Your business is about to change dramatically. You might not realize it yet, but the canary in the coal mine is already choking in anticipation. An increased expectation for a great customer experience when interacting with a brand is driving a tsunami of change through companies in every industry across the world.
Think for a moment about how your customers are experiencing your brand today. Where do they learn about new products? Which channels or devices do they use to contact you? Do they often find information about your products from other sources, such as other customers? At what point does a prospective customer decide to make a purchase? Think about the interactions your brand now has with customers. Where do you draw the line between marketing, sales and customer service when customer interactions are now more like conversations?
The consumer-to-brand relationship has changed dramatically in just a few short years, partly because of the increased adoption of mobile devices and social networks, but also because of how this has changed the way in which we market products and services. Everyone is getting their information and communicating in new ways today compared to the recent past. As an example, just look at this list of products or services that did not even exist in 2006: iPhone, iPad, Kindle, 4G, Uber, Airbnb, Android, Oculus, Spotify, Kickstarter, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp. And this is just a decade ago.
Think about how mobile devices and social networks have changed the way we all communicate — with friends, family, work colleagues, and even with the companies we want to engage with. Communication is any time, any place, often text-, image- or video-driven. These changes in communications have transformed how companies market their products. Marketing is now an interactive process that requires engagement and relationship-building with customers. The deputy editor of The Economist magazine recently said that there would be no more display advertising in any journals by 2025. Some commentators believe that this time may be coming sooner, as 85 percent of all digital marketing and advertising budgets now go to either Google or Facebook.
Traditional print advertising has declined dramatically as the ability to reach and engage with customers using digital channels has increased. This revised expectation of a brand-to-customer relationship is redefining how marketing functions today, and these changes significantly affect any executive with a responsibility for customer interactions — not just those directly managing customer service. So, sales, marketing, advertising, and public relations executives, and any other executive with a responsibility for how customers see the brand, need to consider the implications of the changing customer journey. Customers are no longer closely tied to internal departments inside your business; instead, they have a holistic perspective of your brands that encompasses many touchpoints.
Executives need to anticipate how changes in communication styles and consumer behavior changes the approach brands should take to connect and engage with consumers. The following factors are significantly affecting the way in which your business must approach marketing today:
The most important goal of marketing is to influence customer decisions at the moments that really matter on the journey from becoming aware of a product to purchasing it. McKinsey & Company has described the classic customer journey and how it is emerging from a funnel that proceeds logically step-by-step to a massive interconnected web of customer touchpoints.
The most important point to remember is that we have moved from a linear journey, where the customer progresses from one step to the next, into a more networked environment where the customer hops from one place to another. As the McKinsey research describes, the new customer journey is circular, with four distinct phases:
- Initial consideration
- Active evaluation
- Moment of purchase
- Post-purchase experience
This circular journey includes communication at all stages. Customers are not only seeking information from brands at all stages in the journey, they are also creating information about your products. Customers ask questions, write blogs, post on social networks, and publish photos and video featuring your products.
This highly interconnected web of information is entirely different from the way customers used to be informed of a product — by a marketing campaign — and then they would only contact a brand after a purchase. Now the interactions between customer and brand looks more like a relationship — because that’s exactly what it is.
It is critical to be aware of how the customer journey has changed, not just so you can plan a new marketing strategy, but also because these changes have a direct impact on loyalty and retention. A customer who feels deeply connected to a brand will often purchase from that company without comparing prices or competing product offerings. Turning customers into brand advocates offers another level of value for companies.
Harvard Business Review research suggests that, depending on your industry, it’s five to 25 times more expensive to acquire customers compared to retaining those you already have. The research also suggests that if you can increase customer retention by just 5 percent, then this will result in a profit increase of 25 percent to 95 percent.
The approach to building customer loyalty has changed in recent years, and it is important to distinguish between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty. Many companies focus singularly on customer satisfaction and overlook the value of creating brand advocates. Research by Bain & Co. found that 60 percent to 80 percent of satisfied customers do not return to purchase more from a company that satisfied them just with a good experience. The reason is generally because of a lack of connection. They had a good experience, but nothing is drawing them back.
Instead of loyalty being merely transactional, such as points for purchases, there is a need to appreciate all customer interactions and to make the brand experience enjoyable and personalized. This leads to a more natural back and forth style of interaction between the customer and brand.
The old paradigm of marketing would argue that only popular business-to-consumer brands (think Nike or Coca-Cola) could effectively build relationships with customers across all social channels; however, all brands nowadays are challenged with the question of how to connect and inspire consumers. If you want to transform satisfied customers into brand advocates, you need to first start by having meaningful conversations that resonate with your target audiences so they begin to appreciate and connect with the culture of your business. For example, if you look at the Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feed of a boutique hotel or local health food market that truly understands these principles, you will find customers who are actively conversing on these platforms — swapping news, ideas and recipes, and asking questions.
A recent Forbes article on selling to the next generation of customers describes how the modern sales process is much more about “customer pull” than “brand push.” Customers today are less likely to learn about your products through cold calling or a hard sales approach; instead, they pull information that is relevant and helpful to them through webinars, podcasts, white papers, blogs and reviews found online. This requires a new approach to how companies align sales and digital marketing functions to work collaboratively with the goal of educating and adding value to potential and existing customers.
Industry analyst firm Gartner published a research paper exploring customer experience in 2020 wherein they predicted the need for a “customer experience hub” inside organizations. The hub would bring together all customer-facing operations, providing deeper insights and a holistic understanding of customers. This shift has a dramatic effect on how marketing, advertising, sales, and customer service will begin to converge to successfully harness insights and analytics across departments.
It’s clearer than ever to see how marketing in a digital environment requires coordination across internal teams. Customers just see one brand. While they might be categorized as a “prospect” or a “loyal customer,” and at different times they might interact with sales or marketing or customer service, customers will not differentiate from those experiences.
If you want to create a digital environment where customers can gather information as needed from the web or mobile apps, then you need to consider a blended marketing and customer service environment where customers can find the right information when they need it. And you need to ensure that interactions are consistent across channels.
With the evolution of the digital customer journey, all brands need to consider how they will affect customer experience across all departments and customer touchpoints to effectively strengthen brand position in the marketplace. To succeed in a world of increased connectivity, brands must begin to take a holistic approach to understanding how marketing, sales and service collectively affect the customer experience.