How should brands map more effective and engaging customer journeys? By recognizing that such journeys are really about how customers feel over the course of the entire journey not just how they feel at any given point in that journey.
Michelle Greenwald has identified 20 ways in which Apple has mastered its touchpoints. But while each touchpoint is powerful in its own right, the real power of the brand’s approach lies in the cumulative effect of ‘all things Apple’. So, instead of thinking as journeys as a series of transactions where interactions occur, Greenwald concludes that, “Each brand should develop a detailed customer touchpoint or journey map with all the stops along the way before, during, and after purchase.”
Getting that right is not as easy as it sounds, according to McKinsey, because it’s not the way that companies are inclined to think. In fact, “companies need to recognize and address the fact that—at least, in most cases—they are simply not wired to naturally think about the journeys their customers take. They are wired to maximize productivity and scale economies through functional units. They are wired for transactions, not journeys.” Fixing this requires brands to take a number of actions:
- They need to step back from the transactions themselves and identify the wider nature of the journeys customers take—from the customers’ point of view.
- They need to understand how people are inclined to navigate across and between touchpoints – not just focus on the process that a brand would like them to take.
- To do that successfully, they need to be able to read customers; to anticipate their needs, expectations, and desires during each part of the journey and across the journey as a whole.
- They need to be able to build an ongoing understanding of the touchpoints that work and those that don’t – and why people are drawn to one moment but not another.
- They need to be able to improve the journey by seeing and prioritizing key gaps and opportunities, identifying core issues and then redesigning the overall journey so that it is better at each point and across the journey as a whole.
The good news, according to McKinsey, is that those brands that do think more broadly and that can see the whole journey from the point of view of their customers will generate noticeably higher customer satisfaction than those that focus on specific touchpoints. They conclude that “delivering a distinctive journey experience makes it more likely that customers repeat a purchase, spend more, recommend to their friends, and stay with your company”.
Nevertheless, no journey can be planned without thinking carefully about the individual parts. Inspired by this description of the many ways that brands can connect with customers and prospects today, here’s a checklist to evaluate whether you’re making the most of each of your many contact opportunities to build a more holistic journey.
1. What are the cumulative impressions that people are forming about your brand from your press and social media coverage? Are you seen as open or closed, innovative or reactive, in the news or in the background? Having clear perception and reputation goals are critical if you want to craft a media presence that actively works for you.
2. Do the reviews you receive align with your own paid messaging? If so, what are you doing to celebrate that? If not, what are you doing to fix things at your end so they do? Are you asking for the feedback you receive, and are you receiving it on channels that you control? If so, chances are your customers trust you to listen and react to both the brickbats and the bouquets. If not, then there’s a good chance that they feel they need to be heard elsewhere (or your channels are not where consumers look).
3. In a world where we increasingly share, what simple and catchy soundbites have you pre-prepared for customers to help them spread the word about you – and where have you put those slogans, memes or snippets so that they can be easily found and used?
4. What are you seen to sponsor and endorse, and how does that add to buyers’ understanding of you as a brand? From the events your executives are seen at to the associations you publicize and the issues you are seen to have clear views on, can shoppers and investors see a clear philosophical standpoint, or have you siloed these activities to the point where no-one connects the dots?
5. What’s it like to do business with you? Are your people likeable? Are their behaviors and interactions with your customers demonstrably values-driven?
6. Are you easy to do business with online? Powerful online environments are about more than credentials, they are proof that you are looking to engage with customers in ways that suit them. Is the experience of dealing with you online an attractive indicator for shoppers as to what they can expect from you across your channels generally? How have you mixed your online environments to provide shoppers with a rounded view of your brand that makes you shareable, accessible, immediate, human, trustworthy and time-worthy?
7. What are you doing to add value and stickiness to your physical presence? How are you “rewarding” customers for opting to continue to interact with you face to face – and how are you capitalizing on that when they do?
8. What are you doing to make purchase itself more than a transaction? There are so many ways for brands to build deeper relationships at moment-of-purchase – from recognition to surprises to opportunities to share with their networks. The critical element here is delight. Customers that enjoy buying, buy again. Too many brands forget to ask and answer “why will they come back, and why will that be soon?”. It’s not just about the obvious cues like sales and season releases. It’s about the times between those events. Look to build relationships that supersede need. The most powerful brands have people choosing to come back and pay full price because of what they get out of doing so.
9. Is it clear to customers what they pay for and what they get when they do? Is payment itself as frictionless as possible?
10. How long do you want people to interact with your brand? I say this because for some brands brevity can be a huge advantage while for others keeping customers undistracted and involved pays dividends in terms of interest and repeat purchases. Either way, set targets for how long you want your customers to interface with you and what you offer, and correlate that time to purchase habits.
11. How easy is it for customers to get help in better using what you offer? More importantly, how are you transiting consumers from expensive cost-per-serve channels to less expensive means that still work for them?
12. How often do you interact with customers? Do you do so for reasons other than those that serve you? Too many brands play lip service to conversation but their modes of communication are much more one-way. The challenge for all marketers I believe is setting up exchanges that customers enjoy and participate in actively. The objective here is to get people talking openly and frankly with you about what you do right and what you don’t do enough of, knowing that their feedback is welcomed and that their suggestions will at least be considered. It’s ironical isn’t it, given how connected we all are today, that so many brands still feel cut-off from the people they are targeting.
13. Where is your brand seen, in terms of where is it distributed, and what does your brand’s availability through that channel do for customer perceptions? Distribution is a powerful endorsement when handled properly. What are you doing to make your partnerships about more than availability?
14. What have you done to ensure that when a customer uses or interacts with your product, others can’t help noticing? Then – how are you making sure you get the credit for people being impressed?
Consumers will come back to brands that they feel understand them, without being obtrusive, and that use what they know in positive ways to lift their experiences overall. But the relationships, and the journeys that stem from those relationships, are both cumulative and fragile. On the one hand, as the McKinsey article shows, trust and inclination is built across the whole journey and the journey itself may stretch over multiple touchpoints and take place over an extended period of time. On the other, the relationship itself is subject to surprisingly rapid change because any customer at any given point can decide to downgrade their loyalty based on factors that the brand itself may not easily recognize or be able to control. A journey started can never be a journey assumed.
The Blake Project Can Help: The Customer Experience Workshop
Branding Strategy Insider is a service of The Blake Project: A strategic brand consultancy specializing in Brand Research, Brand Strategy, Brand Licensing and Brand Education