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The Art & Science of Retention – Part 3 – The Periods of Truth

One of the pre-eminent deans of brand management, P&G’s Lafley noted some years ago that a brand’s first “moment of truth” was at the critical 3-5 seconds the customer spends in front of the shelf. P&G feel so strongly about this “moment” that reportedly they have 15 people exclusively devoted to helping understand and win the moment. Make it through the moment and you are home-free until the next time, right? String enough of these moments together and you have customer retention.

Actually it would do well for managers to remember that brands pass through several interconnected “periods of truth” before and after the shelf encounter that plays a more important role in defining and charting the brand’s course through the profit stream:

The 4 periods of truth (PoT) are:

1. how the brand’s value proposition and resulting competitive set is defined,

2. how the brand progresses though the AIDA* stages – hopefully culminating in a purchase,

3. how the consumer comes to experience the brand, and

4. how the brand maintains an evolutionary relevancy link with the customer.

*Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action

First Period of Truth: In the first PoT, the focus should be  on the design of the brand to meet the category requirements as well as the brand’s  greater purpose and how consumers perceive and can interact with the brand (community). For the most part we are dealing with mental constructs of the brand and how strongly it resonates with consumers on multiple levels, from product/service delivery to the emotional and social attachment dimensions. So if we haven’t designed the brand to support customer retention then we will have to rely on incentive based purchase continuity or pricing to buy that support.

The key questions to determine the strength of the brand’s design elements are:

1. how strong is the value and lead in its technical advantage

2. does it have strong iconic power that consumers find attractive,

3. does it enable customization, does it have an ecosystem to extend usage,

4. does it gain value when used as part of a community or is it a solitary experience,

5. does the brand leverage customer intimacy data and support,

6. does the brand offer a meaningful downstream/upstream solution to the problem (does it save time, energy, money …)

Ultimately the more the brand can be designed to involve its customers rather than have a passive relationship, the greater the chance of developing stronger customer retention. It’s as fundamental as the evolutionary distinction between buyers, consumers, customers and partners. Existing brands might deem it wise to go back to the blackboard and redesign elements of the brand if the customer retention is not as strong as desired.

Second Period of Truth: Today much effort is focused on the second “period of truth” with the frenetic scramble to achieve greater ‘relevancy’ to secure the current purchase using all manor of SEO/SEM,PPC,BT and mobile/proximity techniques. For the brands that have developed a strong foundation from the first PoT, their jobs are made easier as the offer to purchase is the last stage of the AIDA  spectrum.

Therefore the aim should be to make the brand foremost throughout the consideration including the purchase trigger point* because successful brands live in the real world, not just in the shopping aisle. It will be the brand’s involvement outside of the purchase that will play a key role in creating the brand’s pull.

*putting forward multiple value elements of the brand while also reflecting the price of that value.

Some fail to recognize or acknowledge the value of that. For them the brand comes to exist only when there is a purchase impulse that has been stimulated by a purchase offer. However by relying (heavily) on one component they live on a knife’s edge which can lead to an imbalance and possible even de-valuation of the brand.

When a brand does come to live in the real world, we are able to take full advantage of the new found social media tools where the intention is to involve and be involved in the community. Reaching its ultimate form, the brand becomes a co-creational project with brand users helping define product development, marketing programs and community/charitable outreach.

Third Period of Truth

How the customer experiences the brand has been noted by many to be the ultimate arbiter of customer retention.  Therefore keeping existing customers satisfied has taken on critical proportions with the introduction of Reicheld’s Net Promoter Score and other Customer Satisfaction tracking measurements. As the work of Duncan J Watts attests, negative word of mouth carries faster, farther and with greater weight than positive commendations.

However just as an inferior service standard can not overcome the most inspired marketing or pricing offer, superior service is one of the most elusive and holiest of grails that brands seek. The chief reason being that superior service is a holistic assessment based on an expectation of a consistent offering which makes the customer feel they are genuinely valued. To win here, the brand need to hire people with a passion for customer centricity those who ‘walk the talk’ and give them the ability to make policy decisions to redress any perceived shortcomings.

Ironically while some companies fear that giving front line staff the ability to write ‘blank checks’ will be costly, most who take this direction end up having to tell their people to spend more ‘good will’ monies – that its ok to be more generous with customers.

One of the key insights to attaining traction with customer service programs is the ability to communicate to customers that the service failing has been addressed for future benefit. A make good addresses the immediate needs of the customer – but if there isn’t a sense the ‘failing’ wont be repeated in the future, the customer is left with the certain knowledge of the exposed and persistent vulnerability that becomes part of that brand’s experience/promise.  Good service but..

Fourth Period of Truth

In the end, the more astute will come to recognize that customer retention benefits begin by managing all “periods of truth”. Doing so increases the odds of introducing disruptive brand innovations/solutions/systems that enable the enterprise to own the cost of entry for the new category/segment and with it the special pricing/profit opportunities and a host of residual brand benefits – not the least of which is a locked-in retention revenue stream.

The rest live and compete in a flattened world.

Next: Retention – The Cost of Failure

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