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Guest Post: The Voice of the Brand: Turning Customer Insights into Distinctive Experiences

Listening to the voice of the customer is important, argues customer experience author Matt Watkinson, but we mustn’t forget the voice of the brand.

Buckminster Fuller had what we’d refer to today as a portfolio career. An engineer, architect, systems theorist, futurist, designer and author; he is most famous for inventing the geodesic dome — a stunning success — and the Dymaxion car, a three-wheeled death-trap that looked like an Orca had surfaced through the tarmac — that was not. He also coined a fascinating term: tensegrity. 

A portmanteau of tensional and integrity, the word describes a structure consisting of solid rods suspended between taught cables. An arrangement that’s lightweight and strong, yet can withstand shocks.

The human body is a great example. Our bones are not piled up like bricks or connected like machined parts, tongue-in-groove or peg-in-hole. They’re held in place by a tensile web of muscles, tendons and myofascial tissue. 

Tensegrity — the idea of attaining stability and structure through the tension of countervailing forces — has broad application. After all, isn’t everything in life a question of balance? And isn’t balance found when opposing forces reach a happy equilibrium?  

We forget sometimes that extremism is easy. Being one dimensional is far easier than making difficult trade-offs between conflicting desires — health, wealth, happiness, et cetera — and the same is true with ideas.  

Being dogmatic is easy, but it doesn’t lead to better decisions. It takes courage, empathy, insight, intelligence and humility to seek a plurality of perspectives, but this is a crucial skill to develop in the workplace. Why?

Every successful business is also a tensegrity structure. Its stability doesn’t come from each part of the organization being stacked up like cinder blocks, or rooted in place with a single, deep foundation. Such a structure could not respond to change. 

Instead, an organization’s stability comes from bringing dynamic forces into harmony. Business decision-making is always about optimizing trade-offs; never about maximizing along a single axis.

Some brands could easily crank up their profit in the short term by increasing costs for their customers, while cutting costs internally, for example, yet this would scar their brand and starve investment for the future — a recipe for disaster.

Some could also easily increase their market share by selling their products at a reduced price — below their competitors or even below the cost of making them — but they would eventually run out of cash and perish. Alternatively, others could reinvest everything they make back into growing their business, but then they’d never make a profit. A balance must always be struck, even when it comes to customers.

How so? Shouldn’t we just listen to our customers and give them what they want?

There’s no doubt that insights about our customer’s experience, their wants, needs and expectations are immensely valuable, and should be acted upon. So what is the countervailing force to the voice of the customer that provides balance?

The voice of the brand.

Utilizing Voice of the Brand to Create Better Customer Experiences

Our customers are much like our competitors’ customers. We all satisfy the same wants and needs. That’s what makes us competitors in the first place.

So if we all do what our customers ask of us, without a countervailing sense of what makes us unique and distinctive — we all end up doing the same things as our competitors, in the same ways, based on the same insights.

And when we’re all the same — even if we’re doing what our customers say they want — there is no means by which to choose between us, other than price. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, customer-centricity — unmoored from a strong sense of brand or a distinctive vision of the future — can erode profits.

That’s why when you think of companies that are famous for their exceptional customer experience, you’ll find that they are provided by recognizable brands with a singular set of expectations and associations in your mind.

They hear the voice of the customer, but their execution is distinctive — it’s branded.

To maximize the value of your voice of the customer program and customer experience work more broadly then, it is essential to understand the brand: what your unique experiential signature will be, how you can use your brand assets to stand out, and how your customer experience can not only be better, but distinctively so.

Hold these two critical elements in balance — the voice of the customer and the voice of the brand — and the results of this happy marriage will be better than a singular focus on either.