Have you ever been disappointed when placing an order online, or had an infuriating in-store experience? Most of us find that entering your personal details online can be lengthy and frustrating. We’re frequently exasperated by automated chatbots that cannot understand our questions. Eventually we end up having to call the customer service phone number (that we would have been happier to call at the beginning!).
These moments that we experience at each stage of our online or in-store purchase come together to form the customer experience journey. Good experiences surprise and delight customers who hopefully recommend your product or service to friends and family. This builds loyalty that eventually achieves lifetime sales value. Qualtrics XM Institute research found that 81% of large companies plan to increase their focus on customer experience in the upcoming year because of the link between customer experience and loyalty. The results of the study indicate that better customer experience correlates to increased purchases and more recommendations. On the other hand, bad experiences can leave a negative impression, forcing your potential customers to try other brands.
And now the pandemic has put an even brighter spotlight on the customer experience.
The customer online experience has become especially important during the COVID-19 outbreak. Millions of consumers are now avoiding physical stores, preferring online. The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact in two dominant areas; the adoption of disruptive and digital propositions, and the transformation of customer expectations. Research by the OECD, found that COVID-19 not only increased the number of people using e-commerce, but also their purchasing of increasingly diverse products and services. The acceleration in direct-to-consumer ordering and delivery services has happened as consumers demand more convenience and safer contactless interactions. Additionally, societal and cultural shifts as a result of the pandemic have caused a significant and rapid shift in consumer expectations. Consumers are demanding greater transparency from organisations about the treatment of employees, diversity and environmental practices.
In this article we explore how customer journeys portray all possible activities, emotions and thought processes a person experiences when discovering, interacting and engaging with your brand. Journeys are unique to every business and there are multiple ways to design and implement them. It is also worth noting that customer journeys don’t only impact customers. It is equally important to design for your employees who are responsible for delivering these customer experiences. Therefore, organisations must spend at least as much time thinking through the employee experience design as they do on the journey design.
The following six key principles set out to help any organisation bring their customer journey to life, ultimately leading to business growth.
1. Deeply understanding your customer through rich data
The first step of a journey is customer segmentation to determine the personas relevant to their preferred products or services. Successful journeys are designed based on a data rich insight about the relevant personas. These insights are typically developed from qualitative research that will reveal your market and customers’ unfulfilled needs.
Understanding your customer engagement drivers and pain points is crucial for problem definition and solution development. These engagement drivers and pain points are dynamic and evolve with time. As result your organisations need to continue to obtain insights to stay connected to customers’ needs. The ability to prioritise customers’ needs over the long term will be your organisation’s most challenging task, especially as it grows.
2. Identify all possible customer activities and touchpoints with the organisation
Customer activities and touchpoints are identified by recording all the moments that the customer and organisation interact, and by conducting interviews, surveys and focus groups. These findings are then mapped onto a customer journey that can be broken down into five phases:
- Interest and Awareness (receiving an email newsletter)
- Search (comparing a product on price comparison websites)
- Evaluation (ask an online chatbot a question)
- Purchase (checking returns options)
- Use and Experience (sharing a photo of the product or giving a review)
This process enables the organisation to define the moments that matter the most. As well as identifying ‘low hanging fruit’ where they can implement quick and tangible changes that deliver improvements fast.
3. Conduct customer testing sessions and be willing to respond to feedback to improve customer experience
Customer journey design is an iterative process that is grounded in customer insights and developed via a range of testing techniques. For example, organisations’ conduct usability testing to observe and record customers’ behaviours and reactions to a prototype of the product/service. Feedback from the testing is used to refine and improve the product/service. As result journeys that involve customer testing will increase the chances of your journey mapping being successful.
Ideas that seem clear to your organisation and team whilst planning, do not necessarily work when trailed with customers. Sometimes customers may not understand the ideas behind the new experience/touchpoint. Organisations need to make it easy for customers, so they don’t even notice they are going through the touchpoints, as result providing a seamless experience.
4. Invest in employee experience, it influences customer experience
Above all, great service designs need employees that understand, believe and enjoy their role in fully delivering the customer promise. This can be achieved when the prioritisation of employee needs is a central component of the company’s value system and culture. When your employees are rewarded for good work, feel empowered and able to collaborate with their team members your organisation provides a better customer experience. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology CISR found that organisations with excellent employee experiences had double the customer satisfaction and 25% greater profitability compared to competitors with weaker employee experiences.
The organisations that can deliver great employee experiences alongside the journey mapping process have the silver bullet to turn a well-formulated plan into business growth and lifetime loyalty. For example, Zappos’ company culture inspires employees to work hard and provide excellence customer service. Zappos is a best practice example how company culture and values has an impact on customer experience and business performance.
5. Keep up with ‘digital first’ consumers
Digital transformation has been accelerating in recent years. Organisations have been forced to respond to consumers’ faster adoption of digital technology in order to remain competitive across the increasingly dominant digital touchpoints and sales channels. In 2020 the covid-19 crisis has had an exponential impact on consumers uptake of digital systems to access products and services.
For example, the Food Industry Association’s 2020 report found the online grocery sales increased by 300% during the first part of pandemic. It is now clear that organisations who provide a competitive digital customer experience will retain and gain sales and be more resilient and profitable.
6. Define who you are as a brand
Customers recognise your brand identity through the experiences you create. Set your organisation apart from the competition by differentiating yourself as a distinctive and unique brand across all touchpoints. Distinctive brand identity will attract customers and hold the customer at the core of the business. Alternatively join the ‘blands’, a new concept that describes brands claiming to be offering something new but follow similar propositions and fail to differentiate. This trend is seen in direct-to-consumer companies that have the same features, marketing, and brand narratives.
Mapping the end-to-end process journey is important to deliver the best customer experience improvements and bring increased sales, customer retention and minimise end-to-end service cost. Addressing and developing these six key factors will improve the standard of customer experience that your organisation can provide. Ultimately, prioritising delivery of excellent customer and employee experience will drive business growth and other outcomes that will benefit your organisation.