The digital era has completely changed the relationship between customers and brands – and continues to do so.
The customer is more empowered and in control than ever before. Always connected, and with unprecedented access to information through social media, and review and comparison sites, customers have increasingly high expectations of the brands they interact with and are becoming more and more demanding.
Businesses are struggling to keep up with this new and changing landscape, held back by their fragmented technology, departmental silos, and legacy infrastructure.
This has created a big gap between what customers expect and what brands are delivering.
“We call the gap between what customers expect and what brands deliver the ‘Engagement Gap’. Customers want to have seamless, continuous and relevant interactions with brands, but brands operate in channel-specific silos that deliver inconsistent, disconnected, and impersonal experiences for customers, leaving them frustrated and unhappy.”
Brands understand that they need to become more customer-centric and realign resources around the customer in order to meet these expectations and in turn build deeper, more loyal, relationships with their customers.
Many are turning to customer journey mapping as a way to approach this.
However, there are limitations with customer journey mapping, as Hemingway explains.
“Much of current journey thinking and approaches don’t go far enough. Firstly, the term journey is increasingly and mistakenly being used as a buzzword by vendors of marketing software, when in reality what they are offering is little more than campaign planning tools that push customers down pre-prescribed paths.
“Then there is the genuine practice of customer journey mapping and design, but while this is commendable in its aspiration, it’s limited in what it can deliver. The real problem is that brands are stuck in an inside-out view, designing and planning journeys the way they want their customers to behave.
“It’s also an incredibly slow and resource-intensive process, that delivers a static view. In reality customer journeys are not fixed or static, they’re unique to each customer, fluid, and almost impossible to plan.”
So how should brands be approaching customer journeys?
“The first thing to do is acknowledge that each customer is in control of their individual journey,” says Hemingway.
“The brand then needs to aim understand the journey, using real-time journey insight, and then using this to provide the appropriate value to the customer across every interaction. They need to look at ways of listening to all touch points across the journey, and joining up each interaction to provide a seamless and consistent experience across every touch point.”
Thunderhead is an enterprise software company that provides a customer engagement software solution called the ONE Engagement Hub that helps brands build better, more engaged relationships with their customers.
It does this by listening to every customer interaction in real-time and combines that insight with other customer data sources, providing real-time journey visualizations and in-the-moment decisioning that allows brands to have continuous and relevant conversations across all customer touch points, whether that’s on the web, in the call center or in-person.
Hemingway points to two distinct trends when considering the customer journey.
“The first real trend is to understand the customer journey in real-time, and the second is the ability to take action on that based on real-time journey insight. Turning insight into action is where brands can really start to build meaningful conversations with their customers and build deeper more valuable relationships with their customers.”
Hemingway is aware that real-time insight and actionability are just part of the solution to meeting the expectations of today’s customer.
Brands need to put the customer at the heart of the business and accept that the customer is in control.
“It’s about using that journey insight to inform and link the different departments and existing technologies together in order to learn more about their customers, service their needs in the moment and speak with one voice across the business.
“Ultimately, it’s about using deep knowledge of your customer’s choices, preferences and behavior to deliver value every time they interact with the brand. That is how to build richer customer engagement, deeper relationships and happier customers.”
This can seem like a very large task for many organizations, however Hemingway has some advice for those brands that are serious about customer engagement.
“Understand that the customer journey is not yours to manage. The first step is to listen and understand the real-time journeys your customers are on. From this you can understand where the quick wins are, what’s not working and what will provide immediate ROI.
“We don’t expect businesses to change their entire organizations in one hit, it’s a gradual and iterative process that evolves over time and the momentum is maintained as the brand realizes tangible value as they build customer engagement across the business as a whole.”