Help people realize their dreams and goals. The way to do that, is to be a digital humanist, not a digital machinist. The former puts customers at the center and uses technology to help them achieve a goal or solve a problem; the latter uses technology to take people out of the equation. Don’t try to engineer people out of the process.
The new digital customer journey: Cross-channel, mobile, social, self-service, and engaged
As technology has evolved and transformed business and the customer experience, customer centricity has become one of marketing’s central pillars. Experts have professed the need for customer-centric strategy and structure for years now, but obstacles to true customer centricity persist.
The sheer proliferation of new online devices and digital consumer channels is pushing leading-edge companies to rethink how they connect with and engage their customers. Here’s how an integrated portfolio of technologies including self-service mobile apps, customer communities, and open product development is reshaping today’s customer journey.
The fragmentation of customer touchpoints cuts across marketing, sales, customer service, and even product development. In short, customers have moved to the digital world en masse, and companies have not kept up. Yes, it’s true that most businesses currently realize they need to evolve. They know they must acquire suite of capable mobile apps, an effective strategy for connecting with consumers in social media, a workable plan for inbound search, and a good way to stay connected with consumers so they can build strong, long-term relationships, instead of merely engage in still-vital yet far less strategic point transactions.
The Journey Starts Now
Much of today’s “customer journey” occurs in the digital realm—a place beyond the direct control of companies, but highly sensitive to efforts to provoke and amplify social engagement. As a result, marketers need to adopt digital marketing models to better engage customers before, during, and after the purchase. They need to “pull” consumers into an ongoing conversation about the company’s products and services. There is no one right way to accomplish this engagement, and there are many possible pathways to success. But it’s critical that marketing organizations begin the digital journey as soon as possible to keep pace with shifting consumer expectations and behaviors.
Massage your message
One of the primary ways that marketing impacts customer experience is through messaging. “Providing relevant messaging fosters engagement and retention,” says Andrew Kelly, director of new business development at marketing agency Baesman. “It’s an opportunity to build on an emotional connection, whether it’s person-to-person or brand-to-consumer.” At the same time, he adds, “irrelevant and impersonal messaging is a turn-off and if you miss too many times, people will shop somewhere else.”
Four Digital Marketing Models
1. Digital Branders
are most often consumer products companies or other marketers that focus on building and renewing brand equity and deeper consumer engagement. These companies are shifting their investment from traditional linear advertising toward more immersive digital multimedia experiences that can connect consumers to the brand in new ways. They are reimagining how they engage consumers, with the primary goal of recruiting new consumers to the brand and driving loyalty through multiple experiences with the brand.
2. Customer Experience Designers
use customer data and insights to create a superior end-to-end brand experience for their customers. Typically, these companies (such as financial-services companies, airlines, hotels, and retailers) build their business models around customer service. By reinventing how they interact with customers, and wowing them at multiple touch points, these companies hope to create an ongoing dialogue and build a loyal customer base.
3. Demand Generators (typically retailers)
focus on driving online traffic and converting as many sales as possible across channels to maximize marketing efficiency and grow their share of wallet. All elements of the digital marketing strategy—website design, search engine optimization, mobile connected apps, and engagement in social communities—are tailored to boost sales and increase loyalty. Although Demand Generators also need to leverage content to drive engagement, they’re more focused on driving volume and efficiency than on curating the deep, emotional branded experiences that Digital Branders pursue.
4. Product Innovators
use digital marketing to identify, develop, and roll out new digital products and services. These companies employ digital interactions with consumers primarily to rapidly gather insights that can shape the innovation pipeline. By helping nurture new sources of revenue, the marketing group increases the value of the company.
Making life better for customers
Virgin’s airline operations, on the other hand, are a good example of a Customer Experience Designer. Like many other airlines, Virgin wants to avoid being seen by passengers as simply a utility. Instead, it aims to create a more customer-centric branded experience that starts before the customer buys a ticket, continues during the flight, and extends after the trip is over. With this in mind, Virgin has focused attention on building a “segmentation and needs assessment” capability and an “omnichannel experience” creation capability.
In practice, this means the airline uses purchasing and behavioral data to segment customers, identify needs and pain points, and create a personalized experience across all channels—whether customers are at home on the computer, on a mobile phone, using in-flight screens, or interacting with Virgin staff members.
For example, Virgin is investing in a more interactive and personalized in-flight experience that is tailored to different segments of travelers. A frequent traveler to London might get specialized content after takeoff, like the latest reviews of restaurants around Piccadilly. Passengers will also be able to interact with a concierge service while on the flight and with other passengers via Chatter, a social media messaging platform from Salesforce.com. The entertainment options and other aspects of the experience will also be personalized on the basis of a user profile built over time (through factors such as the videos customers opted to watch, the meals and drinks they purchased, and other personalized elements).
By curating the passenger’s journey in this manner, Virgin hopes to create a community and deliver an experience that goes beyond the flight itself to reinforce the airline’s brand image of adventure and fun. Virgin’s corporate culture is a significant asset in this endeavor—its highly engaged employees embrace the idea of cultivating positive experiences for customers. (That has helped Virgin America become the fastest-growing airline in the United States.) Critically, Virgin’s marketing investments are intended to support this culture, while also empowering employees to innovate and continue improving the customer experience.
Digital businesses that put customers at the center take the time to understand those customers. Know who you’re designing for and what they need or expect. But marketers should do more than ask customers about their goals and preferences; they must also observe customer behaviors because people can’t always tell you what they want!