Transforming Customer Experience: The User Journey

It may be interesting to ruminate on the fact that when organizations, marketers or CX professionals address “transforming the customer experience”: what exactly is the transformation process attempting: the customer’s experience or the customer?

It is a reality, and perhaps more often than we may realize, that organizations may not have all the necessary elements and resources to effect a customer experience and journey that a customer expects and values. These could include (accurate) knowledge, know-how, technology, budget, talent, time, etc. that may be in lack. And other possible, but very real factors, are inertia and/or the fear of change: and if we are completely honest about it, these latter factors are sometimes possibly some of the biggest and most significant ones that at best stops transformation dead in its tracks; and at its worse creates a messy outcome of processes that may be misaligned, incoherent, incomplete, and damaging in many ways.

Fundamentally, once an organization has set a clear goal about wanting to give its customers the “best experience”, it needs to stop listening to itself, and start listening to the consumer. That is when an optimal user journey can be designed that will deliver the “best experience” as perceived by the customer (and not by the organization).

Stop Listening To Yourself, And Start Listening To The Customer

It is easy, even for the best of us, to forget that often we are busy listening to ourselves, and not to the customer. With the vast complexities and complications involved in the transformation process, it is sometimes easier to deal with inertia, oversight, or to even convince ourselves that some things are fine the way they are. There are, however, many different ways of listening to the customer that can be implemented into daily processes, included in the structure of operation, and implemented into executions. And these practices will eventually lead to a constant and consistent mindset that is integrated to how businesses are run.

At the same time, there are also fairly simple fixes and quick wins which can be implemented, and sometimes the outcomes could surprise with the exponential returns.

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There are many ways of “listening” to the customer, and below are some of the standard approaches, not necessarily exhaustive.

  • Analytics of customer historical behaviours and projection of future propensity and potential which can be mapped onto both existing and potential customers
  • Consumer research deriving insights from sample groups through various methodologies:
  • Current campaign performance behaviour that builds deeper insight
  • Social media listening
  • Customer complaints and feedback
  • Real life and real-time observations
  • Current and potential trends and fads

Regardless of the approach and methodology used, it is obvious that the information derived is only as good as the questions asked, as good as the data collected, and as good as the analytical intelligence behind it.

The task of transforming a customer’s experience can be a formidable one when considering every single possible permutation of the journey that a customer can take. And it is tempting to attempt fitting the data we see, the information we hear, and whatever else that we perceive the customer to want and value, into the existing framework of what is available.

However, transforming the customer experience must be both a lifelong objective that is based on a lifelong strategy that needs to be implemented, executed and reviewed constantly and consistently. It must also be a task that cannot exist in silos, but one that is both top-down and bottom-up in commitment and alignment across every function of an organization. This is particularly even more critical where the digital-social ecosystem has made the customer journey even more complex with the exponential possibilities that can occur.

Approached from the fundamental consumer psychology, the customer’s needs and wants have not changed all that much: consumers still want value, regardless of the currency that it comes in. Perhaps the only difference, in light of technology, is the speed and the flexibility of platforms with which it is expected to be delivered.

It is the capabilities through which consumer needs and wants are fulfilled that have changed, and depending on how these are utilized, can spell either positively or negatively for organizations.

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The User Journey: It’s Not Just A Physical Journey

This is not referring to the difference between a physical or digital journey. This references the fact that even before the advent of digitalization, every consumer does not take just a physical journey when moving through the purchase process. The consumer moves through a journey that is not visible to organizations, and possibly to a large extent on a subconscious level for the consumer. The consumer journey is a process that is fraught with mental, emotional and psychological implications, the extent of which depends on the significance or importance of the purchase to the consumer. Layer on factors including seemingly unrelated distractions such as phone calls, crowds, noise, time availability, etc., and the list can be pretty much endless.

A Real Marketing Example: DIY before you execute

The Singapore SMRT network today comprises 157 stations, with an estimated 3,095,000 ridership daily (source: sgtrains.com). If an assumption is made that a commuter makes an average of 3 rides a day, there are about 1,000,000 commuters traversing the train network of 157 stations daily. Some of these stations cover a highly significant percentage of the 1,000,000 commuters depending on the day of week and time of day.

It seems like a great idea to advertise at the SMRT stations, with such a huge concentrated traffic in any one place at a time. Well, theoretically so.

In a DIY exercise, marketers were positioned at the various stations at different times of the day on different days of the week. Observations of commuter behaviour were made for a duration of 30 – 60 minutes per station at key traffic areas, and where advertising points exist.

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The results of this qualitative exercise concluded on some very important points some of which are listed below, and which should generally be obvious but easy to miss in the course of focusing only on the exciting traffic potential:

  • Commuters are at stations for the obvious reasons of commuting, and more often than not, a majority of them are simply rushing for trains or to get somewhere.
  • Commuters do not take much notice of their surroundings – and this is true for a good number of them even when at wait points (majority are either standing at the platform doors looking out for the trains or focusing on their digital devices).
  • Ironically, the larger the traffic, the more some of the advertising spaces are blocked by the crowds.
  • An important note is the “blind spot”: the same commuters generally use the same stations daily, and most surrounding elements eventually become blind spots to them.

The above is not meant to dismiss advertising at train stations or to dismiss any advertising at all. The key point is: 

How many of us make the time and effort to deep-dive to that extent of understanding the consumer journey at a personal level (vs a theoretical level)?

We have experienced hiccups and flaws in the consumer journeys we ourselves take and often wondered why something so simple is not tested, discovered, or fixed. If that doesn’t bother you, it should. A much bigger proportion, than we realize, customers are lost every second of the day not because a brand or a product is bad, but because the user journey is.

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Referencing the train station advertising example above, it is clearly more than worthwhile to spend the time and effort to evaluate the user journey.

The follow through from the DIY exercise was administered with an eye-tracking device methodology, the objective being to bring forth further clarity, understanding and re-affirmation of the results of the first exercise. A selected group of commuters were given the eye-tracking devices and given a destination through the stations. Apart from the heat-map recorded of their visual attention, the commuters were interviewed after the exercise.

The consolidated results was a clearer understanding of what commuters look at, what they pay attention to, what catches their attention (more), what they perceive, remember and comprehend (whilst fulfilling their commute objectives).

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Putting together all pieces of information that included business and marketing objectives, target market and segmentation, research results, budget, etc., a strategy was mapped that addressed:

  • viability of the advertising platform
  • investment dollars
  • tests and controls
  • creative strategy

In effect, the process addressed first and foremost what the commuter experiences based on the user journey, with a better clarity of what would improve the commuter experience that would also benefit the organization.

Whilst this example is based on a marketing advertising problem, the thought process applied is not much different from evaluating the consumer’s experience through different channels and what is consumed through the journey.

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One of the most critical, and expensive, user journeys is to fulfil acquisition objectives, and most of these journeys take place digitally or at least part of the journey will, at some point, take place digitally.

Many businesses drive or are working hard at driving, the acquisition closure to a digital platform, which by and large usually sits on the organisation’s website. The key milestones of a user acquisition journey that gets past the advertisement stage, in very broad and simple strokes, can be as follows:

  • sees an ad
  • clicks on link
  • lands on website

Depending on the content of the landing page, the user has a multitude of options from thereon. However, it has been witnessed in real situations that the drop-off at this stage can be 90% or more. And the overall drop-off rate proceeds to climb as the user progresses in the journey on the website until the final acquisition rate can be as low as 0 to 0.5% of the initial total number of leads acquired.

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Layer on other elements and factors into the equation and the outcome could indeed become quite a disastrous one.

There are is one basic rule of thumb in user journeys: Don’t Be Greedy

It has been observed, often, that organizations attempt to squeeze as much as they can from a potential customer the moment they think they have the customer on the net. The customer ends up being led into a confused maze overloaded with over-information, over-sold and overwhelmed, and eventually leaves empty-handed. And we wonder why.

And there are other basic rules of thumb in user journeys:

  • “As few clicks as possible” is not a license to justify 5 to 50 clicks – it means 2 clicks, period: click on the ad, click to apply. And yes, it can really be that simple.
  • If the customer lands up in no man’s land on your website out of the acquisition zone: there is nothing wrong with the customer, but there is something or everything wrong with your advertising, website, content, pathways, etc.
  • Less is always better, unless it means customer incentives. Be it information, or a form that a customer has to complete, you and every customer will not be willing to wade through tons of paperwork to get a product they are paying for: keep it simple, and that means clear, transparent and succinct, fast and efficient.
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Quick Fixes With Real Returns Are Possible

Advertising

Is it clear and accurate? Or is the consumer going to be confused or annoyed when the messages do not align between the advertising and the landing page? This happens more often than we believe and is one of the key causes of high drop-offs – at times due to genuine lack of know-how or errors, and at times deliberate attempts to entice a consumer bordering almost on false advertising. Whatever the reason is, whilst there may always be a teeny possibility that the enticed consumer may actually bite, the likelihood is tremendous that you either lose a customer now or a customer forever.

Landing Page

Is this where your call to action can be acted upon by the customer? If not, how many more clicks before the customer gets there? And why would you send a customer to a landing page that is not at the heart of fulfilling your core objectives? Again, this is actually based on real scenarios where it is hard to fathom why this is deemed rational.

Point of purchase or application form

Banks are notorious for their seemingly endless forms requiring a vast amount of information to be completed. Whilst this is really due to mandatory regulations, marketers are not completely helpless. In another real scenario, an application form was simply given a makeover with a creative re-layout, without removing any of the required information fields. The result was phenomenal – applications submitted doubled in the 1st week of the launch of new application form, with an increase of 30% sustained over the longer term. That is, drop-offs reduced, and yes the conversions of submitted applications did not just sustain but increased by about 5%.

Humans are visual creatures, and all it took was the difference of a simplified form layout that still required exactly the same amount of vast information to be submitted to make a significantly positive change to the outcome. Hence, perception is everything, which was a key highlight in the previous blog Brand Equity – the measure of your Value to your Customer.

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The Cambridge Judge Business School-UpGrad Executive Education in Strategic Digital Marketing Program has a full module on the topic of Customer Experience and Journey with a suite of case studies that provides deeper insight into how this can be managed in different scenarios.

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