Adaptation and innovation are not new concepts. As a society, people have constantly been striving to mix things up - to discover, design and develop new ways of doing things – with the goal being to simplify, make things more effective, enhance capabilities and respond to customer wants/needs.
Take for example the pneumatic tubes once at bank drive-through lanes. Remember those? For some of you, probably not, but for this kid of the 80s, those were pretty darn cool…especially when the nice lady on the other end sent a lollipop with the cash.
While I personally think it would be a kick if a banking institution brought back the pneumatic tube system (think “retro” and just imagine the shares that would get), I don’t think this is going to happen and we know why…it would slow down the drive-through lines and would mean we would actually have to employ and pay human beings versus giving the job to a smart machine.
I also think of how Square came to be. The business model is constantly changing – again based on consumer demands – and more small businesses wanted to provide an easy way for their customers to pay for products/services wherever they chose to make a purchase.
This gets to the point at hand. Just like adaptation and innovation with new ways of doing things, the customer too has adapted as changes have taken place in technological innovation. These adaptations and innovations have changed the customer journey – the way a customer engages with a brand from the initial contact or awareness stage through the process of “getting to know one another” to sealing the deal with a purchase to sharing that experience, continually supporting the brand and nurturing the relationship. The B2C - or really C2B - journey is no longer linear. With digital, the journey (or way consumers get their information and brand interactions) is really all over the place and brands need to realize this and approach the experience differently.
The customer journey used to be pretty simple with brands pretty much in control. It went something like this: The Good Ol' Days:
- Consumer sees television ad or print ad.
- Consumer maybe picks up rotary phone to call friend to ask if they have heard of the product.
- Consumer goes to physical brick & mortar store or calls to purchase product or service.
- Consumer gets their product/service and is happy as a clam and hopefully buys again OR
- Consumer is upset with product/service, writes letter (with pen and paper) to said brand, pours brandy and pouts.
Consumers were more passive, more trusting of brands and the promises they sent. There were not as many options or brands competing for attention of the consumer. There were not as many resource hubs or communities to help the consumer evaluate the brand, product or service and the brand itself did not have as many ways to target the consumer as we do today. The journey was very linear, very simple, and ultimately a pretty quick process from initial awareness to purchase.
While the stages were and still are somewhat similar...
the path the consumer takes today is completely different. Consumers are in the driver’s seat and as much as brands do to try to get them to veer in their direction, the brand is just a back-seat driver.
But, back-seat drivers can definitely influence the journey and the final destination if mapped out clearly. With digital offering so many channels, touch points, delivery devices, etc., your brand really needs to take time to map out the digital customer experience (while also factoring in offline touches) so that you can ensure that the experience across different channels, devices, business departments is as optimal and memorable as it can be.
For example, let’s look at the hotel customer experience.
Today's New Customer Journey
Something triggers awareness or “inspiration” for the need/desire for a hotel. What are those things? Maybe you have been invited to an out-of town wedding or a business event the begins your search OR maybe it was a social post or ad, an article in a magazine about your hotel or travel in general, maybe it was an email you sent to a list of potential hotel guests that spurred the prospective consumer to take the next step.
Now the customer is exploring options. They go online to do an organic search for “boutique hotel San Francisco”. Is your brand running paid search campaigns to be front and center when the consumer searches for you? Maybe they search via social channels – what is your presence on social like? Does your Facebook page come up when people search “hotels San Francisco”? Does your page have good reviews? What if the customer goes to Yelp, TripAdvisor? Do you have a presence there? Are you responding to potential guests and past guest complaints? When they come to your website, is the experience simple, clean? Can they see photos and live chat with a reservations agent? How does your website experience compare to that of your competition? And, are you doing any retargeting to your website visitors (even visitors of competitor sites) via display ads or social ads to remind them of your hotel?
Once the customer makes a purchase, how do you then further engage with them? Do you collect their email keep them in the loop of special offers or send triggered emails based on their visit that gives them ideas of what to pack based on weather, events in the area, etc.? Maybe get their phone number so you can send text message reminders like check-in time, changes in weather. Maybe you send them a special gift (dependent on budget of course) like a walking map of San Francisco with a personal letter expressing your anticipation of their visit and a free drink at their bar upon arrival.
A lot falls into this stage that can influence the journey. Everything from the initial check-in experience to room service. This is where the customer is driven to share. Customers share great experiences, but they also share poor experiences. There are many opportunities at this stage to engage with your customer to make sure that experience is a good one and take steps to remedy the not so good ones. Social media listening and monitoring is huge in this stage. You should have a dedicated team listening to mentions of your brand and the sentiment associated with your brand/product/service. That team should be ready to respond and engage. Listening at this stage can enlighten brands to new ways of doing things or product/service enhancements.
You want customers to come back, right? This is the stage where brands need to stay top of mind with their past customers. Think personalized email marketing sending offers and content based on audience preference, social content targeting, SMS special offers or maybe even a special area on your website – a VIP area for past guests. We all know that it costs much more to gain a new customer than it does to keep a current customer. This is also the stage where customer refer business by telling their friends and family about your brand. Again this is where social monitoring comes in. Your brand can track mentions and sentiment and be there to thank those who are loyal to your brand. Consumers don’t necessarily expect a brand to thank them personally and when it happens, it’s pretty darn powerful.
Bottom line: The customer journey has changed. Brands need to think of all touch points their customer could experience – offline and the ever-growing digital touches – to ensure brand alignment and consistency and uncover where things break down and where lucrative and meaningful opportunities lie. Great read on Customer Journey Mapping by Paul Borg.