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Rajesh Srinivasan

In 2011, in his documentary called the secrets of superbrands  BBC’s reporter Alex Riley revealed stunning news about the famous technology brand Apple that came as a surprise to a lot of people in the business world. He discovered that Apple Stimulates ‘Religious’ Reaction In their Fans’ Brains.

During his study, Riley joined a troop of ardent fans at the magnificent opening of Apple’s Covent Garden store, which he equates to “an evangelical prayer meeting.”

In his preview post about the documentary series, Alex observed that – “The Bishop of Buckingham who reads his Bible on an iPad  explained to me the similarities between Apple and a religion. And when a team of neuroscientists with an MRI scanner took a look inside the brain of an Apple fanatic it seemed the bishop was on to something. The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith.”

How can a brand which sells technology products like smartphones and music devices can induce such an extreme fanatism and zealotry in his customers like a religion?

It’s because Apple focuses not just on selling products but also built an ecosystem that delivers a sensational customer experience. 

To build a sustainable brand that converts the customers into fans, companies need a new mindset that boldly questions their conventional approach while developing their brand strategy. 

According to PwC, 42% of worldwide consumers are willing to pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience. On the other hand, 65% find a positive experience with a brand that is more influential than having a great advertising strategy. 

In order to move beyond conventional visibility and advertising-based branding, businesses need to understand the economics of customer loyalty and brand experiences. 

How does customer loyalty translate into cost savings? Consider the cost of serving a long-standing customer versus the cost of acquiring one. According to Bain & Company, across a wide range of businesses, customers generate increasing profits each year they stay with a company. 

For example, a 5% increase in customer retention produces more than a 25% increase in profit in financial services. It is because return customers tend to buy more from a company over time. While doing that the operating costs to serve them decline. Along with that return customers refer others to your company. Often, they will pay a premium to continue to do business with you rather than switch to a competitor with whom they are neither familiar nor comfortable.

Delivering a high and mighty customer experience at every customer touchpoint consistently is definitely a gargantuan task. Because it is an attitude than just a process and is also the imperative of the entire organization, not just the top management. Companies need to shift their thinking from short-term transactions to the emotional side (care and support) of the equation. 

World’s best brands like Amazon and Apple which ranked as no.1 and 2 in the world’s best brands ranking by Brandz strongly evangelize customer-centricity as part of their growth strategy and culture. 

Ensure the entire company is rowing in the same direction.

In the 1920s, industrial psychologist Otto Köhler asked rowers of the Berlin Rowing club to curl a ninety-seven-pound bar as many times as they could until they were too tired to go on. After this Köhler had the rowers do curls in groups of two or three, holding a bar that was precisely two or three times as heavy to ensure each rower was lifting the same weight as before. He found that the rowers were able to do significantly more repetitions in groups than they could on their own. Following research has specified that this happens, at least in part, because people don’t want to be seen as the weak link holding back everyone else. They are more motivated when they know a group’s outcome is depending on their performance.

Social scientists call this the Köhler effect and this is the central theme behind building a customer-centric organization. A company can’t directly be compared with a rowing team and yet people still work harder and produce results when they are all rowing in the same direction with a clear vision and purpose – and when they know other people like their co-workers and customers are counting on them. 

As a leader, the most significant thing one can do is to emphasize that the collective purpose is bigger than any individual and that every single person has a stake in fulfilling it.

The Zappos Effect – a holistic approach to deliver a Wow Customer Experience 

If you want to deliver a wow customer experience, you need to have an all-inclusive and rounded approach right from the value proposition, hiring the right employees who can fit the organization’s culture, set right policies that keep the customer delight in mind.

Zappos – a U.S based online shoe retailer is a perfect example of this. Zappos offers customers a huge assortment–four million pairs of shoes (and other items like handbags and apparel) in a warehouse in Kentucky next to a UPS hub. It also offers free delivery and free returns–if customers don’t like the shoes, they box them up and send them back to Zappos for no charge.

It’s not just this value proposition that makes Zappos a front-runner. But it is the emotional connection that makes a difference. This company is fanatical about great service – not just satisfying customers, but delighting them. The company promises free, four-day delivery. That’s pretty good. But most of the time it delivers next-day service, a surprise that leaves a lasting impression on customers: “You said four days, but I got them the next morning.”

How Zappos Customer Service is unique and different ?

1. Easy-to-find Call-centre phone number

Zappos has mastered the art of telephone service – a shortcoming for most of the e-commerce companies. The company publishes its 1-800 number on every single page of the website so that the visitors can reach them easily to resolve their queries quickly.

2. No restriction on call duration

Most of the call centres set call duration limits for the customer service agents to enable them to attend more calls and become more productive. But most of the time, it acts as an impediment to servicing the customers also.

In Zappos, customer service calls can take as long as they need to take. The length of calls is not limited by company call time parameters. The objective is to resolve the customer queries and, in the end, delight them. Zappos even has a Guinness world record for the longest customer service call (10 hours, 51 minutes). You read it right. It’s Ten hours. Fifty-one minutes.

3. No Interactive Voice Response system (IVR)

Let’s admit. We all face this problem – calling a company with an issue we need help with, and ending up talking to an automaton machine is perhaps one of the worst experiences ever. 

Zappos customers never have to succumb attempting to navigate a complicated IVR system to reach their agents — and, a live human being generally answers all calls in less than one minute. Breath-taking, right? Who likes being on hold? 

4. No prewritten scripts

Every conversation between Zappos service reps is as different as the personalities of their customers. They enable their employees to engage in real conversations specific to their customers’ own needs and based on the mood they are in. The conversations range from no-nonsense order taking, exchanges and returns, to chats about everything from current events to kids, pets, sports, and the weather!

5. No upselling

Most companies train their call centre reps and set targets for them to upsell additional products to their customers. This forces agents to sell things which customers don’t really need and at the same time leads to customer frustration and churn.

Although Zappos.com sells over four million items, you won’t find them pushing customers to buy more than what they really need. 

Their internal policies are set around meeting the customer’s need, providing the best resolution for them. That’s why their customers say more often, “I love Zappos!”

How long can you go to hire the right people?

Zappos, CEO Tony Hsieh recognizes that delivering wow customer service is not a cakewalk. He needs to have the right people who fit the company’s ‘customer-delight’ culture.

So, when Zappos includes new employees, it provides a four-week training period to help them acknowledge the company’s strategy, culture, and obsession with customers. People get full salary during this period.

After this 4-week immersive experience, Zappos gives a ‘Unique Offer.” which no one in the industry gives to the new recruits. The company, which works hard to recruit the right people to join, declares to its newest employees: “If you quit today, we will pay you for the amount of time you’ve worked, plus we will offer you a $1,000 bonus.” 

Zappos essentially bribes its new employees to quit!

Why they do this?

It’s the test of attitude and sense of commitment which Zappos is looking for in their new recruits and the company is willing to pay to learn sooner rather than later if there’s a bad fit.

It’s tough to describe the level of energy in the Zappos culture – which means, by definition, it’s not for everybody. 

Undeniably, CEO Tony Hsieh (unfortunately Tony died on November 27th at the age of 46 while I write this article about him) and his colleagues keep rising the size of the quit-now bonus. It started at $100, went to $500, and may even go higher than $1,000 as the company gets bigger.

This small hiring practice has big implications: Companies don’t engage emotionally with their customers – employees do. If you want to create an outstanding brand experience, you have to fill your company with outstanding people. 

How are you making sure that you’re employing the right people? And how much are you willing to pay to find out them? – That’s a million-dollar question every CEO needs to ask.

In most of the business categories where the product and service has become a commodity, customer experience can be a real differentiator. Though most companies have the right intent to deliver a top-notch customer experience, most of them lack proper process, infrastructure, systems, people, and policies to translate their dream into action.

Also, with the advent of the internet and social media, the game of branding has taken a total shift. Consumer’s trust in advertising and paid marketing efforts have been declining and they rely on the recommendations of other people on social media platforms, their friends, and colleagues to make the purchase decisions.

To build a customer experience brand, a company, without any doubt has to invest in the right technology, hire the right people and empower them, get rid of conventional policies, and break silos through tight internal alignment. 

All these extra mile efforts will eventually turn your customers into fans and I think, that is the ultimatum of any brand strategy.

Rajesh Srinivasan
Rajesh Srinivasan

Rajesh Srinivasan is a Marketing Strategy Consultant, Author and Keynote speaker. He is the Founder of Mindful Marketing – a boutique growth strategy firm and works with entrepreneurs as their Outsourced Chief Marketing Officer to grow their revenues and build powerful brands. He is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management Lucknow’s Executive Leadership Program.

Posted in Guest Articles By Rajesh Srinivasan   Date December 9, 2020

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