There's a growing amount of attention being given to customer experience: the critical moments when your desired brand positioning is expressed in practice, across every touchpoint, every interaction and every step of the customer journey. Not only does it require a strong, joined up and insightful brand plan – it also requires stretching leadership to join up every business function in delivering a coherent, brilliantly branded, customer-centred experience.
Digital technology has catalysed this growing attention – it offers superb opportunities to deliver value and connectivity with customers – but also brings omnichannel complexity while raising customers' expectations of what brands should deliver.
Let's have a seasonal look at how one brand is integrating technology into its customer experience, with excellent results. Santa. It's a traditional brand – steeped in old-fashioned values, hand-crafted production, and with a leader who was operating eons before the internet was a twinkle in the infant Sir Tim Berners-Lee's eye. And yet, Santa successfully embraces digital technology to engage and delight its customers. Apps are widely available to enhance the magic of the Santa story – you can track his progress from the North Pole, you can organise a call to your child from Santa, you can create films tailored to how your children have been naughty or nice. [Take a look at www.noradsanta.org, www.portablenorthpole.com, www.callingsanta.com].
This year I took my children to visit Santa in his grotto – a purpose-built cabin at a nearby shopping centre in London. My expectation, based on seasonal films like Elf and Miracle on 34th Street, was of a long queue, kept in order by some cheerful yet put-upon elves, a quick chat with Santa, perhaps sitting on his knee, followed by a brightly-wrapped present and a Ho-Ho-Ho.
The reality was delightfully better – and what made the difference was the use of technology. First I booked online and received a specific timeslot so the queue was limited, removing a key pain-point. And then, during the wait while our group assembled, an elf took a quick snap of each child using an iPad, asked me their names and my email address, and then handed out child and adult-sized 3D glasses. When we entered we were invited to put on our glasses and watch a 3D film of Elbow the Elf, featuring Santa, a flying snowman and our children: their names and photos from earlier placed on presents which flew around us in 3D magic. After the film, with parents and children equally excited, each family met Santa, had a quick chat (no knee), our picture taken, and received a brightly-wrapped present. There may even have been a Ho-Ho-Ho. As we left Santa, and while the children attacked their gifts, we were immediately able buy the picture taken: digital technology again…I bought ours inserted into a bauble for the tree. A few days later, each child received an email of another personalised film and an offer of a free app on which they could play Santa-related games.
So digital technology enhanced our customer experience – it sprinkled magic on a brand that's already pretty magical through pain-point removal, personalisation and an extension of the experience when we got home.
But it would not have been enough on its own:
1. They got the brand expression spot-on
We were in a traditional-looking cabin – with friendly elves, Christmas trees, twinkling lights and a mechanical workshop scene to keep the children distracted while they waited to enter through the main doors. Santa was well-padded, dressed in red, and had a well-attached white beard. And these things matter: the semiotics of Santa. By contrast, last weekend the grotto was a taxi – and although Father Christmas was friendly-enough, as my friend said, there's something slightly seedy about sending your children to sit next to Santa in the back of a cab.
2. They identified insights
They identified insights into both the adult and children audiences they catered for. Did my children particularly care that the film was 3D, and enjoy it that much more because it had their pictures? Not especially. But I did. Did they however benefit from time to acclimatise, some silly humour and therefore be less anxious when they met the great man? Absolutely.
3. They cared about the little touches
My receipt for the bauble is branded “Thank you for visiting Santa”, they spelled the girls' names right, they had an area to park buggies, and cabin doors that closed so that we were immersed in the experience and protected from the cold.
4. The people were warm and engaging
A grumpy Santa and a set of stressed elves would have ruined it all, and I suspect that consistently smiling at over-excited, unpredictable and prone-to-tears children is no easy feat.
Of course the real test of the Santa customer experience is whether the stockings are filled and my daughters' eyes widen with wonder on Christmas morning.
I just hope that Santa doesn't over-communicate now that he has my email address.
Wishing you and yours a very happy holiday.
Image courtesy of Westfield London.
This post is by Hayley Spurling, Brand Director at Brand Learning.