Customer journeys exist to help companies identify their customer touchpoints, from awareness to purchase to advocacy, and to understand what their customers are thinking, feeling, and doing throughout this process.
Yet many brands struggle to leverage their journeys to create an experience that resonates with current and potential customers. What’s the issue?
In this series, we’re taking a deep dive into the reasons why category journeys are failing to translate into consistent, relevant, and differentiated customer experiences, and how companies can fix this by branding the customer experience. Up third: The Absent Dialogue.
Through personas, touchpoints, demographics, and more, customer journey maps provide us with deep insights. However, by their nature, these maps are unidirectional; they provide guidelines for the brand to talk to the customer but not for the customer to talk to the brand. They’re inherently unable to craft a dialogue or respond to the customer’s ever-changing needs.
And customers’ needs are changing – constantly. They increasingly expect personalized, relevant, and engaging experiences from brands, and they demonstrate no patience or loyalty for those that can’t keep up. Due to social media and other digital channels, marketers are emboldened by a new ability to constantly connect with customers. But in reality, digital marketing is lulling marketers into a false sense of security by making us think we’re connecting with customers even when we’re not truly engaging them. So how can we improve?
Digital marketing’s “80/20 Marketing Rule” – which specifies that 80% of brands’ social media posts should entertain, engage, or educate customers, while only 20% should promote products and services – encourages a dangerous practice: putting out content for the sake of putting out content. By doing so, companies are failing to truly create meaningful customer connections in a way that’s authentic to their brands and relevant to that customer.
Curating a handful of social media accounts and posting a few times a day alone does not deliver a meaningful customer experience. This is the double-edged sword of digital; having a digital presence makes brands feel as though they’re connecting with their customers when in reality they’re often posting just to post.
Generating a dialogue with consumers can’t be solved solely by responding to their tweets. Rather, a brand needs to apply three pieces of information – what is relevant to the consumer, the context of the customer-brand interaction, and what is authentic to the brand – in order to create a dialogue and truly listen to your customers’ needs. Take Domino’s Pizza, for example. Knowing that the majority of its customers are on Facebook, the brand applied this information within the context of a critical customer interaction (ordering food) to create a new order chatbox. Now customers can order pizza simply by messaging “Dom,” an AI customer service bot on Facebook Messenger.
Consider a situation where a salesperson is meeting with a prospect about a new software solution. The salesperson likely comes prepared with some basic information on the prospect’s company and role and is ready to discuss how the product can be tailored. However, the conversation begins to feel one-sided, and the salesperson starts talking about the product without listening to the customer’s specific needs. Suddenly, there are two people sitting in a room but only one is part of the conversation.
As this scenario suggests, in-person and other nondigital experiences can also be a double-edged sword when it comes to customer engagement; though we expect consumers’ physical interactions with a brand to form a dialogue due to the very nature of the interaction, this is often not the case. Instead, brands must listen to the customers’ needs in order to create a dialogue.
This doesn’t always have to take the form of a person-to-person conversation. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts has created customer dialogue through the layout and operations of its store locations. Realizing that its customers seek out speed and efficiency when they come to Dunkin’, the company has responded by altering its stores. Specifically, it simplified the menu, retrained its employees to focus on convenience and customer service, and increased the role of curbside delivery, mobile ordering, third-party delivery, and drive-thrus. Dunkin’ knows that dialogue has power, and by ensuring that its customers’ needs are accounted for, the brand generates loyalty as well as meaningful customer connections.
Companies spend on average 12% of their annual revenue on marketing (up for the third consecutive year), yet many of these dollars are going to waste. Whether a company is communicating through its content, downloadable content, a customer service rep, or an ad, if the messaging is informed only by a unidirectional customer journey, these insights fail to support a two-way communication strategy that is uniform across all touchpoints.
Instead of only using customer journeys to understand the customer mindset and where touchpoints exist, these maps should be leveraged in a way that augments a brand’s ability to engage customers and to solidify its branding. And it can be achieved in four steps.
First, based on a singular and differentiated brand idea, define the experience that you want the customer to have with your brand. For example, Dunkin’ Donuts wants customers to experience simplicity and efficiency, whereas Weight Watchers wants customers to feel empowerment and confidence. Though customers have different needs, whether they’re in line at a store, messaging a customer service representative, or watching video content on a website, these interactions should all feel like they’re from the same brand.
Second, look at all the customer touchpoints on your customer journey map and, for each one, define the type of interaction that your brand currently has with the customer – physical, digital, or hybrid – as well as whether that interaction includes (or should include) authentic brand communication. For example, if your company’s website (a digital touchpoint) customizes its offers and content on the home screen per each visitor based on where the visitor is coming from – an email, a digital ad, another site, etc. – and their geographical location, that’s authentic brand communication.
Then, for each touchpoint that currently has a dialogue in place, diagnose its effectiveness, paying special consideration to touchpoints where you may think your brand inherently commands a strong dialogue, such as on social media or in an in-person experience. Is your customer truly being heard? Are you using collected data to enhance and personalize your customer’s experience? For touchpoints that should have a customer dialogue but currently do not, assess the root cause of its absence: Is it a training, operational, or technological issue, or otherwise?
And finally, optimize weak or nonexistent dialogues to ensure meaningful customer connections, particularly by leveraging customer analytics. Netflix does a great job at this. The company continuously delivers personalized experiences by leveraging data to craft show and movie recommendations for each customer. It even went a step further by applying data aggregated from its 25 million users to create two hit shows tailored precisely for its customer base: House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black.
While data is crucial, it’s not the only way to optimize your brand’s conversation with its customers. In fact, authenticity can go a long way. How can you engage your social media followers as individuals rather than just pushing content? Are your retail locations designed and operated in a way that lets each customer feel heard while meeting (and evolving!) with their needs? Do you produce content that speaks to all of your customer segments? And are your customers given the opportunity to speak back? Tools like Hootsuite, Topsy, and hashtags can help you hear even more about what consumers are saying about your brand outside of your existing customer feedback pathways.
The relationship between brands and customers has changed. Today’s customers are telling us clearly and consistently that they need more than value and ease; they’re looking to connect to the brands behind the products and services they use. So let’s listen to them.
A customer journey map is more than a list of customer touch points; it can also reveal where customers aren’t interacting with your brand. How can you fill the white space, find new opportunities, and optimize your customer experience against your competitors? To be continued in Part 4.