The challenging economy has forced everyone to look at cutting unnecessary costs. From airlines charging for every checked bag, to restaurants not serving bread or table water unless asked, small cuts can have a deep-lasting effect.
It's easy for senior executives to lose touch with what's important (or frustrating) to their consumers, especially when it comes to the small and important details that really affect customer perception of brand experience and value. Here are some ways to experience your brand in the real world--and remind yourself how your customers see it.
Get out of your office
It should be mandatory for every senior executive in a company to experience their brand from the same perspective that the "people" do. It's imperative to get out of the corner office and mingle among the people you serve. "Easier said than done," you may think. "Who possibly has the time to get out to the stores, into the restaurants, or on a plane?" Make the time. It's an investment in understanding what is really important to your consumers. Research presentations and statistics never paint the complete picture, and oftentimes not the right one.
Get out of your comfort zone--and visit the washroom
At the start of a recent strategic brand-refresh program with a national restaurant chain, we challenged the CEO and the entire executive team to go out into their restaurants. We told them to take a good friend, order lunch, and midway through, visit the rest room with a camera, and sit on the toilet and take photos of what was around them. We told them to ask their friend to do the same thing (without the camera), and then talk about their observations over lunch. Perhaps not the most appetizing homework, but necessary--after all, rest rooms of any establishment say a lot, and customers spend thoughtful minutes in there with nothing to look at but the (empty?) toilet-paper holder. We then asked them to come to our kickoff workshop with their photos and their stories. Needless to say, the toilet talk was revealing.
Get real, and in doing so, get on the same page
The bathroom exercise forced executives to get real about their brand--experiencing it the way their customers do, not just looking at it from a distance. While it was uncomfortable for them, it set the tone for our relationship, where candor and brutal honesty are not only welcome, but expected. With the truth at the center of every challenge, unity and momentum can be created among a team to solve almost any challenge.
10 ways to get out there and experience your brand
The following are 10 ways to roll up your sleeves and act like a customer. You'll develop a new perspective and experience true customer empathy, no matter the business you're in:
- Sit in the waiting room of the ER with your son or daughter late at night and see how it feels to wait for more than 30 minutes, filling out the same paperwork over and over again. What would you change?
- Buy your product, then go straight to your competitor and do the same thing. What does your company do better? What do they do better? What did you learn?
- Order your product online and have it delivered to your home. Does the condition and appearance of your product deliver on the promise? What did it communicate?
- Dial up your own 1-800 number, listen to the hold music for two minutes and see if that doesn't raise your blood pressure. Get angry and see how long it takes you to rattle the customer service manager. What did you learn?
- Would you recommend your product to your best friend? Why? Would they recommend it to their closest friends and family?
- Offer your product to the first 10 customers you see. Ask them for their immediate feedback. Would they be willing to purchase the product?
- Use your favorite search engine and enter the name of your company’s flagship product. Hopefully you see your name at the top of the search. If it's not, why? What do the product reviews say? What else do you see? Can you even find your product? This is the information shoppers use to make their purchasing decisions.
- After using one of your most popular products, read how your product is described online. What does it offer? What does it promise? Does the description match what the product delivers?
- Go into your store and buy something. Was the experience memorable? Did it stand out as something special?
- Stop someone who walked out of your store, restaurant, or whatever type of establishment you own. Ask them how their experience was. Would they recommend it? Will they come back?
Shawn Parr is the The Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, IDEO, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie's Homegrown, The Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen and World Vision.
[Image: Flickr user Sarahnaut]