Turning a prospect into a customer -- and possibly a loyal purchaser -- used to be described as moving them through a marketing funnel. Now it’s a customer journey, according to a new Forrester Research report, as customers have acquired more options and more control. Instead of pushing them through a cascading sequence that metaphorically resembles movement through a funnel, Forrester said, businesses must now figure out how to entice them down the road.
The key driver, per “Meet the Changing Needs of Connected Customers,” is the fact that all digitally-connected customers are “hyperactive,” with a variety of device choices, cloud-based services and competing vendors available through a search engine or an ad click.
That choice-rich environment is compounded by the fact that customers now commonly switch between channels as they make their way toward a purchase. A user might shop by smartphone, then move to a tablet, watch TV, talk to a friend or visit a store -- and, not infrequently, sometimes utilize several of those channels at once. The more devices a customer has, the report said, the more actively they pursue shopping-related information, such as the 10 percent more tablet/smartphone owners who use their smartphones to check store hours, compared to the smartphone-only owners.
Of the respondents who use two devices at the same time, 90 percent will move sequentially between multiple screens to achieve the same task, such as beginning a shopping effort on a smartphone and then picking it up on a laptop. Ninety-eight percent of those multiple-screen shoppers will use multiple screens for the same task on the same day.
Not surprisingly, the report also found a wide variety of physical locations from which users will access the Internet from their tablet or their smartphones, such as in a school, a store, a friend’s house or a restaurant.
Customers are Complex, Irrational, Nonlinear
Forrester said that these patterns mean that, from the company’s point of view, customer behaviors are increasingly complex, irrational and nonlinear. In contrast to countless other reports and customer experience vendors, this report recommends companies understand that customer experience design must adapt to this complexity, rather than the now-common prescription of “a unified experience across all channels.”
It is not uncommon for customer experience reports and vendors’ recommended strategies to still refer to the marketing funnel, or use it interchangeably with the concept of the customer journey. But Forrester says it’s clearly a journey now, as companies must “shift their focus from command and control to serving customer needs as they develop.”
Content marketing also needs to focus on not only delivering appropriate content for a goal, the report says, but appropriate content at the right time in the journey. This inclusion of context and timing into customer experience is being mentioned by the more sophisticated vendors and reports, and it is emphasized in this report.
Thinking Customer Needs, Not Interaction Points
In part, this change in approach is a change in the mindset of marketers, according to the report. One key is to focus on the need of the customer, not the interaction point with the company. For instance, the customer’s need when they open a bank account might be to save for a particular purchase or time in life, and it’s the need -- and it’s place in the customer’s overall financial needs -- that banks would best address, not the physical act of opening an account.
With this approach, companies can then more easily transition into understanding how to remove obstacles or provide assistance that helps the customer make a choice to buy and possibly stay a customer. As examples, the report cites AT&T’s creation of online videos to explain bill charges, after its analysis from the customer's point-of-view found that new customers were confused by their bills.
In this fluid world, customer experience is increasingly about context, and the report suggests that companies recognize and emphasize benefits targeted at in-the-moment needs, find the appropriate channel for communications of certain needs (e.g., phone call versus text message for an update on product delivery?), continually monitor results and iteratively make rapid improvements.
With its emphasis on synching with the customer’s need at a given time, this report offers a fresh perspective on customer experience. The report’s only shortcoming is that it feels like it has only opened the door to a more appropriate understanding of what modern customer experience wants to be.