Chief Brand Officer

posted by Brian J. Curran

I have been lucky enough and privileged to have worked with some fantastically customer centric leaders throughout my career. One that always pops up in my mind is Mike Linton, who was the CMO and my boss back in my Best Buy days and currently the CMO at Farmers Insurance. While Mike was loaded to the gills with skills and strengths, there was one lasting impression on me that is at the root of how I operate and that is that Mike cared passionately about the brand.

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 I am not just talking just about the colors that we used or the logo or some other typical academic usage of the word. Mike cared about how customers felt about their experiences and how that translated into how they cared about the brand. I came to know this intimately under the forward thinking wisdom of my then boss John Walden, President of Internet and Direct Channels currently the CEO of Home Retail Group in the UK and their joint decision to move the newly built Enterprise Customer Care organization which I created and led under Mike.

We all of course want to impress our new boss with our command of the function that has been placed in our care and like any good manager, I plied Mike with all the details about how we were managing AHT, increasing occupancy and lowering the overall cost per contact. I might as well have been Charlie Brown’s teacher as he really didn’t care about those things. What he wanted to know was how the customer felt. Not just about how they felt about interacting with Customer Care and my CSAT and Quality scores. He wanted to know about how they felt about engaging with the brand across the entire buying and using cycle and across all the functions that interacted and all the channels. It was more important to Mike that I have real data that could be enacted upon by the retail store leaders and that I met with them on a weekly basis to share what we were learning.

What Mike knew as a fact was this. Your brand is driven by the experiences that you deliver. Period. Sure Mike had responsibility for marketing and advertising and a slew of other functions that drove traffic to our stores and websites. He knew he had to tee up the opportunity but he knew it that if you wanted to drive a sustainable business, you had to deliver the promise that was made through all the campaigns, inserts and commercials.

When I look up the word brand, I am always astounded by the origin of the word from Old Norse which is “to burn”. We of course know this from the old cattle stories of branding a mark of your ranch on the cattle to differentiate yours from someone else’s cow. I don’t know about you but I don’t want a brand "applied" to me like a mark for cattle. I want to be treated like an individual. The differentiation today is driven by “burning a mark” or driving a memory about your brand through the usage of your products and/or services you sell and the moments of engagement through each touch-point of the customer lifecycle. We all know what the byproduct of this experience is. Some call it loyalty, some call it stickiness, some call it NPS but we all know it is crucial to success.

Way before the our hypersensitivity to viral advocacy via social channels and our concern about Digital Disruption etc., Mike had the foresight to care about how our brand met the expectations of the customer while they were fulfilling their needs. He described words that he felt best fit the experiences and attitudinal results that came from those experiences. I remember how he would use the word authority to describe one of those brand attributes. Mike felt that if our associates on the floor, the blue shirts, could become experts in the products and their value, then customers would perceive us as having the authority to be the place to come for that expertise therefore differentiating ourselves in a much commoditized product environment with the likes of Amazon and Wal-Mart. Now we can argue whether we were able to create that experience back in early 2001 or not but Mike knew that it was crucial and in hindsight foretold about the rise in things such as show-rooming where the only value is that I can see and touch the product before buying from someone else online. Mike knew that is the absence of price parity, experiences especially focused around knowledge were the key differentiators.

With today’s tools and strategy at the disposal of many of us, there are really no good excuses left on why we can’t deliver the appropriate experiences to differentiate our brands and deliver compelling experiences to the sub set of general consumers we are targeting. It really is about being clear about what you want your brand to stand for in the market at a useful (functional), useable (effortless) and meaningful (emotional) level and aligning everyone around the organization to deliver this day in and day out. Now the only question left is when you are going to start.

Thanks Mike and John for your patience teaching me to become a customer centered leader. I hope everyone finds mentors like the two of you early in their careers and have the passion to transform their brand!

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Thinking Inside the Box

posted by Brian J. Curran

Last night I received this shipment from Pottery Barn for some seat covers that my lovely wife Dana and I purchased for our outside furniture. After opening the 4 boxes, I soon realized that everything that we purchased could have fit into one of the boxes. This is when things went downhill quickly as my brain kicked in and I started thinking. Why didn’t they just use one box? How much money could I have saved on shipping? What impact will this have on the environment? How will I fit all this cardboard into my recycling bin? The questions raced one after another through my head until finally I was summoned from the garage to dinner finally breaking the perpetual barrage of cerebral energy.

I love Pottery Barn and I will admit that in public but this one small incident has started to tarnish how I feel about doing business with them. I mean this is a sophisticated company who runs a very nice multichannel engagement model of catalogs, stores and call centers. What do you mean they don’t extend that sophistication down to their logistics? Don’t they know that the last mile of getting that stuff to my house and setting it up and actually using it are just as important as researching what I want to buy and select?

I will tell you that when we bought these covers in the store, the salesperson was outstanding and the merchandising in the store was beautiful and the checkout process was simple and I could go on and on about the experience. Then this happens.

I obviously think about the world in journeys and the engagement that I have with a brand in an entire lifecycle. It is the peril of what I do for a living and as my kids will tell you, my life is made up of millions of post-it notes describing the behaviors, attitudes and emotions of these engagements and the onstage and backstage capabilities (people, processes and technology) it takes to deliver the experiences.

If you as a brand are not looking at the entire journey of your customer and determining the moments that matter and measuring the impact of not delivering to the needs and expectations of your customer, you will continue to disappoint them. Dirty bathrooms in restaurants, late installation technicians, trash collectors who leave containers strewn everywhere, and all the other little pet peeves that we have start to accumulate and then some disruptive new business comes along and eliminates all the things that irked us and gets our business and your brand dies a death by a thousand pin pricks of ignorance.

Take time to walk the complete journey, not just a mile, in your customers shoes and you will start to understand the entire experience. Find those moments that matter and design new experiences that drive stickiness and advocacy.

Pottery Barn, I still love you but let’s start to think “Inside and Outside the Box”.

Have questions? I’m always happy to discuss new ways to design valuable customer experiences: email me at

Originally published on LinkedIn

Is the Juice worth the Squeeze?

posted by Brian J. Curran

3 Thresholds Your Customer Experience Must Pass

If you hang out with me for long enough, you will undoubtedly be peppered with what my friends call “Curranisms”. These are the sayings, colloquialisms, and quotes I use over and over—ad nauseam. My favorite is the saying “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

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As I have gotten older and wiser (or maybe just older), I have tried to reduce the amount of effort I exert (the squeeze) to achieve a valuable outcome (the juice). It’s not that I have become lazy, it’s that there is always a smarter, easier way to accomplish something. That’s what consumers are seeking when they engage with your brand. Will they get the maximum value for the precious time and energy they spend? If you can’t answer yes, it’s time to reevaluate your customer experience.  

Here’s a great example: My family recently planned a trip to Europe, and we decided to take trains in between the cities we visited. To ensure our seats were together, I set out to make reservations. I had a number of booking sites to choose from, including travel sites like The Man in Seat 61, travel service companies like RailEurope, and direct providers like Austrian Federal Railways. Like any consumer with a need, I began my journey by researching all of my options.

Before I gave my business to any of these service providers, I made sure they passed 3 key thresholds: 

Threshold #1: Is the Customer Experience Useful?

I determined if each booking site was capable of answering my most basic questions. Can I find a schedule? Do they have a seat map? Can I determine which trains will get me there the quickest versus which trains stop at every village between here and Timbuktu?

I needed easy access to all of that information, at any hour of the day. Sadly, not all of the providers made it past this first threshold. They were eliminated early in the process with no opportunity to be involved in the selection phase, and more importantly, the buying phase.

Threshold #2: Is the Customer Experience Usable?

While I appreciate the ability to speak with someone via chat or phone, I prefer to do my research without the pressure of someone asking me for an order before I feel ready and informed. I examined which sites made it easiest for me to navigate, try different options, and place orders in a seamless, intuitive way.

During this process, I remember thinking, I wish these guys had the XXX capability that Austrian Railways has, and, why don’t they show the same options to XXX as RailEurope does? I was deciding who to engage with not based on price, but on who was going to make this easy for me. A majority of the providers who made it past the first round were eliminated here, and that’s a shame. It doesn’t take much effort to map the journeys of your customers and design a site that’s usable by multiple segments.

Threshold #3: Is the Customer Experience Meaningful?

I was not just taking a train. I was taking my family on a vacation to Europe to immerse my children in another culture and build lifelong memories. It’s not just about being useful and usable –it’s about being meaningful. Did the websites address my concerns? Did each brand take into consideration that I am unaccustomed to the language, the culture, and the key places that would not only help me achieve my functional needs but allow me to achieve my emotional needs? While many of us don’t start our search looking for this, our subconscious keeps score and adjusts our attitudes toward a brand based on its ability to make us trust that our emotional needs will be met.

Two sites made it to this last round and, probably to your surprise, my decision was not based on a matrix that I created on paper. I had a gut feeling about who I wanted to do business with in the long run. The three thresholds were definitely in play, but beyond that, people make decisions every day based on feelings. I spent my money with the companies that made me feel the best throughout the process—and will more than likely use them again the next time I travel in Europe.

Ask yourself: Is your brand useful, usable, and meaningful to people who are engaging with you? Do you understand the journey they are on and what their functional and emotional needs are? Are you designing experiences that make your brand standout among your competitors—across the three thresholds and the feelings that drive gut decisions?

If so, squeezing your brand is well worth the juice for your customers.

Have questions? I’m always happy to discuss new ways to design valuable customer experiences: email me at

Originally posted on LinkedIn

Deflection is a Dirty Word

posted by Brian J. Curran

Words Matter. Words matter even more when you are in the midst of a transformation and want to get everyone aligned around key themes. Of course, the theme that I am referring to is around becoming a customer centric organization and embracing empathy as a key ingredient of that transformation. As Customer Care Leaders, you are the catalyst and voice for a lot of these transformations.

So let’s pretend for a moment that you are practicing empathy and now wearing your customer’s shoes and you are sitting in a meeting or at a conference. Ok, is everyone in the proper frame of mind?

Now, how would you react if I said that my goal was to deflect your incoming call or email? How many of you awoke this morning hoping that you would be deflected by someone before your day ended? Doesn't sound like a very positive experience to me? Sounds like rejection to me.

So let’s look at Merriam – Webster’s definition of the word.


  verb de·flect \di-ˈflekt, dē-\

: to cause (something that is moving) to change direction

: to hit something and suddenly change direction

: to keep (something, such as a question) from affecting or being directed at a person or thing

This doesn't sound like something that I want to do to customers. If you are like most companies, you are spending an inordinate amount of money to attract and retain customers and deflecting them after all of that investment doesn't seem to make business sense at all.

So why did we start using the word deflection and how did it become so invasive in the customer care / service vocabulary? Like most misguided strategy or language, it started with some form of executive edict to drastically change something in our business without preview to the long term effect of this change. In the case of deflection, I can assume that someone looked at the expenses associated with servicing customers and determined that this expense needed to be lowered. No one in their right mind would say to just abandon these customers and refuse to service them so the best alternative was to determine how to service these customers but at a reduced cost. To this, I say Bravo ! There is nothing wrong with being both effective and efficient in the way we service our customers. What is wrong is thinking about this strategy as a blunt instrument. Reduce the calls, emails or any other assisted service and replace it with some form of low cost self service by forcing the customer to “right channel” and then measuring this short term coup as deflection.

Now I know by now that many of you are saying “No Brian, that is not what we are doing or what we meant” or “You are taking this out of context” and you may be right. But why call it deflection?

I think what we all mean is that we want to offer alternatives to the high cost of assisted service by offering other capabilities that not only meet the customer’s needs but in most cases even offer a more superior alternative to a phone call. We are not deflecting the call but merely offering a solution that is efficient, effective, effortless and empowering to the customer that they can use on their own terms. This is not deflection but merely another form of service elevated to take advantage of all the mediums and trends available in today’s society.

So how about using some more modern terms to reflect what we really want to say? Remember that words matter.

I know that many of you have developed or are in the process of developing much more sophisticated approaches to delivering compelling service to your customers that drives stickiness and advocacy. These sophisticated approaches determine who the customer is, the context of the customer’s situation and the most appropriate way to provide the experience and solution that best fits the moment and the customer’s needs both at a functional and emotional way. Avant-garde strategy such as these cannot be measured by a Neanderthal like term that only talks about reduction. This is about matching the delivery of a tailored experience to the desired attitudinal, behavioral and financial outcomes associated with that experience.

For instance, you may be measuring attitudes such as satisfaction or willingness to promote or behaviors such as frequency of purchase and/or brand mentions. You may be even measuring the correlation of these attitudes and behaviors to financial results such as traffic, conversion rate, AHT etc.

But what if you combined the types of customers (segments) that you are engaging, the situation governing the engagement (journey moment, location etc.), the medium used to engage the customer (self, assisted, community etc.) along with the outcomes (attitudes, behaviors, results) and built a matrix that showed which capability was most effective and efficient and then determined where to invest? Maybe the phone call works best in a complex situation for baby boomers during normal business hours and the self service knowledge based question and answer works best for product support for millennials at 2 in the morning. I am not deflecting the customer but merely matching the capabilities of my brand to my customers in the most relevant way possible.

So let’s come up with a new name. I choose RELEVANCY. Did I offer the right capability, at the right time to the right person and did it offer a value equation that both served the customer and the brand in a long term valuable (LTV) way. Not as simple as saying that our phone calls went down and our self service went up but much more revealing in the long run.

Look for more conversations about how to measure this in the near future. I hope to hear lots of opinions on this subject matter and meet many of you as I am traveling around the globe. You will recognize me immediately as the guy having the allergic reaction to someone touting their deflection strategy.

Originally posted on LinkedIn