Andy Lark: Service and emotional connection are fundamental to winning over customers

Iconic chief marketing officer of Xero highlights the need for brands to turn service into a weapon and care about the customer's experiences

The greatest threat to your brand is not whether customers hate you, it’s indifference, Xero’s chief marketing and business officer, Andy Lark, claims.

Speaking at the Zendesk Relate conference in Sydney today, the outspoken and iconic marketing leader highlighted the importance of an emotional connection between brand and client and why customer experience is the key to growing loyalty and advocacy.

It’s also not enough to try and emulate the superior experiences of digital darlings such as Uber, Lark told attendees, if you can’t provide actually provide strong customer support either.

“You actually have to care,” he said.

In a subscription-based business liked Xero, customer churn is a perpetual obsession, and the need to win customer experience and loyalty vital to ongoing success.

“What that [subscription model] challenges is the essential truth in most non-subscription-based businesses, which is that the vast majority of employees don’t give a shit,” Lark claimed. “They’re not incentivised or rewarded to care about the customer, and mostly they never meet a real living, breathing customer. But in the SaaS [software-as-a-service] world, where your compensation is irrevocably attached to growth, and we’re all high-growth businesses with double or triple digit growth… you really have to care.”

For Lark, there are three major “fundamental flaws” in most organisations today that inhibit a truly customer-centric approach. The first is having product distinct from service.

“These organisations don’t see that these are irrevocably bundled together, and that it’s one continuous experience,” he said. “That’s the first break point.

“The second thing is that they measure the wrong thing. They’ll be measuring NPS [Net Promoter Score] and talking about numbers… At Xero, we get really obsessed about language, as it’s a fascinating telltale.”

Lark noted one of the words most commonly used to describe Xero by its customers is ‘love’, an emotionally-driven response that direct reflects how they feel about the brand. That has become vital in understanding how Xero communicates and interacts with its customers, he said.

“I don’t ask someone how satisfied they are with their experience, I ask how they feel about Xero,” he said. “You have to measure the emotional response to the experience a customer is having with you.

“The third thing is that if someone is in trouble, they want a solution that’s on their terms. Great brands figure out how to rearchitect their experience based on users.

“Often, when our small business customers are in trouble, they can’t deal with the solution right then and there because they’re making coffee, cutting hair, or doing something really important.”

As a result, Lark said integrating product and service, measuring the right emotional response, and architecturing for the customer really matter to achieving customer advocacy and loyalty.

“The greatest threat to a brand is not hate, it’s not something going ‘I hate X’, it’s indifference. Because when someone else comes along, they’ll take it or leave it. It’s not enough to do service just because you don’t want to be disliked; you’re largely finding collective indifference.”

Lark said it’s the smart organisations that are turning service into a weapon against their competitors, relating customer insights back to customer support and marketing teams and basing their approach on experience.

“All Uber had to do was say ‘we’re better than a taxi’,” he added.

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