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Customer engagement: The relationship between experience and brand

By Dom O’Connor – Managing Partner Retail, Sports and Leisure Practice

Throughout the year, O2 hosts a series of Blue Door events, where we bring together thought leaders from business, not for profits and government for a round table discussion on the topics that matter most to them. Our first Blue Door event in 2019 focused on the customer experience.

In the first blog in this series, we considered why the customer experience matters, and what a customer experience strategy might look like. Now we’ll look at the relationship between the customer experience and brand.

It’s interesting to note how what we mean by ‘brand’ has evolved in recent years. In Principles of Marketing, first published in 1980, Philip Kotler defined it as a “name, term, sign symbol (or a combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product”. It was very much something in the control of the business.

The American Marketing Association’s modern definition, however, makes the role of the customer clear. It defines brand as “an overall experience of a customer that distinguishes an organization or product from its rivals in the eyes of the customer”.

This modern interpretation demonstrates that brand and the customer experience are inextricably linked. In fact everything a brand does, from its marketing and advertising to the service it provides, combines to shape the customer experience.

We can all think of brands that we feel loyal to as a result of an experience they have given us, either once or every time we interact with them. It may start with the purchase of goods or a service, then relate to the way a problem was dealt with. It’s vital for a brand to respond quickly to any problems, solve them effectively, but also to find other ways to engage customers throughout the life cycle.

At O2, we define our purpose as ‘making every day better through personal experiences that count’. One way we do this is through sponsorship, which has been part of our brand since we launched in 2002. Today our sponsorships reach our customers far and wide with England Rugby, The O2 – which won Best Sponsorship of the Last 25 Years at the 2019 UK Sponsorship Awards, and 20 O2 Academy venues. Not to mention access to Priority which provides tickets for 1000s of shows, as well as exclusive VIP experiences, perks, and offers for O2 customers..

The customer experience is especially important in retail. At our Blue Door Conference in September 2018, Liam Chennells, Retail Technology Director at Retail Week, shared what he thought was the most important characteristic of a growth retailer in 2018:

“They put the customer first, and recognise that the customer experience is EVERYTHING.”

It’s easy to say, but harder to put into practice. Successful retailers adopt a company culture that takes a customer focused view – obsessing over details to ensure that they provide their customers with an experience, rather than just a place to go to make a purchase.


Customers are connecting with brands in more ways than ever before, and their expectations have never been higher. The Consumer Action Monitor (CAM) 2018 report found consumers’ expectations of businesses are on the rise, with 12% wanting more from companies than they have done in the past.

Customers use social media and live chats to engage with businesses, and expect instant access at any time, from anywhere and on any device. If they can connect at any time, they expect a seamless and personalised service to match, whether that means answering questions, resolving issues or making a sale. To meet those expectations, brands need to consider four elements as a bare minimum:

1. Every interaction in one place

It used to be acceptable for brands to define their customers by the channel they chose to connect through, whether that was in store, mail order or, more recently, online. Not anymore. The customer chooses the channel that suits them best, at the time they want to connect.

They might phone for details of store locations. Join a live chat for product support. Go in store to try out a product or purchase online to organise delivery, either to themselves or someone they’re purchasing for.

Regardless of channel, every engagement must be captured and made easily accessible to whoever is currently interacting with the customer. The balance between digital and human touch cannot be overestimated – finding the right balance within your own organisation means understanding the strength of both, and then having them work together seamlessly.

2. Consistency

If every interaction between customer and brand is a single, seamless communication, then the service that you offer and the processes you follow must be consistent. Training to ensure that consistency can be maintained and replicated is critical. The saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link has never been truer.

3. A single team

Your customer wants their problem solved, or their question answered. It may be convenient for you to categorise the service you offer into different departments, but by having a single team, you’re able to offer the personalised experience that the customer has come to expect. They can have their issue sorted without being passed around multiple departments. If you can’t offer it then another brand almost certainly will.

4. Authenticity

Authenticity is a word that is often overused in business, but it’s significant when it comes to defining your customer experience strategy. You can promise all you like, and define your brand values in glowing terms, but it’s the customer – not you – who gets to decide on the extent to which you have delivered on your promises.

“Being customer led requires authenticity to be behind any decision making associated with the brand, even at the expense of cost effectiveness.”

Rachel Swift, Brand Director & Head of Creative, O2

Technology is already transforming the way brands deliver customer service, but there’s still room for improvement. The CAM report found that nearly a third of consumers believe that brands make more mistakes now as a result of relying too heavily on digital services alone. Inevitably there’s a sweet spot, where technology complements and supports customer service rather than replaces it completely. The human touch will always be required, and it will be most effective when delivered alongside the new and emerging technologies.

Want more detail: download the Blue Door Point of View discussing Customer Experience HERE.

Are you investing in the customer experience? Has your definition of brand kept pace? We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch on Twitter at @o2businessuk.

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