Airbnb’s New Brand: Why Branding is at the Forefront of Customer Experience

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Your company’s brand is what your customers see, feel and are attracted to (or not). Whether they are able to vividly express themselves, or struggle to, after seeing your brand it will give them a sudden feeling that will either make them gravitate to you or retract.

Today, Airbnb launched their new brand (read the full Fast Company article here) and I absolutely love it! I’ve read the article and watched the video five times…in one day! I’ve been bullish on Airbnb for years now and have stayed with them several times so I’m not an inexperienced promoter. Nor do I hold stock (I wish I did).

Customer experience and branding go hand in hand. Similar to how an employee will make you feel warm and fuzzy (or not) your brand will do the same thing. For me, Airbnb’s new brand has a purpose far greater than driving revenue. As Brian Chesky (Co-founder & CEO) describes,

“The brand shouldn’t say we’re about community, or our international [reach], or renting homes–it’s about belonging.”

Branding isn’t only about what font you use or what hue of green your branding expert suggests; it’s about bridging the gap between what your company represents, stands for and its meaning.

Customers are attracted to brands with a mission of taking care of people. After reading this article, I’m far more bullish on Airbnb than I am on Uber. This is solely because I feel that Airbnb’s purpose is to genuinely take care of people more so than Uber’s. Don’t get me wrong, Uber’s focus on logistics and innovation will put them in a position to succeed but I question whether their CEO (Travis Kalanick) obsesses over the people who help grow the business (drivers and users).

If a company has a mission that is more than self serving agendas then the revenue and market share will follow. Airbnb’s new brand exemplifies where their priorities stand; the challenge is now executing on that vision. Their new appearance will allow them to enter new markets that the founders of Airbnb hold close to their chest which will ultimately increase market value. It’s a win, win.

Whether you are a small business or fortune 500 company, take a look at your brand, share it with friends and family and ask them, “how does this make you feel?”

What brands make you feel something?

Here are some other exerts from the Fast Company post:

  • “This new branding changes the whole identity and expression of the company.”
  • On the logo: “It’s a symbol anyone can create, whether drawn on a mirror or etched in the sand”…”Every single person can have their own impression of the brand.”
  • “Most brands would send you a cease-and-desist letter if you tried to recreate their brand”…”We wanted to do the opposite.”

 

Watch the video here:

How Zendesk, ZenPayroll and Tangerine Make their Customers Smarter, Efficient and Successful

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The business world has always understood that hiring friendly employees is an effective way to deliver great service. While this remains true, I don’t believe it will make your customers loyal, largely because it’s an easy mantra to replicate and your customers expect more.

The three ingredients to increasing customer loyalty in today’s technology driven business landscape are: make your customers smarter, make them more efficient and make them successful.

If you have a look around you, the companies who are leading their industries are ones who are making their customers smarter, efficient and successful. These three companies have the aforementioned ingredients in the DNA of their brand.

 

zendesk

 

You may have heard of Zendesk before. I have a massive “corporate crush” on this brand, company and its people. They are a living case study of making their customers smarter by perfecting content marketing. If you’ve ever visited their website, you will notice their Resource page, which I call their “home of education.” They work tirelessly to provide education to their customers through webinars, white papers and infographics. Their customers and prospective customers can visit their website and can, for free of charge, consume education to help them become more astute business professionals.

Why do you think we admire elementary and high school teachers?

It’s because they are educators; business is no different. If you put yourself in a position to educate your customers they will have an emotional connection to you and your brand.

On another note, I really admire Zendesk because they are making business fun. I feel that their Buddha logo and risqué video on their homepage gives them a competitive advantage because it’s what I call memorable marketing.

 

zenpayroll-logo-300x120

 

ZenPayroll is a world class example of how to make your customers more efficient. I can only speak for myself, but after having examined the payroll processing industry, it seems clunky, boring and out dated. I have had the pleasure of connecting with one of ZenPayroll’s co-founders and team members on the PR side of their business. After seeing their product in action, I thought, “Wow! That’s very easy.”

What they have done has taken a process in business that most businesses struggle with and made it easier and fun. If you’re familiar with user experience you’ll notice that they have done an exceptional job at making it engaging. Here are a few tweets coming directly from their customers.

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tangerine

 

I was recently invited to keynote Tangerine banks executive strategy meeting in Toronto. In preparation, I turned the internet inside and out to understand their brand identity, motivations and customer base. Furthermore, I studied the individuals who were going to be in the room. All the C-suites were there and after researching their backgrounds and business philosophies I immediately connected with them. Simply put, they “get” it.

Tangerine bank is a perfect example of making your customers more successful. To fully understand their operation, I opened a chequing account with them to better familiarize myself with their customer experience. My first thought was, “There isn’t a need to go to a retail location anymore.” Keep in mind, I have banked with my institution, a competitor of theirs, for twenty years and don’t know any better. After reflecting on my past banking experience, the only time I visited the bank was to deposit cheques. With Tangerine’s Cheque-In™ feature, I can do that same action from my bathrobe on my couch.

For me, if a company is saving me time then I equate that to me being more successful. If I have more hours in the day to spend with my friends, family and clients rather than visiting a bank, then I consider that a success. I’m sure that in the eyes of Tangerine, if their customers are more successful, than so are they. It’s the ultimate win-win scenario.

Having employees who are friendly is still a critical part of customer loyalty, the emphasis on technology has however shifted our priorities as consumers. Personally, I will take a more efficient customer experience than a friendly one, but that may be because I’m technologically driven.

What are your thoughts? What other companies are making their customers more efficient, smarter and successful?

How Creating Micro Customer Experiences Can Be Your Greatest Competitive Advantage

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On a flight back from Boston, I took my seat next to a man who I later found out was the CEO of a recognizable quick service restaurant (QSR).

I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep on the flight home after hosting a customer experience workshop. I couldn’t, however, give up the opportunity to talk to this CEO about the importance of customer experience within his company’s industry.

After a quaint introduction of ourselves and our lines of work, we began talking about customer experience and its impact on growth and brand reputation.

The conversation started with the understood “customer experience has to be your number one priority” maxim, but that’s when our discussion moved into another direction.

He mentioned that the effort of his team was focused on “creating service experiences that will propel us into the future.” In other words, his company was working to create initiatives that I call “home runs.” These initiatives are closely aligned with innovation which can have your competition thinking “why didn’t we think of that?!”

He continued discussing his “home run strategies” without sharing too much information. As he began to hold his cards close, I interrupted by asking, “What are you doing to create micro experiences?”

I caught him off guard.

“What are micro experiences?” he asked.

How I define micro experiences are small, subtle, affordable and memorable touches that resonate with your customers for years. They are the simple things that we neglect to do because they are so small we don’t believe that it can have too much impact; but they do!

Uber understands micro experiences.

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After you use Uber, they send you an email with the route the driver took to show you that the most efficient route was taken. What this small touch point does is build “consumer confidence.”

Of course, micro customer experiences can also work against you. Starbucks understands micro experiences and their intentions are in the right place. However, you know it’s working against you when there’s a tumblr site dedicated to your employees misspelling your customers’ names.

Companies that create micro customer experiences become brands that are admired, trusted and ones that have a business model that are difficult to replicate.

Let me compare micro experiences to something personal. I love my parents because they showed me love in micro ways. Sure, I loved it when they bought me a Big Wheels or Nerf gun, which is the equivalent to a “home run” strategy for your customers. But, after a month I was bored of the big gift and inevitably wanted something else. The micro love my parents gave me by telling me I was handsome when I got a bad haircut or when they said that my big ears gave me character is what resonated with me forever. It’s the unconditional love that they consistently showed me that has lasted a life time.

The challenge with creating micro experiences is that it needs to be genuine, and let’s face it, not many companies are genuine. Another challenge to be considered is how you scale these genuine moments that connects you with your customers? It’s difficult which is why I laugh when someone says “customer experience is easy.”

What companies are you loyal to because of their micro customer experiences?

How to Build a Customer Advisory Board to Improve Your Customer Experience

FocusGroup

Let me begin by explaining that a Customer Advisory Board (CAB) is not a boring focus group. The fact that organizations would stand behind a pane of glass and watch how customers interact frankly gives me the chills.

A CAB is an internal team of customers who help grow your business by providing genuine and actionable insights on your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Regardless of size or industry, all businesses must assemble a CAB.

Over the past 18 months, I’ve worked with several organizations who want to create a CAB for their business. In this post, I will explain how I have found success in building teams of customers to help improve your customer experience.

  • Craft your desired outcome and vision. Before you begin assembling your team and establishing the logistics of your meeting, you need to determine how your company is going to define success and what you’re trying to accomplish. I’ve seen organizations create a CAB simply to say that they have hosted one and to cross it off their “strategic plan.” Needless to say, this should not be your goal. A company I previously worked with stated that each quarter they wanted to create one strategic initiative to improve their customer experience based on what they learned from their CAB. Another company’s marketing team defined success by improving their landing pages from direct feedback from their CAB (in combination with doing A/B testing). The long term goal should always be to have a more intimate relationship with your customers and an opportunity to refine your customer experience.

 

  • Build your external and internal team. The amount of customers you welcome to your CAB team depends on the size of your business. If you’re a small business, you may want to invite 2-5 customers. For a medium or large sized business, this could grow to 6-12 customers. When it comes to what type of customers you should invite, have a mix of “promoters” and “detractors.” The problem with only welcoming promoters is that they will provide feedback with rose-tinted glasses. You need to have tough, challenging conversations which your detractor customers can provide. What employees should be involved? A CAB should be hosted by your executive team (middle and large sized businesses) or owner and managers (small businesses). For middle and large sized businesses, have each of your department heads attend and then disseminate the knowledge to the entire organization. 

 

  • Establish the logistics. How often will the meetings take place (quarterly or yearly)? Where will they take place (your office or off site)? I recommend that you host them quarterly and at an offsite location. Make the meetings fun! Have the event catered and in a relaxed environment. I was recently invited to a CAB workshop hosted by my client in Whistler, it was a blast and everyone genuinely seemed to enjoy themselves.

 

  • Develop the meeting structure. You have a fantastic opportunity to get to know your customers intimately; don’t waste their time. Your “customer task force” should meet at least one month prior to the event to finalize the content and delivery. What type of questions are we going to ask? Are we going to showcase prototypes? Who will be moderating? Who will be recording minutes? Ensure that you consider every minor detail to host a seamless meeting.

 

  • Compensation. I have seen companies not need to compensate their CAB members, as having a catered event was enough in exchange for their time. However, I’ve witnessed other companies compensate their members $25-$100/hour. I have found that the organizations that have genuine customer loyalty don’t need to compensate their members. I work with a small coffee shop in Vancouver who I am undoubtedly loyal to and want to see succeed; I do not charge them to give insight into their business.

 

  • Follow up. After you have gathered feedback, close the loop with your CAB members. Let them know what they can expect to come as a result of their feedback to reassure them that their time was well served and appreciated. Don’t simply send an email. Follow up in a professional and formal way by distributing a one or two page document (CAB at a Glance) that outlines all that was discussed and your next steps.

 

CAB meetings aren’t meant to replace VoC programs. They are there to support all other initiatives to improve the customer experience. Plus, it’s fun, educational and a sign that your company is genuinely customer centric.

Have you had success with a CAB program?

Build What Your Customers Need (Not What They Want)

Reed Hastings (CEO - Netflix)

Ask your customers what they want and you’ll receive hundreds of different answers that will frustrate and confuse you. Put them in a focus group and watch them debate over what’s most important to them as individuals.

I advocate hosting Customer Advisory Boards (if you do them right) but you need to be careful with what you do with this new found customer intelligence. You see, your customers will say they want one thing today and something different tomorrow.

We need to balance what our customers want and what they need. The difficulty in doing this is that our customers don’t oftenknow what they need. This means we must invent on behalf of our customers.

Apple is at the forefront of doing this correctly. Case in point, the iPod. If Steve Jobs and the Apple team had asked us, ”What do you want?” we would have said, “A MP3 player that holds 1000′s of songs” because it’s what we wanted.

Instead, Apple built a device that could not only hold thousands of songs but also get us from song one to two-hundred in a matter of seconds. We didn’t know we needed the scroll wheel to improve the user experience. If Apple had listened to what we wanted then they wouldn’t be the brand they are today.

Netflix is no different than Apple. They didn’t simply build stores to compete with Blockbuster. They created an on-demand internet streaming experience by inventing on our behalf. As we know, Blockbuster is no more and Netflix is an admired and celebrated brand.

The best way to make your business vulnerable to competition is to simply remain happy with the status quo or only make minor improvements. Think differently! Host strategy meetings with your team, share crazy ideas and see what sticks. Companies that invent on behalf of customers win!

Are you building based on what your customers want or inventing on their behalf?

 

Build Trust and Sell Your Customers Anything

Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO

Brian Chesky, Airbnb CEO

While recently at Toronto’s Pearson airport, I read a Fast Company article on how Airbnb is going to expand on their end to end hospitality experience. By offering additional services to their home and apartment sharing service, Airbnb will be adding airport pickups, room cleaning and other services to complement their core business which will inevitably increase their revenue and value.

This lead me to think of other brands that began selling a single item who now sell us more than they originally advertised.

Amazon began their humble operations in the 1990’s selling us books out of a garage. A young, motivated Jeff Bezos lead his enterprise to a company that now, almost literally, sells us everything.

A more recent example is Uber: the transportation disruptor that offers a solution to a pain point which is the traditional taxi experience. Many of those that have used Uber have become addicted to their service and experience. Uber’s recent round of venture capital from Google Ventures and TPG at $258MM can only give us optimism that they will also inevitably expand their operations to offer other services.

Note: Something will happen with Uber and Google’s self-driving car. I can only imagine, and hope, that if I want my laundry delivered, I will use the Uber app and a self-driving car will deliver it to me without having to leave my home.

Now, a company offering additional services isn’t worth a blog post. The only reason these companies are able to offer other services to grow their business is because they have earned the trust of their customers with their flagship offering.

This lends itself to journalism as well. Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher developed a loyalty with their readers by providing value when writing for the All Things D website. When they launched Re/code it was, from my perspective, an immediate success.

The customer experience coach and keynote speaker in me will tell you that the only way to build trust is by delivering an exceptional, consistent, predictable and memorable experience.

Having this trust gives you an advantage far beyond increased revenue. This leverage not only allows you to expand your business and add new verticals, but further puts you in a position of power against your competition. It erects barriers around your business.

When it comes to branding, it builds a sense of peace of mind with your customers that no branding expert or designer could ever create for you. It’s psychological.

Allow me to be bold (or least think I am) when I say this next statement:

You haven’t earned the right to cross or upsell your customers until you’ve built trust first.

When you’ve earned trust, you will have your customers eating out of the palm of your hand. Too many companies have customer acquisition backwards. Rather than hunting for new customers and revenue opportunities, emphasize on building trust first and watch your company grow organically with the customers you already have.

What is your company doing to build customer trust?

How to Turn a Complaining Customer Into an Asset

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It is human nature to react when a customer complains about your service or product, particularly if the customer expresses anger, frustration, disappointment or hostility. I’ll cut right to the chase: effectively handling complaints requires most of us to shift our way of thinking. We need to set our egos aside and view a complaining customer as an opportunity to better understand our customer experience and be open to change.

Every company needs an effective system for dealing with complaints to ensure your customer service system is top notch. Sure, you may have a system in place, but is it helping improve your customer experience or simply putting out fires?

Ensuring your customer service team understands the difference between a complaint and a personal attack is the first priority. The customer almost always is complaining about a failed product or service, not the failure of the individual he is speaking to about the problem. Still, customers can be challenging to speak with, and downright unpleasant at times. How your customer service team responds, such as communicating the process they will undertake to resolve the complaint, should give the customer peace of mind and demonstrate that the organization genuinely cares about resolving complaints.

Another shift in thinking could be viewing complaints as positive – blessings in disguise – since they can illuminate where your service or product needs improvement. When a customer complains, thank them for bringing the matter to your attention and giving the company the opportunity to improve the product/service. Of course, you’re not likely to make a significant change to your product or service after just one complaint. However, complaint number one is a good time to start gathering more data month over month to see if other customers are saying the same thing. Listen to your customers! They are the end users and often know your service and product better than you do.

If a customer complains, have you lost them forever? Absolutely not! In fact, resolving your customer’s complaint quickly may earn you higher customer loyalty than if the service or product delivered correctly the first time. We can all relate to the experience of complaining to a company, but not having a timely response, or worse, having our complaint be rejected always reflects poorly on the brand. All that marketing you do to increase customer acquisition is wasted by not figuring out how to protect your brand and increase retention.

Ask yourself, “Does my company spend as much on retention as they do on acquisition?” I imagine that they don’t.

One missing system in most organizations is that there is no set service level agreement (SLA) to escalate and resolve complaints. Not having a SLA for this will result in a fragmented process that has no internal goal which ultimately affects your customer’s experience. Go out and set your SLA’s for complaint management.

One thing you do not want to do is simply reimburse or discount the customer who is complaining without taking any other actions. It’s easy to throw money at a problem and hope it goes away but this is not what your customers are looking for. They are looking for you to make things right in an operational way as well. Your customers are looking to hear what actions you will take next to ensure that it’s unlikely that the same issue will arise. Let the customer know what you are going to do about the matter along with the financial compensation they may be looking for.

“Mrs. Johnson, I greatly apologize for the inconvenience we have caused. As promised, I will be reimbursing you for the amount you suggested. Equally as important, I will be speaking with our customer service representative that provided the incorrect information to you as I feel there is a great learning and training opportunity here…”

Do this to not only give the customer peace of mind that you are doing your very best to ensure their concern doesn’t resurface, but to show them you would appreciate another chance to rebuild their trust. I can tell you first hand, customers love this!

Everyone wants to be heard. And we can all appreciate acknowledgement of a wrongdoing and a strong effort to make up for that mistake. So I encourage you to embrace complaints! Buried within them you may find your diamond in the rough: the areas where you need to re-evaluate your service or product to ensure you’re not only meeting customer expectations, but exceeding them.

As business professionals, we all recognize that we need to manage our customer complaints. But, when will be put as much effort into customer retention as we do acquisition? At my past employer, we were able to reduce system wide customer complaints, in a franchise model, by 33% in three months by creating a process which helped us understand our customer aversions.

Properly listening to customers negative feedback can make them an asset and help grow your customer intelligence.

Let’s ensure our expectations as consumers is aligned with what we deliver as professionals. In other words, if you’re going to demand that a company responds to your complaints immediately you better do the same within your business.

How to Avoid These Four Customer Loyalty Obstacles

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I don’t think I need to convince you of the importance of having loyal customers to support your business. Customer loyalty influences organic growth (repeat purchases and word of mouth marketing) which can be the most profitable way to grow a business. However, some companies may never achieve customer loyalty because of four key reasons.

1. Not accurately identifying your loyal customers

Who are your most loyal customers? You must be able to answer this question in order to better understand how to achieve true customer loyalty. Many businesses may have an idea who their most loyal customers are based on intuition but you need data to support this. Once you have identified who your supporters are, you can then begin to understand what their desires and motivations are.

2. Discounting doesn’t provide 100% loyalty

Your most loyal customers are supportive to your organization because of quality, not because of a discounted price. Often, customers will pay a premium for a superior customer experience rather than a bargain rate. Consumers that focus their attention on price can often be lured away by another company that is providing a lower price. The price game doesn’t earn true customer loyalty.

3. Trying to make everyone loyal is a fools game

You must accept the fact that not everyone will be loyal to your brand. Trying to make everyone loyal will test your endurance and may negatively effect your morale as you inevitably find that this isn’t possible. If you’re familiar with the Net Promoter System, customers who rate your service or product a 7-8 (passives) are often customers who aren’t loyal. Although, you always want to stay focused on your entire customer base, paying particular attention to detractors (those that give a score of 0-6) and promoters (9-10) will be more valuable to your organization because they highlight your strengths and your weaknesses.

4. Not being able to think long term 

Growing a foundation of customers who are genuinely loyal to your brand can take years. Those who are able to think long term will be able to make strategic decisions which will support their organizations growth for years to come. To achieve customer loyalty, make decisions in the short term that will positively effect your long term customer initiatives and programs.

 
The 28 Traits of Organizations Who Are Customer Experience Titans

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