Who Manages the Customer Experience?: Operations, Marketing--And Customers

The customer journey is made up of the experiences that come from all interactions with your brand. Some customer experiences are created directly by marketing and some by operations. And some, such as how customers are exposed to your reputation, are not under your direct control. This has always been the case. Social technologies have dramatically amplified the importance of a timeless fact of business life: people talk. They talk to each other about your brand.

Within franchise organizations, marketing and operations are the primary functions with responsibility for shaping the customer experience. Of course, many other teams play vital support roles: store design, visual merchandising, and technology. But marketing and operations drive the brand in this area. The old saying is that "Marketing gets 'em in the door and operations brings 'em back." The reality is much more integrated, interesting, and dynamic.


Customer journeys can be segmented into predictable stages. From the franchisor and franchisee perspective, gaining awareness among an ever-growing number of potential customers is the foundational experience of the customer journey. For example, think about your own experience as a consumer surrounded with choices. Obviously, you can't buy what you are not aware is available. Your introduction (awareness) to a brand that's new to you can begin with a billboard along the highway, or through a casual conversation with colleagues at work or with friends on Facebook. (Not your Facebook pages--theirs.)

The billboard that attracts your attention comes from marketing's initiative. But what about the positive word-of-mouth that comes from your colleagues at work and your friends on Facebook? That mostly comes from proper execution by operations.

Your first purchase (trial) can begin with a Groupon that you are enticed to buy; or your trial can be induced by a raving fan literally driving you to a restaurant you never heard of to have lunch. It is not nearly so simple as "Marketing gets 'em in the door and operations brings 'em back."

Through trial, operations has a chance to create a satisfied customer. But to move that new customer from satisfied to loyal requires multiple satisfying experiences. It is a losing proposition to simply get new customers to trial. The economics of promotion just don't work without repeat business and referral business that comes from consistently delivering the brand promise through operations. That's why the goal of customer experience management (for existing customers) is to move them from satisfaction to loyalty to advocacy.

When you achieve advocacy, it can be just as true that "Operations brings 'em in and marketing brings 'em back."

Every successful and growing brand has raving fans who act as an army of unpaid public relations representatives who bring in new customers. Advocates are a potent source of profitable sales growth. Customers who have "been to the mountain top" and experienced how operations delivered on marketing's brand promise will be convincing sales people for your brand. Advocates are genuinely passionate, and their enthusiasm stimulates the awareness, consideration, and trial portions of the customer journey for many of your first-time customers.

Marketing has an important role in bringing customers back. That's why advertising and loyalty programs, birthday programs, and VIP clubs exist. You have to give customers reminders with reasons to come back again and again. Email and texting and Twitter technologies are driving the explosion of 1:1 marketing to existing consumers.

Why do you see such a rush to social technologies like Facebook and YouTube by the marketers at franchise firms? To engage existing customers! Not just to bring them back individually, but to attract them into a community of brand apostles. And by keeping that customer community talking with--and to--each other about your brand, marketing can take some control over your reputation. But consistency in operations (or the lack of it) shapes the tone and content of your customer community's conversation.

Clearly, marketing and operations are partners in managing the customer experience. And your customer community is your third partner!

Jack Mackey is vice president of Service Management Group (SMG), a leading customer experience analytics agency that improves performance for franchise and firms. You can reach him at jmackey@smg.com.

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