In a competitive environment where market share is driven directly by the customer, improving customer engagement is vital to develop lasting relationships. However, are merchants taking the customer experience seriously enough? How can merchants evaluate their success, given that customer touchpoints have expanded so dramatically since the advent of the internet as a retailing environment?
We’re living in the age of the customer. Companies now compete primarily on the customer experience. Consequently, it is time to walk a mile in your customers’ shoes. To do this, merchants of all sizes need to measure how customers feel about their relationships with products, businesses or brands. Since no two customers are the same, and the customer experience itself now utilizes an ever-increasing array of channels, merchants are looking at formalizing the process by using customer journey mapping.
Omnichannel: the spectrum of channels continues to grow and integration is key
Plotting the Voyage in an Omnichannel Market
The idea of examining the customer journey in its modern multichannel form has been a mainstream concept for almost a decade, but many merchants still haven’t fully engaged in the process. A customer journey map is a simple idea – it details the steps customers go through from initial contact to the purchase of a product or service. The more touchpoints, whether online, mobile or in-store, the more complicated and necessary such a map becomes.
From a customer’s point-of-view, the timeline begins with initial awareness and the first engagement – possibly through an advertisement – then covers any potential research the customer may conduct before they decide to buy the product or service, use it and then share the experience with others. The customer journey map examines each stage in the timeline to determine what is happening. What is the customer doing at each stage? What actions are they taking to move themselves on to the next stage? What motivates the customer to move onto the next stage? What emotions are they feeling? Are there any uncertainties or overcomplicated processes that may prevent the customer from moving towards the ultimate buy decision?
The aim is to ease the process and remove any barriers that may forestall the purchase itself.
Pre-internet, customer journeys from awareness to purchase were often very simple and linear, with very little channel hopping. However, as the number of channels has exploded, and consumers becoming increasingly channel-agnostic, customer journeys can take many forms, with even single interactions taking place across numerous touchpoints.
Currently, the average shopper will use an average of more than 10 unique sources of information before making a purchasing decision and customers are massively influenced by online reviews. The task may seem daunting, but retailers need to embrace the new omnichannel marketplace and ensure their message is getting across consistently, wherever the customer is.
Making the Path to Purchase Truly Personal
The first step in any customer journey map is to identify the buyer personas and demographic segments that must be serviced. After all, if you can’t tell a typical customer’s story, how can you accurately capture all the nuances that influence their journey? A clear understanding of all the customer touchpoints is a precursor to a comprehensive and consistent customer experience. Clearly, this is more than simply the retailer’s website or retail store; it must include multiple social media platforms and consumer advice sites to better understand what the customers are doing throughout the process.
Businesses need an understanding of all potential players that may influence and alter the customer experience: friends, family, colleagues, research sites, competitor offerings, etc. From this, retailers can identify the decision points and positive interactions that can be used to reduce frustration and smooth the way to purchase decisions. This involves identifying the potential for personalizing the content as it is delivered based on intelligent data usage. Consider how many existing systems know about different clients or the various customer segments and how that information might be used to enhance the buying experience.
It is vital for businesses to understand how every customer needs to be treated across all channels, but also across all silos within the organization. The customer journey map must cover all sales points: planning, inventory, distribution, care, and support to ensure that they have the right content for each step to smooth the path to purchase. The customer journey map provides a visual representation that can optimize engagement and improve decision making.
Are You Doing It Right?
Whether the idea of customer journey mapping is a new concept for a retailer or an established practice, there are many conceptual flaws that can break the process from the outset.
- Don’t map the customer journey from an internal point of view
- The entire process is inherently customer-centric. Internal silos and business processes are a dangerous irrelevance that confuses the picture
- One size does not fit all
- Treating every customer the same is one of the quickest ways to kill the process. Define segments/demographics to create buyer personas, each with different emotional reactions and different experiences within the journey.
- The wrong data invalidates the whole process
- Ignore irrelevant information that may not impact the journey and remember website usage is not the most important behavior to be mapped; create accurate snapshots and profiles of real customers that are not simply constructs of marketers’ imaginations.
- It is not a one-time process
- Mapping the journey is an on-going process to match changing customer expectations and ever-expanding channels.
- There is no simple technology solution to buy
- There is no quick-fix technology to build an effective customer journey map for you.
The Most Effective Differentiator
There is no single right way to create a customer journey. Each organization needs to find what works best when trying to understand the journey that customers navigate as they engage with your company, brand, products, partners, and people. The winners are going to be those that improve their customers’ experiences and strengthen their brand reputations in the process. The results will be seen as these companies become leaders in their markets – a beacon for how effective customer journey mapping should be executed.