Today’s path to purchase is designed by the customer. As more touchpoints become available, making the customer journey less predictable, the challenge of understanding the journey becomes far more difficult than when people simply walked in to the store or called on the phone to buy your product. When your customer begins shopping Instagram, then moves to another site to research the product, which triggers the customer to start traversing across a number of channels to get more information. Understanding the complete customer journey starts to get very foggy. So, how can enterprises connect the dots across all these touchpoints to understand customer intent?
Consider this example: If a customer is looking to invest in $2,000 worth of fitness equipment, their journey could include researching various options online, reading customer reviews on social, doing a comparison shop on various apps, seeking advice from friends and then possibly going in-store to check out a few shortlisted products.
At what point does the customer pick up the phone and speak to a sales rep? It’s difficult to know. But if you don’t understand your customer’s intent and their journey to date, how can you engage them in a relevant conversation, let alone efficiently close the sale?
To serve customers well, agents (virtual or human) must understand how the customer got to that point; and where they stand in their decision-making process. However, the onus typically falls on the customer to provide that insight—sometimes repeating the same information every time they engage. For many customers, it is too much of a burden to bear to be the context database for the brands who they do business with.
Articulating the journey can be tricky for some customers; and exasperating when the agent has limited knowledge of what’s happening at other touchpoints (such as a flash sale in store or online that hasn’t been communicated to the contact center). It’s therefore crucial that you have a strategy for stitching together all the different interactions that a customer has across touchpoints, to create one ongoing conversation that is readily available in all channels, to all applications and to your contact center agents.
If the process is not engaging, information rich, or contextually aware, then there’s a very real likelihood that the customer will drop out and go somewhere else where they expect to get a better experience, because the customer is asking themselves if it has gone poorly so far, is it likely to also go poorly when I need further support in the future.
What’s an ongoing conversation from the perspective of your customer? It’s not a phone call. It’s not a website visit. It’s not a chat. It’s not a click to add something into the cart. It is no single component, but rather the entire customer journey. All of the steps involved in the experience of researching, buying, receiving, getting support for the assembly, and even (not ideally) the return. Consumers consider these as the entire experience with the brand and all companies need to strive to maintain this holistic context around the customer journey.
It’s time to turn your thinking around
Maintaining a persistent conversation throughout the customer lifecycle requires a new strategy for managing your communication interfaces and their supporting resources. If your website, call center, and social media marketing are operating with different goals and processes, you will struggle to create a cohesive experience for the customer, and they will notice.
The most important aligning principle for iconic digital brands is a trained focus on what customers are trying to accomplish when they approach the company. What are the key things consumers are trying to do and can we make it easy to get those things done regardless of which channel the customer chooses? This alignment between channels will go a long way to bring alignment in the data and consolidation of the customer context.
By understanding the frequent and important tasks you are supporting for customers, will make it easier to see the journey of customers when/if they move to another channel during the process. For example, let’s revisit the customer trying to buy the fitness equipment to combat the COVID induced inactivity. She has ‘dropped’ the treadmill in the cart, but then she wants to verify the warranty and the size of the screen, so she clicks the ‘Contact Us’ button on the page. She is presented with a variety of options (phone, email form, chat, etc.). This happens all too frequently. The brand has already conceded that the only way to service customers is via a live conversation, where the poor agent is given little to no context into the customer’s mission.
Omni-channel without context doesn’t work
When brands decide to offer omni-channel capabilities without engaging in a contextually intelligent way, they have accepted mediocrity. It will take $10 to hold a long conversation, in which they will make it apparent to the customer that they have little understanding of her past interactions and what she is trying to accomplish. Larger brands are excelling in maintaining important context about you and what you are trying to accomplish. ‘Contact Us’ pages with a variety of contact options do not promote seamless conversation, nor an effortless experience for the customer.
If the experience was designed with that end in mind, the consumer would have been greeted with, “Can I help you with your evaluation of the treadmill?” This is very straightforward to accomplish and it communicates that your customer is in a contextually appropriate conversation. Let’s say she leaves the site to contemplate the purchase, after all, this is a lot of money. A notification, “When you are ready to talk treadmills we are here and ready to help?” Your digital channels are throwing off a number of key signals and data points that need to be incorporated into customer context and used to intelligently serve consumers.
Knowing how the customer got to that point, without them having to spell it out for you, allows the conversation to continue naturally and effortlessly for the customer. So, when an agent (virtual or human) joins the conversation, it feels like part of the same experience that began the moment they started comparison shopping on your website.
The power of AI & automation throughout the customer journey
Now more than ever, companies have to think differently about their use of channels and bring their user interfaces into the framework of a single conversation. Consider how powerful it would be to be able to continue the conversation in a brick-and-mortar environment. If a customer is on the shop floor and requires more information on a product, they can use their mobile to scan a QR code that’s attached to the product. This takes the customer to a workflow that recognizes the phone number and associates the action with prior conversations across channels. This connects in-store experiences, website experiences and phone experiences, stitching everything together into one seamless conversation. AI and automation play a pivotal role in delivering iconic digital experiences, informed by the context of the customer.