From Amazon to Etsy to almost all software moving to the cloud, the internet has forever changed the way people buy. Technology and mobility have empowered consumers and shifted market dynamics in their favor. The customer journey isn’t a linear route anymore. It’s a complex digital landscape, one in which increasingly vocal customers navigate knowing there are many options to choose from. Whether they’re comparing products or hunting for the best price, consumers have a wealth of tools at their disposal.
But like natural geography, the digital customer journey is more moldable than many businesses realize. For example, customer experience will overtake both price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. Companies can work with that, choosing to revamp their support models rather than overhaul their products. But beyond adopting a robust digital strategy, businesses must focus on the day-to-day tactical decisions that can make or break customer relationships.
What is a Digital Customer Journey, Exactly?
Simply put, the customer journey is the process of selection, from brand awareness to typing in their credit card information to make a purchase. That journey is now digital; potential customers interact with businesses via social media, websites, email marketing, and more. So why does it matter? After all, it sounds confusing; with so many channels and customer touchpoints, why should a business try to keep up?By 2016, the web will play a role in over half of all retail transactions—almost $2 trillion in sales. Click To Tweet
The data is undeniably clear. 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally, according to Gartner. And by 2016, the web will play a role in over half of all retail transactions—that’s almost $2 trillion in sales.
But a Salesforce study indicates that 50% consumers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t anticipate their needs. 52% are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t personalize customer interactions. If your company doesn’t understand where that customer is coming from (or where they’re going), you won’t know what comes next. You can’t anticipate what they need, so they’ll spend money elsewhere. With their demand for increasingly personalized and seamless customer experiences, these new consumers require fundamental changes to customer support (CS) operations.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive.
Since the explosion of technology revolutionized the customer experience, companies have struggled to play catch-up. They’ve often worked reactively, using big data and analytics to understand consumer behavior. David C. Edelman, the CMO of Aetna, says that “companies have been reacting to customers, trying to anticipate their next moves and position themselves in shoppers’ paths as they navigate the decision journey from consideration to purchase.”52% of consumers will switch brands if a company doesn't personalize customer interactions. Click To Tweet
That’s not a bad thing; after all, you have to understand your customers in order to serve them. But many businesses have failed to look beyond that responsive strategy. They haven’t actively explored how they can shapethe customer journey.
Reactiveness is an area where support teams in particular can improve. After all, customers only seek support after something goes awry, right? Traditionally, that was true. But what if your CS team could resolve issues before the customer even knows there’s a problem?
Companies can use technology to monitor and identify issues much faster than humans can. Automated workflows can equip CS teams to provide preemptive service that’s invisible to the customer but shapes their experience by making it truly seamless.
For example, a leading café chain integrated Splunk and ServiceNow to create an automated workflow that preempts issues with the self-service iPads in their restaurant. If an iPad crashes, Splunk will record the error in real time—before any human can—and automatically create a support ticket in ServiceNow. Automation can dramatically simplify back-end operations, enabling CS teams to deliver engaging front-end customer experiences that not only dovetail with the customer journey but also make it better.
Improved Decision-Making with Data-Driven Insights
The Proactivity Principle also applies to analytics. According to a Marketwired survey, 68% of respondents believe that predictive analytics are key to business success—and for good reason. Matt Heinz, the CEO of Heinz Marketing, explains that foreseeing future needs is crucial to molding the digital customer journey. “It’s really about adding higher levels of precision,” he says. “[Predictive analytics allow] companies to improve efficiency and cease spray-and-pray techniques that infuriate more prospects than they attract.” By addressing pain points, prioritizing goals, and setting up expectations at specific touch points, CS teams can anticipate customers’ next moves and better position themselves along that trajectory.
Zillow—a property information website—uses predictive analytics to transform the home buying experience. In the past, brokerages only provided consumers with basic information, like square footage and lot size. But that level of data wasn’t enough; consumers wanted access to richer, contextual data to make well-informed purchase decisions.
All that changed with the launch of Zestimate, Zillow’s market value calculator. To optimize the consumer search process, Zestimate accounts for more granular details like location features and market conditions. With greater customer and performance visibility, brokers can decide how, when, and where to expand their outreach.Highly engaged customers buy 90% more often and spend 60% more per transaction. Click To Tweet
A similar big-picture approach allows CS teams to actively shape—rather than passively react to—customer behavior trends. More importantly, it allows them to see potential gaps in the customer experience. With that perspective, they can effectively optimize support and drive business value.
Providing Personalized Support Throughout the Customer Journey
Because the digital customer journey includes more touchpoints, it also includes more potential points of failure. There are just more opportunities for something to go wrong. To improve customer retention, you must capture highly engaged customers. A Rosetta Consulting study indicates that highly engaged customers buy 90% more often and spend 60% more per transaction. Simply put, happy customers are more likely to stay loyal to a brand; keep them happy, and they’ll keep buying.
One huge factor in customer satisfaction is the quality of the support they receive—and customers are setting the bar higher than ever before. According to Salesforce, 89% of buyers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations. In other words, you have to provide personalized interaction at every landmark in the digital customer journey. But a Salesforce study indicates that 42% of CS agents can’t efficiently resolve customer issues due to disconnected systems, outdated user interfaces, and multiple applications.As the number of customer touchpoints grows, how do you satisfy customers across all channels? Click To Tweet
Scott Horn, CMO of 7, explains that companies must coordinate their support channels to ensure a smooth experience. “Rather than adding more channels, companies will begin to orchestrate the customer experience by pairing channels to make a consumer’s experience easier. Companies will do a better job of choreographing a consumer’s experience within and across channel pairs, such as chatbot to live chat,” he says.
Such strategic choreography is both an art and a science, which is why AI promises to make it easier. For example, Pegasystems recently debuted its Pega Customer Decision Hub, which pulls information from all channels together into a central platform powered by AI. By learning from the entire set of a customer’s interactions with the company, the AI can make a smart determination about the next step. Channels can then work contiguously, meaning customers can seamlessly move from channel to channel. But they can also work concurrently, so that customers can interact with the company on multiple channels at the same time.
Moving Forward—with Customers and Technology
As technology continues to expand and improve, so will the digital customer journey. How will businesses keep pace with tech-savvy consumers? Shep Hyken, the best-selling author of The Amazement Revolution, believes it truly comes down to the basics. “All the customer wants is to connect with a company,” he says. “It’s not about a channel. It’s about making a connection. So make it easy. Make it seamless. Make it ubiquitous. Make it channel-less!”