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How to Build a Great Brand, One Customer Experience at a Time

All brands are ultimately based on execution. Logos, packaging, unique selling propositions... each is important, but ultimately your brand is based on how customers experience your products and services.

Provide great experiences, build a great brand.

So how can you make sure your employees consistently deliver your brand?

Frank Aloi is the founder and CEO of ath Power Consulting, a customer experience solutions and research firm that has made the Inc. 500 list four times and recently won the 2011 Small Business Strategy Award at the Small Business Summit. While ath Power primarily works with major banks and financial services firms like American Express and Chase, the basic process they use to ensure their employees uphold their brands can be applied to almost any small business.

I asked Frank how you can make sure your small business is all go and not all show:

  1. Always remember, strategy is not execution. Most companies don't develop poor strategies. The problem typically lies in the execution of those strategies. Pulling together an executive group to devise a strategy is just the start. Signing off on a plan is the signal to roll up your sleeves and get to work.
  2. Determine your value proposition. Why should customers choose your company? What differentiates your business? Differentiation is your value proposition; make sure every employee understands it. "We will answer every phone call by the third ring" is easy to understand and also to measure. "We value our customers' time like we do our own" is meaningless.
  3. Put measurements in place. Create internal checks and balances to ensure employees will carry out your value proposition. Establish metrics, plan for periodic meetings, and incorporate goals into regular, frequently held employee reviews.
  4. Train, train, and train some more. Initial training is important, but a lot of "training" is facilitating improvements based on what you learn from your customers. For example, problem resolution is the glowing beacon of the customer experience. Ask employees what customer issues or complaints they encountered today and teach them how to better resolve those problems. Formal training is important, but in a smaller organization training should be more like regular, ongoing coaching.
  5. Conduct basic research. Affordable research tools are available, but you can choose not to spend a dime: Simply call your marquee clients and ask how you're doing. Find out how your best customers feel about their experiences and your performance. Phone calls, surveys -- keep it as simple as possible. One of Frank's favorite questions to ask customers is: "What is one thing you would change about (our) business?" Asking what customers would change can help you determine concrete actions to take to make improvements. Research should always result in actionable findings.
"Simply selling products or services doesn't create a long-term customer relationship," Frank says. "The only way to build a long-term relationship is by providing an outstanding customer experience. For example, a bank doesn't 'sell' checking accounts. A bank 'sells' ways for people to access their funds. How do people need, and more importantly want, to access their funds?

"Employee execution creates the customer experience and builds your brand. Train, mentor, coach... do everything possible to help your employees build the brand you really want to build."

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Flickr photo courtesy of loop_oh, CC 2.0
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