3 Dimensions that Drive a Differentiating Customer Experience

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Leveraging 3 Dimensions that Drive a Differentiating Customer Experience

We like to do business with people we _______. When I ask this as a question the answer is almost always a single word – trust. Edelman has created a TrustBarometer. It’s an annual study to examine the impact of trust on businesses.

The most recent survey indicates that trust is down in many important categories. Basically consumers are saying they don’t trust businesses, or governments, to do the right thing.

This same study makes it clear that trust is important. Businesses that earn our trust are often rewarded with stakeholders who are more willing to recommend, to invest, to work for and to buy their products and services.

54% of those surveyed indicated they would be willing to pay more for a product or service from a trusted source.


As I was doing the research for this post I discovered the Reputation Institute, an organization that regularly invites thousands of consumers across 15 markets to participate in a study to rank the world’s most 100 reputable companies.

Each company is assigned a score representing the way consumers feel about each company based their perception of that company’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).

These scores are analyzed on seven dimensions of corporate reputation:

  1. Workplace
  2. Governance
  3. Citizenship
  4. Financial Performance
  5. Leadership
  6. Products and Services
  7. Innovation

Companies with strong reputation scores consistently produce financial results that exceed stand benchmarks, like the S&P index.


Of the seven dimensions listed above, three drive reputation:

  1. Citizenship
  2. Governance
  3. Workplace

Here are a few interesting stats based on the survey results.

41% of how people feel about a company is based on their perception of a firm’s corporate social responsibility.

60% of a consumer’s willingness to buy, recommend, work for and invest in a company is driven by perceptions of the company, its reputation

Only 40% by perceptions of the products or services it sells.

These are some pretty sobering statistics. I find that companies tend to spend their resources in the reverse order, focusing on features, benefits and value. I understand, these metrics are typically much easier to track and measure.

So what does all this have to do with customer experience?

Declining trust is creating yet another gap in the customer experience. You can read my thoughts about the other customer experience gap here.

There is an opportunity for firms with strong CSR reputations to create customer experiences that can provide a competitive advantage.


How can a business harness the power of the three dimensions that drive CSR behaviors?

It all begins with a single focus on delivering customer value. This focus is guided by a brand’s Vision and Mission. Because these are customer centric, all of their efforts revolve around delivering on the promises in these two very important statements; they serve as the ultimate litmus test for evaluating corporate behavior.

If you have a Vision and Mission statements do they clearly connect your brand’s identity to the customer experience? If not consider revising so they will clearly guide your brand toward making a unique difference in the lives of all your stakeholders.


The corporate ethos that drives great customer experiences also motives organizations to be good citizens. When organizations develop a serving and listening mindset, these attributes naturally carry over into all facets of the brand personality.

Good citizenship is a collaborative effort among all stakeholders. When organizations care about customers, employees, and the rest of their stakeholders, they naturally begin to think differently about their resources.

  1. Increasingly, stakeholders expect brands to use their resources to address needs in the surrounding community and even the globe. It’s not about creating programs.
  2. These efforts tend to be unique to each organization and typically, their citizenship grows out of an awareness on the part of a particular group of stakeholders.

If your brand doesn’t currently have specific interests or programs, explore the possibility of causes that might resonate with stakeholders. Find ways to use company resources to address challenges and concerns. This might be as simple as paid time for employees to volunteer for specific causes or perhaps providing expertise or equipment for specific situations.


The new competitive landscape is requiring brands to be agile. Cross functional collaboration and communication are new imperatives. Good citizenship is often the result of organizations that are more open and transparent.

Some organizations, like Zappos, are adopting very unique structures that are the polar opposite of the traditional command and control structures. While these new structures are certainly not for everyone, organizations are finding that agility requires good communication and a willingness to experiment and explore.

For this dimension consider evaluating corporate initiatives in a new way. Begin by asking questions like:

  • How could this decision be viewed by our customers?
  • Will this direction add to the customer experience? If so how?
  • Or, when meeting consider adding an empty chair to symbolize the presence of a customer.


Brands that consistently rank for CSR have cultures that allow associates to flourish. These brands commit resources to train and equip their associates. Once trained and equipped, associates are empowered to serve others.

Studies have shown that cultures that foster happy employees are more profitable and they have less turnover. Brands that have happy employees leave nothing to chance, they are constantly seeking feedback, and most important, they act on the feedback.

If you don’t currently have a feedback mechanism, create one. There are free survey tools that are easy to use and they can be used to effectively gather feedback. Neal Schaffer has written about the role of CEO’s and employee advocacy programs.He describes many benefits beyond the typical role of advocacy programs.

Employees who are happier tend to think more like owners than employees. Happy employees are much more likely to be brand ambassadors. I don’t mean marketing ambassador, though there is a role for that, I am talking about a pride in being part of a brand community.


I believe that a strong CSR reputation is a result rather than a cause. Top CSR firms are good citizens, they govern responsibly and they treat employees with respect. They lead by inspiring rather than managing and controlling.

Brands that practice good corporate citizenship are more likely to build trust, and building trust makes your brand more attractive for investors, employees, and customers.

These brands don’t obsess over who owns the customer experience, they create cultures that value the customer as central to their very existence and as such instill in everyone a sense of responsibility to the customer experience.

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4 Keys to Creating a Differentiating Customer Experience


customer experience

Recently I wrote about five ways to create an engaging customer experience.  Based on post blog activity, there seems to be some interest in the topic.

In this previous post I identified five ways of creating an engaging customer experience as:

  • Providing Utility
  • Nurturing Community
  • Creating Connection
  • Offering Choices
  • Delivering Convenience

Customer experience is becoming the new benchmark of business. Why all the fuss about customer experience? Perhaps it’s because there is an opportunity created by the significant gap between what customers expect and what they experience.

80% of companies believe they deliver “superior” customer service, but only 8% of customers think these same companies deliver “superior” customer service. (Help Scout Infographic)

I consider customer service an important subset of the customer experience. I believe excellent customer service is highly correlated to a differentiating customer experience.

Consider these facts:

  • 86% of customers quit doing business because of a bad customer service experience. (Help Scout Infographic)
  • 96% of unhappy customers don’t complain, however 91% of those will simply leave and never come back. (1st Financial Training Services)
  • 70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated. (McKinsey)
  • In a recent survey, 64% of brands received a rating of:
    • Ok
    • Poor or
    • Very Poor

(Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, 2012)

A Gallup Poll revealed that only 22% of Americans had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in big business.

Brands that deliver a relevant customer-centric experience are positioned to generate value by nurturing loyal customers.

What’s the difference between an engaging and a differentiating customer experience?

It may be as simple as your goal.

“Is the goal to get people to notice what you make? Or are you setting out to make something people choose to talk about?”   Seth Godin

One can argue that an engaging customer experience is a necessary part of a differentiating customer experience. Creating an experience that offers a competitive advantage requires more than just engaging customers. I believe there are 4 keys that must be present.

4 Keys to Creating a Differentiating Customer Experience


Brands that are deepening customer relationships by creating raving fans think differently. Their vision, mission, and values revolve around serving their customers and their internal stakeholders. Typically these brands are willing to make short-term sacrifices to grow long-term relationships.

Their ultimate goal is creating raving fans instead of satisfied customers (Ken Blanchard). There is a world of difference between the two.

Brands deepen relationships by delivering the right solution at the right time through the right channel. By extracting interactional data and feedback, small (or large) businesses can determine the current level of customer satisfaction, identify unfulfilled needs, and boost revenue in the process (Ann Ruckstuhl, SVP & CMO at LiveOps).

While many brands are intimidated by the risks of using a social business model, brands that are creating differentiating experiences see the opportunities; they are curious. Curiosity drives these organizations to experiment and to explore new and different ways of delivering value. They are continually looking for ways to help.

Sometimes it might be creating an app that allows customers to more effectively run their business while using your products, or it might involve keeping track of previous purchases, so customers don’t have to.


Customer centric brands create an aligned culture where the values of associates and the organization are in sync.

70% of U.S. workers are not engaged at work. Source Gallup State of the American Workplace survey.

90% of leaders think an engagement strategy will have an impact on business success but barely 24% of them have a strategy (Dale Carnegie).

Companies with engaged employees have 2.5 times more revenue than companies with low engagement levels (Hay Group).

A study of 64 organizations revealed that organizations with highly engaged employees achieve twice the annual net income of those whose employees lag behind on engagement (Kenexa).

Highly engaged employees were 87% less likely to leave their companies than their disengaged counterparts (Corporate Leadership Council).

Creating cultures where stakeholders are engaged requires leadership, investment, and a strategy. Customer-centric organizations realize that engaged employees are an essential key to delivering a differentiating experience, and they invest in the necessary resources.

Here is some advice on creating a social media friendly workplace.

The culture of the organization extends to external stakeholders too. My friend and co-contributor Raymond Morin writes about the value of social media ambassadors in general and employees in particular.

Neal Schaeffer has a free e-book resource addressing employee advocacy.

It all begins with culture because the culture creates the environment where the other keys can flourish.


Feedback isn’t tolerated at customer centric businesses; it’s the lifeblood, it’s considered a gift. Organizations who take this seriously spend time and resources teaching the art and science of giving and receiving feedback.

Feedback has a correlation to employee engagement. 43% of highly engaged employees received feedback at least once a week compared to only 18% of employees with low engagement (Source Towers Watson).

External feedback is important too. In many instances, I find brands telling me information about their customers or prospects. When I probe deeply, I discover the information turns out to be inferred from anecdotal information rather than facts.

76% of marketers feel they know what their consumers want, but only 34% have asked consumers what they want. (Pivot Study)

There are numerous tools, many of them free, at the disposal of marketers. These tools allow marketers to listen and observe conversations and behaviors. There are also useful survey tools that allow marketers to collect direct feedback. One note of caution here, while feedback is useful, be careful not to abuse this process.


The current marketing landscape is rapidly evolving. Mobile technology, the Internet, and social platforms are continually shaping buying behaviors. Brands are struggling to keep up with the pace of change and the demands of empowered consumers.

Brands that want to create a differentiating customer experience recognize that empowered associates are essential. When Lowes deployed their app, they provided iphones for 42,000 associates.

Empowered associates are more likely to collaborate and share the insights gleaned from interactions with consumers. Brands that encourage cross-functional cooperation are able to respond to evolving consumer needs and are more likely to maintain consumer relationships.

Socially connected consumers are providing a treasure trove of data; however, data without insight is useless. Brands that want to create a differentiating experience don’t collect data just because they can. They use the data appropriately to serve their customers.

A Quest not a Destination

Brands that want a differentiating customer experience understand they are on a quest. While this quest may have many waypoints, ultimately it doesn’t have a final destination.

While this may sound obvious, it’s important to build in reminders because we can all become comfortable with success.

What are other keys? Can you identify brands that are creating differentiating experiences? I would love to hear your examples in the comments below.

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