The new customer journey: less predictable, more complex but a huge opportunity for social business
The customer decision journey has evolved faster than most organisations have been able to keep up with, making the traditional, linear customer journey funnel model irrelevant.
Now, there are multiple factors that come into play to affect customer behaviour and content engagement:
- Paid/owned/earned media
- Organisational department best fit
- Global/local needs
- (and finally!) purchase cycle
These many factors make the customer journey less predicable, more complex and more disruptive than ever before. However, with increased customer touch points comes increased opportunity. Below, I talk through some measures organisations and marketers can take, plus some thoughts to bear in mind to help understand the new dynamic customer journey.
1. Adopt a data-driven, customer-centric strategy
Although customers are making more choices, on more devices, in a more fragmented way, they’re also doing and sharing more online which means we have the opportunity to analyse more customer data than ever before.
We can use this data to identify trends and patterns in customer behaviour to help establish actual journeys and needs. A customer’s decision to engage with a brand is often based around their own needs, so identifying what those real needs are through audience insights ensures we’re engaging at the critical need points at each stage of their journey. Use these insights to drive strategic decisions and build focus, and track analytics to drive change and continuous optimisation.
Something to bear in mind, while all this gorgeous data can help us make better decisions, it’s important to remember that customers are people, they’re influenced by people, and purchase decisions are often emotional. Yes, use insights from social data to base your strategy around the customer, but also remember the unscientific and unpredictable aspects of what drives people to buy.
2. Tackle convergence and silo busting
Silo busting within the organisation and opening up customer conversations wider than the customer relations and marcomms departments allows you to build scale, share knowledge effectively, and use the voices of your experts. As audience demand for instant responses and realtime content increases, allowing more experts across departments a voice online, and opening up communication to encourage knowledge sharing internally is the best way to achieve scale.
Organisations should adopt a more flexible approach to communication with the customer throughout their journey. Thinking again about meeting real audience needs, brands should provide content to the customer that makes their lives easier – this kind of content don’t always originate from marcomms.
We’re also seeing the convergence of paid, earned and owned media. One example is the new Facebook premium ads that use owned status updates, earned fan interactions (likes, comments) within a paid ad. Think about (gasp!) collaboration between your advertising, PR, marketing, planning, digital build teams and agencies etc. to see where you can add value to each other’s areas, develop strategies for effective crossovers, or maybe try a different approach that doesn’t separate paid/earned/owned in the traditional way.
3. Build a single customer view
The Holy Grail, but technically possible. Don’t annoy your customers by having different conversations with them on different “channels” throughout their journey (see 5.). Your customers don’t care if you’re email, Facebook or phone, in the same way that when they walk into a supermarket they expect anyone in the uniform to be able to help them find the peanut butter. Your brand is your brand, irrelevant of where the conversation is taking place. A disjointed view of your customers gives them a disjointed view of your brand, when you should be making their journey to purchase (and through to advocacy) as easy as possible. A single customer view, coupled with data-driven strategies help brands to offer a more individual, tailored approach to customer engagement, which is one giant step towards building advocacy.
4. Be helpful
Your customer has an agenda. Once you’ve identified audience trends around needs at different points during their journey, make sure you help your customers do what they want to do, and enable their agenda (not yours). The one thing brands should be doing along the customer journey is making it easy for the customer to do what they need to do.
Make sure you’re focusing your efforts by participating in conversations where you can offer value to your customers at critical stages in their journey. Offering value at the right time increases relevance, which builds trust, which plays a huge part in the customer decision journey.
Remember that more devices, content, choice is not always a good thing for the customer, who may be under pressure to make “faster, smarter, more informed decisions” (words from Altimeter) – brands should help customers with this challenge by giving them trustworthy, relevant, helpful content at the right time in their journey.
5. Be customer-centric, not channel-centric
Many times we’ve encountered the problems that come with attempting to fit social into more traditional approaches. In this case, the reason that social doesn’t quite fit with traditional models is that social doesn’t behave as a series of channels – there is much less control as its driven by people, conversation and connections.
The problem with trying to make a channel-centered approach work with social is that social media is not a channel – it’s everywhere (“like air” says Shiv Singh, Global Head of Digital for PepsiCo Beverages).
Social media fits better when you break your model down by what your audience is doing and what they need, rather than their channel (chances are they’re in a few channels at once anyway!). So a customer journey model based on needs and behaviour instead of channel not only fits better when it comes to “squeezing in social”, it’s also designed to move your customers along the path you want to take them.