|Image “Barton Highway” courtesy of Bidgee|
In this post, Fred addresses the challenges faced today in aligning your operations to the way your customers discover, engage, purchase, use, and discard your product, and outlines five steps you can take to stay in the same lane as your customer.
Understanding the journey that a customer takes when dealing with a business or brand can be an incredibly valuable asset, allowing a brand to map their customer’s journey throughout the life of their relationship. This is true for both B2C and B2B (and potentially C2C) markets. When used properly, this helps a brand understand, and align itself, with the process that a customer follows when discovering, purchasing, and ultimately discarding, a product or service.
When the journey of a brand and a customer are aligned, the customer and the brand follow the same path, building a relationship that becomes one of transparency, understanding, and trust – each can anticipate the other’s actions, a key to enabling (and encouraging) customers to become loyal advocates. They travel the same road, with the same on-ramps, signs, rest stops, and exits.
But when there is a problem, and expectations are not met, or even established, the customer journey can quickly go off the path, becoming more of an off-road rally. Key to avoiding that 4x4 experience are some simple steps that brands can take to help keep the brand and customer aligned through the customer’s journey.
THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY
A customer’s journey serves as the framework against which they anticipate, and ultimately judge, a seller (and ultimately form a basis for a customer’s satisfaction level with the brand). It is, simply put, the complete experience of a customer with a brand throughout their entire relationship. While there are many different ways of defining the various “touch points” between brands and consumers, they generally include elements of the following: Awareness, Interest, Contact, Decision, Purchase, Usage (including deployment), Support (including troubleshooting), Disposal, and (hopefully) Repurchase (including the upsell).
Brands often use a journey map to plot out the various touch points between the brand and customer, going well beyond the metrics of the experience and delving into the “why” and motivational behavior of a customer (the triggers and expected outcome from a customer perspective). What are some of the benefits of mapping a customer’s journey?
- Understanding a “brand” from a customer’s perspective
- Focusing on long-term outcomes, even when the current need is tactical
- Anticipating when, how, and why customers will engage with a brand (and what they expect)
- Ensuring brands have the right resources (information, product, answers – and employees) at the right time, right place in the right format
- Predicting the “next” portion of a customer’s journey (and leading them there)
- Converting end-of-customer events into next-path-customers (keeping, or bringing back, customers who would have otherwise departed down other paths)
THE PROBLEM WITH CUSTOMER JOURNEYS or STEPS TO ALIGNING THE BRAND/CUSTOMER JOURNEY
Customer journeys are much like a cross-country family trip: they often take longer than expected, have their share of unexpected potholes, and can easily be disrupted by the smallest changes in behavior. Trends, such as Digital Transformation, the shift to a fast-evolving “mobile” economy, and the globalization of social/online behavior, regularly disrupt the customer journey.
New market entrants or consumer preferences can easily change the motivation of a customer, if not their level of expectation. (Consider how Zappos and Amazon have shaped general consumer behavior and expectations for online sales, requiring brands in unrelated industries to retool to meet changes in customer behavior/expectations.)
Here are a few approaches that brands can use to better understand, and leverage, their customer’s journey:
1. MAP YOUR CUSTOMER ECOSYSTEM
It’s not always one person, and for some markets, it’s rarely only one person. Some people buy, some people use. Some people use, while others benefit. Quite simply, there is very rarely a single “customer” who travels the entire journey, especially within the B2B market, where a buyer reflects not only their own wants/needs, but the needs of others and the business.
Often times, it is not obvious who the real influencers, or even users, of a product may be (or what is driving their needs or the company drivers). This can mean that the actual buyer may not be the person who first became “aware” of the brand or the person who continues the journey through service and support may not be the same customer.
Takeaway: Think “journeys” when mapping out your customer ecosystem - understanding not just “how” but “who” can allow you to better understand, and support, your customer through their collective journey.
2. LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF MARKET (VOM)
We often talk about the Voice of Customer (VOC) or the Voice of Employee (VOE), but they are both part of the larger Voice of Market (VOM) that includes customers, prospects, competitors, influencers, media, etc. Why is the VOM important? Customers are influenced by much more than any single brand. Word of Mouth (WOM) continues to be a major, if not the major, influence today as brands chase the Net Promoter Score (NPS) to gauge the likelihood of a customer recommending their product.
Takeaway: Understanding who/what is influencing a brand’s customers and prospects is a critical step in understanding their behavior, their motivations for buying, and the evolution of the customer journey they anticipate.
3. CONSUME THE CONSUMER’S TECHNOLOGY
We are a technology-driven culture, yet it’s easy for brands to become overwhelmed by the rapid pace of advancement, particularly regarding the technology available to consumers today. Technology has three main areas of impact today:
- tools available for a brand to sell, market, and engage with their customers (listen, support, monitor, including both active engagement tools and #bigdata / #sensordata tools)
- devices and networks that expand information and choices available to a customer (such as mobile devices, social networks, special-purpose/review sites, etc.)
- technology that changes market demand and/or market expectations (such as the appearance of video-based customer support on Amazon tablets, which will likely influence customer expectations for unrelated industries)
4. LOOK FOR NON-LINEAR BEHAVIOR
Consumer journeys are not always in a straight line, nor are they constrained to continuous communications over a single channel. Customer touch points are often multi-channel, and communications often occurs across enough channels to mimic omni-channel. The issue isn’t one of bringing all channels, but rather recognizing that the behavior and signals that a customer broadcasts may not mean the same as they used to. Looking at this from a sales perspective, the traditional sales-funnel model doesn’t always apply as it has in the past. With increasing information resources available, customers may bypass traditional touch point opportunities or processes. Recognizing how, and why, this is occurring can lead to brands and customers continuously altering or streamlining the customer journey.
Takeaway: There are more customer paths today than there were yesterday; find those that offer efficiency and increased value.
5. THE CUSTOMER JOURNEY IS A STORY
Treat the customer journey like a story, with a beginning, a middle, and an end (and perhaps a sequel). Like characters in a novel, brands and customers will have many interactions in different locations with different purposes - just because two characters meet in the same place doesn’t mean they are going to talk about the same item. Interests change as characters evolve – as do customers. Understanding your customer’s story is key to understanding their behavior throughout the customer journey and also critical to understanding when stories diverge into spin-offs.
Takeaway: It’s important to remember that like a story in a book, every customer touch point should lead somewhere – make sure your customer interactions lead somewhere and give a clue as to the next scene.
Image “Barton Highway” by Bidgee, made available under Creative Commons License.