The Internet is an endless source of more and less information which tends influence many decisions we as consumers make. Research shows how major personal investments are preceded by months of Googling. Can companies somehow break away from traditional customer journey and jump to the loyalty phase of the life cycle without a tedious and expensive fight in the early consideration phase? Some claim that this is possible, read and judge for yourself!
Mobile internet, smartphones, Wikipedia, and numerous forums with customer reviews – not the least Amazon – have revolutionized information access for Western netizens. Informational advantage, which pre-internet age sales reps held over customers, is long gone. Every price quote, feature offering, or safety argument can be quickly double checked from the Internet with few taps.
Current research about consumer behavior shows that 21st-century mobile-addicts are apt information scavengers. They seek, find, and digest information about their desired purchases continuously. Of course, what they find and see is affected by marketing messages. But overall, never before have the customers enjoyed so wide and deep access to peer-opinion, test reports, and heterogeneous product propaganda so effortlessly!
My favorite data point here is a Facebook commissioned study in 2015 about how consumers go about buying a vehicle. The research revealed a complicated purchase cycle which involved some heavy googling along the long path to purchase. They demonstrated, for instance, how the certainty of different desired features of the vehicle steadily develops over time. Building from less than 50% of confidence several months ahead to a ⅔ confidence just a month prior to purchase.
The consequence of customers’ active research and consideration phase is that they are well informed of what they want to buy when they finally cross the divide from the digital to the physical world. According to an FB research from 2016, 76 % of mobile-first auto consumers know the exact vehicle they want to buy before visiting the dealer (see the full infographic here). This means that upon the first physical contact, consumers will be difficult to persuade from their long-built commitment.
Facebook report offers some suggestions on what companies can do to respond to smartphone-addicted consumers’ thirst for information, for instance, offering mobile-first websites and apps. However, some might argue that information approach is inherently doomed to fail. Let’s consider an alternative, a proactive takeover of the customer shopping journey. It starts by recounting what a customer journey can refer to.
Background: customer journeys and customer journeys in design
Customer journeys and customer life cycles are two well-known tools that service designers, among many, used to illustrate and manage the holistic customer experience. Customer journey map in a great detail the different stages of a journey on the way of achieving a specific goal, revealing design opportunities and service pitfalls during the journey. They are complemented by customer life cycles which represent a bird’s eye perspective of the full path that a customer and a brand go together across several customer journeys. See below how we at SC5 visualize them:
If you don’t trust our vision it, there’s also the picture from a Gartner analyst Hank Barnes illustrates what usually goes into a customer lifecycle (or a buying cycle as Gartner also regards it). Life cycles commonly include the consideration period our American car buyers from FB study took their sweet time on. But some say it doesn’t need to be that way.
Leading customers proactive with customer journeys
Two McKinsey consultants, David C. Edelman and Marc Singer have proposed a new meaning for customer journeys in an article appearing in Harvard Business Review, November 2015. The authors take the consumer empowerment I described earlier as the starting point. They argue that companies must adopt a proactive approach to leading customers on the journey, rather than a passive, reactive approach they believe companies usually choose. This is based on the belief that carefully crafted customer journeys (their wording), or smooth customer experiences (my wording), will carry the customer smoothly over the consideration and evaluation phases of the lifecycle to a happy customer relationship!
This is how Edelman and Singer redefine customer lifecycle
Based on the vehicle acquisition example opening this article, this idea seems impossible! How can you possibly achieve that?
Edelman and Singer argue the opposite and provide several examples in which the customer resistance, or need for considering alternatives, indeed seems to have vanished. I will not cite them (read them for yourself) but instead I will rephrase what they see underlying the success of brands such as Sungevity, L’Oreal, or Nordstrom.
Four building blocks of a smooth journey
The authors claim that effective customer journeys and seamless customership is built upon four interconnected capabilities called automation, proactive personalization, contextual information, and journey innovation. I think they should read: digitalization, personalization, context sensitivity, and innovativeness.
Digitalization embeds the idea of automation, enabling consumers to do things on their own, with their own devices, on their own time, without the need to consult any human aid, or even a machine that requires physical proximity (say, an ATM). This can save time, reduce time constraints, and reduce hassle, making products and services easier to use. It also means connecting the physical and digital seamlessly. Personalization is a no-brainer for anyone up to date with digital design. Bit of data about you and the services can adapt to your preferences and behaviors, just like the waiter at your regular restaurant does. I’ve written about it as well.
Context sensitivity is also a self-evident idea in the smartphone era. Your phone knows where you are, when you are, and with whom. Why shouldn’t this information be used to improve your experience? The fourth requirement, innovation, also stands out as obvious, you need to do things differently. However, in a critical glance, these building blocks are nothing new in the domain.
All hands on deck
The one point of divergence in Edelman & Singer story from what most digital design savvy people already know comes in how a ‘journey managing’ organization is structured. As the authors go on to redefine a SCRUM team (and break my heart), they add two important functions which agile software developers don’t usually consider in a SCRUM team. They are operations and marketing.
In terms of managing the total customer experience (as I would rephrase their mission), it is clear that neither isolated digital teams nor independent brick-and-mortar shopping experience specialists can achieve the integration and management of the holistic, omnichannel / multi-touchpoint universe the customers have to deal with. Only by including stakeholders from operations, i.e. everything from supply chain to sales and customer service, and marketing who deal with much client communication, the great vision of guiding the customer to the right track may be realized.
I don’t buy the full story of Edelman and Singer. I see them mostly just coming up with new names for old things, which is an old management consulting honeypot. But I admit that among all “clever” repurposing of industry jargon, they have hit something meaningful in the field of customer experience management.
I can still recommend reading their case studies picked for the article in the spirit of “customer journeys”. As I see, their definition of customer journeys can be useful reminder for proactivity in customer relations as well as the need for carefully connecting the dots across the both worlds (virtual and physical) to achieve compelling customer experiences that generate loyalty.
It is worth to remember that customers tend to be well informed and you need to embrace this fact in your all product and marketing decisions.
SC5 helps crafting seamless customer journeys across the digital divide. Contact us for ideas!
Text: Lassi A. Liikkanen, Data-Driven Design Specialist at SC5, @lassial
Visuals: Laura Rantonen, SC5