The battle for consumers’ hearts, minds and wallets won’t be won in R&D labs. Sure, shoppers love new gadgets and there’s always room for innovation. However, the sad truth is that for the most part consumers don’t see that much difference among competing brands – unless they’re loyal followers of a cult brand like Apple, Nike or the Boston Red Sox.
And when they do form a strong preference for one particular offering, shoppers know that they have a multitude of ways to get it home. Some paths offer great convenience or even significant savings; others stimulate, educate or even titillate. A woman can order a pair of Vince Camuto ankle strap sandals online and wait for the friendly UPS man to pull up to her door two days later. Or, she can visit a bricks-and-mortar store where a friendly salesperson will fawn over her. While she’s there, maybe she’ll use an augmented reality “smart mirror” to see how the shoes will look with four different outfits. She may even take a selfie wearing the shoes, send it out to her “peeps” and get their reactions in real time before she takes the plunge. In all of these scenarios, the shoes get added to the collection that resides in her closet, but the experience of acquiring them is quite different.
It’s that experience that is the value-added many retailers seek. An emphasis on the magic moment where the buyer interacts with the seller goes by many names: Empathy. Customer-centric marketing. CX. The service encounter. Customer journeys.
No matter what you call it, a lot of companies are waking up to the urgent need to design with rather than design for their customers. It’s no longer enough to phone it in by conducting a few focus groups in order to guess at what will resonate with buyers. The market moves too fast and product cycles have accelerated too dramatically to afford this luxury. Again, mass-market segmentation no longer makes much sense in a micro-targeted world.
A revolution in design thinking is here. The fundamental building blocks of this trending philosophy are EDIT: Empathize, Define, Ideate, and Test. You can’t walk down this road without immersing yourself in your customer’s perspective. So, empathy is the first big step.
How can organizations truly understand the lived experiences of their customers so they can design new products and services that will resonate with them? One offshoot of the design thinking revolution is the recognition that managers need to step out of their little boxes and actually cross over to the consumer’s perspective to understand their products from the buyer’s perspective. For this reason a big buzzword today is the customer journey.
This methodology encourages brands to map out in excruciating detail all the steps a customer takes while they interact with the company – no matter where, and no matter how trivial. It’s a powerful way to improve the experience. The journey spans a variety of touchpoints by which the customer moves from awareness to engagement and purchase. Successful brands focus on developing a seamless experience that ensures each touchpoint interconnects and contributes to the overall journey.
The consumer journey concept was influenced by the Japanese approach to total quality management. To help companies achieve more insight, researchers go to the gemba, which to the Japanese means “the one true source of information or value.” According to this philosophy, it’s essential to send marketers and designers to the precise place where consumers use the product or service rather than to ask laboratory subjects to use it in a simulated environment. This approach syncs perfectly with the movement away from the sterile modernist research approaches we discussed earlier — again, fish where the fish are. The postmodern consumer hates the laboratory.
A project by Host Foods illustrates this idea in practice. The company, which operates food concessions in major airports, sent a team to the gemba—in this case, an airport cafeteria—to identify problem areas. Employees watched as customers entered the facility, and then followed them as they inspected the menu, procured silverware, paid, and found a table.
The findings were crucial to Host’s redesign of the facility. For example, the team identified a common problem that many people traveling solo experience: the need to put down one’s luggage to enter the food line and the feeling of panic you get because you’re not able to keep an eye on your valuables while you get your meal. This simple insight allowed Host to modify the design of its facilities to improve a patron’s line-of-sight between the food area and the tables.
A customer journey map is a tool that fits into the broader context of your customer experience strategy. It requires significant customer insight-driven inputs and internal buy-in to be effective. Maps aren’t static — customers and systems change over time – and they must be part of an effort that uses these insights to drive action, leading to actual improvements.
Customer journey maps clarify what customers try to do, what barriers they face, and how they feel during each interaction with your product or service. Refining these smaller steps, such as how people complete a purchase online or file a complaint, is a primary way that journey maps improve the customer experience. Again, these insights can only happen when brand managers climb over the wall that separates them from their customers.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Michael Solomon. Excerpted and adapted from his book “Marketers, Tear Down These Walls!.”
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