Building Connected Customer Relationships

Nicolaj SiggelkowFebruary 26, 20205 min

The following will systematically assist you in building connected customer relationships. There are three parts.

In the first part you need to diagnose the customer experiences that your firm currently provides.

1. Map the current customer journey of one customer experience. (More on this below.)

2. Identify customer willingness-to-pay drivers and pain points.

3. Capture the information flow for this customer experience.

You have to look at the relationships you have with your customers across individual, episodic experiences.

The goal of a connected relationship is to move from a transactional relationship with your customer to becoming a trusted partner. For example, rather than only teaching finance, you help somebody make a career as an investment adviser; rather than only performing surgery, you support health; and rather than trading stocks, you help somebody save for retirement.

This involves the following two additional diagnostic steps:

4. Identify the deeper needs of the customer.

5. Understand the current relationship with your customer across separate (repeated) customer experiences.

The third part involves turning the findings of your diagnosis into new ideas for creating connected relationships:

6. Identify new opportunities to reduce customer pain points and lower fulfillment costs.

7. Find ways to utilize information gathered from repeated interactions to improve the recognize-request-respond cycle.

Lastly, since trust is at the core of a connected customer relationship, we ask you to do the following:

8. Assess your data-protection policies to maintain trust with your customers.

Map The Current Customer Journey Of One Customer Experience

Just as you would begin any operational improvement project by mapping out your current process, we find it helpful to first map the typical journey your customers are taking when interacting with your organization.

This journey starts with the emergence of a latent need, is followed by a customer’s recognition of the need and request for something from your firm, and leads to your firm’s responding to this request. If you have customer segments that experience very different customer journeys, sketch out one journey for each customer segment. Likewise, a customer may have different journeys with you (e.g., “buying insurance” and “dealing with a claim”). In that case, you again need to sketch out several journeys.

What does the customer actually do at each stage of the customer journey? Think about the various touchpoints that your customer encounters and consider the following questions.

Latent Need

Awareness Of Need

  • How often is the customer entirely unaware of the need (e.g., the customer didn’t realize the computer was at increased risk of being hacked)?
  • How often does the customer in principle know of the need but fail to act on it at the current time and location (e.g., the customer knows that she should take a pill but simply forgets)?
  • How often does a firm falsely remind the customer of a need that the customer actually didn’t have or that was already fulfilled, creating customer dissatisfaction?

Search For Options

  • How do customers identify the options that could fulfill their needs?
  • How much time do they spend on the search?
  • Are customers generally aware of the most relevant options for them, or is the set of options simply too large and complex (e.g., finding the right tile for a bathroom renovation, or the right customer relationship management software)?
  • In the normal search process, are new options being surfaced for the customer that the customer was not aware of, or is the customer mainly contemplating previously used solutions?
  • How many options do you offer to the customer?
  • What options are offered by competitors?

Decide On Options

  • What factors does the customer take into account in making a decision (beyond price)?
  • How easy is it for the customer to assess each option for each of these factors?
  • Does the customer use any outside help when deciding on an option (e.g., review sites, reputation scoring)?
  • What role does trust in the provider play in the customer’s decision making?
  • How much effort does it take the customer to figure out which option would fulfill the need in the best way?
  • How easy is it for the customer to understand how costly each option is (e.g., over the expected lifetime use)?

Order And Pay

  • Once the customer knows what she is looking for, how long does it take her to specify and order the product or service?
  • How easy and convenient is it for the customer to specify where and when the product is to be delivered or the service is to be performed?
  • How quickly is the customer being billed?
  • How transparent are all charges that the customer incurs?
  • How easy is it to pay?
  • What forms of payment are accepted?


  • Where will the customer receive the product? Does the customer need to pick it up, or will it be sent to the customer’s desired location?
  • How long does it take to receive the product after the customer has ordered it?
  • What happens if the customer is not home when the product is delivered?

Experience Good Or Service

  • How much effort is required from the customer between receiving the product and deriving a benefit from it (time to unpack and install)?
  • What are the technical features of the product that drive the customer’s willingness-to-pay?
  • What are the intangible product features, such as brand, image, and design, that drive the customer’s willingness-to-pay?
  • How good is the fit between the product or service and the customer’s needs?
  • Does the customer always get the product in the desired portion size?
  • Does the product gain the customer access to complementary products and services (e.g., is it compatible with other third-party products, or older, already installed versions)?

Post-Purchase Experience

  • How easy is it to reach customer support?
  • Does the firm reduce the risk that the customer has to bear?
  • How easy is it to return the product?
  • What is the degree of post-purchase flexibility? The customer’s needs may change after he or she has purchased the product.
  • How easy is it to upgrade or downgrade the product?

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Nicolaj Siggelkow and Christian Terweisch. Excerpted from Connected Strategy: Building Continuous Customer Relationships For Competitive Advantage, (Harvard Business Review Press, May 21, 2019] Copyright 2019 by Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.

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