The following article is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of The Alignment Advantage.
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As the ALIGNED®️ methodology developed over the years and what we now call the alignment advantage became clear, what we now know as the X had several iterations and focuses.
For a time, we focused on brand and all that comes with understanding what brand really is and what it stands for. We worked on the basis that brand and customer experience are indistinguishable. This was a useful position for a while, but it soon became clear that customer experience and brand are two different sides of the same coin. They have so much in common, but they aren’t the same thing. They have some unique inputs and drivers and require different measures.
In time, we worked with more organisations using the ALIGNED®️ methodology and we examined and modelled many more. We realised that when an organisation’s thinking and action appertaining to brand and customer experience are fully aligned, then their customers, guests, visitors or clients feel an x-factor. At that moment, the X was born.
The X is the combination of brand in its truest sense and customer experience in its most complete form.
More on the service/experience distinction
I once met with the Head of Customer Experience for one of the big four UK supermarkets. We chatted informally about all things customer. She was talented, charismatic and open. She told me about various customer initiatives they had put in place, including the engagement of, at great expense, a new agency to carry out all of their in-store mystery shopping.
After a while, I asked the experience question: if I were to come into one of your stores, what would be the experience that you would want me to have that would be distinct from your competitors? After some considerable contemplation, she confessed that she had never considered that question before. I asked her how she knew what she wanted the mystery shoppers to assess. The truth was the experience that her customers had was going to be decided by the mystery shopping partner, not by those in the organisation.
What was clear from our further conversations was that they knew about their customers; they knew about their shopping habits, but they knew virtually nothing about the experiences their customers wanted to have while they were shopping. And because of this, they had no way of distinguishing themselves from their closest competitors other than price.
An experience mindset allows a distinction that includes product and price but goes beyond. There is a reason that the likes of Waitrose and Aldi have thrived outside of the traditional big four UK supermarkets. They have a clear, distinct experience.
As I highlighted in the early chapters, employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX) are intrinsically linked. I strongly believe that your CX can’t outperform your EX for any prolonged period of time. Your culture has to be shaped to deliver your customer promises.
This means that while it is possible to deliver service outcomes without too much concern about whether the culture is aligned, experience propositions can only be created and brought to life with the right culture. Customer experience is truly cultural.
Sometimes, the distinctions are small. In our work in delivering an experience proposition with a nationwide holiday park company, I asked those in the front line, ‘If you went on holiday to one of the other parks in the organisation, how would you want to be treated?’ The responses were tepid and uninspiring. We realised that their expectations were so low that they would be really happy as long as they were taken care of in the most basic ways. So we changed the question. ‘If the most important person in your life went on holiday to one of the parks in the group, how would you want them to be treated, and how would you want them to feel?’ The question garnered a radically different response.
While much work was still to be done, the genesis of their experience proposition was born.
Sometimes, the experience distinctions come from significant decisions you must make as a leadership team. One philosophical question that is useful to explore is whether you want to be Apple at its very best or Tesco at its very best.
Tesco led the UK supermarket sector in the noughties into the twenty-teens based on a deep understanding of their customers’ needs and the experiences they wanted when shopping. Tesco’s Clubcard data provided them with such detailed data that they could design each store precisely so that their customers felt they were getting exactly what they wanted, where they wanted it in their journey through the store. At its best, the Tesco experience was built on a deep understanding of customer needs.
Apple has revolutionised personal computing, mobile connections and communications, music, and more. Time and again, especially during their most iconic times, Apple would create products and experiences that we, as their customers, didn’t even know we wanted. Obvious examples include the iPod we didn’t know we needed when we were reasonably happy with our MP3 players. We didn’t know we wanted or needed a device that does the incalculable number of things that an iPhone does. We didn’t understand that we needed small devices to attach to things or people to track them on our phones.
But if we set aside the incredible products, there are other elements of the Apple experience they created that, if we had been surveyed, we would never have suggested. The whole Apple store experience was revolutionary, from the layout to the genius bar and the education sessions. Even the packaging and experience of opening an Apple product was fundamentally different, and vitally, it was different from what any customer would have asked for.
So, back to the question: does your organisation want to be Apple at its best or Tesco at its best? Do you want to create an experience your customers would never even dream of, or do you want to create experiences that meet every whim and need your customers could have? There is no correct answer, but having these conversations in your organisation is at the heart of developing your experience proposition.