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A Caribbean Branded Experience


 

April 20, 2007.

 

 

By Francis Wade

 

 

There is a quiet revolution underway in which leading companies are changing the way they’re thinking about customer service.

Since the advent of the “total quality” movement in the 1980s, companies have been happy designing customer service to “meet or exceed customers’ needs or expectations” and to provide “excellent service.”

Marketers are now saying that this approach is not sufficient and that they want customer service that fulfills an important role in brand building. In other words, they’re saying that service quality must do more than meet expectations. It must also create a “branded experience” that the company can use to clearly differentiate itself from competitors and deeply embed itself in the customer’s psyche.

When companies fail to create a branded experience, they run the risk of either providing a bland experience that customers do not value or even creating a negative experience that customers actively avoid.

Such is the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup currently underway across the
West Indies. The promise seemed simple: create a world-class event and cricket lovers the world over would come.

Unfortunately, the delivered experience has driven away local fans and turned off visitors, and there is universal recognition that something must be done to correct this.

What could the ICC Cricket World Cup organisers have done to prevent the fallout that’s now occurring? What went wrong in their planning? What can regional companies do to prevent their own customers from abandoning them at key moments?

In our most recent endeavor at my company, Framework, we have been looking at this question for several clients—and we think that the ICC could have followed a simple process to craft a precise experience from inside the world of their customers, create channels to deliver the experience consistently, and ensure that interventions to restore the desired experience are timely and authentic.


Customer's Experience vs. Customer's Expectations


As companies change the way they think about the customer’s experience, savvy firms are focusing on creating specific “experiences” comprised of actual emotions they want their customers to retain after an encounter with the company.

For example, customers of an excellent hotel may leave their weekend stint having had experiences of “care, opulence, and comfort.”

In this context, the experience is a possible differentiating factor, built by the hotel, based on an understanding of what its target customers want—and what the hotel can actually deliver. Obviously, no set of experiences are universal and apply to all customers. Equally obvious is the fact that not all hotels are interested in delivering the same experience. A different hotel might be interested in creating an experience of “adventure, thrift, and practicality” for its customers.

If both hotels were effective in creating these experiences, they would appeal to very different segments, with brands that overlap only rarely.

In the case of the ICC Cricket World Cup, the “world-class” experience that’s associated with sporting events in developed countries has done much to turn away local lovers of the game.

The truth is, although half of the world lives on less than US$2.00 per day, the idea of what is world-class probably wasn’t defined with the “lower half” in mind. Instead, it most likely came from feedback gained from the 20% of the world’s population in the developed nations who consume 86% of the world’s goods (and perhaps even more of the global, live sporting events.) Here in the
Caribbean, with our developing economies, we are hardly a part of the influential 20%.

A conversation with the average man in the street, or a visitor to the region, would reveal that our cricketing customers are very different from those envisioned by the typical customers of world-class events. The experiences we value are very different— more noisy, spontaneous, and reliant on people interacting with one another.

The ICC seems to have realized that a mistake was made and that the experience they were intent on delivering is not the one that customers are interested in having—even if it is “world-class.”

Unfortunately, companies in the region often assume that world-class is better. This is an excellent example where that thinking is just plain wrong.

The problem was created when the term “world-class” was not translated into specific experiences.

For example, a great deal has been made of the fact that local customers have not appreciated that tickets have been available online for several months. In a world-class event, an e-commerce channel is usually experienced as “helpful.” In the
Caribbean
, where less than 20% of our citizens have Internet access, the experience was one that was “exclusionary” and “difficult.”

Furthermore, foreigners have been complaining that the cricket experience they are having is sterile, and "not Caribbean enough." One visitor quipped that if he wanted that kind of experience he would just have stayed home in
England
.

Shifting from vague ideals such as “world-class” to specific experiences is more than just a cosmetic play of words. When experiences can be understood as a combination of critical emotional outcomes, practices can be customized to produce them.

Take, as an example, interactions between the flight crew and customers in the airline industry.

A company that intends to create the experience of “peace and quiet” would train the staff in very different practices from one that creates the experience of “spontaneity.” The practices would contrast in tone, length, volume, and warmth.

To illustrate, Southwest Airlines is well known for the jokes, contests, and songs that its flight crew (including the captain) tell over the intercom at different points in the flight. As a customer of Southwest, which specializes in short-haul flights, I can report from the experience that it was fun.

However, I also truly appreciate the peace and quiet provided by a British Airways business-class seat on a long trans-Atlantic flight.

As another example, here in the
Caribbean
, a company that tries to deliver the same experience to its clients, regardless of the culture of each client’s home country, can run into serious trouble. A Trinidadian customer may respond very differently to an invitation to go out for drinks and a lime after work compared to a Barbadian in the same situation.

A savvy company accounts for regional differences and customizes its practices to carefully produce the desired experience, while monitoring the actual experience its customers are having.

Unfortunately, international research conducted by Bain & Co. shows that most companies are in the dark. Some 80% of companies believe that they are delivering “a superior customer experience,” while only 8% of their customers agree.

However, the best companies go further than customizing their practices. They also define what happens for customers at each point at which the company interacts with the customer.

 

Francis Wade is a writer and management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. His passion is the transformation of Caribbean workplaces, economies and society. He blogs at Chronicles From a Caribbean Cubicle.

  

Please e-mail comments about this piece to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com

Business Lessons From the Cricket World Cup

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