Organize Around Common Episodes That Can Make or Break Your Brand

Customer centricity is a common theme emanating from the C-suite these days. When you combine that with the rising impact that social media can have on a brand, a sound approach to brand management is to identify the most common episodes that can impact brand perception and to take a cross functional approach to managing them – quickly and thoroughly.

Jason Barro, a Partner with the Customer Strategy & Marketing practice at Bain & Company, covered the topic at the recent Qualtrics X4 Experience Management Summit in Salt Lake City.

Lost baggage, a missing part, a software function that cannot be figured out or a room with the wrong size and configuration – whatever the episodes are, every organization has them. The episodes that occur again and again that can eat away at a brand’s perception.

These episodes are often weaknesses that spawn in seconds – starting with customer disappointment. But just as quickly as they develop as a brand perception weakness, they can be transformed into a brand perception strength.

Taking weaknesses head on and with enough vigor to turn them into actual strengths is a great recipe for both improvement and success. It’s also the blueprint of how management of these recurring episodes can be transformed for the better.

When a software company customer is having fits over figuring out how to do a specific function, there is a tendency to chalk it up as simply a support issue. But perhaps support in itself is hard to figure out how to access – this could stem from website issues that the digital marketing team could be required to help address. Or it could be an issue in the user interface of the product itself – more of a product team issue.

Whether and how quickly the software maker responds has dependencies on that same digital marketing team as they are often responsible for social media listening. Words can cascade from episodes into the social sphere quickly and they’re often extreme – usually negative but sometimes positive. Most people don’t proactively communicate feelings revolving around neutral experiences.

Turning to an example in the online retail world, getting that last piece right – the final delivery when the customer opens the box – is a critical customer experience moment. Is it going to be a moment of satisfaction or even euphoria? Or did a delayed shipment or missing part trigger disappointment?

Hayneedle, the furniture e-tailer, emphasizes the critical nature of getting this last step just right. And if something does go wrong, they will do what it takes to turn you into a recurring customer. The emphasis of rallying around these episode moments transform “never again” feelings into “maybe again” feelings.

A great challenge that Barro astutely pointed out is that resolving many poor customer experiences requires contributions from different organizational units, or “lines.” Companies tend to be organized in silos that are built for specific functions, or lines of business, and this weighs down a company’s ability to deal with issues that have cross-functional dependencies.

Further, how these episodes are handled can impact online reviews and general sentiment across social media. The ripple effect from these episodes is greater now than ever before.

Both the cause of episodes and the sound resolution of them often cut across company lines.  Developing a customer experience unit that includes representation from the disparate lines or departments within a company is the episode combat strategy that can quickly turn poor customer experiences into brand perception successes. Most often led by a Chief Customer Experience Officer, this organization set up is less susceptible to efforts getting derailed by dependencies on “other” groups.

In discussing the topic further with Barro, he added “whether the teams that are stood up to manage the episodes are project or swat teams as opposed to persistent cross-functional teams that continuously manage the episodes – that ends up being the big organizational debate.”

He continued, “Having them be persistent is more of a direct assault on the line ownership of the issues – and is a more permanent solution to the span of control and governance problems. In the end, major customer transformation work is an organizational problem more than a data problem.”

The bolder companies move towards (1) recognizing that customer issues don’t congruently line up to how they are organized and (2) developing a persistent organization whose rallying cry is centered on nothing more than customer success and happiness, the better positioned they will be for success.

Originally posted on LinkedIn