Winning in the Age of Customer Experience: Act Like a Concierge

How Brands Can Become More Customer-Centric

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I had the pleasure of spending some time with Les Binet, the head of effectiveness at Adam&EveDDB recently. He is the co-author of "The Long and the Short of It," which talks about how successful brands balance short-term and long-term marketing strategies. One of the things we chatted about was how successful brands need to be truly customer-centric in both what they say and how they act. Importantly, a brand should understand the role that it plays in people's lives -- that tricky spot where brands need to be careful not to overplay their role and importance in customers' lives.

The metaphor we talked about was how brands should think of themselves as being like a brilliant concierge, focused on delivering an exceptional customer experience, but in an appropriate way. Brands could learn a lot from how a successful concierge behaves -- they must be predictive and anticipate customers' needs, provide utility, understand what makes people tick and have a clear and well-defined purpose.

Brands have access to an unparalleled amount of data. But it is how they use that data that is key. Like a good concierge, brands should use this data to be ready and one step ahead. "We noticed it was your birthday so we have provided flowers or a bottle of wine in advance;" or, "Here's another great restaurant we thought you'd like."

Some brands do this brilliantly -- Amazon, for example. It anticipates my future shopping needs by curating several lists of products that I may be interested in, based on how I've already used its search function. Brands curate experiences that they think users would like based upon their previous behavior, and in the process add real value.

This brings me to utility. Why does a concierge exist if not to make the customer experience more useful? A brand, like a concierge, must be useful in order to create real value in the service it is providing. Think of the Westin brand. The hotel chain provides running kits to its guests via its Well-Being Movement. This initiative caters to those who have packed light but who might like to exercise during their stay. To save you packing your smelly running shoes, Westin will deliver fitness gear and shoes in your size to your room. With this practical initiative, Westin goes the extra mile and helps enhance the experience of its customers who want to benefit from this initiative. Useful, surprising and seamless.

But in order to go the extra mile, a concierge as well as a brand must understand the people they serve and what makes them tick. Great concierges are amazing people persons. They can connect with people quickly and have high emotional intelligence. Great brands also know that humans are innately emotional creatures and the best way to connect is to make them feel something -- to make them laugh or cry.

John Lewis, in conjunction with Adam&EveDDB in London, has succeeded in setting the standard for this with its annual Christmas campaigns. Every year for the last few years, it has been able to prove that it understands its audience on an emotional level, and has driven outstanding business results as a result. From "Bear and the Hare" to the latest Man on the Moon video, the John Lewis work has had been some of the highest-profile work coming out of the UK.

Finally, a successful concierge's purpose is very clear -- it exists to enhance the experience of the hotel's guests in any way possible. The most successful brands in today's world have a similarly clear sense of why they exist -- one that is clearly understood, is compelling and helps organize and galvanize the whole organization. Dove and Coke are great examples. Closer to home, DDB New York's client, Clean & Clear, has a clear purpose that is helping drive deeper connections with its audience. Its purpose is to help teen girls have the courage to be true to who they are. Both the brand and the products ladder up to this goal. Our recent work with them, the "Self-Acceptance Speech" that aired during the 2015 VMAs, did just this: It celebrated and encouraged girls to accept and be happy in their own skin.

So in conclusion, winning in the age of customer experience requires brands to think and act differently. One of my favorite Forrester quotes is "21st Century customers have very high expectations of brands." This has never been truer. Brands need to predict and anticipate customers' needs, provide utility, understand what makes people tick and have a clear and well-defined purpose. With that, they will truly become more customer-centric and create more value in the customer experience.