Enhancing Your Company Brand…Just Add ICE

By Tim Searcy

For a company to experience success, longevity, and profitability, branding is crucial. So often, however, the building blocks of a company’s brand focus primarily on the company name, its logo, and printed materials. Companies can create the catchiest name, the most eye-appealing logo, and the printed materials to pull all of that together in collateral so intriguing people that discuss it around the watercooler at work. All of these elements aid in the success of the brand, hence, the success of the company. But something is missing. Will a name, a logo, and marketing collateral actually sustain your customer base, the foundation of your company’s profitability? Perhaps the most essential, yet most underrated element of the company brand is the customer experience. So what is the ideal brand? The Ideal Customer Experience (ICE). Creating ICE establishes the loyalty of your customer base and inspires positive word of mouth, thereby creating new customers.

Brand is ambiguous: Everyone has their own idea (and they are often quick to point it out) of what it takes to improve the customer experience. “The customer is always right.” “Never say ‘no’.” The expressions (often clichés) are endless. The customer experience is comprised of the feeling the customer has before they’ve interacted with your company, how they feel during their interaction, and, most importantly, their impression of your company when their interaction concludes.  ICE is an outcome of understanding expectations, delivering on the brand promise, and going “above and beyond” their expectations. Would you ever consciously neglect ICE in the creation, establishment, or continuity of your successful brand? Of course not! However, unintended or expense-driven exclusions are the triggers for negative word of mouth, public customer complaints, and even legislative repercussions.

Consider the current state of the teleservices channel – specifically, customer service and telesales.  A lack of positive, or ideal, customer experience spawned legislative uproars, new laws regulating the industry, and the promise of even more unwanted government attention in the future. Companies recognize that public praise from customers is infrequent, so the means by which daily satisfaction can be measured involves the number of complaints which are logged. Certainly, satisfaction surveys can be a service performance measurement on a quarterly or annual basis. However, the absence or presence of customer complaints is also an excellent gauge of the customers’ day-to-day experiences.

Resolution through ICE: For 2006, the convention theme was “Maximizing the Ideal Customer Experience.” Our goal this year was to assemble a roster of speakers with expertise at various stages of a customer’s experience with the teleservices channel to speak on what works – and what doesn’t work – in creating ICE. Each presenter shared best practices, real world experiences, and case studies on various topics ranging from compliance and regulation to technology and contact center management to offshore and outsourcing. We shared the challenges we face in our respective industries, opportunities for improvement of operations, enhancements of service delivery, and incorporations of better measurements in operations, sales, and marketing. All aspects of our education highlighted the desire we have within the teleservices channel to brand our companies by delivering ICE.

Three keynote speakers provided three steps to solve the problems the teleservices channel faces at the interaction level with their customer base and target markets:

Creating the Promise of the ICE, presented by James Lyons, president, Optima Direct/Rapp Collins Worldwide: Building the promise of ICE falls to the responsibility of advertising and marketing professionals who create the experience for the customers. Their tactics deliver the impression of the service to be provided. From the packaging of the product to the display of the product in retail stores, from the ad campaign in a national publication, to the cozy cocktail hour networking event, advertising and marketing professionals define the experience the customer is going to have. They tell consumers what to expect from a brand, but the real equities are created by the experience of the brand in action. Successful branding involves understanding the customer experience with your brand, delivering the right message to the right customer at the right time, ensuring organizational alignment behind the customers (companywide support, commitment, and passion), and continual measurement and fine-tuning of the strategy.

Managing the ICE, presented by Toni Portmann, president & CEO, Stream: Advertising and marketing professionals have created and communicated a promise to the customer. It is that promise that the customer now expects; therefore, that promise must be fulfilled or the customer is lost. For the teleservices channel, the responsibility of fulfilling the promise lies with the contact center support professional. Did the support professional observe all relevant policies and procedures required by the customer? Did the support professional demonstrate a level of knowledge allowing for resolution of the customer’s issue? Did the support professional display a professional and respectful demeanor throughout the call? “No” to any of these questions creates a lack of ICE. “Yes” to all of these questions tackles an obstacle few conquer: adopt the point of view of the customer. Ms. Portman’s presentation offered an invaluable recipe of coaching, hiring, and training tactics to ensure contact centers have the right point of view in mind.

Measuring the ICE, presented by Steven F. Walker, chairman of the board, president, and CEO, Walker Information Inc.: Loyalty is crucial for ICE. Steven Walker knows this and dedicates himself and his company to Customer Loyalty Management (CLM). Analyze and measure customer behavior, benchmark those findings with those of your competitors, define the points of performance that matter most to your customers, and modify your service accordingly. Good measurement will highlight customers you are about to lose and customers you have not yet targeted, but who need your services desperately. When will you know that you have mastered ICE with a customer? They will tell you. And, more importantly, they will tell others.

What is Ideal Customer Experience? Your customers know, and it is up to you to find out. ICE is not a destination you will reach and then be able to prop your feet up and sigh, “Yes, we’ve done it! Case closed.” It is a moving target with constantly changing opinions and expectations. You, too, are a customer. What do you want and need in your ICE? Maintain that perspective when establishing your brand beyond your name, logo, and print collateral. Pay attention to what your customers say and what they do. Then create expectations, deliver on them, and continually measure them. Finally, be prepared to act on the results – good or bad – and take ownership of your company brand.

[From Connection Magazine November 2006]