Bridging the gap between brand promise and customer experience

Bridging the gap between brand promise and customer experience

Summary: Marketers have a special role to play as advocates between brands and consumers. These four tips will help you create authentic, great relationships with buyers and prospects.

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For marketers, social media is a vast laboratory in which buyers offer detailed feedback about products, features, service delivery, and general sentiment about brand and company.

However, for better or worse, on social media this feedback loop plays out in public.

If buyers, prospects, and observers have positive sentiment, those views become part of a shared public record that supports the brand and is available for anyone to see. On the other hand, negative views can quickly go viral and cause damage. There are many negative examples, but Motrin Moms and United Breaks Guitars come immediately to mind.

In the digital world, characterized by high transparency and the rapid spread of information, brands must pay special attention to disparities between their brand promise and consumers’ experience.

A study by management consulting company, Bain, calls this disparity the “delivery gap.” In a study of 362 companies [PDF download], Bain found that fully 80 percent believe their firm offers a superior proposition. However, only 8 percent of customers held that same view. The extent of this difference is extraordinary, as you can see in the chart below.

Bain delivery gap

Although we might like to think that such results are spurious and cannot be trusted, another study found that “up to 66 percent of customers report a gap between the brand promise and brand reality.”

A study of brands in the UK, called the Promise Index [PDF download], considers a brand’s image and corresponding customers experience scores to determine a Promise Gap, “the difference between image and experience.” Here is a list of the brands in the UK with the top scores, meaning the gap between brand promise and customer experience is smallest:

Promise Index top 20 brands

The gap matters. We can hardly overstate the importance of this gap in driving purchase and customer retention decisions among consumers.

A study by Forrester showed direct correlations between customer experience and loyalty. The report states, “We found a high correlation between consumers’ [customer experience] rating of a company and their willingness to buy from the company again:

Forrester customer experience and loyalty

Research from American Express found that, “two-thirds of consumers state that they are willing to spend more with a company they believe provides excellent customer service,” as you can see in this graph:

American express customer experience and service research

A survey conducted by RightNow, concluded that 86 percent of consumers will “pay up to 25 percent more for a better customer experience.”

Closing the gap. Minimizing the gap is especially challenging to marketers because the customer’s experience involves a broad spectrum of corporate activities, many of which lie outside marketing. Everything from product design through sales, support, and post-sales service contribute to the consumer experience. In other words, a full range of corporate operations ultimately shapes buyer experiences and perceptions.

Nonetheless, marketing can play a special role in serving as an advocate for both company and customer. Especially online, brand advocacy is crucially important for creating a relationship between consumer and company. Research by Weber Shandwick, called the European Advocacy Study, concluded, “brand advocacy is five times more effective than advertising in prompting purchase.”

Marketing has a pivotal role to play in establishing productive relationships with buyers, in both consumer-oriented and business-to-business companies. Marketers should take four steps to fulfill this role and help close the gap between brand promise and customer perception:

Marketing opportunity
  1. Listen to the customer. Marketers can engage and interact with customers online in forums, on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and wherever customers congregate. It sounds trite and cliché, but joining the conversation is a first step to developing an engaged relationship with customers.

  2. Amplify the customer’s voice. After listening, and understanding, issues of importance to customers, marketers can bring the customer perspective back into the company. Doing so enables marketing to support the company's efforts to create better products and focus more precisely on activities that will move the needle for customers. Do not underestimate the power of accurate information in improving the company’s overall ability to deliver products and services that delight and thrill customers.

  3. Empower customer relationships. Customers understand that no brand or company can create perfection all the time. It is human nature to overlook some faults when we like a person or brand, especially if we feel they want to do the right thing. Therefore, marketers should communicate openly, honestly, and authentically with customers to cultivate a positive relationship. Doing so gives the customer insight into constraints facing the brand, setting the ground to ease tension through dialog should the customer ever become unhappy.

  4. Choose to be an advocate. A true advocate provides tremendous benefit to both company and customer, by putting a human face on interactions and communication in both directions. The real power of online, digital marketing lies in the ability of skilled advocates to bridge the gap between company and customer.

I am delivering a keynote on this topic in New York City on June 6, as part of an event hosted by Act-On Software. If you can, please join me and let's discuss the topic in greater depth in person. I am excited because marketers have a crucial role to play in driving authentic, honest, and productive buyer relationships and materially improving the customer experience.

Topics: CXO, Emerging Tech, Social Enterprise

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18 comments
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  • Devil is in the details

    If a company would actually LISTEN and TEST its products pre-sale, that would make a huge difference in the quality of the products. Google never listens, though it constantly asks for feedback. You know that, because Youtube is now a wasteland, and despite years of customer complaints, they keep on changing the programming such that you can't even navigate your address book anymore. So, people stop posting videos there, and commenting is a nightmare due to that HORRIBLE Google Plus which was forced on customers.

    Amazon, by contrast, always listens. Why it ranked only #2, I'll never know. If the test was consistent over a longer sampling period, it would be #1.

    We feel betrayed when product quality is consistently bad and no one listens. So, we go elsewhere. THAT, is the story of MSFT, which is lately famous for being deaf, and for dysfunctional products.
    brainout
    • No Beta products

      Companies should never release any beta level products as commercial release. Also, listen to customers and do not change something for the sake of change (W8 anyone). Customers are not automatically anti-change but generally want incremental changes. If you are going to introduce a major change such as with the first Macs one should be ready to explain to customers why it is superior. Otherwise, customers will often refuse to buy.

      What is often forgotten is customers often have choices and can always move to a competitor if they perceive the competitor better meets their needs.
      Linux_Lurker
      • have to agree

        Regarding your point about communicating better when big changes are made. Your comment about W8 being change for changes sake shows you didn't get the message or understand the message as to why Windows 8 had to be done.

        If more people understood why it was necessary perhaps there would have been a few less complaints or at least more willingness to give it a go.

        Also I have to agree regards the releasing beta products as 'the product' - google is extremely bad at that (gmail was beta for something like the first 5 years of its life)
        aesonaus
        • W8

          I understand what MS is concerned about but that does mean wholesale changes without explanation. The problem, which has been partially fixed, is W8 was not really designed for desktop users but to be used on tablets and phones. MS dominates the desktop but lags in the tablet and phone markets.

          I have always thought MS should have had two, user selectable shells: one for tables/phones with touch enabled and traditional one for desktops/laptops. Then they would have had potential winner. The issue is they changed desktops without considering most desktop users are content with the WIMP interface. In Linux, the Gnome 3 and Unity desktops have received considerable criticism for deviating sharply from the traditional WIMP interface.
          Linux_Lurker
          • most users...

            Were content with the Win3.11 interface to back in the day, but MS made a major overhaul and introduced the start button and popped out Win95. It's been 19 years since then, computers have changed, how people use computers has changed, it was time to make the next move forwards.

            With W8.1.1 they have reached a nice blend with the mouse/keyboard. I think if they had done a split one for tablets one for laptops scenario it would have just confused the situation even more - I mean what of the laptops with touchscreens - do they run the tablet touch enabled os or the non-touch os like other laptops?

            I agree that the desktop will be around for a while longer - but mostly because the creation tools all run there, from a normal consumer side though - if office was running through the modern interface there would be almost no need for the desktop for a large number of users right now. There is other stuff non-engineer/developer/media creation people need but again that is all 'creation' not 'consumption'.

            And I know - these users and their consumption could just get a tablet - but a lot of them have been around computers for 20+ years and so like sitting at a screen with a keyboard and mouse so they keep buying a home pc - but the new (8) new (8.1) new (8.1.1) windows 8 (ha ha yes that was 3 news) is finally in a position to act as the foundation moving forwards of switching to an interface they can get comfy with and which then makes them more comfy with buying a Windows tablet and a windows phone and maybe even an xbox one for their kid.

            You have to realise windows is not an operating system apart - it is just one operating system in an ecosystem of operating systems designed to push the idea of 'your data, where you want it, when you want it'.

            At the end of the day they really should have spent more marketing dollars and actually got out and sold the vision so that more than a few techies would come across things like the Office Future Productivity 2009 and 2011 videos and the corning day made of glass video and thus understand where MS is trying to go. Hell maybe they should have just spent some dollars and used those videos as ads to push the idea of Windows 8/WinPhone8/Xbox One are the current steps on the path to that future.
            aesonaus
  • Devil is in the details

    If a company would actually LISTEN and TEST its products pre-sale, that would make a huge difference in the quality of the products. Google never listens, though it constantly asks for feedback. You know that, because Youtube is now a wasteland, and despite years of customer complaints, they keep on changing the programming such that you can't even navigate your address book anymore. So, people stop posting videos there, and commenting is a nightmare due to that HORRIBLE Google Plus which was forced on customers.

    Amazon, by contrast, always listens. Why it ranked only #2, I'll never know. If the test was consistent over a longer sampling period, it would be #1.

    We feel betrayed when product quality is consistently bad and no one listens. So, we go elsewhere. THAT, is the story of MSFT, which is lately famous for being deaf, and for dysfunctional products.
    brainout
    • Listening and responding

      Many years ago I worked in ISO 9001 certified company. One of the certification issues is how does the company get customer feedback and how does it act on it. The registrar paid particularly attention to negative customer comments and how they were address. The point was to treat all customer comments with the proper level of concern and fix the problems they highlighted. Also, a requirement was to document the changes made in products, processes, procedures, etc.
      Linux_Lurker
  • buzzwords with no meaning

    "the customer’s experience involves a broad spectrum of corporate activities, many of which lie outside marketing. Everything from product design through sales, support, and post-sales service contribute to the consumer experience. In other words, a full range of corporate operations ultimately shapes buyer experiences and perceptions."

    and that is why there is a gap. Marketing is about selling the illusion of a product or service vs the reality of what the actual customer experience entails. Brand advocacy sounds like a fancy way of saying damage control. How do we retain a customer that we have disappointed? Here is a thought, spend less money on marketing and more on customer service.
    krossbow
    • You made some good points

      I might add that the whole discussion assumes a rational consumer, which in my view and experience is generally a false assumption to a very significant degree, with the exception of the purchase of a few products such as appliances and, groceries etc, where fashion, image and "cool" does not enter into the decision much.

      In my view, advertizing is almost by definition "false". It presents few facts about the product but plays up emotional aspects of the purchase/ownership. Add to that my own experience when young, that the anticipation of the purchase was the most exiting part, and that euphoria rarely lasted for long once the product was in my hands, leading to an inevitable let down to some degree, which is part of the "gap".

      The biggest problem companies are having is that dissatisfied customers now have a megaphone in the form of the internet, and customers who are disappointed are much more likely to voice their opinions than those who are happy. I do not think this will change the marketing function much, but it is probably forcing at lot of customer service functions to be much more responsive to customer complaints.
      Economister
    • To be clearer

      The customer's experience, literally, not as a buzzword, means their perception, good or bad. This perception is shaped by their experience with the product, the type of service they receive, and so on. Therefore, customer experience is the point at which many decisions that the company makes ultimately bears fruit or not.

      Despite the language, this stuff does matter to consumers and gets to the heart of many activities in which a company engages.

      Thanks for your comment!
      mkrigsman@...
      • Marketing BS

        My observation is truly loyal customers return because they find the company consistently delivers on their promises.

        The criticism of MS is they are not listening to their current customers nor to the market. Their current customers mostly want an improved XP/7 interface not something very different. They had an opportunity to design a tablet only interface with applications suitable to the market. On the desktop, currently MS is safe because of their market dominance but the tablet OSes represent a threat since they are not MS whatever but something entirely different. The loyalty of MS' desktop customers is hard to determine but I suspect they are not as loyal as MS needs for the future.

        Ray Kroc had a key insight in the 50's when he started to expand McDonald's; customers value consistency and somewhat understated ad claims. He was ruthless in making sure McDonald's food and service was consistent across the chain while allowing the franchisees to experiment. Several of their now iconic products and branding were ideas of franchisees not the corporate office.
        Linux_Lurker
    • Marketing Used to be Far More than That

      Perhaps, today, companies have a very simplistic view of the function that the Marketing department should be performing.

      Back in the 80s, the marketing department was focused on more than defining the product / service promise (positioning and messaging). It was about the following and more:

      * Determining what markets the company’s products / service should be in

      * Determining the demand for product / service

      * Determining how well product / service was meeting the demand and if not, why not

      * Determining what customer demand was not currently being fulfilled

      * Determining the channels and methods to find out this information, and channels and methods best suited for target audience

      * Feeding this information back into the company (i.e. development, engineering, or if you’re company really has an R + D department, service organization)

      I cannot tell you how often someone from marketing would come down to R+D to tell us that customers want XYZ and that we needed a way to modify product / service to satisfy--- especially for NEW products. One company I worked for had their own PhD scientists working, **as a part of the Marketing Dept.,** to help specific customers achieve desired outcomes using the company’s products.
      LisbethS
      • One more thing...

        I forgot to mention, that we in R+D had to modify the product to satisfy customer input (from marketing). And the company was 50:50 R+D and market driven.

        R+D had it's own PhD scientists too.
        LisbethS
  • It;s obvious

    Google consistently delivers to the customers satisfaction which is why Chromebooks are eating away windows marketshare . Microsoft doesn'ty even make the list with complete failures like windows (phone) 8 en windows rt.
    Trusty Tahr
  • Data from 2010

    Your Promise Index is from 2010.
    tscan
    • Could be the last report

      2010 is the most recent report and it appears that they (Promise Corp.) may not be doing this assessment any more.
      LisbethS
  • It's about managing expectations

    My background is rooted in the political arena, where "brands" are born and die within short time-frames (sometimes no longer than a single campaign, sometimes spanning a career of public service). Coming in second isn't much of a consolation (it means you lose), so how you position your candidate to win is given great thought in a well-run campaign. Ultimately it all comes down to managing the expectations of the market's "customers" (i.e., voters). And that means good communications - whatever you say has to be clear, comprehensible, relatable, and credible in both the mind and heart of the customer. Say what you mean, mean what you say - and always live it and deliver it. Do these things, and your brand will be well received.
    bbahler
  • Mind The Gap survey report

    Great article and great to see how you have linked the research.

    Like male drivers, most companies believe that they are above-average.

    Paradoxically, they are not so confident as to say that their clients would agree. The clients (as suggested by the companies themselves) support the view that few supplier companies deliver above-average service levels.


    You might like to look at the survey and findings on this very subject at
    http://robert-craven.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/mind-gap-what-companies-are-missing.html Conclusions of 12 years of Service Delivery Gap Polls and Surveys, 2002-2014
    Robert Craven