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The Joneses Are Not Your Customers

Brian Cantor

You need to "compete on the customer experience." You need to "be like Disney." When it comes to today’s breed of customer management, you are asked to rise to the standard set by the cross-industry elite. Ignoring what your competitors or counterparts are doing is considered as destructive as flushing money down the toilet.

Unfortunately, there is also an inherent flaw associated with efforts to "keep up with the Joneses." The Joneses are not your customers.


There is absolutely merit to coveting the strategies that work for organizations like Zappos, the Ritz-Carlton and Apple. These organizations have achieved significant success by engaging their agents and creating an enjoyable, personalized atmosphere for customer interactions. These organizations are making the most of their customer management budgets, and it makes sense to desire similar efficiency and efficacy.

But the harm in that emulative philosophy is mistaking which aspect of the Whole Foods or USAA experience truly should be mirrored. Too often, customer management leaders focus on the initiatives themselves and push to incorporate certain "best practices" into their organizations. They want a fun work atmosphere that resembles a rec room more than it does a call center. They want a storefront that feels more like a social ground than it does a place of business.

They believe that "being like Zappos" is about ripping pages from the Zappos playbook and spending millions of dollars to recreate the customer experience standout’s specific strategies and environments to the T.

Let’s put a throne in our office. Let’s get our human resources team on board with "The Offer."

Without reaching too far in this argumentation, many organizations can benefit from replicating those environments. "Happy agents yield happy customers," after all. And one would be hard pressed to identify the destructiveness in making the point of sale a place of harmony and friendliness.

What, then, is the problem?

The problem is that successful customer experience strategies are dictated by the customer rather than the competition. Organizational culture should produce agents who create the experience customers want. Product quality, pricing and customer service should align with what the customers hope to acquire from the brand. And performance should be measured based on the expectations the customers have for the brand’s delivery.

Competing on the customer experience is not about racing to implement the same practices your competitors have implemented or will implement. It is not about opening a Google Plus account because you see other firms using it successfully. It is not about having office parties because some of the most customer-centric organizations throw parties. It is not about offering expansive return policies because customers are satisfied with their return experiences elsewhere.

When trying to mirror or, more importantly, surpass what others are doing in customer management, the focus is squarely on replicating and besting the relationships these organizations have with their customers.

It is not the strategies themselves that warrant replication; the real blueprint is in how these strategies connect to the needs, wants and expectations of the audience.

Today’s customer management professionals often find themselves in a state of battle with their C-suite and other business stakeholders. While executives are increasingly recognizing the value of the customer experience and certainly know that greater satisfaction and loyalty translate into greater revenue, they are not granting customer management functions carte blanche to do exactly as they want. They expect accountability. They expect results.

Their philosophy for betterment must therefore be similarly driven by results. They should not be looking to the Apple store and figuring out how they can create the same environment in their store fronts. They should be looking at how Apple has benefited from crafting a storefront that connects its culture to the culture of the customers and determine how to recreate that bond in a way that drives heightened satisfaction, heightened loyalty and, ultimately, heightened revenue.

That bond is what truly defines the "Apple experience" for loyal customers, and when those customers evaluate the experience they receive from other providers inside and outside the tech sector, they will be assessing whether other organizations are working as hard to achieve a similar or superior bond.

They are not going to say, "This store does not have a Genius Bar. I’m out." They will, however, say, "This store is not making an effort to simplify, hasten and personalize the customer service process in a manner that is appropriate for the product. I’m out."

Competing on the customer experience is not about doing what others are doing, because others have different audiences and different relationship goals to achieve with those audiences. It is about valuing the customer relationship the way the best-in-class are valuing their customer relationships and then letting strategies and practices flow in response to the customer’s voice, not from "best practice" case studies or management textbooks.

If customers do not desire to engage with your brand the way they want to engage with Zappos, there is no value in structuring your customer management function to mirror that engagement.

The value in replicating Disney’s strategies, in "keeping up with the Joneses," is determining what strategies and culture will make your customers as satisfied and excited to engage with you as they are when they engage with Disney.

And if your brand is not Disney and your customers are not Disney’s customers, it is a certainty that the competitive pressure will manifest itself in different, unique strategies that speak precisely—and exclusively—to strength of the bond between your brand and your brand’s specific audience.

Image credit: DJH57