Why Customer Experience is Your Brand

Why should you understand customer experience and make sure it's a part of your business plan? Because customer experience is your business. It is the look & feel, product, marketing, and relationships that your company creates. It's the sum of all the parts. It's your brand, baby!

Imagine You Walk into a Store…

So imagine you walk into a store for the first time and as you're pausing at the door getting an idea of where you might want to browse first, a clerk pops up with a clipboard and asks you for your email address. She steps right in front of you, and the only way to move ahead is to tell her (politely) no. Then imagine you approach a counter with some beautiful baubles that you'd like to take a closer look at, and another clerk appears and tells you that you have to step into a different room if you want to examine baubles. Feeling a bit frustrated, you wander over to the electronics section where as soon as you stop in front of a TV it bursts to life, blaring a loud video at you, causing everyone around you to turn and look.

Now you're really freaked out, and as you're rushing to the door, a great sale on widgets catches your eye. So okay, for such a good price, you'll stop and buy a widget. But in order to do it, you have to fill out a form, and another form. And the clerk points out (rudely) that you didn't do the first form right, so you have to do it over-you can't just fill in the place you left blank, you have to start completely over.

And then you have to take your form across the department store to yet another room, where they will arrange shipping-and there are more forms. If you're lucky you'll have filled them all out correctly, so you finally get to hand your credit card to the clerk, who goes away and doesn't return for a long, long time, but leaves a spinning thing for you to watch.

Just when you're about to give up, the clerk is back and tells you that the widget you just bought will be delivered to your home in 5-10 working days (and delivery cost you $25), and you're shown out the back door of the store into the alley.

If you had this experience at a brick & mortar store, would you ever go back?

Customer Experience = Brand Management

The brand manager is the person responsible for  ensuring that your experience at their store (or website, or PaaS or App) is a wonderful experience. The brand manager oversees more than just designing the logo or the Look & Feel of the app. Developing and promoting the brand of your company includes making sure that what you sell and how you sell it are consistent across all areas of the product, the store and the company.

Brand management is a communication function that includes analysis and planning on how that brand is positioned in the market, which target public the brand is targeted at, and maintaining a desired reputation of the brand. Developing a good relationship with target publics is essential for brand management. Tangible elements of brand management include the product itself; look, price, the packaging, etc. The intangible elements are the experience that the consumer takes away from the brand, and also the relationship that they have with that brand. A brand manager would oversee all of these things. Wikipedia

It's All a User Experience Problem

If your platform isn't selling, it's a brand management problem: customers don't like it, it's too expensive, they can't make it work, they don't understand it. If your sales people aren't selling, guess what? It's still a brand management problem. It all comes down to whether your customers want to use your product.

Here's a handy gantt chart to show how product development, business and marketing intersect and overlap. Oh, and what's at the center of brand management? User research. (Fancy that.)

Good Brand Management is Easy (but not Simple)

It's easy to make customers happy, you just have to figure out what they like and give it to them. It's the figuring out that isn't simple.

It's especially difficult when you realize how much of your business is involved in creating that user experience. From how the product functions (do you throw up window and demand an email every time the user clicks a button?) to how you charge for your product (pay-to-play, fremiums, CPM/CPC) to how you market your product (Twitter, display ads, branding), all need to be evaluated based on the customer experience. Brands that iterate without collecting any data spin wheels and waste money.

The Founder is (should be) the Brand Manager

In an early-stage startup, the founder, whether she knows it or not, is the brand manager because she decides what the company does and how it will do it. Steve Jobs was the brand manager of Apple, and the reason Apple products shot to the top of the ecosystem was because he made sure all products coming out of the company adhered to his brand standards of elegance, usability and performance. Take a look at the Apple website and notice that everything has the same Look & Feel, functions in approximately the same way, and give the customer the feeling that Apple will take care of all his needs. That's good brand management. Then walk into an Apple store. It's exactly the same.

Look at how the landing page at Apple.com is as clean, simple and has the same limited palette as the iPhones and every other apple product. That's excellent brand management at work.

When the product is your storefront, your brand, your technology, and your customer service, it cannot be relegated to the product side of the business. A good product with a bad business model is as annoying to the customer as a free product that doesn't work. Either one, drives your customers away.

This means a single individual must make cascading decisions about what to build, why to build it, how to build it and how to promote it, and dictate that to the rest of the company. Read more about setting up a lean, integrated startup team here. Obviously, that individual should be informed by the experts at building (engineers) designing (UX), advertising and sales, but since all the parts must work together, the guy at the top has to see the full picture. Even the business model itself evolves out of the product. (Imagine how much less popular iPods would have been if there was no iTunes store where you could buy the music.)

What's Your Customer Experience?

So think about what it's like for a customer to use your website, app, or PaaS. Imagine it's a store IRL, what kind of customer experience are you providing? Are you Wal-Mart or Saks? Do you take care of your customer's needs, or are you demanding and rude? Have you tested your technology with people who didn't build it and don't know where to find the sort tab, or is all testing done with internal folks who already know the product inside and out? (If they built it, they can't test the UX-they know it too well.)

Customer experience must inform all your advertising, marketing and sales. If the product fails, no amount of promoted Tweets will make people come back twice.

Previously published in Starting from Zero.