Whenever I am back in The Netherlands I try to book a day in my favorite Spa. It has been my favorite since 1999 because it is small (a maximum of 15 people), it is serene, it is exclusive, they have excellent treatments, and I can totally relax. I just love it! Until the last time, I visited when I realized that my experience depends on the other guests.
How other customers shape customer experience
There was a group of 7 women at the spa who apparently hadn’t seen each other for quite some time. All topics varying from the most appropriate treats for a children’s birthday party to the rebuilding of someone’s house where discussed for all the other guests to hear. Two other ladies, discussing someone else’s Friday the 13th wedding, where also disturbing my meditative state of mind. When during lunch someone left the accompanying small gym to loudly discuss business on his cell phone (cell phones are not allowed in the spa), I started wondering if this spa was finally losing its momentum. I mean, even the great can fall!
As a customer I was annoyed. As a marketing and branding professional, I was intrigued. Two spa employees were discussing what to do with the guy on the phone. They apparently had asked him to stop on previous occasions and it hadn’t worked. It wasn’t until I asked them to say something or I would, that one of them took action.
Customer experience and positioning
What was interesting to me is that this spa has a very clear positioning and a strong brand, but that other customers play a role in building that brand as well. If everyone sits there yapping like it is some type of reunion or a business meeting, my experience is ruined and so is the thing this spa is trying to achieve. They simply cannot deliver on their brand promise.
So what is the solution? After the staff took action I had plenty of peace and quiet to contemplate. The spa should be more selective in who they want as their customers. Choosing your clients you want to serve should be part of your positioning. And although saying no to paying customers is counter-intuitive, it pays in the end.
This obviously doesn´t apply to every brand. I will not take it out on the brand Coca-Cola if someone is drinking their Coke in an uncivilized manner. Not even if they would throw an empty coke can out of their driving car. But for brands creating an experience or brands influencing how my personal brand is perceived, the `bad-fellow-customer´ effect absolutely plays a role.
Porsche in The Netherlands had a problem years back, that people outside of their target market were buying and driving a Porsche. These consumers had the money to afford this type of car, but they were of questionable repute. They either were a stereotypical drug dealing criminal or just looked like one. It influenced the Porsche brand and more upstanding citizens owning a Porsche weren´t happy to be driving a car that seemed to be the preferred choice of criminals. It´s a bit like Kim Jong-un endorsing Trump´s candidacy for the American presidency. An association that does little for anyone´s brand; personal or otherwise.
Play the long branding game
A short-term payoff is always tempting. The short-term reward is so close that you want to grab it, but building a strong brand demands long-term consistency.
It is tempting to build a chip into cars that give better results in testing, but in the end, it is not a sustainable strategy for building your brand. If you are a struggling actress in Hollywood, don´t do porn if you want to be the next Meryl Streep. If you want your customers to be loyal and brand ambassadors for your brand, choose them wisely. Because in practice the short term effects of sales and minor successes will in the end always be trumped by the long-term negative effect on the brand.