Stand up, stand out, and stand firm: this was the message delivered by Shaun Smith to ALTO delegates as he rattled through a roll call of best practice in brand management and customer service in September 2015 in London.

Business case studies such as Zappos shoes and Lexus cars provided tangible examples of brands that have achieved significant commercial success by focusing on their customer experience moreso than the products they sell.

It was an enjoyable and highly relevant seminar for a room full of professionals all keen to finetune their offer for young, dynamic and diverse clients in the crowded study abroad marketplace. With referral business also an important channel in the industry, delegates enjoyed Smith’s interactive session. They got the chance to work in focus groups to delve deeper into their own business challenges.

Smith, who runs consultancy Smith+co, encouraged members to focus on an aspect of service or delivery and excel in that area, be that the best customer journey (First Direct bank) or product leadership (Apple).

And he explained that having a brand that is identifiable is a sign of success. Even if, like Ryanair, the brand is identified as “no frills”, if it can dominate a market and not actually anger its client base (which Ryanair has made some steps to improve on), then a clear brand ethos is valuable.

Other tips from Smith: empower your team to personalise the customer journey. He talked about a new business paradigm of a “wholeocracy” replacing a “hierarchy” of staff.

And measuring customer satisfaction rather than their experience can be a pitfall, he warned. “Every experience either builds or destroys the brand.”

Paul O’Kelly joined delegates in the afternoon after spending the morning on a session aimed at empowering future leaders. He shared his knowledge on what makes a good leader with ALTO delegates in the room.

He spoke about the fantastic discipline that successful leaders in business have; a “productive paranoia”. They don’t worry about things, but come up with solutions to problems.

“No company has more good or bad luck than any other”, he said, but those with strong leadership would react better to any situation.

Humble leadership was also a characteristic of business leaders on the right path, he said, as well as a thirst for “empirical creativity”, ideas based on as many facts and data as possible.

Finally, he offered tips for enthusing a workforce: “safety, belonging and mattering are the only three ingredients required for engaged employees”.