Is There Still a Yellow Brick Road?

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This holiday season, more people are opting to shop online. But are businesses prepared? Are you offering the same level of convenience, ease, and expertise through your online channels? As digital engagements become more common, it’s time to review your customer journey and make sure that you’re giving your customers the greatest gift – exactly what they expect.

Not too long ago, mapping out the customer journey required businesses to first hire survey companies to mine intelligence and customer opinions, organise sampling exercises and analyse footfall data, or in this digital age, hits on their sites or likes on their postings. When companies talked about the customer journey in the past, it sounded as simple as a brisk walk in the park.

However, that once linear journey has now been replaced by a complex matrix of touchpoints with the customer at the centre. There are now countless points of accessibility for consumers across so many devices that it simply highlights just how indirect and fractured the customer journey can be.

Map customer touchpoints

We used to be able to draw a line on a board to represent the customer journey. Today, that journey has multiple lines and we talk about ‘journeys’ in the plural. The road to purchase is increasingly intermittent and impulse-based.

Imagine someone considering signing up a new credit card. He may begin to gather information while physically at his bank. He may then learn more from his laptop at work and home, or even on his mobile device. Perhaps he may email the bank for more details or individually text a sales consultant through a mobile chat app. He might then have a think and then decide to complete the account registration process using a tablet or mobile phone at a later stage.

What that means is that while most companies have a preconceived hierarchy of touchpoints, this hierarchy may not apply any more. In each instance, it is the customer who decides how to move forward, not the bank.

Get your touchpoints right

That means every possible access point has to be near-perfect. A touchpoint the company might have regarded as less important may turn out to be the critical deciding factor. But conducting banking transactions on a mobile phone offers very different experience than banking on a desktop, and unifying these experiences is not easy. I for one, still can’t get used to the idea that I have to authorise a desktop transaction via my mobile app. But when I log into my mobile app, the desktop spits out an error message that reads ’the system have found multiple logins and therefore have terminated this login’, which means I have to start the transaction all over again – logging into the mobile first then desktop.

If banks decide to function without physical branches, it may serve them well to first confront the same digital challenges most consumers face – and dislike – and then to offer consistent digital convenience coupled with necessary security alerts on verification, low balances and potential fraud.

Understand what it means for the company

Take Amazon as an example. It consistently tops customer service surveys, outshines its various competition and this raises expectations. If people can buy a road bike that is perfectly sized for them in just one click, why can’t their bank, doctor or airline offer the same level of service?

And if disappointed, consumers now have access to technology that will amplify how they feel about the customer experience — the good, but especially, the bad. If they had a bad experience, they will make their sentiments known in customer comments, in vlogs or on social media. And word-of-mouth can be the most influential driver of purchase – or not to, in many cases. 90 percent of all consumers read online reviews before visiting a business, for example, and 72 percent say they will act only after reading a positive review. Negative commentary and feedback left in cyberspace can be crippling to a retail business.

That means companies must work to deliver experiences that meet customer expectations and focus resources to deliver experiences that will be memorable and drive overall brand perception.

Companies need to understand, in a very intimate way, how customers react to their brands at each touchpoint. That includes those you can control such as your website or your social media feed, for example. But you also need to understand how people react to your brand in places you don’t have much control – at branches, in stores, from dealers, on their own social media platforms and product review forums.

Measure the impact of your touchpoints

Next, companies need to measure the importance of each touchpoint and get a sense of which will have the biggest impact on the customer experience. Once the ideal experience — the signature touchpoint — has been identified, everything needs to be aligned with it. Parallel measures are highly recommended to enable companies to track this experience over time.

But that’s not the end.

Customer expectations are constantly increasing from demanding same-day delivery to free shipping to BOGO promotions. With innovative companies focusing on growing their digital retail segments and promising to deliver anything at any time, customers expect experiences to improve all the time. Once they have shopped at stores where product passion is a key ingredient, they are going to want that same level of expertise and enthusiasm every single time they transact from the same brand.

Finally, the most important interaction your customer has with your company isn’t always through a marketing or distribution channel. Sometimes it’s with the product itself. Companies have to put as much effort into the user experience as they do the marketing experience. That way, every time a customer uses the product, they will be reassured that they have made the right purchase – and hopefully, come back for more.

For companies to keep up with well-travelled and informed consumers who are expecting more and more, they need to align and involve each division, department and market. We have witnessed many companies promote the idea of synergy and propagate a unified approach to doing business. Some have even embedded these ideals into their corporate mission but often, this is a corporate pipe dream, because each division, department and the market are run by individuals with their own set of delivery expectations. Completely breaking down silos isn’t realistic, but companies can instead build an effective matrix or a more holistic work process to connect them.

Project teams need to accept that in this new universe, the launch trajectory has and will continually be upended. In the old way of thinking, once a marketing initiative was implemented, it was done. In the digital world, once it’s out there, it has just begun. And you have to help it. The brand has to give it momentum to stay relevant.

I’ve too often seen brand managers, even senior ones, and marketing directors giving up this fight. However, it will take more money to change perception than it does to build a strong brand once it’s established. Not all organisations are equally suited to uncovering that kind of cooperation. But it’s a skill that can be learned and facilitated.

Prepare for change

The customer journey has evolved. Plain and simple. Consumers expect brands to deliver seamless and holistic experiences across all touchpoints. Some you can control; some you can only influence. The experience must be delivered from conceptualising the product or service relevance, to pre-purchase and all the way through to product use.  If brands can’t meet their customers’ needs, the customers will not only share their negative experiences with others, but they will also quickly move on to the competition in favour of better and more fulfilling experiences.

December has always brought about a feeling of relief that the year is coming to an end; more so this year than any other. If you’re anything like me, you will be looking forward to the year-end festivities, in my case, being another year wiser, and to 2021, when, with a bit of luck, we will all be released from the restrictions that have curtailed our mobility, business and lifestyle. I am enormously proud of how team COMMUNICATE has pulled together this year and am amazed at the individual resilience in still staying sane while delivering quality work and ideas to clients remotely, amidst the various restrictions and lockdowns.

On a personal front, I seldom question change and desire because everyone will have their own reasons for their being and in their doing. I hope that despite the challenges and accomplishments in 2020, we will remain steadfast, humble and rediscover the joys that makes up who we are to our loved ones. On behalf of COMMUNICATE, a very blessed season’s greetings to all.