hitchhiker
Retail success doesn't begin and end at the point of purchase — it relies on the entire customer journey PHOTO: Atlas Green

Retail organizations are struggling to provide seamless digital experiences, but ironically, their own internal organizations can be part of the problem. 

That’s because the different touchpoints through which companies engage customers are often still managed in isolation by separate teams, with little regard for how those touchpoints fit together to form integrated customer journeys.

Siloed Companies Will Struggle

With growing online competition, changing consumer expectations and new customer touchpoints, brands have never been under more pressure to differentiate themselves through the experiences they deliver. It’s little surprise then, that improving the customer experience was named as the number one business priority for executives who responded to a 2015 Accenture study.  

What’s becoming clear is that as the number of touchpoints and channels continues to grow, organizations with a siloed approach to service delivery will struggle to improve the performance of their services and experiences in meaningful ways.

So what changes can retailers make to transform the experiences they deliver?

Throw Away Your Lists of Features 

Without understanding how digital services could — or should — impact your users, you can’t hope to be effective at delivering them successfully. That makes it all too common for retailers to try to achieve their goals by adding new features to applications, often simply for the sake of delivering new features.

Instead of trying to deliver as many features as possible, it’s a far better idea to identify how those proposed new features will support your users’ behaviors. That’s why it’s important to throw away any defined product features lists or traditional requirement-gathering methods such as MoSCoW, an acronym so named because it prioritizes features that consumers must have, should have, could have and won't have, but would like.

Create End-to-End Customer Journeys 

Instead, every technology decision must be informed by mapping out all possible user journeys from the user’s perspective. For example, the ability to return a product should not be envisioned simply as part of your ecommerce store, but as part of an end-to-end user journey that can span different touchpoints and must be designed accordingly to be an integral part of the overall digital experience.

Using agile methodologies such as story mapping will ensure that you consider the returns journey from the perspective of everyone involved: the customer, the customer service agent, the logistics supplier, the warehouse manager and the account clerk. 

This is the first step toward developing a more sophisticated understanding of your customers, their needs and their expectations as they navigate through their journeys across different touchpoints.

Mapping features to impacts, users and business goals
Mapping features to impacts, users and business goals

A story map provides a release plan for digital products based on user journeys
A story map provides a release plan for digital products based on user journeys

Assign and Staff Dedicated Teams

Delivering an integrated digital service that meets your customers’ expectations depends upon effective collaboration between your digital teams and other departments and stakeholders. From a structural point of view, there’s value in assigning a dedicated team and team leader to each major customer journey. These cross-unit teams should also include representatives from across your different channels, as well as from supporting teams such as marketing. 

This supports a customer-journey approach and is a useful structure for assessing how your omnichannel model is translating into real customer experiences. To create lasting change, ensure that internal structures are revised where necessary to ensure clear governance and communication.

Appoint a Product Owner

However, thinking only in terms of projects which have clear beginning and endpoints will actually put your digital strategy at a disadvantage. Instead, to ensure that your digital products continue to serve your business goals over the long term, you need to think in terms of products and product management. 

To make that happen, a product owner should be appointed to maximize your end product’s value by representing the voice of the customer in gathering feedback and making decisions. 

Bridge Your Strategic and Delivery Teams

But the product owner’s role is developing another dimension as retailers attempt to communicate their brand propositions in new ways. As your digital delivery teams deploy your brand across new and emerging channels, it’s simply not feasible to have your CMO present at each brand decision on ever channel. 

As the bridge between your strategic and delivery teams, the product owner then becomes the ideal person for handling the challenge of managing your brand across all these new channels, and for creating and managing evolving, code-based web style guides that can be used and populated across teams.

Choose the Right Technology Partners 

As a retailer, your success hinges on your ability to grow, learn and deliver ever-greater value to your customers. But that value ultimately depends on having a legacy of sound processes, practices and methodologies within your organization. 

Yet, this doesn’t happen overnight, and often requires external expertise and resources. 

This is where your technology partners come in. It’s no longer enough for them simply to deliver projects, so work with technology partners who are committed to leaving behind a positive legacy that supports collaboration and helps you align your strategy and product delivery. This will be key to delivering digital products that meet customer expectations and deliver on your brand promise.

Compelling Digital Services 

In the past, siloed structures, legacy processes and the wrong behaviors may have prevented you from seeing the world as your customers do. By making the adjustments explored in this article, your retail organization can start delivering joined-up, compelling digital services with your customer at heart.