Beacon Brands: Success Through Bucking the Trend

Say the word ‘unicorn’ in business and minds inevitably jump to those rare billion-dollar tech start-ups whose achievement is highly coveted. Yet there is another type of unicorn that manages to fly under the radar of industry veneration but which is, in many respects, no less impressive.

Christina Stahlkopf

Senior Consultant at C Space

Christina Stahlkopf, Ph.D. is a Senior Consultant in C Space’s Boston office and a core member of our global research team. Christina turns stats to story and is the lead researcher of our 2018 Customer, Experienced. study. A sociologist, ethnographer and author, she’s our in-house pathfinder, constantly mapping out ways for brands to innovate and push boundaries. You’ll often find Christina on the ski slopes or being towed behind a ski boat on Lake Winnipesaukee (pronounced winna-pah-SAW-key) alongside her husband and two children.

I’m talking about those equally rare companies who have managed to attract, capture and hold consumer admiration in industries that are widely disparaged by those very same consumers.

In C Space’s 2018 report, Customer, Experienced., some of the most vilified and poorest rated industries include telecommunications, financial services and airlines. The common thread that binds these disparate industries together is consumer perception that most of the companies within them are indifferent and emotionless at best and cruel at worst. Consumers feel routinely tricked, cheated and ignored. And, they often feel stuck.

The industry shakers

Set against this background of vitriolic consumer sentiment, several companies – T-Mobile, USAA and First Direct, and Alaska Airlines – have managed to rise against their industry standards, earning consumer respect and a growing following. In each case, the company has listened closely to consumers and actively tackled key frustrations, bucking industry norms in the process.

T-Mobile gives clarity

For T-Mobile, that means injecting clarity into a wireless industry that has thrived on a degree of obscurity and ambiguity, particularly when it comes to the fine print of plans and pricing. While other industry stalwarts have created opportunity from confusion, T-Mobile sees a different kind of opportunity – one based on the advantage of clarity. Taking a “what you see is what you get” approach to pricing, T-Mobile has no hidden costs; all fees and taxes are included in the quoted plan price.

“I think T-Mobile recognized how frustrating it is to be quoted a rate for a plan and then be billed a different (higher) amount because of taxes and add-on fees. I love that their plan rates are exactly what you pay!” T-Mobile Customer

USAA and First Direct provide a connection

For USAA in the United States and First Direct in the UK, going against the industry norm means reinstating a human touch – caring, compassion, connection – back into the financial sector. A dogged focus by many industry players on technological efficiencies (such as machine learning and AI) paired with continuing scandals of greed and fraud have left consumers feeling disconnected. USAA and First Direct stand out for embracing the power of plain human connection. Each customer contact point isn’t just transactional but an opportunity to actively relationship build.

And these two companies invest in those moments, not just with technology, but with representatives who are quick to respond (no endless looping through phone trees) and noticeably engaged (asking customers before anything else if they are OK).

“Every time I have ever needed anything I was treated with great respect and in some cases compassion. The way they do business should be a model for other businesses. They would be much better off.” – USAA Consumer

“They have clearly listened to what customers want … to speak to a human, directly, not via Option 1/2/3/4.” – First Direct Consumer

Alaska Airlines put customers first

For Alaska Airlines, going against the grain means demonstrably putting customers first. You can certainly say that air travel today is an experience, albeit generally not a pleasant one. Stressed out, unhelpful and sometimes intractable staff; constantly fluctuating prices; nickeled and dimed at every turn – of course passengers feel devalued.

Alaska has gained ground against the industry by providing an end-to-end experience where customers, their time and their money are all respected. Food can be pre-ordered online via the airline’s mobile app; baggage arrives no more than 20 minutes after passengers; a famed price guarantee offers credit if the fare price drops.

“They do not follow many industry trends that anger customers.”Alaska Customer

Reaping the benefits

As well as recognizing deeply felt consumer sore spots, each of these four companies has actively sought solutions to them – even if that meant trailblazing alone. The rewards for these efforts are strong – with increasing CXC scores, consumer mentions, recommendations, intent to purchase, or all of the above, year after year.

For example:

  • All four companies have seen a year after year improvement in CXC scores between 2016 and 2018.
  • All four companies stand out in 2018 with positive CXC scores compared to industries that have negative scores.
  • T-Mobile has seen an unprecedented 10 point increase in their CXC scores from 2016 to 2018 and is now the only US wireless carrier to have a positive score.
  • Both T-Mobile and Alaska Airlines increased their consumer awareness by tripling their number of consumer mentions between 2016 and 2018.
  • In 2018, all four companies have at least twice as many consumers that recommended them compared to the industry average. Moreover, T- Mobile saw a seven-fold increase in recommendations between 2016 and 2018.
  • In 2018, all four companies except T-Mobile have at least twice as many consumers that plan to continue purchasing products and services from them compared to the industry average.

As beacons, these four companies have the potential to drive industry changes from within – that is if others follow opportunities from navigating the consumer-centric path they have set.


Download Customer, Experienced. here to find out more.

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