Riddell: Plateaus or peaks
Not Business As Usual
Grand County provides a very clear example of the need and benefits of recognizing the branding differences between products and services and the upcoming holiday season provides the perfect forum. Many business consultants cite historical emotional connections for products and the most recent customer service experience for services as key differences and opportunities. Yet most of us would agree that the majority of our purchasing experiences combine the two.
Consider for a moment the quite common purchase of an airline ticket. For the price of the ticket, the consumer accesses a couple of tangible products in the form of the vehicle itself and any food or drink that might be dispensed. At the same time, the intangibles of the service show up as the actual transporting, the service frequency, pre and post-flight service, and in-flight service. All rolled in together they combine to form a value and this value is itself subject to different customer requirements for satisfaction. Contrast a harried business executive with a tight connecting flight going to a career making meeting and a college student with that same tight connection going home for summer break. Same intangible of “on time” performance, completely different value.
Many entrepreneurial managers are recognizing this rapidly changing landscape and are taking vigorous actions to insure that they are focusing on the consumer’s total experience in the buying process. To maintain the focus on the emotional branding connection with their customers, they tend to view the buying experience as either one of a plateau or an emotional peak.
The main difference in these viewpoints is that plateau companies set a relatively high standard for all of the inputs into the customer experience where the peak companies try to deliver an overwhelming “WOW” tied to only one or two aspects. Both approaches can and do work but generally not together and it is imperative that the unique requirements of the targeted customers are known, monitored, and measured. Think of Southwest and other low fare airlines and how they have produced the “WOW” through their low fares (“WOW! I can fly to Denver for only a hundred bucks!”) supported by their lower operating costs and higher efficiencies. Traveling inconveniences such as lack of assigned seats, multiple connections, and the proliferation of peanuts as a meal have in no way deterred from the success of their peak approach. Mercedes Benz automobiles, however, came under serious criticism because its plateau approach fell short in auto quality and post sales service. The overall buying experience that was formerly associated with one of the strongest luxury brands in the world was not meeting customer expectations. As a result of declining customer satisfaction, plateau changes were initiated. Ongoing measurement determined the effectiveness of these changes.
At the end of the day, the success in branding an experience, whether a peak or a plateau strategy is followed, is largely one of managing expectations. People tend to be satisfied when their expectations, high or low, are met and are dissatisfied when they are not. Savvy marketers know that customer expectations are relative and insure that they take this fact into consideration when evaluating and balancing program costs and benefits. And they always monitor and measure. The survivors always make changes based on this monitoring and measuring, the failures never do.
Following a successful international business career, John Riddell turned his attention to small business/entrepreneurial pursuits that included corporate turn-arounds, start-ups, teaching as an adjunct business school professor, authoring award winning business and sports columns, and serving as VP for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce directing its Center for Entrepreneurial Growth. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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