I once heard someone say that customer experience is your brand. In today's digital-first world, where consumers are in the driver's seat, that statement could not be more accurate. While product quality and pricing are still essential pieces of a marketing and brand strategy, they don't build loyalty. The customer experience does. Even for the most loyal customers, negative experiences can decrease and eventually erode brand affinity.
For example, I recently bought some household essentials from a retailer I often frequent. Expecting to get my products just a few days later (as my previous purchase experiences had taught me to expect), I was disappointed to find no package at my door several days later despite an email notification informing me that the package had been delivered. Feeling frustrated, I submitted a customer support ticket, hoping for a quick resolution to my lost package. While waiting for a solution, I continued to get promotional emails from the retailer and even worse, I got a customer satisfaction survey on the products I purchased and the delivery service. Because of my current situation, I gave the retailer negative feedback.
Shipping delays happen, and miscommunication happens. Those things aren't what really bothered me. It was the fact that the experience made me question whether a brand I was loyal to, valued me back.
Customers will stay loyal to brands they love, especially when they feel valued in return. Today's customers want to be in control of their own journeys and brands must be prepared to meet their customers where they are to create great brand experiences and build customer loyalty.
The ongoing conversation of customer journeys
Marketers know that today's customer journeys aren't linear and don't take place through a single channel or device. Brands need to invest in understanding who their customers are and meet their expectations to drive brand loyalty and business growth. A customer journey can't be a one-way experience. It needs to be an ongoing, engaging, two-way experience, or better yet, a conversation. Here are four steps to make that happen.
Lay the groundwork for great conversations
A great conversation starts with a basic understanding of the person you're speaking with. In an actual conversation at a networking event, for example, you know that the person you are talking to shares the similarities of the networking group. As a business, gathering enough information about the customer to understand who they are and what their interests are requires more work. Customer data is often stored across multiple teams including marketing, customer service and even operations. To bring the disparate data together into a single source of customer truth, brands need the right technology to make it happen. Before purchasing or implementing any new technologies, it is important to break down internal silos across teams and people, or in processes, to maximize technology investments. For example, purchasing a customer data platform without teams and processes in place to ensure that all relevant customer data is collected and the insights accessible across an organization would weaken the value of the technology.
While gaining an understanding of the customer, identify and invest in crucial customer journeys and ramp up personalization accordingly to make the most impact. Aligning the people, processes, technologies and data isn't easy. Leading brands like Walgreens Boots Alliance are already creating and delivering hyper personalized customer experiences, and have a competitive advantage. And by doing the right work, brands can achieve next-level value. For example, with the right foundation, customer data could reveal that travel site customers who spend substantial amounts of time researching one destination are more likely to purchase. Those customers could then be given more tailored communications, like tourist attractions, or weather to entice them to complete a purchase versus a more standard campaign.
Actively listen to your customer
In a conversation, a basic understanding of who you're talking to helps to start the conversation. For example, if you are meeting someone new at a professional networking event for locals in Chicago, you can start the discussion with questions related to their career or what part of Chicago they live in. The person's responses to these questions help you to figure out the right follow-up questions or even whether you want the conversation to continue. A customer journey is no different.
Customer data from marketing and customer service touchpoints can be combined into a single customer profile that is continuously updated. Brand communications can then reflect the real-time signals customer are providing. For example, suppose a customer has submitted a complaint or opened a customer support request – having the right systems in place would allow a brand to pause any promotional communications until the issue is resolved.
Build a relationship on the customer's terms
A great conversationalist doesn't just listen to the other person but responds appropriately to what's been said – whether that's with empathy, humor, or advice. For brands, showing you're listening means being careful to read the very personal signals each customer is giving about her preferences.
For instance, maybe a customer doesn't want to be bombarded with celebratory emails every holiday and birthday – while another customer loves this type of recognition. Brands need to understand how a customer is responding to brand content – as well as their stated preferences – and engage accordingly.
Let customers take the lead and incorporate customer-led journeys in the marketing mix. This enables brands to respond to the signals customers are sending with real-time interactions across channels. One example of the complex interactions the right systems can orchestrate is a theme park guest who has a reservation for dinner in 15 minutes on the other side of the theme park. The theme park can send the guest a push notification or text reminding the guest that her reservation is coming up and provide a link to the theme park map. Customers are always providing signals, and brands now have the ability to start, stop, pause or adjust journeys based on customer behavior and engagement. Like a good conversationalist, brands can understand boundaries, respect personal space, and build relationships on the customer's terms.
Deliver conversations of value
Have you ever been a part of a conversation where the topics being discussed were uninteresting or irrelevant to you? Perhaps the conversation was about a place you have never been to or desire to visit.
You likely start to disengage from the conversation. Consumers do the same thing with brand communications. Every brand interaction is an opportunity to delight the customer and build loyalty. With the right systems in place, brands can ensure that the content and offers are personalized and consistent across channels and use centralized decisioning to determine next-best-action and next-best-offers. And with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning, brands can also surface predictive insights to better understand customers and the best ways to communicate with them.
While it's true that a customer's journey with a brand should be just as relevant, personalized and engaging as a conversation, getting there is its own journey. However leading brands are already demonstrating that with the right investments and prioritization, personalizing customers' journeys isn't just possible, it's necessary – for your customers and your business.