It’s a phrase often attributed to the Cherokee Native Americans: “Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” Only then might you truly understand another’s desires, motives and actions.
It’s an expression today’s marketers might well keep in mind. With the exception of the price of goods, customer satisfaction is driven by the customer journey experience. If we’re not walking in our customers’ shoes, how can we build the right customer journey?
Some months ago, senior Forrester analyst and customer-experience expert Jonathan Browne presented some forthright advice about the importance of understanding customer needs and processes:
“Most of us would like to think that we’re…customer-centric. However, unless we check the self-centred tendencies of our organisations, we run the risk of being…difficult to deal with, expecting customers to adapt to our language, practices, and policies. That won’t cut it anymore because customers have plenty of options.”
Today, smart customers are leveraging digital innovation in order to decide if and how they should interact with brands. They read reviews online to check the quality of products or services. They use search engines to compare prices and decide where to shop. They use social media to complain vocally to large audiences if something goes wrong.
The evolving digital landscape has redefined both the customer journey and the communications challenge and businesses are too often scrambling to catch up and reshape their marketing campaigns accordingly. While most executives are aware of the importance of differentiating on customer experience and being more customer-centric in order to retain old customers and acquire new ones, far too many are failing to understand the most effective way to do this. But without a strategy in place, it is all too easy to lose customer interest by being irrelevant, providing a poor service or simply by not understanding your customers and prospects.
Great customer experience begins with understanding exactly who your customers are, and their journey in terms of their interaction with your brand. One of the first steps to unlocking the value of creative campaigns is to map the customer journey. Effective mapping should look at the paths of individual customer segments and create an optimal set of potential experiences for them, whichever path they take. The advent of social media has naturally changed expectations of end-users, who now demand a higher level of speed, efficiency and accessibility to brands – as well as the flexibility to interact across traditional channels too. These interactions need to be on the customer’s terms and it is the marketer’s responsibility not to force organisational and operational process into the customer’s journey.
Furthermore, these journeys do not end at the point of purchase. They last for as long as the customer says they will – meaning it is more important than ever to place customers at the epicentre of any marketing strategy. It’s in the interest of the organisation that customers return and maintaining a positive experience across the customer journey, from online experiences engaging via social channels to the customer service they experience in a store or on the end of a phone.
Stanley Marcus, former president and chairman of the board of Neiman Marcus, was once quoted as saying “Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.” The best journey maps are always created based on extensive research to understand the customer decision-making process. With the help of social media analysis, interviews and analytics, marketers can develop and identify common pain points and challenges across the different experiences of their customers. If marketers want to win in today’s business environment, they need to win through each and every customer journey. Only then can they say they truly understand their customer’s needs and have them at the heart of everything they do.