Companies are constantly making promises to their customers and prospects during every interaction as well as through advertisements and on social media. But customers don't judge the organizations they do business with on what they say, but rather on whether they deliver on their promises, making it essential to ensure that the customer experience lives up to the brand promise.

Although the practice of overpromising and under-delivering isn't new, today's customers have the tools and resources to expect a higher level of transparency. Further, customers have the ability to quickly and easily tell the world when a brand fails to live up to their expectations. "The dirty laundry is out there because of social media," says Loni Kao Stark, director of product and industry marketing at Adobe's Digital Marketing Solutions.

This phenomenon means that organizations have no choice but to make sure that they are delivering on their promises and living up to their customers' expectations. Otherwise, not only will they risk losing their existing customers, but will also gain a reputation that they don't keep their word and are therefore not trustworthy.  "In the world of social media and digitally connected customers, only the authentic brands will survive," Stark says.

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While it might seem obvious, organizations must first ensure that they're not making promises that they can't keep. Brad Smith, Sage's executive vice president for customer experience, notes that it's common for organizations to fall into this trap, even if not intentionally. "You need to be in constant contact with your customers to know exactly what they're expecting from you," he notes.

 

Understanding and managing customers' expectations

Organizations need to keep in mind that customer expectations have gone up dramatically and they are no longer being measured solely against their competitors. Instead, customers are measuring each interaction against their best-ever experience with the likes of Amazon and Zappos, which are renowned for their fantastic customer service and have raised the bar on what's acceptable and what isn't. "Every business is in competition with the big successes," Smith says.

In order to make sure that they're reaching, if not surpassing, expectations, organizations need to first determine what their customers expect from them. Smith says brands need to keep an ongoing dialogue with customers to understand exactly what they want and then compare their expectations to what the company is delivering. Stark agrees, adding that one way for companies to test whether they're keeping their promises is to methodically analyze customer reviews to make sure both the product and service is up to their expectations.

Semi-conductors manufacturer Intersil does just that. According to Robert Reneau, the company's senior web business manager, Intersil conducts regular customer surveys to monitor whether it's meeting its brand promise to be "Simply Smarter." Reneau adds that the company closely reviews its surveys and takes action on the insights gathered. For example, a survey carried out last year uncovered that customers were encountering difficulties when looking for information, a challenge that defied the brand promise of  being "Simply Smarter" by enabling simple interactions with customers and making it easier for clients to do business with Intersil. This insight triggered a company decision to revamp its website and prioritize ease-of-use.

Analyzing feedback to ensure a company is delivering on its brand promise is paramount, but so is having a proactive strategy for reaching out to customers to determine whether the experience is aligned to the brand promise. This is especially important since many customers simply stop doing business with a company rather than complain. Zhecho Dobrev, consultant and project manager at Beyond Philosophy, says that since only a small percentage of dissatisfied customers complain, in many instances organizations aren't fully aware of the full scale of the problem. However, deflecting customers will relate their negative experiences to several acquaintances, and social media will magnify their voices even further.

Dobrev warns organizations to not stop with formulating a brand identity. "You also need to align the organizational goals to the brand values, and clearly define behaviors to help employees bring the brand to life," he says. Thus, one of the first steps is to clearly define the customer experience that the organization is trying to deliver to all departments. Dobrev says a "customer experience statement" should be used "as a guiding light" to the employee behaviors and customer experience the organization should be portraying. "Without having defined the experience you want to provide, different departments—and people—will have a different view as to what's the right thing to do and the result will be a disjointed experience," he says. The next step, Dobrev says, is to make sure that every part of the organization understands the brand promise and executes it. For example, handmade cosmetics retailer Lush, Dobrev adds, walks the walk by acting on its promise to be green and using organic biodegradable materials to ship orders.

 

Keeping the promise throughout the customer journey and across multiple channels

Despite their best intentions, many organizations fail to deliver an experience that reflects their brand promise throughout the customer journey. "Every experience a customer has with a company and at every touchpoint needs to reflect the brand promise," says Larry Freed, ForeSee's CEO. He notes that businesses which fail to provide a consistent experience across different channels will lose customers' trust, leading to a negative overall experience.

To ensure that its delivering a consistent cross-channel  customer experience, Harry Rosen applies a three-pronged strategy—observe, gather feedback, and train and coach—to make sure that it's living up to its brand promise throughout the customer journey, says Stephen Jackson, chief information officer of the high-end men's retailer. The organization prides itself not only with offering its customers high-quality apparel, but also promises to deliver "unparalleled sales service." This includes keeping customers informed of events that are relevant to them, for example a new shipment of their favorite designer. The company provides associates with electronic lists of customers who should be contacted, and managers follow up with the associates to make sure that the communication took place. Further, in order to guarantee it's delivering on its promises, the organization contacts clients within 30 days of making a purchase to ensure they're happy with both the item of clothing and their overall experience. "We monitor this very closely to make sure we deliver on what we're promising," Jackson says. Lastly, the organization puts a lot of emphasis on training its associates to deliver the brand promise through great service throughout the experience, whether they're helping a customer choose an outfit in the store and during follow-up calls.

Ultimately, unless organizations are delivering an experience that reflects their brand promise, they will be considered dishonest and today's connected customers will not only stop doing business with them, but will tell their contacts about their negative experience.