media/digital platforms, or even face-to-face interactions at various touch points, they should all be tailored to initiate meaningful conversations between brand and consumer. Conversations that can achieve sales targets along with obsessive fan followings which ultimately boost the popularity of the brand.

Customer engagement: the essentials

More than 20 years ago, a popular method for companies to obtain sales was to utilize a sales force and apply pressure tactics. Some companies used the telephone as their tool of choice for cold calling. This was a typical marketing and sales approach. Sales staff where trained in persuasion and closing techniques including answering the most popular objections. This is what is known as a “push” strategy. Today, customer engagement works in reverse. It is the customer, whether an end-user or a business, who decides if and when to communicate with a company. The typical contemporary consumer has the power of the internet and word of mouth in determining great deals and which brands they should be transacting with. Moreover, on the consumer side, there are countries with strict national regulations concerning telephone solicitation. This has had companies scrambling to stay relevant with the times and is considered a “pull” strategy. There is also a refined marketing method known as Permission Marketing” (opposite of interruption marketing) which was coined by marketing maven Seth Godin. As a result, marketers have been adjusting their strategies and integrating them with online and offline marketing activities, along with a laser focused approach with their specific audience. This has resulted in deep customer engagement.

Customer engagement is not a single outcome ─ it is an ongoing dialogue. They have come to expect more personalized interaction, customized solutions, timely results and most certainly a “bang for their buck.” This requires brands to be customer centric ─ with everyone in the organization on-board, in addition to being well versed in the digital age. This includes blogging, Twittering, Instagram posting and viral marketing among others. One other notable trend is towards widespread audio and video production and communication. From podcasting to mobile video, audio and video is predominating in our digital world.

Push vs. Pull marketing

Push marketing and pull marketing are different yet complementary marketing methods for promoting a business – most notably online.

Push marketing is more traditional methods of advertising – essentially, you are pushing your message to your audience, regardless of whether they want to receive your message or not. Push marketing focuses on product features and awaits the audience to respond. Examples of push marketing include email marketing, website advertising, and cold calling.

Pull marketing is more proactive, pulling the customers toward your brand/product with targeted messages they care about. Pull marketing is all about brand building. Examples of pull marketing include media interviews, public speaking, and word of mouth advertising.

The holistic approach

Consumers today are more brand conscience, better informed and with more options. Despite this, there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the five human senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

The five senses, when applied toward the customer, are regarded as follows:

  • Visual – lighting, decor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile – textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory – fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Storytelling along with the total customer experience

Standard products and mundane user experiences don’t offer compelling reasons for consumers to do business with certain brands. If a business can’t articulate its USP (unique selling proposition) ‒ as to why anyone should do business with your brand, your product and/or service merely becomes a “commodity” whose price will be the sole determinant in any transaction.  Being formidable and considered top of mind in your B2C sector requires a philosophy – a certain culture which will develop a following by consumers who share your values.

Quality materials, assembly and final product look increase a company’s competitiveness. The quality of a product may be defined as “its ability to fulfil the customer’s needs and expectations”. If the characteristics and specifications of a brand’s product line are equal or superior to its competitors, along with a fair price-value equation, the brand will turn out to be a preferred choice.

Storytelling, on the other hand, builds relationships by the stories that are well told. Stories add personality and authenticity to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands tend to boast their pedigree since their discerning clientele desire a deeper level of involvement and understanding of the history and heritage of the brand when it comes to their luxury purchase. This is referred to as “experiential luxury.”

It is essential that the sales professional be product proficient and adept at assisting and guiding the client to the purchase making use of flattery, romance and showmanship. To illustrate, when selling a niche automobile such as a Porsche, the sales consultant can talk about racetracks, describe road-holding capabilities, build-up a fascinating story – after which time he/she can bring-up reliability and the technical details which confirm to the discerning client what he/she is already aware of.

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with it. They become brand loyalists and advocates – purchasing the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.

In the end

With a plethora of marketing noise, differentiation in the delivery of non-evasive communication, personalized service and focus in niche markets will be the determining core value equation for success in attracting and retaining clients.

When consumers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

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Filed under Business, business development, Business success, customer engagement, customer experience, customer service, Marketing, pull marketing, push marketing, sales strategies, sensuous brands, sensuous products, total customer experience

The Formidable Company: How to make your business highly competitive

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Going against your competition — especially a large and established one is not a wise approach. Being nimble, positioning your product to a new and uncontested target market, and offering a delightful experience (rather than focusing on price alone) are the tactics to apply in avoiding competition.

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The Authentic Brand: A Precious Asset Developed Through Transparency, Customer Experience and Ultimately, Loyalty

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Honest by ad. A pioneering company launched in January 2012. The company is unique in communicating about the supply chain of its products and pricing.

Honest By ad. A pioneering company launched in January 2012. The company is unique in communicating about the supply chain of its products and pricing.

Trust is a hard thing to come by these days whether between people or between people and brands. When the founders of a start-up build a brand from the ground-up or the executives of an established one are in modus operandi mode, taking a cautious approach to their brand image, in both scenarios, ought to be part of growing and preserving the business with a constant eye on the future.

Sadly, nonsense, and plenty of it from ubiquitous brands, is probably the best noun to describe what consumers are offered by many companies selling their products and services to them. Whether it is advertising, package labeling or an overstated pitch by their sales staff, the information presented may be deliberately misleading. With some brands, it is the tiny print in disclosure statements which defeat what is promised in larger and bold advertising headings. The majority of consumers do not read small footnotes. Think of the worst offenders of this practice: the cellular phone/telecommunication providers, insurance companies, credit card providers, as well as the automobile manufacturer promotional offers and pharmaceutical advertisements – to name a few.

Deception concealed as sincerity: How to chip away at your brand

The key to a successful business growth, along with reputation, is truth in advertising, delivering on promises made, avoiding deceit – and marketing the brand, not the product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with customers. It is a promise. Branding, when carefully executed, adds value to a company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value. By applying a short-term revenue and profit strategy at the expense of long-term negative consequences, a business’s brand reputation will ultimately lose its luster.

In the 2015 Harris Poll Reputation Quotient®, published the reputations of the 100 most visible companies among the U.S. general public. What appears on the top five, among other notable brands as consumers perceive them, are Wegmans Food Markets, Amazon, Samsung, Costco and Johnson & Johnson respectively.

Consumers have high and explicit expectations from brands, thus anticipate what the brand promises via its marketing material and/or what is stated on the product packaging. What a brand actually delivers and how it behaves in the process is what consumers get to feel.

A brand which utilizes short-term sales and marketing tactics for quick short-term gain fails financially in the long-term by acting in an ethical way. As marketing maven Seth Godin rightfully proclaims, “In virtually every industry, the most trusted brand is the most profitable.” As with our personal lives, trust with branding is based on what one does, not what one says.

Boosting sales and market share via misleading and deceptive tactics

According to a 2013 Harris Poll, regarding the most and least trusted industries, the advertising industry was near the bottom of the list when rated up against many other business sectors. Seemingly, truth in advertising is a misnomer. Misleading and deceptive advertising by many marketing and branding executives, give the entire industry a negative perception.

The food processing domain is no more honest with labels that claim to be healthy but without support with any concrete scientific facts. Food companies tout their devious label claims of organic, nutritious etc. – although an absurd amount of sugar and/or sodium is present in the ingredients along with unnatural artificial ingredients). Kelloggs even went as far as having to be ordered, by the courts, to discontinue all Rice Krispies dubious advertising which claimed to boost a child’s immunity system.

Then there is the “premium” orange juice from popular brands such as Tropicana, Simply Orange and others which are highly processed, and usually stored for several months before reaching consumers at the supermarket fridge aisles. This processing method is used to retain the juice from spoiling. However, during that process, it also strips the flavour which is injected back into the product, once it finally gets packaged, to give the juice its original orange flavour. Not surprisingly, the orange juice producers do not make any reference to this anywhere.

Informative and authentic eye-opener documentaries such as Food Inc. and Tapped have upped the ante in terms of the exposure shared with the public to what is wrong with the food processing/food chain and water bottling sectors respectively. Moreover, the GMO debate with the exceptionally well-connected and deep pocketed Monsanto (the St. Louis-based biotech giant and world’s biggest seed seller) will not be going away any time soon.

Other industries notorious for deceit are banks and cellphone/telecommunication companies with their hidden fees. These blatant revenue generators are sales at any cost – short-term gains, of course. These companies guilty of gouging seem to be testing the limits with consumers – as if the latter are ignorant. Those absurd fees evidently enrage the culprits’ customers.

Employees reflect the brand

First and foremost, trust begins with company employees. If they are well trained and treated with respect and transparency, the employees will trust their employer and radiate their enthusiasm, as well as loyalty to their customers by going the extra mile.

Along with a brand being a valuable asset for any business, people also fit into the equation as an important asset. This is where hiring the right people, on-boarding them, training them adequately and empowering them all create a positive impact on customer satisfaction.

Many brands are myopic to the point that they unintentionally and unknowingly allow their dissatisfied customers to go away without a thought. Front-line staff is either not trained properly and/or lacks the proper attitude to handle clientele appropriately.

During the industrial era, consumers would simply purchase what was produced, shopping where that product was available and paying the price the retailer demanded. In essence, the manufacturer and the store were in position of strength. As products and consumers have changed over the years, the concept of ‘brand loyalty’ and ‘consumer insight’ came about. As we progressed into the new millennium, the transparency and unrestricted information available on the internet has changed all of that. Today consumers are not only better informed but they are also in control. They can make or break a brand through their actions. So what does this say about listening – and acting?

Consumers will no longer refrain from informing companies on what may have gone wrong ─ whether it’s a particular brand or a competitor’s. With the numerous platforms for consumers to make their voices heard online, brands have to be very reactive and not allow anything to chance. In an age when the consumer’s outcries and influences spread quickly, the results can signify lost sales and a deterioration of brand loyalty.

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When all is said and done

Building and nurturing a brand is what makes an enterprise gather wind under its wings. Common intelligence dictates that the way a customer is dealt with reflects on the integrity of the brand, and the image of the company in the mind of the consumer.

A “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

According to an Edelman’s Trust Barometer, it was revealed that 77% of respondents refused to buy products from companies they distrusted. More disturbing is that 72% said they had criticized a distrusted company to a friend or colleague.

When customers are treated with honesty and delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation. This approach is priceless –even though it may take longer to take positive effect.

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Exploring the Luxury British Automotive Total Customer Experience: Part 2 ‒ Jaguar Cars

Jaguar Lifestyle Image

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis and Petrona J. Joseph

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In part 1 of this 4 part series, the Aston Martin automotive brand was the star focus. In this part, the spotlight is on the customer expectations with the British luxury automaker Jaguar Motors. For over 90 years, this high-status marque has pushed the boundaries of what was once considered impossible in the automotive industry.

Sir William Lyons – founder of Jaguar Motors, combined performance and beauty in the designs and manufacturing of the ‘Jag’. A feat unprecedented of his time, his uncompromising vision set new benchmarks which is still followed by the manufacturer until today. Despite a tumultuous period during the Ford Motor Company ownership, its present owner (the Tata industrial conglomerate based in India) has invigorated a new model lineup together with a bold marketing strategy through a substantial cash infusion. It also acquired, from Ford, the Land Rover luxury SUV brand.

With the big news of Jaguar’s upcoming justDrive™ ‒ an industry-leading app technology that integrates multiple smartphone apps into a single, voice-activated in-car experience; it is now a leading contender amongst its competitors.

Jaguar Interior

The Jaguar driver profile

The Jaguar customer is typically a refined man or woman – for the most part, a university graduate with a dynamic presence, and status symbol visible. Moreover, the Jaguar driver can be classified on some levels to the “blue temperament” – which is an analytical, prudent, detail-oriented and precise personality. In serving a Jaguar customer, one must not sway into personal details on the onset. In addition, the sales consultants have been trained to not ask many open-ended questions but rather ask close-ended questions and listen attentively. I also suggest note-taking, because the majority of Jaguar drivers (most in Executive positions) do not like to repeat themselves. By taking notes, one demonstrates the prospective Jaguar owner that you are unconsciously like them by mirroring their behavior.

Following is an outline on how authorized Jaguar dealers respond to customers – from Sales to Service.

Initial Sales Consultation

– Greeted promptly by the receptionist

– The sales consultant must greet the potential Jaguar consumer with the appropriate handshake (particularly the dominant handshake)

– Ask close-ended questions to ensure need and quality prospect.

– Initiate test drive

– Review objectives & listen to this customer clearly while note-taking

– Warning- there is a fine line between explain the benefits to this customer versus being aggressive in your approach. Allow this customer time to review the advantages of owning a Jaguar.

– An overnight test drive is quite rare, however during the test drive, outline the benefits of the drive and the technology.

Sales Process

Allow the appropriate time for this customer to choose options, colors and technology combinations. At this point, once trust and careful attention has been established- then proceed with open-ended questions.

Delivery

– Short and succinct (keeping in mind that this customer is discerning and either a professional practitioner, executive or a successful entrepreneur who may have to return to the office for an important meeting.

– The customer should be shown the basic functionality of his or her new Jaguar

– The customer should be asked to reschedule a one hour detailed information session at his/her place and time of convenience.

Jaguar Convertible

The automobile which reflects a luxury lifestyle

Premium and luxury car owners seek the total package with the car brand they choose to be loyal to as they would when checking in to a luxury resort. They seek more than just a vehicle they can enjoy from point A to B. In practice, its owner might use this automobile to commute to work, but this is not sole incentive. Jaguar is clearly a brand with authenticity and heritage. The principals shaping the consumer’s buyer behavior go beyond intention. There is a sense of engagement in fulfilling a dream. It can be to make a social status statement or a personal style choice. Whatever it is, it is not an unconscious choice. The codifiers are clear: This is who I am, and what I believe in. Ultimately, it can also articulate the owners’ sense of self-worth and their emotional aspirations. The most important emotional benefit is that a product of this caliber and class expresses itself when the consumer can declare: “It suits my lifestyle.”

Discreet and unconventional selling approach

Jaguar in North America is testing, in several major cities in the U.S., a novel way it presents new vehicles by showing appreciation to its most loyal customers, which it labels as “super-loyalists” by hosting elaborate receptions in their homes. In turn, the “super-loyalists” invite friends and associates who may be interested, and can afford, one of Jaguar’s elegant models. This idea takes away the perception of any high pressure sales normally associated with auto sales at dealerships.

Jaguar Classic Car

Dealers of prestigious auto brands as custodians of heritage

A luxury dealership’s ultimate goal is to make an entire ownership experience a pleasure ‒ let alone a Jaguar. They strive to build relationships, which is why so many of their clients remain loyal. A luxury dealership serves as a guardian for the rich heritage of their prestigious brands thus make certain to continue their legacy.

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Exploring the “Super Luxury” British Automotive Total Customer Experience: Part 1 ‒ The Aston Martin

Aston Martin Prestige Image

Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis and Petrona J. Joseph

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When we encounter the word “luxury”, images of: seamlessness, awe, the rarity factor, cache, opulence, aristocracy, supreme workmanship, stellar service and reverence come to mind, amongst others

Now, close your eyes for a moment. What images come to mind when you consider mention of the following vehicles: Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley and Range Rover? That’s what we will be analyzing in this four part series of the luxury British automotive icons and the above average expectations of consumers seeking such extravagant motor vehicles.

What qualifies the authors to give such commentary? Having worked and served — most notably with prestigious brands such as Gucci, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Bentley and Range Rover, as well as with mega yachts and coupled with extensive research and consultations in this domain –, both can accurately define the exceptional treatment tendered to a HNWI (High Net Worth Individual) luxury seeking discerning consumer. Brands which qualify to serve this exclusive market provide attention to detail, a plethora of product knowledge/competence, and discretion along with an implementation of an anticipated flawless post-sale/follow-up policy.

Price aside, a luxury car brand should embody cache, exclusivity, pedigree, craftsmanship and limited production. R.L. Polk and Company, a global automotive information and marketing firm that provides solutions to automotive and related industries, has re-defined the term with the appellation, “super luxury”, ‒ i.e. cars that cost over $100K. This category includes brands such as Rolls Royce, Bentley, Maserati as well as the Aston Martin being featured here.

Aston Martin Showroom

Aston Martin: License to thrill

We begin with the initial luxury automotive brand in this four part series: Aston Martin. This high valued motor car producer brings images of James Bond, a ladies gent, British heritage, sophisticated technology, sex appeal, speed, agility and soul.

Considering the above persona, the makeup of a typical Aston Martin customer.is a male (no gender discrimination intended), in his late 30’s early 40’s, handsome, successful, possibly with an attractive spouse (or if single, a striking companion), possesses a deep knowledge of refined luxury, knows what he wants virtually at any price level, and enjoys adventure, as well as thrives at constant new challenges.

Initial impressions and consultative sales process

When a prospective owner, or existing customer of an Aston Martin walks into any impressive looking Aston Martin showroom, the total experience should normally result as follows:

– To be greeted initially by the attractive receptionist/hostess (brand ambassadors) by the owner or General Manager of the dealership;

– Introduce the prospective client to an Aston Martin specialist;

– Offer a hot or cold fine beverage;

– Be given a tour of the impressive premises;

– Exhibit the various models and a test drive initiated during which time rapport is being built;

– Offer of an overnight test drive to create the feel and experience of the automobile and its performance characteristics;

– Thank and greet the prospect by the dealership owner or GM upon returning the vehicle followed by the sales specialist;

– Customer’s contact information should be entered into the dealer database (CRM);

– If a sale is initiated – the sales process should ensue. However, if a sale does not occur, effort should be exerted in a discreet and pragmatic manner (consider “consultative” selling) to close the sale. Statistics show that 60% of car purchases have been consummated on the spot when they received what they considered was an excellent presentation and demonstration. Either way, a follow-up is imperative within 24 hours.

Sale & delivery

– An appointment should be set for delivery;

– Upon arrival to pick-up the vehicle, customer should be congratulated by owner and/or GM;

– Explanation of vehicle model should be thorough along with a post-sale follow-up the following day;

– Customer should be offered a token appreciation for his/her business. This can be in the form of champagne from a strategic partnership for example, Moët & Chandon and/or an additional gift in good taste.

Aston Martin Showroom Lounge

Exceeding customer expectations for the discerning client-driver

To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, a high-end organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
– Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
– Consider exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
– Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
– Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
– Utilizing a hands-on approach;
– Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – recognizing their motivations – reading their body language;;
– Earning their trust and respect by exuding confidence, empathy and transparency;
– Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions – It’s all about the customer;
– Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
– Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
– Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
– Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
– Offering customer loyalty programs through joint collaborations with other luxury purveyors – a great way to make them feel special by receiving something extra;
– Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences for ways to improve those experiences. Discerning clientele are typically strongly opinionated and relish giving their views.
– Implementing the latest technology with all touch points.

The Aston Martin automotive brand with its power, beauty, soul and heritage as its tagline delivers to a specific and limited market segment by giving way to its consumer target to acquire their models they associate with a “luxurious and sporty lifestyle.” The brand is essentially a status symbol.

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. “Total customer experience” is not an option but rather compulsory as part of an alluring brand. It takes savvy planning, execution and perpetual refinements to stand above the crowd. It’s how you get noticed and remain relevant. Luxury brand desirability is driven by standout design, craftsmanship, as well as what is felt.

A typical Aston Martin showroom portrays a super luxury car brand able to offer a “wow” factor to its intended customers with an unconventional retail experience which exploits the five senses. This includes a showroom floor with ideal lighting, the various models well positioned/presented, impeccably dressed/groomed staff, and an upscale lounge ‒ overall, presenting sight, sound, smell, touch sensorial experiences and creating a feeling of lavishness. Some will go as far as offer art exhibitions on the premises, five star dining events and wine tasting to name a few. It’s what its type of clientele crave.

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CUSTOMER/LIFESTYLE EXPERIENCES — in IMAGES

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Images depicting various customer and lifestyle experiences along with some of life’s little luxuries.

Read articles about this subject matter in this blog, as well as in the following book —

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November 8, 2014 · 2:30 pm

Maestros of Ambiance: The Art of the Hotel & Food Establishment Experience — in visuals

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Exceeding the Hotel Guest Experience: Anticipating and Executing Desires Flawlessly

By James D. Roumeliotis with special contribution by Virginia Karaouza, MBA (tourism & hospitality professional)

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A place which wants to attract the most discerning souls, should be unique and embody a complete lifestyle concept which combines a relaxed, holistic approach amongst an elegant setting and decor with attention to detail. This includes, clean, updated and attractive guest rooms with no amenities spared. Pleasing food & beverage prepared and presented with pizzazz are complemented by soothing music which is also an integral part of the ambiance. The attractive, smiling and well-mannered staff is dressed stylishly. All of these elements combined will, undoubtedly, seduce the senses and generate good vibes along with positive memories created.

However, is all that adequate? Today, more than any other time in history, customers are the most sophisticated and increasingly demanding – whether they’re Boomers, GenXer’s or Millennials. The total customer experience in the high-end hospitality domain requires superlative attention to customer care from the moment a booking is made, during the guest’s stay and beyond. The use of an integrated approach is essential across various touch points with the purpose of engaging and retaining customers.

The sanctuary away from home

Astute guests consider hotels they choose to be an upgrade away from home in terms of comfort and services offered. One area of particular attention in the last few years has been the bed. It has been the focus of tremendous improvement. According to J. D. Power & Associates, a comfortable bed and pillow choices are must-haves ‒ especially for business travelers. In fact, 93% of luxury hotels offer a selection of pillows.

A high-end resort developer and operator, Kerzner International, renowned for its opulent One & Only luxury resorts brand has “Blow away the customer” as it core mantra. The company walks the talk by impressing its guests through grandiose entrances, facilities, overall ambiance and luxury amenities – then making absolutely certain that they are pampered throughout their stay. It’s all an integrated, well-orchestrated and flattering process. Nothing is left to chance although it does take a coordinated team effort to make it all happen flawlessly.

The wealthy cherish their time and know what they want. Even time is a luxury and limited resource for them, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them. They can be generally described as:

– Seek a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Often require customized solutions to mirror their lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Take pleasure on getting extra attention from the brands they pursue;
– Prefer the uncommon to the mundane;
– Expect to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which they’re able and willing to pay;
– Aspire an aura of exclusivity;
– Crave an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seek products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance;
– Want to feel in command of their purchase decision without any pressure.

Boutique hotels vs. corporate chains

“Boutique hotel” is a term to describe hotels which often contain luxury facilities of varying size in unique or intimate settings with full service accommodations. Sometimes known as “design hotels” or “lifestyle hotels”, boutique hotels began appearing in the 1980s in major cities across North America and Europe – mainly in the U.K. These hospitality properties are characteristically furnished in a themed, stylish and unique manner. Boutique hotels generally are known to have less than 100 rooms. Their limited capacity enables them to enhance the customer experience through personalized service, as well as to customize their property and operations. An intimate atmosphere is usually regarded as a vital part of a “boutique” hotel. This includes cozier premises, quality amenities; conceptual dining outlets that become destinations in their own right, and an environment whereby the hotel staff recognize what your needs and desires are, rather than just responding to what you ask.

Customer-service is 2 of 2

Taking the personal touch to a higher level

Superb customer experience isn’t merely offering the customer what he/she asks for but rather what the discriminating customer truly desires to receive. This is accomplished by constantly exceeding of expectations through the delivery of remarkable tailored customer service with a series of personal touches.  Premium and luxury hotel guests expect surprise and delight along with unusual positive experiences.

Forrester, an independent technology and market research company, defines customer experience as: How customers perceive their interactions with your company. As with brands, customer experience is not what management thinks it should be – it’s what the customer perceives it to be. Thus, it should be understood that, because experience is a customer’s perception, management doesn’t control the customer experience, but it can certainly influence it.

The challenge for hospitality organizations is to ensure that their personnel always provide at least the level of service that their guests want and expect every time, perfectly. The purpose of quality management in the hospitality industry is to ensure that customer service is consistent and flawless. Providing it is intertwined with the overspill of the needs and expectations of guests and therefore their enthusiasm (delighted guests). The element of quality of service offered by the hotel industry should be apparent, be recognized and understood by the guest, as absolutely essential element in all the stages and processes during the service delivery.

The organization’s strategy, personnel and systems are aligned to meet or exceed the guest’s expectations regarding the following aspects of the guest experience: service product, service setting and service delivery. These aspects are carefully woven together to give guests what they desire and expect, plus the wow element. It all starts with the guest. Evidently, you can’t have a guest experience without a guest to experience it. That’s the main point, without the guest to initiate it, the components such as the carefully designed service product, the detailed and inviting setting, the highly trained and motivated servers and the finest back of the house people and facilities are just an experience waiting to happen.

The evaluation of service quality is a complex process, and the guest side is primarily subjective criteria, because each person can have their own opinion. But what is it really imparts excellence in quality of service to guests and causes only positive emotions and reactions of customers when they experience an unforgettable experience?

There are four key elements that make up the quality of the generated service and identify the outstanding quality of service (Service Excellence) which are as follows:

  • The Guest
  • The service setting – environment
  • The service delivery system
  • The processes

When these four elements, coexist and perform maximally, then the chances, the qualitative result to delight the guests, are significantly increased.

The service, as a product of person to person or a series of interactions between the guest and the person delivering the service is transformed into experience for the guest. The positive or negative aspect of the experience depends on the strategy applied by each company and sets the service delivery system. The guests, the service procedures and physical data sited so as to form a quality experience for the customer service they receive. Employees, who are also the brand ambassadors, play a crucial role in the process of service delivery. They are trained specifically for this purpose and supported by the organization itself along with the organizational culture. Technology and information flows like internal and external communication.Artificial and natural elements of the service along with the human factor, in this case, define the guest experience.

The service dimensions consist of reliability, responsiveness, assurance, empathy which characterize an emotionally intelligent and spirited staff with tangible elements in the ensuing way:

  • Reliability reflects the service provider’s ability to perform service dependably and accurately.
  • Responsiveness is a strong indicator in assisting guests and providing prompt service.
  • Reassurance reflects the courtesy and knowledge of employees and their ability to inspire trust and confidence.
  • Empathy involves the caring individualized attention the brand provides its guests.
  • Tangible elements include the facilities, amenities and ambiance felt by the guest directly or indirectly.

A company’s reputation for excellence in the services sector can be developed and supported, as long as the firm has a strong organizational culture oriented in high quality service, customer focus throughout the organization, as well as a dynamic set of employees. They are conscientious and committed to act within the quality standards which the company has established.

For a hospitality organization to achieve high levels of customer service and maintain constant satisfaction, it should develop and implement a structured service strategy, which covers all necessary actions on what measures and actions will be taken to:

  • Create a customer-centric culture.
  • Develop and install appropriate infrastructure service delivery system.
  • Identify the necessary procedures to recognize and meet the needs and expectations of guests.
  • Refine and encourage staff to speak with the right attitudes, skills and behaviors to internal and external environment of the company and towards the guests.
  • Measure – evaluate the degree of guest satisfaction.
  • Continuously implement practices to improve internal operations and procedures relating to excellent guest service.

An experience is created when a company uses the services and goods, in such a way as to create a memorable event and to stimulate the emotional world of the guests.The more intense is the intensity of emotion, the more strongly imprinted in memory and then only is it created as a memorable experience.

Guest experience is an integral part of service excellence and absolute customer satisfaction, all of which are subject to evaluation and performance measurement of an organization. With modern techniques and methods identified and assessed the degree of customer satisfaction and the recorded positive or negative experience. The collection of information, both during the service and the configuration of the customer experience provides useful information and enables the company to rectify and remedy any failure or deviation from the quality standards prescribed.

Customer service centric hospitality businesses train staff to utilize the so calledsixth sense:” It’s the innate ability to perceive what is not seen or immediately apparent. That perception will undoubtedly offer hotels, as well as other customer driven businesses, to delight their customers. According to an article authored by Mike Metcalfe, founder of Hoteliyo, a resource and blog for hotel professionals, he suggests to define your hotel service culture. Start by creating the ‘Guest Journey’. Map out every interaction or ‘touch point’ guests will experience as the following image depicts.

Hotel guest touch points according to Mike Metcalfe of Hoteliyo

Hotel guest touch points according to Mike Metcalfe of Hoteliyo

At Ritz-Carlton hotels, employees with direct contact with guests, such as the bellmen, are authorized to spend as much as $3000 to help solve a customer’s problem. At some other luxury hotels a wake-up call from the employee is not a typical, “This is your wake-up call ‒ wish you a great day”, but it also includes an offer to send up a complementary cup of coffee to get the guest’s day started.

At a Four Seasons Boston hotel video, an employee describes with pride and exhilaration how she went out of her way to personally get a guest’s luggage to the airport at the nick of time. The luggage was locked in the trunk of the customer’s rental car parked at the hotel and had lost his keys. Meantime, he had to rush to the airport without them so as not to miss his international flight.

Utilizing IT and social media to enhance the personal touch

Nowadays, luxury hotels should not neglect utilizing the benefits of IT and the internet to keep a two-way flow of continuous communication with its prospective, as well as existing clientele. This includes a fully integrated CRM system which connects sales, marketing and the administration including reservations, monitoring and respond­ing to review sites and reaching out to social networking sites. Customer preferences are also kept on record to keep in consideration and deliver upon during the guest’s future stays.

Hotel IT Image

Digital think tank L2 reported 78% of the affluent participate in social networking sites, with more than half using social media to connect with a brand, while 65% of wealthy consumers believe that brands that have no such presence are considered out of touch.

Luxury hotel chain Four Seasons, only a couple of years ago, unveiled a new website that reportedly cost a whopping $18 million to develop. It uses a holistic digital media strategy to enhance the total online experience and give a visual taste of what can be anticipated at their properties. Extensive research around digital consumption of luxury consumers, both in the travel sector and across other categories, was conducted for the development of the new website. The result of the investment is a fancy, colorful website, with a new booking process, social media integration and personal profile technology that allows users to set preferences and create a more targeted online experience. It is also optimized for mobile, which provides access to a reduced size version of the site, and includes videos, room rates and booking capabilities. In addition, locations and experiences are showcased through photo-rich, informative property and destination pages.

Upscale hotels, particularly, must offer WiFi access throughout the property at no charge. This is becoming part of the standard package that guests expect and demand. The cost, reliability and performance of WiFi in hotels worldwide has been a subject of frequent contention amongst hotel patrons.

The most notable high-tech innovation since a few years ago has been the mobile revolution. From the tablet with the iPad to the smartphone before it, they have become ubiquitous to everyday life. According to the Luxury Institute, one-third of wealthy consumers own a tablet or e-Reader such as the Kindle or Sony.

OneandOnly Resort Life 3 of 3

The takeaway

Any organization obsessed with customer service and the total customer experience, let alone the hospitality domain, should forgo routine and avoid unpleasant surprises. Complacency is a comfort zone which yields marginal performance. It can cause deficiencies, stifle growth and progress. This syndrome should be replaced with drive and consistent improvement. The culture of the organization, along with its structure, play a major role with the challenges it faces and how it deals with them.

As in every service sector, with an upscale hotel, every guest contact point should offer a unique and pleasant experience. Hotel brands need to use an integrated approach across their various touch points to engage their customers – commencing from the ease of their online (website) procedure or phone reservations center, during the guest’s stay, at check-out and beyond.

Placing emphasis on employee attitude/personality, empowerment, constant training, offering effortless accessibility for clients, flexibility when solving issues and presentations with style, as well as finesse. Each and every customer should be treated with personal care – a sign of individuality;

Sufficient resources and proper procedures should be implemented in hiring and training individuals with the right attitude over skills. The organization’s culture ought to support and inspire its staff to impressive achievement. An environment of mutual trust between leaders, employees, and customers should be created, along with proper rewards and incentives. This is what it takes for a human and personalized touch that retains its brand promise.

The best managed organizations have one factor in common: They are constant achievers, exude managerial excellence and possess a well-targeted CRM. The payoff will be a higher level of repeat business, referrals and profitability. Their financial performance is reflected in those results.

Ultimately, everyone in a service organization should live and breathe the brand.

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Empirical fact references:

–       Robert C. Ford, Michael C. Sturman, Cherrill P. Heaton (2011) Managing Quality Service in Hospitality.

–       Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V., and Berry, L. (1994a). Alternative scales for measuring service quality: A comparative assessment based on psychometric and diagnostic criteria. Journal of Retailing, 70 (3), 201-230.

–       Armstrong (2009). Armstrong’s Handbook of Management and Leadership. A guide to managing for results.

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The Post-Sale Customer Service Conundrum: Lip Service or Genuine Care?

By James D. Roumeliotis

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Customer service - white gloves and tray

Delirious, confused and frustrated are merely three terms which best describe what clients typically experience when dealing with many customer support representatives. Excellent customer service is a crucial component of your business image and philosophy. Regardless of how good your products and prices are, if you can’t offer a positive experience for your customers, they will likely not return. Moreover, you can be certain they will spread negative word-of-mouth. With social media so prevalent, a brand’s reputation can eventually take a nose dive. Today, customers are more demanding than ever. They want to know their issues are genuinely acknowledged and demand timely results. Simply apologizing to them does not suffice.

Do head honchos get it?

Much is touted by companies about customer satisfaction but surprisingly only a few actually deliver on their promises. Prominent brands are not immune either. At the outset, it appears that many lack a vital customer relations policy. Inadequate staff training amongst other factors further aggravates the problem.  Picking up the telephone and calling certain companies, for example, can sometimes lead to an exasperating experience. People love to hate the phone tree experience where you have to go through a maze of menus until you eventually get to speak to a human – assuming you’re lucky. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

The executives who are is in charge of finance and operations respectively (consider the CFO and COO) are mainly focusing on costs and productivity even to the detriment of the average customer. Consequently, they will measure the calls answered per minute – regardless of the outcome. In contrast, a customer focused executive will reward those who take their time to listen, engage and solve customer issues.

Deliberate bad customer experience

Sadly, some brands have a built-in mechanism to test their systems with some clients in the hopes they will give in which in the short term will not entail refunds or product returns which can hurt bottom lines. However, this approach is quite short sighted with long term negative consequences. Those companies use their seemingly discounted prices to lure customers but their real business model seems to be in tricking customers with inaccurate payment information and then charging extra for any delayed payment amongst other inconveniences and unpleasant surprises along the way. Many gym memberships and website hosting service organizations are notorious for such trickery. Their hope is that through a lack of awareness, or constant frustration an average customer will simply cave in. This ultimately backfires with constant negative consumer publicity and an unusually excessive business turnover. Most modern consumers are too sophisticated to relinquish their rights to fair treatment. Companies may ignore this syndrome claiming it’s a ‘numbers game’, as well as a cost of doing business. Though, in the process, they also corrupt their front line staff who have to address an abnormal rate of legitimate grievances.

Marketing maven and best-selling author, Seth Godin rationalizes it this way:

Unfortunately, just about all big customer service organizations do this precisely backward. They don’t escalate to a supervisor or roll out the kindness carpet until after someone has gone to Defcon 4. They decide that it’s too expensive to be flexible, to listen or to treat people fairly, and they wait until the costs to both sides are really high, and then they give an empowered person a chance to solve the problem. There’s huge waste here, as the problem costs more to solve at this point, and the unseen challenge is that they’ve established a cycle in which umbrage is the rewarded behavior.”

The customer centric organization: solving issues before they occur

Going above and beyond customer expectations is focusing on customer centricity. It begins by developing, implementing and continuously delivering a total positive customer experience at every touch point and beyond. The costs and benefits of this practice are equally beneficial for the customers and the business. A University of Michigan study revealed that companies which received high scores in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ASCI) consistently outperform the S&P 500. Those companies include Walt Disney and Amazon, amongst others. Those are most certainly organizations that focus on quality over quantity and measure what truly make them remarkable.

The after sales service department should be designed with an efficient infrastructure in place so as to make the entire experience an effortless task for both the customers and employees who are assigned with the responsibility. It should be easy for the client to reach a customer service agent and/or online agent to chat with. Moreover, the client should not have to be placed on hold for more than 5 minutes. Whenever the wait is more than two minutes, there should be an option to offer a simple way to be called back. The organization’s mindset should be to constantly think of ways to release tensions and give solutions to the client promptly.

Since many of the inbound calls normally concern frequently asked questions, why not have them prominently displayed on the website and/or printed on the product insert. Having them recorded as an option on your phone line, in a clear English voice (and second or even third most popular language relevant to the region’s business demographics), can eliminate unnecessary calls and waiting times with a live person.

Staff tasked with customer service should:

  • Possess a positive attitude under duress;
  • Be initially trained and occasionally re-trained,
  • Treated with respect, and
  • Be empowered to make timely customer satisfaction decisions on their own.

There is no better example to illustrate this than online shoe retailer Zappos.

What customers get to see displayed prominently on the web site:
– 24/7 1-800 number on every page
– Free shipping
– Free return shipping
– 365-day return policy

What customers will experience:
– Fast, accurate fulfillment
– Most customers are “surprise”-upgraded to overnight shipping
– Creating a “WOW” factor
– Friendly, helpful “above and beyond” customer service
– Occasionally direct customers to competitors’ web sites

What’s done behind the scenes?
– No call times, no sales-based performance goals for representatives
– The telephone is considered for them one of the best branding devices available.
– Run warehouse 24/7. Inventory all products (no drop-shipping).
– Five weeks of culture, core values, customer service, and warehouse training for everyone in Las Vegas office.
– A Culture Book
– Interviews & performance reviews are 50% based on core values and culture fit.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Putting it all together

Within every organization, decision making drives performance. Every day, employees at work make decisions that impact performance. These decisions, at every level of the organization, including customer service policies and tactics, define the corporate culture and drive performance.

It’s important to keep in consideration that measuring customer satisfaction is a way to assess its effectiveness, and refine what’s necessary along the way. This is performed by evaluating communication at your help desk or and/or call centers, as well as conducting surveys or sending out brief questionnaires soon after a call has been consummated. How satisfied were your customers with the level of service they received and will they do business with you again in addition to recommending you to others?

Customers are not concerned about your operational problems, your costs and margins, your lead times, your staff shortages, and much more. They are only interested in themselves and the benefits they may be able to obtain from your business instead of the one down the street, or the other ones found over the internet.

Thus, a priority need for every (selfish) customer or prospective buyer is timely and personal service.

Bill Marriot said it succinctly with “Take good care of your employees and they’ll take good care of the customer—and the customer will come back.”

This management philosophy isn’t common but it is shared by both Southwest and Costco. When using either company you can experience it as employees are generally in a great mood, and in turn, happy to help.

Customer centricity should be everyone’s job in an organization. It’s to be embedded in the internal culture. It begins with the top leadership and permeates through the entire organization. Implementation of new and refined strategies and tactics equate to daily and long-term success in building profitable customer relationships. Been helpful with your customers, even if there’s no immediate profit in it, is simply a good business practice with pragmatic thinking for the long-haul.

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10 Pitfalls of Start-ups: How to Succeed Through the Initial Three Years and Beyond

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Viewpoint by James D. Roumeliotis

Businessman Taking the Plunge

Prior to taking a plunge in your start-up, you conduct thorough research, plan meticulously, execute strategy flawlessly ‒ but over time, you barely survive, or worst yet, fail altogether. What gives?

According to statistics, as the latest available numbers from the two U.S. government statistical agencies responsible for providing data about new businesses illustrate, The Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, five years after new establishments were founded (1995, 2000 and 2005 respectively), 50%, 49 and 47 percent of them (correspondingly) were still in operation.

Merely reading a business book, this article, or attending a well-regarded entrepreneurship course/program is no guarantee of success in increasing one’s odds of business success. It takes diligent implementation of a viable business plan, focus, determination, consistent and well thought out action, as well as an obsession with the customer, amongst other traits and approaches. Management of a business is not a science, it’s a practice.

SME/SMB business owners optimistic despite odds of failure

A new, independent survey has found that small and mid-size business owners share several distinct attributes that help them live their passions while adapting to the shifting economic landscape.

Commissioned by Deluxe Corp. a publicly traded company and leading provider of marketing services and business products for small businesses and financial institutions, the study surveyed more than 1,000 SMB owners around the U.S. The results showed 86 percent of the respondents believe they can do anything they set their minds to, with 77 percent also stating they would rather learn from failure instead of never trying at all.

Based on the results, it’s no wonder entrepreneurs are known as risk averse and tenacious ‒ or as some would light-heartedly state, “We’re going to succeed because they’re crazy enough to think they can.”

Adult Lemonade Stand

Pitfalls of business failure

On the whole, businesses fail due to its owners’ lack of fundamental business knowledge. Needless to say, failed businesses did not operate the same way as those that succeed. The following are oversights and inaction responsible for their demise.

  • For starters, it’s going into business for the wrong reasons. If the only reasons an aspiring business person desires self-employment is making money and selling a product he/she is in love with, stick to a regular job and conduct business on the sidelines or as a hobby. Making money should not be the sole end goal. Simon Sinek, an accomplished author and adjunct staff member of the RAND Corporation, one of the most highly regarded think tanks in the world, in his popular talks worldwide, including TED, compellingly emphasizes the following:

Why does your organization exist? Why does it do the things it does? Why do customers really buy from one company or another? Why are people loyal to some leaders, but not others?  Starting with “why” works in big business and small business, in the non-profit world and in politics. Those who start with “why” never manipulate, they inspire. And the people who follow them don’t do so because they have to; they follow because they want to.”

  •  The business is undercapitalized: a business with too much debt and a cash flow that doesn’t support it ‒ as a result of overestimated revenues and cash flow with underestimated expenses/cost of business.
  • Lacking business development – sales, the lifeblood of any business. Emphasis mainly on product rather than actually shipping quantity to its target market.
  • No USP/differentiation: another me too product, price sensitive, commoditized, and failure to communicate it in a captivating way.
  • Not focused on a particular market. Confused, and as a result, applying a gunshot approach. Unclear of its business model.
  • Poor execution of business and marketing plan. Lack of clear focus and direction. Moreover, inability to adapt to a changing environment, as well as anticipate future trends and plan for them – market phasing out unwanted items or services.
  • Poor operational management. It can be one or a combination of motives including lack of discipline, internal bickering between partners, owner arrogance, stubbornness, a closed mindset, and/or a lack of work ethic which causes complacency. Many start-ups have a carefree attitude to promote efficiency in the workplace, often needed to get their business off of the ground and persevering long afterwards.
  • Business expansions that are poorly planned and not appropriately financed. Although this growth is normally viewed as a positive development, its timing, execution tactics, and inadequate funding to sustain profitable growth stifle proper business progress.
  •  Failing to control costs – negligent fiscal management.
  • Creating dissatisfied customers: Not in touch with them along with a lack of a customer centric policy and fervent implementation with constant monitoring. Many businesses, small and large alike, offer lip service as they continue to disappoint their customers. It is a fact that the cost of acquiring a new customer is five times the cost of keeping an existing one.

Maze and Businessman

7 principles for business success: Avoid being a failed business statistic

If an entrepreneur is resolute enough to increase the chances of triumph from the outset, he/she should consider several key principles. These seven beliefs have been forged through my personal experiences, those of others I have either researched/interviewed and/or advised, as well as based on long-term practice and common sense seasoned with a touch of academia.

1)    A Viable Product or Service with the Right Business Model and a Passionate Person Behind it

It should fulfill a need, offer a benefit, be innovative and differentiate itself. It’s also imperative that the entrepreneur is passionate about the product/service, empowers his/her staff, as well as practices/conveys business ethics. To excel in the business, the entrepreneur must have the right mindset and attitude. This includes drive, perseverance, tenacity, and an undying belief in himself/herself and the value he/she adds.

2)    Adequate Capital

Critical and can vary depending on the size of the undertaking. Start your capital search with a good business plan that shows investors and lenders your company’s potential. Expect to realistically invest about 30% of your own money based on the total value of the project. Last but not least, cash-flow is the lifeblood of your business if you’re going to sustain the operation financially.

3)    Marketing, Sales and Customer Driven

Advertise, publicize, differentiate, ‒ and be compelling, as well as memorable with your messages. Deliver on those promises and constantly remain customer focused. Sales, on the other hand, is part of the marketing function.  It includes business development and account management. Sales is crucial to business because it is the bottom line, whereas marketing is about getting a product known and the customer keeps your business alive.

4)    People

Don’t simply HIRE well educated and experienced people but most importantly MOTIVATED, dedicated, coachable and with interpersonal skills. Moreover, make certain that the people you hire fit-in with your corporate culture.

5)    Systems and Structure in Place

Every business requires a disciplined way of conducting itself. This way everyone is on the same page. Consider publishing an “operations manual” and continuously enforce its procedures.  However, at the same time, it should include an element of flexibility to avert stifling the organization. Without any structure, the chances of failure increases.

6)    Strict Internal Financial Controls and Adequate Cash Flow

Finances should be closely supervised, borrowing wisely and avoiding overspending. Watch your financial ratios and yields (where applicable). The success of your business is, in many ways, measured by the bottom line. Even if you hired a full-time accountant, you would still need to have a
fundamental knowledge of accounting, how it works, and how to apply its basic principles in order to run a flourishing business. Once again, “cash flow” Cash flow is of vital importance to the health of a business. One saying is: “revenue is vanity, cash flow is sanity, but cash is king”.

7)    Continuous Improvement, Innovation and Sustained Growth

This is by no means a one-time event but rather an on-going process. Innovation encompasses offering distinguished and improved solutions which meet or exceed market requirements and expectations from your customers ‒ whether offering a desirable product or upgrading a service experience.

Business-Success

Keep in consideration ‒ govern oneself accordingly

Entrepreneurs, and inventors alike, may be quite well versed with the products and/or services offered, but not necessarily with running their business including a bucket list of daily administrative tasks. Most notably, sales, marketing and finance/accounting undertakings. This is where honest consideration should be given in either bringing in a partner to complement the entrepreneur’s weaknesses or an external adviser and/or mentor to guide him/her. A sounding board should not be dismissed as an advantage solely for larger organizations. Seeking professional help is an important way to avoid or plan for business challenges.

Prior to drafting a business plan as the roadmap, which assists one in avoiding the pitfalls of running a business, plotting a business model should be considered as a prelude to the business plan.  The idiom “putting the cart before the horse” clearly reminds us of this erroneous and common approach ‒ in this case, the business plan preceding the business model or lack thereof. The business model includes the components and functions of the business, as well as the revenues it generates and the expenses it incurs. It is part of the business strategy.

Typically, small businesses with inept ownership usually fail in the first year or two, but even companies in their growth stage can stumble badly when they outgrow the capabilities of the founding team. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 6 out of 10 businesses shut down within the first 4 years of operation.

Enterprises spanning a wide array of industries, have earned distinction as “well-” or “best-” managed” by demonstrating business excellence through a meticulous and independent process that evaluates their management abilities and practices – by focusing on innovation, continuous training, brainstorming and caring for their employees’ well-being – as well as investing in meeting the needs of their clients. Marketing maven and renowned author, Seth Godin, succinctly puts it this way:

Many entrepreneurs use an innovation to make an impact, but the hard part, the part that we’re rewarded for, is engaging with the user, the audience, the market. Bringing something to people who didn’t think they wanted it, know about it or initially welcome it, and make a difference.”

In the end, small businesses are started and managed by entrepreneurs, who with all their best intentions, are highly motivated but typically lack training in standard business practices. Thus, entrepreneurs with little more than a great idea, limited funds and a lack of management/operations skills and experience are prone to failure without the resources that can sustain and help grow their business.

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Brand Experience, Not Product Branding: Cutting Through the Clutter

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Products in the same class-categories struggle to differentiate themselves. Consumers often take brands for granted. Purchases are not so much conscious brand selection as choice by default. The two following examples highlight this. Going out for coffee in North America usually dictates a visit to Starbucks. When sparkling water is ordered at a restaurant, Perrier appears almost by magic.

The age of the internet has made copying competitors’ products, marketing strategies, and overall business practices to name a few. It’s not enough to merely compete at a product and pricing level which doesn’t take long to be outdone. Anyone can lower prices. What begs the question is where you draw the line before your profit margins are eroded to the point of no return and many ramifications for a business. Savvy marketers look beyond pricing and product features. Instead, they search for sustained ways to market their brand rather than their product.

Brand Not Logo 

“Branding” redefined for the new era

 To begin with, a “Brand” is a promise of something that will be delivered by a business. This promise comes in a form of quality, an experience and a certain expectation in the mind of the consumer. It includes the Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Marketing, on the other hand, is about spreading compelling messages to your target audience while branding is a combination of words and action. Marketing is extroverted and communicates quickly, while branding is introverted and a slow process if it’s to produce any real impact. Effective marketing activities are vital in developing a brand. When combined successfully, branding and marketing create and promote value, trust, loyalty and confidence in a company’s image, products and services.

When consumers are delighted by a particular brand experience, they begin to bond emotionally with the brand. They become brand loyalists and advocates – buying the brand more often and recommending it to others. This behavior serves to build the brand’s reputation.

A branding strategy should consist of:

  • Brand Positioning – Position is a descriptive sentence, slogan or image the brand is known for in the mind of the consumer and which the company delivers on it consistently. This is what sets the product or service apart from competitors.
  • Brand Identity – This is every visual expression of the brand, whether in print, television, digital or the iconic (Pullman) brown color identifying the trucks and delivery staff of the UPS courier company.
  • Brand Experience – Generally speaking, brands that are designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than ones based on features like cost or benefits alone.
  • Storytelling – Brands build relationships by the stories they tell. Stories add personality to products which customers can better relate to and feel affinity with. Luxury brands boast their pedigree.
  • Engaging with your target audience – this is conducted through social media and asking for feedback. Simply put, engaged customers help you build your business.

Senses in Branding Strategy

The holistic selling proposition

Consumers today are more brand conscience, yet there are companies which continue to spend money advertising and selling product rather than brand. They place emphasis on price and quality as differentiators despite these two being overused by many copycats. Successful brands take a holistic approach to selling by exploiting the 5 senses which now constitute the brand. This is accomplished by what I regard as “ambiance marketing” and “sensory/sensorial branding”, through a captivating designed setting, yet alluring. This adds character and invites clients to truly feel the brand experience.

To put the aforementioned into perspective, consider the following:

  • Visual – lighting, décor, colors, layout…you can get a real sense of movement using these elements.
  • Auditory – music, effects, volume, vibrations…you set the tone and the energy of the room with your sonic selections.
  • Tactile textures, comfort, climate…this is all about how your guests interact with the environment.  This is a big thing to consider when you are designing the layout.
  • Olfactory fragrance, emotion, ambiance…this sense is under-rated and powerful. Of all our senses, the sense of smell is most closely linked to emotion and memory. You can use something as simple as burning incense or candles to something far more complex like computer controlled scent machines to enhance your environment. This could just be the extra touch needed to set the mood.
  • Gustative – with food establishments, the challenge is in finding the perfect balance between sour, salty, sweet, and bitter during menu designs and beverage selections.  The presentation also makes an impact on the overall image.

Customer Experience equals customer abbreviation

Developing the customer relationship through customer experiences

The Total Customer Experience is the sum total of the interactions that a customer has with a company’s products, people, and processes. It goes from the moment when customers see an ad to the moment when they accept delivery of a product and beyond.

According to Bain & Company, a leading management consultancy firm, out of 362 leading companies surveyed, 80% believe they deliver a superior customer experience, but only 8% of their customers agree.

The experiences customers go through with your business determine the ultimate perception of your brand and image. Customer experiences also spread the word (offline/online) to others (friends, relatives etc.) about your brand/image. That said, each customer contact (“touch points”) should be handled with the utmost care to ensure that the total brand experience a person has is constant. This requires proper training and occasionally evaluating employee performance. Moreover, improvements may be necessary with systems, technology, methods, services, products and even physical premises. Complacency should be replaced with continuous improvement.

Creating a lifestyle brand through emotional attachment

Brand loyalty is about building an emotional, and in some cases, irrational, attachment in a product. The most ideal example is when thousands of people line-up, regardless of weather conditions, to get their hands on the latest iPhone or iPad. This happens because Apple has built an emotional attachment to their products by creating a lifestyle choice rather than a product purchase.

It’s about how it makes you feel. Same goes for baby boomers, whether accountants or attorneys or business executives who purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle and ride them for about four or five hours every Sunday afternoon. The bike makes them feel like a rebel – sort of an escape.

A brand that is designed for a lifestyle should have a much higher emotional value to consumers than one based on features like cost or benefits alone. The goal of a lifestyle brand is to become a way that people can utilize it to relate to one another. Those brands are an attempt to sell an identity, or an image, rather than a product and what it actually does.

Lifestyle brands have gained an increased share of the luxury market such as BMW, Armani, W Hotels, Louis Vuitton and Rolex ‒ just to name a few. These have given way to consumers to buy products that they associate with a “luxurious life.” They are essentially a status symbol. Abercrombie & Fitch has created a lifestyle based on a preppy, young elite lifestyle. Their retail outlets reflect this way of life through their luxurious store ambiance, attractive associates and images portraying young people living the Abercrombie & Fitch way.

 Apple Standsout amongst the others

B2B branding differentiation

Consumers are attracted to brands’ nonsensical benefits such as status, affinity, self-comfort and prestige, whereas, Business-to-Business (B2B) customers make their purchase decisions based on practical rationale including pricing, product performance and specifications, Moreover, brand loyalty in the B2B sector is higher than in consumer goods markets because companies in the commercial and industrial segments seek satisfying and long term relationships since jumping from supplier to supplier can cause havoc and inconsistencies with product quality control. Consequently, developing brand loyalty among enterprise customers can capture a larger share can increase profit margins while protecting them against lower-priced competitors.

The final take

The key to success is to market your brand, not your product. Contrary to popular belief, a brand is not a logo, label or product but rather a relationship with your customers. Branding positively adds value to your company including brand equity. This is considered intangible brand value.

A company can define itself as a lifestyle brand when its products promote a more than a product with key benefits and attributes. Note however that lifestyle branding is more than just promoting “a way of life.” It is a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to the lifestyle of the brand.

One way to overcome the ‘price only’ differentiation, which erodes profits and does not generate loyalty, is for a company to consider building a lifelong relationship with each customer. To do so, requires that each customer enjoys a positive and hassle-free transaction with each touch point. The goal is also to reduce or eliminate customer problems altogether, but that begins prior to and during the first contact with the customer. All problems should be documented, reviewed and corrected without much delay. Hiring the right people is vital, so is training them properly, as well as empowering them to deliver a remarkable customer experience.

When promoting brands, consider that earned media trumps paid media and enhances the brand image. With adverts, consumers don’t care what marketers say. According to the 2011 Nielsen Group report, “False” is the term 89% of consumers closely associated with advertising campaigns.

Whether a product or service ‒ is a luxury brand or falls into another category, it is how you stand out from the crowd that distinguishes you. Know your target audience, get inside their heads and understand how they think and feel. What are their fears, emotions and anxieties? Once you’ve understood this quite well, you then manage the brand consistently.

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Mass Customization & Personalization: The Pinnacle of Differentiation and Brand Loyalty

by James D. Roumeliotis

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There was a time when customized products and personalized services were catered exclusively for the discerning and well heeled.

London’s Savile Row stands as a testament to personalized luxury.   In a world full of luxury dumbed down and mainstream, there has been an up-shift by certain manufacturers trying to offer tailored ranges and services to a wider audience.

This development is technically referred to as “mass customization” and “mass personalization”.  So why the shift?

Simply put, clients are demanding more and don’t share the same sense of brand loyalty as previous generations. Marketing strategists believe that focus must be on generating a community tied to customer satisfaction.  I won’t call this CRM on steroids but the analogy could hold.

With ever increased competition, brands must show genuine benefit to hold the client’s attention as well as affection. The trend is quite sweeping once you start to examine the determinants. Look at fashion apparel, beauty care products, shoes, bicycles, laptops, and even smart phones. All claim they are perfect for customization.

Mass Customization vs. Mass Personalization

According to Wikipedia, the definition of the term “mass customization” in marketing, manufacturing, call centers and management, is the use of flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce custom output.

These systems combine the low unit cost of mass production processes with the flexibility of individual customization.

“Mass personalization” on the other hand, is the custom tailoring by a company in accordance with its end users tastes and preferences.

The main difference between the two concepts is the ability for a company to give its customers an opportunity to create and choose product specifications. There are however limits.

The Financial Times lists “personalized production” among six other factors driving the future of manufacturing – namely network manufacturing, technological innovation, industrial democracy, boutique manufacturing, cluster dynamics, and environmental imperatives.

A case in point: Pomarfin is a small family owned Finnish footwear company. With strong competition from Asian manufacturers, the firm decided to change its strategy.  It carefully looked at the adaptation to the mass customization paradigm, alongside a revision of its business model. Its choices were to either outsource the manufacturing of its shoes to China and simply become an ubiquitous brand, or differentiate itself while keeping its production in Europe.  It chose the latter, by deciding to compete in mass customization, making made-to-measure shoes for discerning and affluent men.  Pomarfin then introduced the clever concept of installing and utilizing a foot scanner in retail stores, which sells its shoes. The client’s foot gets scanned and the image is then uploaded to a server and sent to the firm’s manufacturing plant.  The client then decides if he wants his exact fitting shoes shipped directly to his address of choice or picked up at the retailer.

Moreover, as an additional convenience, the customer can reorder custom shoes through Pomarfin’s website. To be fair and retain loyalty with its retailing partners, Pomarfin pays them a royalty for life for each new pair of shoes purchased by a customer sent its way.

Broad Marketing of Bespoke Products & Services

Clients have simply become more demanding. They expect more, and have no loyalty to brands that do not come up with the experience to match the product or service hype. This trend is both at the B2C and B2B level.

Everyone it seems is looking for the enviable win-win scenario.

It is natural to think that bespoke is the sole domain of the fashion industry whether shoes, suits, shirts or haute couture. These items with their stress on handmade carry heavy price tags and are geared to people with a high DPI.

You would be mistaken to believe that this is not possible for a mass market. For example, Dell computers was the first firm to offer customization to their entire range. In fact, designing your own computer needs with a consultant is the DNA of this organization. Dell understood that this type of differentiation would mark them apart from anyone else in the industry.

Other consumer goods operations quickly followed suit. For example, Adidas AG launched the miAdidas unit which offers custom sports shoes. Nestle delivered a market coup to the coffee industry with Nespresso, bringing single serve coffee into the home and office. Now you can serve different types of coffee within a group with no effort.

Individuality is a Sign of Personality: The Way Forward

The mass customization trend has been a rolling bandwagon. Understanding and harvesting this demand is easier said than done. Smart firms generally respond by building production facilities and systems with an increasing number of modifications in order to produce and deliver individualized units as per customer’s preference.

This certainly has its benefits and drawbacks:

Advantages
– Allows customers to create customized products
– Products deliver excellent value for money
– Makes comparative shopping difficult
– Shifts the focus from price to benefits
– Economies of scale/mass efficiency
– Manufacturer can justify charging a premium
– Easily differentiated against similar products
– Provides deeper form of customer engagement and data

Disadvantages:
– Increased overall complexity
– A significant initial investment + per unit cost of production
– Layover time – takes longer to manufacture
– No return policy on custom orders

Progress in manufacturing technology such as computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) and computer-aided design (CAD) have increased the flexibility, as well as the efficiency of the modern-day factory to achieve build-to-order products.

Source: Emerald Insight

Ordinary is for the Mainstream – Do Luxury Brands Have Your Number?

Traditionally, the wealthy have great purchasing power. In theory, they are sophisticated and unafraid to express their taste as trendsetters and style mavens. They can also be the hardest segment to market to effectively because they are spoiled for choice.

Yet billions are spent catering to the tastes of this ever growing segment. Take the Paris Fashion Week shows and you can see the parade, the fanfare, and the glitz. Everyone is here: the paparazzi, fashionistas, and even fashion bloggers. Is it any wonder? Everyone craves glamor and it’s big business.

If you are one of the Jet-Set, do you want to be just mainstream? Of course, you don’t. The luxury trade has got your number, no matter how idiosyncratic your taste or preferences. Need private banking where professionalism and discretion are key? You got it. Want to stay in a boutique hotel so exclusive that few even know it exists? It’s there for the taking.

The providers of these services use what I refer to as “Bespoke Marketing” along with “Sensorial Branding” to differentiate their message and total customer experience respectively. These branding exercises are narrow in scope and speak of privilege the way its understood among the cognoscenti.

It is typical for certain shoppers at Louis Vuitton on the Champs-Elysees in Paris to serve the right customers flutes of champagne while they try things on or discuss their luggage needs upstairs. It must be said that LV knows how to coddle their clients.  As I am sure you can appreciate, LV is not the only store in this town to offer VIP red carpet treatment. Most major luxury firms do likewise such as Cartier, Dior, and Chanel.

Need a personalized briefcase? Why not pop over to Hermes? They are awaiting your next visit. The world of Hermes personifies exclusivity. Open one of their in-house magazines, and a special universe is revealed. The key beyond outstanding products is the creation of something bordering on revelation. The store itself has become a stage set, and sales pros are the players who embody the firm’s DNA.

Bespoke is the middle name of this institution. Real luxury brands understand this concept like Stradivarius handcrafted violins.

Needless to say, the term “luxury” has been misused over the years. It is mysterious and elusive. In essence, it revolves around subjective criteria referred to as lifestyle.

Gary Harwood at HKLM, one of the founders and directors of a leading strategic branding and communication design consultancy, stated:

“A luxury brand is very expensive, exclusive and very rare – not meant for everyone. When it ceases to be these things, then it’s lost its exclusive cachet. Commoditizing luxury brands and making them more accessible to the middle market puts them at risk of becoming ordinary, common and less desirable. And the more available a brand is, the less luxurious it becomes.”

Perfume connoisseurs are taking their choices a notch above most as the top-end of the fragrance industry is a very personalized one. Consequently, niche perfumes for the discerning and well-to-do are growing rapidly. This sector is creating new trends in the beauty and fashion world through an artisan approach.  Customers visiting bespoke perfumery shops expect highly trained staff to advise on fragrances. A great “nose” knows different clients value different scents, and thus will prescribe like an old fashioned doctor, who used to make house calls. Chemistry and diet also play a role in developing your own signature perfume.

Quite sophisticated and personalized indeed. But then, isn’t this the true symbiotic meaning of luxury?

novero_victoria_gold_stripes

The Final Take

“Mass customization” and “mass personalization” (or “build-to-order marketing” and “one-to-one marketing”) in delivering either products or services when properly implemented, bring about across-the-board improvements in all dimensions of a business. This includes, price, responsiveness, quality, and a positive experience. Competitiveness and operational effectiveness of a company also improve.

However, mass customization also has a few drawbacks as it does come with a cost. Along with a substantial initial investment in manufacturing equipment upgrades, the primary challenge in pursuing mass customization stems from increased complexity in its operations. A higher level of product customization requires greater product variety, which, in turn, entails greater number of parts, processes, suppliers, retailers, and distribution channels. As a result, bigger challenges exist to manage all those aspects of the business from raw material procurement to production and eventually to distribution. In addition, an increase in product variety has the effect of introducing greater uncertainty in demand realizations, increase in manufacturing cycle times, as well as an increase in shipment lead times.

In the luxury sector, traditionally there hasn’t been any shortage of customization for the ultra-high-net-worth. Exclusive and bespoke travel companies provide tailor made adventures and excursions, whereas, the ultra luxury and exotic automobile sectors such as Rolls Royce and Ferrari respectively offer a wide array of customization options. Each vehicle coming out of the studio will be completely unique and guided by a personal designer at the manufacturers.

“Good things come to those who wait.” Or so the saying goes.

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Ambiance Marketing/Sensory Branding — in IMAGES

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Today, consumer purchase decisions are increasingly driven by consumers’ hearts. With ambiance marketing/sensory branding, a custom designed attractive setting, yet alluring with captivating style, invites customers to truly feel the brand experience by adding character. This is accomplished by connecting the emotions to a product or service, and infusing it with a tangible and intangible essence that remain in the customers’ minds.

See images and videos which depict the essence of ambiance marketing/sensory branding.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE for the link to the images/video page

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The Top 10 Most Popular Articles in this Blog for 2012

I am pleased to share with you the top 10 most read articles in my blog for 2012.  Thank you for your readership.

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#1 Brand Awareness: the influence in consumers’ purchasing decisions

#2 Sensorial Purveyors: Creating an Enticing Ambiance in the Hotel Domain

#3 Defining the Luxury Brand

#4 A Philosophy Named CUSTOMER SERVICE – How to Refine it and Maintain It

#5 THE SEVEN KEY PRINCIPLES FOR BUSINESS SUCCESS – A Personal   Belief Through Years of Practical Experience

#6 The Art of Selling Luxury Products: Brand Story Telling & Persuasion

#7 Branding Bottled Water: Differentiating a commodity through various tactics

#8 Branding by Design: The Impact of Fashion on the Automobile Industry

#9 Perceived Quality: Why Brands Are Intangible

#10 How to Run an Effective Political Campaign – a Synopsis for the Aspiring Candidate

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10 Second Survey

I’m planning something neat for those who participate here. If you don’t mind, would you kindly do my 10 second survey. In return, I will send you my book, “Entrepreneurial Essentials:…” in PDF format with my compliments.  Please click HERE for link to the survey.

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Identifying and Catering to the Discerning Consumer: Quality and Service Above All

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Customer service - white gloves and tray

During my days in the mega yacht charter industry, I recall dealing frequently with assertive clients who were judicious with their expectations and utterly demanding with their occasional extraordinary requests. As a case in point, a VIP couple was cruising on a chartered mega yacht in the Aegean Sea and during one morning, unexpectedly, insisted that an additional stewardess be brought on board to increase the service level. He also requested five cases of Louis Roederer Cristal champagne. Despite the minor challenges, both requests were fulfilled within a few hours. My staff and I arranged for a stewardess to be flown in from Athens to the island where the yacht was docked that particular day. As for the champagne with its limited supply, I couldn’t locate all the quantities from any major purveyor in Athens. Consequently, I secured the remaining cases from Salonika – a city 188 miles (304 km) north of Athens. All five cases were eventually delivered to the yacht on the same day. It goes without saying that the client was elated.

The “discerning”, also referred to as the “discriminating” consumer, is characterized as showing careful judgment and savvy especially in matters of taste and judgment. This person is finicky and possesses an acquired taste habitually for premium products and services. Essentially, he/she falls short of a compromise. Going above and beyond the call of duty to meet and, at times exceed, expectations is an important principal to apply.

James - Looks like me in this photo

An Inside Look at the Discerning Consumer

More often than not, the discerning client typically possesses a high net worth. This translates to owning financial assets not including primary residence) in excess of US$1 million (source: CapGemini, “2014 World Wealth Report”). High net worth individuals (HNWI) cherish their time and know what they want, to such a degree that they would rather spend their funds for efficient results than waste the limited resource of time. They value time as a luxury, thus saving time greatly trumps saving money. This is part of the reason service is crucial for them.

In a nutshell, the discerning client can be generally described as:
– To a greater extent, belongs in the “affluent” (an investor with less than $1 million but more than $100 000) and “HNWI” (in excess of $1 Million) category;
– Seeks a higher and exacting standard with a minimum set of expectations;
– Fussy in nature;
– Values his/her time;
– Often requires customized solutions to mirror his/her lifestyle – whether a product or service;
– Takes pleasure on getting extra attention;
– Expects to be offered unique choices and experiences;
– Desires value for money under all circumstances;
– Synonymous with a taste for luxury with pedigree and craftsmanship which he/she is willing to pay for;
– Aspires an aura of exclusivity;
– Craves an experience heightened by exceptional service along with a personal relationship;
– Seeks products which are different and more sophisticated – whether it’s apparel, electronics, food or insurance.
– Wants to feel in command of his/her purchase decision without any buyer’s remorse.

Moreover, what he/she purchases is a visual extension of his/her personality, individuality and lifestyle. A well crafted product, for example, reflects his/her individual call to beauty.

Discerning vs. Demanding

There is a clear distinction between a “discerning” client and the “demanding” type.
A discerning client is one capable of good judgment. This client will typically:
– Appreciates the difference between quality and quantity;
– Carefully considers what his/her requirements and needs are and be able to prioritize them;
– Value good service and products, and acknowledge them;
– Be able to judge which consultant can be trusted and be relied upon to do great work;
– Understands that there are other clients and other priorities beyond himself/herself and his/her own.

Thus, the discerning client appreciates what is really required and feasible to obtain, understands the concepts of quality and function, and appreciates the value of good products and services.

On the other hand, a demanding client is one that could, in the worst sort of instance, be summed up by the word “demand.” This type of client could typically display one or more “imperfections”, for example:

– Simply wants everything he/she feels he/she wants or needs to be done;
– Wants everything done promptly;
– Persists in making additional requests for further work (products, changes, etc.) while reluctant to consider the issues of impacts on other factors of function, schedule, cost or quality;
– Expects a lot of attention on demand;

Hence, the demanding client expects plenty, regardless of the true value of it, whilst failing to properly appreciate core concepts such as quality and value. Additionally, his/her behavior is typical of someone who is self-centered and selfish.

Catering to the Discerning Client

It takes skill, patience, resolute and a good understanding of needs to cater to discerning customers – most notably in the luxury sector. It takes an even greater effort to keep them coming back repeatedly.

To succeed in gratifying the seemingly sophisticated client, the organization should develop a comprehensive strategy along with efficient implementation tactics. These include:
– Having a clear and unique value proposition that hooks them;
– In retail and hospitality sectors, exploiting the five senses to attract and retain them – categorized as “ambiance”/”sensorial” marketing and branding;
– Staff must be customer centric, patient, empathetic, and good listeners – remaining calm under duress during client interactions;
– Employee retention – hiring for attitude and training for skills;
– Utilizing a hands-on approach;
– Probing clients’ specific needs/requirements – know their motivations;
– Earning their trust and confidence;
– Offering a personal touch – individualized attention with customized solutions;
– Being frank and transparent with pricing, offers, proposals and promotions;
– Proposing an expansive product selection and service options;
– Outstanding and consistent levels of customer service throughout the organization;
– Reducing or eliminating waiting times – whether on the phone (reservations, customer service etc.), as well as for service or an appointment at the physical location;
– Offering customer loyalty programs – a great way to make them feel special and that they’re getting something extra;
– Asking for feedback with regards to service and product experiences and ways to improve those experiences – they’re typically strongly opinionated and relish giving it;
– Implementing the latest technology with all touch points (where applicable).

In addition, keep your brand offerings constantly refreshed. Give discerning customers a reason to repeatedly do business with you. Macy’s in New York, considered the world’s largest department store, underwent through a four year $400 Million makeover. Product is organized by lifestyle to help customers create looks and build wardrobes across categories.

Sell a distinct lifestyle which is what discriminating clients crave and gladly relate to. Be in the forefront of creativity and have all your staff, regardless of department/responsibility, on the same marketing page.

Occasionally, organize exclusive by invitation only events as a patron appreciation gesture. Being invited to an exclusive event makes one feel notable. For example, Italian sports automaker Maserati invited a select number of brand loyalists to a new experience in Europe that gave them the opportunity to sail on-board the 70 ft./21,3 m Maserati sailboat. In addition, they drove models in its current range including the new Maserati Gran Turismo Sport model.

Create/publish an upscale lifestyle magazine, every other month or quarter, which should include noteworthy information on the brand – in an environmentally friendly print format, as well as in digital format. The Bentley motors magazine is a good case in point.

Putting it All into Perspective

Discriminating customers’ purchasing attitudes are based on personal beliefs and taste for finer things in life. They are quite selective, know what they want and aspire to be catered to effortlessly. They seek the total customer experience along with pampering, personalized service and value for money. Some will argue that discriminating customers also consider transacting with companies that demonstrate corporate social responsibility.

A key difference between “discerning” and “demanding” is that the former requires what is important and expects it when it can be reasonably obtained, whilst the latter requires everything regardless of other considerations.

A brand which is involved in the business of offering a luxury and/or premium product or service should be well prepared to cater to a discerning clientele and avoid complacency. As a result, the entity will benefit through repeat business, as well as a word-of-mouth angle, since such customers are likely to tell friends and relatives about their experiences – especially in the world of social media.

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Your views are encouraged.

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