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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.