There are five stages from the moment a customer’s interest is first aroused to the moment when a purchase is made. That is what the textbook says. Without empathy, you will get nowhere on the customer journey. That is what we say.
There is something comforting about the fact that technology is only a means to an end, and not the real driving force behind everything. The collection of data and the ability to draw digital conclusions are still yet to replace one thing: namely, human empathy. Without an understanding of what actually affects a customer, their journey towards the purchase of a product, towards absolute contentment with a service, will not be smooth sailing – or it will be a dead end.
Big data may be big; being able to recite the five textbook phases of the customer journey by heart even bigger; but the biggest thing of all is to know what a customer expects in a situation, and why. Only then has a company truly won.
What does the textbook actually say? That, at the beginning of the customer journey, the customer’s awareness of a product is created. Followed by favorability, purchasing consideration, the concrete intent to purchase and – last of all – the purchase itself. It makes sense, and can be influenced to our advantage in every phase by listening to the customer. Because it is not just products that you can design but processes, too. In every phase. Just as you can shape pain points along the way so that they turn into gain points. Into points of contact which positively surprise the customer.
As with any journey, the customer journey is also all about the moment when the traveller gets on board. With this, we immediately come up against a difficulty. In the times of e-commerce, of products and services which do not have spatial limitations, and of interruptions from reviews, you can no longer say at what point, at what stage of the trip, the customer is getting on board. Right at the start? Did we bring them onto the road ourselves, through the targeting of our aesthetic, through our communication? Or did they stumble across us by chance, whilst already travelling with a competitor? The fact is, they will only subsequently travel with us if we get them on board by showing that we understand their fundamental needs, and, with every further step, give them the feeling that, from now on, they have the best guide by their side.
There are so many differing needs. But investing time to observe, to carry out discussions, to run through processes from the customer’s point of view is always worth it.
That can happen in digital or analog form. It is best when the two are organically intertwined. To ensure you know that, here, you are not just being stubbornly directed towards the check-out by algorithms and programmers on the basis of a standard process. On the contrary: here, actual, real interactions, real empathy, real emotions are happening.
Here, someone has put themselves in my shoes. Here, someone really understands what was on my mind two days before I embarked on this journey. That’s why I just received this call, or this letter, or I received this email link to the explanatory video, so that my expectations of the coming days are completely different.
Here comes a flight attendant, before I can even ask, or even think of, the question, to assure me that, despite the current delay, my connecting flight will work and explains what my fastest route to the correct gate will be once we land.
There are so many differing needs. But investing time to observe, to carry out discussions, to run through processes from the customer’s point of view is always worth it. In this way, you, as a smaller operator, can sometimes undermine the digital simplicity which larger companies like Booking, Uber, Airbnb or Amazon can offer.
It is still possible to end up on a hotel’s website through which only a reservation request is possible, instead of a direct booking. That drags out the booking process, and drives customers who are anxious about the availability of the room right back to the convenient, larger websites, which they perhaps had a good reason to avoid.
In other words, the potential of a successful customer journey is enormous. You can think so far beyond the original horizons of e-commerce and the digital in general. It is a part of every brand identity which takes customers and communication seriously. ‘Markets are conversations’ reads the first of the 95 theses of the 1999 Cluetrain Manifesto about the relationship between companies and customers in the age of the internet. It is just as relevant today as it was then. The customer journey proves it.