Why The Customer Journey Is No Longer Linear And Brands Must Evolve
In the new digital age, days of linear conversion paths and funnels are long gone – and brands need to stop seeing the path to conversion as a journey. By definition a journey is ‘the act of travelling from one place to another’, the implication being that every journey has a beginning, middle and an end.
A customer is never on a predetermined course – they are unpredictable! By ‘understanding the customer journey’ brands run the risk of pigeon holing their customers and losing them, by trying to control the process.
Every customer is different and has their own set of needs, wants, preferences and behavioural patterns. Brands need to see customers as people and appreciate that each relationship will be different. In the modern age, the journey now has perpetual motion, with the course firmly in the customers’ hands. By making this change, a brand can start to make meaningful relationships and making itself more relevant in the modern, multi-channel world.
In 2013 Amazon took a big step and left the online world; offering click and collect locations across the UK and allowing the customer to ‘take delivery’ of goods on their own terms. In 2014 they went a step further and introduced click and collect to the London Underground network; enhancing the bond between online and offline even more. Marks & Spencer also blurred the traditional channel lines by introducing touch-screen units in their stores; allowing customers to walk in, look at the rails, and then order the items online and have them delivered to their stores.
So why aren’t all brands following this lead? I mean isn’t the old ecommerce dream ‘to be like Amazon’ since they do it so well? Fear factor. Not all brands have the resources that Amazon have at their disposal. Being multi-channel means spreading your customer service efforts across many platforms; and the thought of delivering a consistent, high level of customer experience is daunting. Other brands however are following this lead and see it as a challenge; an opportunity to emerge in their markets as innovators and leaders in customer service. How accessible and versatile a brand becomes can often say more about the brand than the content that it creates.
Brands who previously were able to define a customer journey, maybe even map it out on their websites like this…
… now face a new reality. They no longer possess the means to dictate how a customer interacts with them. It’s 2016, customers know that if a brand doesn’t engage with them on their terms, another brand will. Brands are all on a level playing field, customers won’t discriminate between those that offer Twitter as a means of customer service and those that only use it as a ‘broadcast’ platform. If you have a presence on a channel, you’re on it and you put effort into it as a content distribution channel and a customer service channel.
So how do you build a multi-channel strategy when customer interaction could span departments and multiple channels, with the customer stopping and starting as and when they choose too?
The challenge facing most brands is they look in their Google Analytics and at their sales reports, and they see these scattered, random patterns that look costly to serve. This leads to a brand looking to goal conversions and metrics like cost-per-acquisition, leading to the brand designing the ‘optimal journey’, which ultimately leaves customers frustrated. Boilerplate templates are a symptom of this, while there will always be a need for them in the world, they should not and cannot ever replace real human engagement. If someone complains via Twitter and your first response is to issue a boilerplate telling them to follow a link to complain it’s dismissive and lacks empathy. Companies will have procedures and complaints channels in place, your job as a brand is to put their touch points in the correct place. The correct place as defined by the customer.
Designing the experience is important and it’s necessary! Change is here and needs to be accepted. Being able to attribute cost to specific channels is becoming an archaic way of thinking and can lead to poor decision making and resources being allocated inefficiently.
The traditional paradigm has shifted and is continuously evolving. The pressure exerted from omni-channel advancements is leaving many brands behind. One example of this is how Facebook is enabling it’s users to communicate with brands on the platform via Facebook Messenger. This change will have not gone unnoticed by the customer, who will expect the same level of customer service through this as they would if they used traditional methods (such as telephone and email). Brands already well established on Facebook will need to embrace this change and alter their customer service methods to accommodate it, opting not to do it isn’t just opting out of this new feature, it’s opting out of meeting certain customer needs.
A brand must make a conscious effort to be present on a multitude of channels, it shows the customer that the brand is forward thinking, looking beyond the previous paradigm of the ‘customer journey’. While many argue that technological advancements are driving this change, it’s a lot more than the fact we have hand held internet access at all times. Multi-channel is just the label given to the solution of meeting modern customer needs. Choosing to take this approach means putting customer-centric thinking at the heart of each channel’s strategy. But what if the brand doesn’t have the desire (or means) to be multi-channel, how does it go about meeting the needs of these customers? To put it simply, it can’t.
Modern customer service isn’t 9-til-5, it’s a perpetual engagement machine, where customer controlled erratic ‘journeys’ need to be met on the customers terms, with the end result being customer satisfaction with as little effort being exerted by the customer as possible.
Dan is a digital marketer based in Leeds, UK. He as passionate about all things digital, especially how we communicate online as brands and as people.
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