Chapter 2 – Values
“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts” ― Albert Einstein
Consider the development of the way in which consumers engage with organizations. This is of particularly relevance where the human factor is a significant element of the organisation’s offer. I refer to this type of organisation as a SERVICEBRAND. You will readily relate this concept to traditional SERVICEBRANDS such as hotels and airlines but interestingly, more product based brands are becoming SERVICEBRANDS. Think of the role that service and the holistic engagement between the customer and the brand plays for Apple products. When this context is overlayed with the exponential increase in our ability to produce data, it is easy to see why the whole area of customer experience and research is a very complex one. The traditional paradigm for the way that research is conducted and delivered is being transformed.
At the turn of the century, organisations focused on making tangible products that met a specific customer need. Value was in the physical product with Henry Ford’s Model T car providing a relevant example. Henry Ford understood that the primary customer need was mechanised transportation and famously said “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black”.
The next stage was a service based economy where brands augmented their core (physical) offer with greater levels of service. Think of taking your car for a service and it has been cleaned when you collect it. However, as people’s horizons have been broadened, good service has become an expectation. Also, just as with products, it is relatively easily to replicate service features.
This led to development of the experience economy concept in the late 1990s. An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable eventii. Examples of organisations adopting this approach range from Walt Disney’s leisure parks to theme restaurants such as the Hard Rock Cafe, and stores such as Niketown.
Now, social media moving into the mainstream may be creating the conditions for the next evolution. Whereas previously organisations could invest in marketing and PR to “tell a story”, things have changed and there is nowhere to hide. Trust is becoming increasingly important as customers seek to understand the substance behind the promoted “face” of brands they buy. What do they really stand for and believe in? The speed and reach of communication enabled by social media magnifies this trust factor. Significantly, brand control is moving away from the organisation that “owns” the brands to the communities that engage with them. Organizations and brands are no longer what they say they are but what others say they are.
This environment provides real opportunities for brands that are true to their values and have a meaningful story if they deliver that in a compelling and authentic way. Research shows that customers’ perception of a brand is strongly influenced by their experience of the people that work for the brand (Enterprise IG 2004 and Ken Irons, Market Leader study). Employees are ambassadors of the brand and arguably have more influence over customer perception than the classical marketing or PR activities. Authenticity from the tip to the root is the new Holy Grail for organizations and a focus will be how the values and brand can be translated into the daily practices and behaviour of their employees, drawing a golden thread from the boardroom to the front line customer experience. This is the topic of our book published in October THE 31 PRACTICES: Release the power of your organization VALUES every day.
So if the relationship between organisations and customers is moving from a transactional one to one based on shared values what are the implications for the world of research? Certainly, it adds a layer of complexity. What if customers will not buy clothes from a retailer irrespective of the cost, quality or value of the clothes because they suspect that the organisation is exploiting child labour in developing countries?
Of course, the areas of values and emotions are far more complex and present more of a challenge for research….but just because they are more difficult does not make them any less real. Developments which may help to address these areas and a move away from the use of more traditional survey questionnaires are tools such as Feedback Ferret,
www.feedbackferret.co.uk , a software tool that aggregates free form customer feedback from a number of different sources, and weblistening where there is no prompted response request at all, but instead, a collection of comments made freely on the internet which is then translated into “sentiment” e.g. http://info.digital-mr.com/uk-bank-report.
For the world of research, generation of data detailing what customers are doing is no longer enough. What is needed is a deep understanding of why customers behave the way they do…..and an integrated approach to the provision of practical solutions to help organisations do something about it. And what about more research to understand why employees are behaving the way they do? Finally, as stated above, any action taken had better be done with authenticity or you will be found out and exposed….probably sooner rather than later.
Alan Williams, Managing Director of SERVICEBRAND GLOBAL, www.servicebrandglobal.com coaches service sector organizations, internationally and in the UK, to deliver inspiring service for competitive advantage. Alan created the 31Practices concept and approach. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Hospitality, a Board member of the British Quality Foundation and a Steering Group member of the recently formed UK Values Alliance.