The customer journey: A smooth path?

How many of us follow the same purchasing habits today as we did even five years ago? Very few. How many businesses rely on the same sales and marketing approach as they did five years ago?

More than you would think.

In the rapidly evolving digital era, the rules have been (and are still being) fundamentally rewritten. It used to be the supplier who created interest in their products and services, pushing out information and offers as part of lead generation campaigns. But now it is the consumer who is firmly in charge of their journey to purchase.

Of course, the availability of online information is at the root of this crucial shift in power. People prefer to ‘self-educate’ and decide when, where and how they interact with potential suppliers. Company websites, peer review sites, comparison tools and social media all play a role; indeed businesses that neglect social media platforms (and there are lots that still do) slam the door on commercial opportunities, and harm their reputation.

An overarching trend within the new customer journey is the growing appetite for authentic, personalised and emotional engagement with brands, especially in the realm of social media. A recent article by Forbesstated that 62% of Millennials “are more likely to become brand loyal if a company engages with them, sincerely, on social media.” There is still a role for brand promotion, but the balance between promotion and engagement must be carefully considered.

So, what are the six key stages of the new customer journey, and how can you optimise each opportunity?

1. Awareness

Brand awareness is crucial, so that your prospects have you in mind when they commence their research. Building awareness requires a nuanced understanding of your audience – such as which channels they use, their frequent pain points and typical needs. For certain sectors and channels, well-planned and executed brand promotion, such as paid advertising, will reap rewards. But as we introduced earlier, engagement via user-published and shared content often works better today than overt promotion.

Whether you are undertaking engagement or promotion work, it is vital to establish an integrated content strategy that encompasses digital and traditional media so that your messages and communications are consistent, informative and searchable across all channels. You should structure this strategy around a content calendar, so you don’t end up having to resort to ad hoc social media updates that don’t fit into a wider plan.

2. Interest

Awareness is not the same thing as interest. Once you’ve encouraged prospects to visit your website, blogs or social media, you need to analyse their initial interaction so you can glean information to inform your next move. Which touchpoints did they use? What content did they download? Web and social media monitoring tools can help to map prospects’ behaviours and preferences.

Engagement at this stage is crucial. On social media, encourage users to communicate with you by asking for questions and feedback. Endeavour to create a human connection with your prospects.

Providing helpful FAQs, downloadable information or easy to complete online surveys encourages would-be customers to engage with you. By completing a form or similar, people share information with your business about what they are interested in, giving you an opportunity to better understand their preferences and pave the way to that all-important sale.

3. Consideration

Today’s consumer is likely to verify your claims through a range of means, which is where peer reviews come in, and they may consult press articles, watch demo videos or read blogs. Improving your visibility and customer reviews on the right channels will help you to transition prospects to the next stage. Over 80% of consumers seek peer referrals before making a purchase.

Visual content works particularly well on social media as it stands out on social feeds. Any content should lead the prospect back to the information they need to help them make an informed purchasing decision.

4. Purchase

Purchase in the bag, it remains vital to analyse your customer’s behaviour and to deliver an excellent buying experience. Knowing which channels were used to make the purchase, how long it took and how satisfied your customers were, can be invaluable information to help you to improve the experience for other customers. At this stage you are laying the foundations for repeat purchases and long-term loyalty.

5. Retention

The average cost of new customer acquisition is on the rise; so it pays to hold on to your existing ones! Yet it is easier than ever for customers to ‘switch’.  Post-sale engagement activities can include sending further value propositions, product of service updates via email or offering compelling content on your website, blog or social media. Being aware of any problems at an early stage is also crucial; catch up meetings or calls can pre-empt this.

6. Advocacy

Consider how you can build loyalty and deliver ongoing value to your customers, for instance by regular account reviews, rewarding loyalty with promotional offers or by extra training, product add-ons and user videos. Customers love sharing good experiences – so ask them to write reviews, case studies or testimonials that can be used for PR, blogs, email marketing or website posts. On social media, keep engaged with loyal customers – those are the ones who are more likely to share your content.

Demonstrating that you have happy customers who are willing to be brand ambassadors is the ultimate way of encouraging more to embark on their journey to purchase.

In our experience, companies of all sizes are recognising the scale of the commercial rewards to be gained by understanding – and adapting confidently to – the new customer journey. Taking action now to update your customer engagement processes, supported by the right technology, will help to supercharge your growth and unlock the true potential of your business.

– by Mike Richardson

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