Understand customer needs intuitively to develop empathy and earn their loyalty

  • Ensure that your customer journey map is based on insight and not conjecture

Developing a customer journey provides a business the opportunity to assess what it is like to do business with themselves from ‘the outside in’. It requires that you walk in the customers’ shoes to understand from their perspective what works, and what doesn’t. Understanding customers is key to better-serving them and delivering good customer experiences. One of the most popular artifacts used to understand the customer is the ‘journey map’. The customer journey is unique to each customer.

Customers rarely move consistently through any or all of the stages when navigating our touch-points. Instead, in their brand relationship-building journey they collect a portfolio of brand experiences. Consequently, in planning the customer journey, rather than viewing the buying process only as a specific set of stages we must focus on encapsulating the broader customer journey. This is because, in reality, customers move from touch-point to touch-point; sometimes circling back or moving off the path altogether.

Though many interactions with businesses go excellently, the worst experiences are remembered and will be told endlessly. It is one of the most beloved topics at birthday parties, funerals, etc. You probably recognise the following situations: at a wedding reception the caterers arrive late and keep everyone on tenterhooks waiting for them to show up. A business promises ‘excellent customer service’ in its marketing copy, but fails to deliver on the ‘D-day’.  A couple of minutes after ordering a meal, the restaurant calls to say that your package is on its way.

A few minutes later, they call again to apologise – the courier disappointed them, and the delivery will not happen. The message on their social media handle assured you of prompt service, yet the delivery failed!

In considering the customer journey concept, our focus is not just on what customers do across the stages and touch-points in the buying process but also on understanding and shaping the evolving customer experience. The goal is to deeply understand the ongoing customer journey, mapping customer touch-points, and experiences in detail. By understanding the customer journey, we can work to create brand experiences that will result in positive purchase behaviour and brand advocacy over time.

Here are a few steps recommended by experts to enhance the customer experience and improve engagement to earn their loyalty. First, talk to and gather insight from your people (employees). Second, engage your employees by developing the internal employee journey to ensure they are aligned with your vision. When your employees are aligned, they all share the sentiment and desire to address the customer’s needs. Third, talk to your customers. It is important that you listen and learn about them; this way, you eventually develop empathy with them, and the insight to improve your journey touch-points.

Employee insight

To effectively map your customer journey and make it visible across your organisation, you must engage cross-functionally with a representation of both frontline staff who deal directly with customers and those at the back end, as both sets of employees have dealings with the customer one way or another. Doing this will influence a shared understanding of the ‘current state’ customer experience. Your goal is to identify opportunities for improvement. A useful exercise in this process is to run customer journey mapping workshops to build an ‘inside-out’ view of the relationship.

The process involves mapping the wants, needs and goals of each persona (a semi-fictional archetype that represents the key traits of a large segment of your audience, based on the data you have collected from user research and web analytics) specific to their overall journey, each stage of it, the touch-points and their relative importance at each stage. It also involves the Identification of pain-points (a specific problem that customers or prospective customers of your business are experiencing in the marketplace) and points to opportunities for improvements, because you will be thinking like your customers.

My daughter travelled to Nigeria recently at short notice. Before her trip, she called her bankers to try and make arrangements so she could cash some money in Nigeria with her bank card. Unfortunately, she was unable to reach them before her trip. In Nigeria, she managed to withdraw just a little amount – following which her card got flagged at the next withdrawal attempt for obvious reasons.

This meant that she couldn’t use her card till she returned to Ghana. We understand that they were protecting her account ,so that’s in order; what’s worrying is the fact that she called several times to notify them of her travel and intention to use the account while in Nigeria, but was unable to reach them on the phone. A clear case of encountering a pain-point.

Employee journeys

As put aptly by the CX author Alan Pennington, the employee experience is the other side of the customer coin. Each individual plays a significant role in creating a culture that gives employees every opportunity to engage with the customer and ensure the customer agenda is integrated with the company’s day-to-day operations seamlessly. According to Pennington (2016), the following key questions are critical and must be tackled comprehensively as part of this process.

First, how well do you connect all of your employees to the end customer?  Do you have an employee proposition? Does your culture encourage customer focus? The employee journey map highlights the relationship between a company and its staff. Therefore, the employee’s journey in the company – right from the point of recruitment through to promotions, transfers, and retirement among others – must be satisfying for the average employee, such that there is a high level of commitment to the company’s cause and a significantly low churn rate.

Ever watched Undercover Boss? It’s on YouTube, a programme wherein bosses go under-cover to experience first-hand what their employees go through. It is always nice to see the emotional moments when bosses reveal their cover and reward loyal employees. When employees feel a part of the family, they are willing to go the extra mile – and this has a domino-effect on the customer experience. A testing question to ask here is: do you have an employee value proposition? Most companies have it for the customers, but seldom do it for their employees.

Pennington (2016) proposes that a value proposition for employees is very much a part of the experience-building process, both internally and externally. The employee proposition is a promise from the organisation to existing and potential employees that:

  • is consistent with the organisation’s brand
  • distinct from the proposition of competitors
  • credible, because it echoes the experience of current employees
  • relevant and valuable to both existing and potential employees
  • is an honest and not stereotypical or cliched statement.

The employee proposition provides a reference point or baseline for future changes to the employee experience.

Talking to your customers

The sum of a customer’s experiences throughout the customer journey will shape his or her continuing behaviour and attitudes toward the brand. Beyond learning what paths customers are taking, we must dig deeper to learn the whys. To that end, most businesses mine masses of consumer data to gain insights into the customer journey. For example, for customers who buy a product but never blossom into advocates, the company might learn that they have simply never learned about everything that the product can do for them and how to make things happen.

A recommended way of talking to your customers is known commonly as the ‘Voice of the Customer’. This is normally qualitative research carried out to gain a clear understanding of the challenges, goals, perceptions and beliefs of key audiences in their own words. It provides a solid foundation upon which to define and understand – with precision and statistical projectability – what your audiences think and feel about their experience, journeys and interactions, and why.

Complementing this with quantitative research enables you to determine the specific relationships between one set of variables (e.g., journey stages or touch-points) and another set of variables (e.g., barriers to engagement or increased loyalty) across your target audiences. Establishing correlations like these help you understand exactly what levers to turn across the customer journey to improve the experience and drive the business results most relevant to you.

For example, one technology company discovered that improving the ‘onboarding’ stage of a SaaS-based service journey radically boosted overall satisfaction (SaaS is a delivery model in which software is licenced to customers using a cloud-based system. End users can access selected applications on the Internet via a web browser).

“In an ideal world,” concludes one analyst, “the journey people take to become loyal customers would be a straight shot down a highway: See your product. Buy your product. Use your product. Repeat. In reality, this journey is often more like a sightseeing tour with stops, exploration and discussion along the way – all moments when you need to convince people to pick your brand and stick with it instead of switching to a competitor.” Unfortunately, the real world does not offer us that room of comfortability.

Dealing with customer sentiments requires great attention to detail to cope with the element of unpredictability concerning the average customer. Coupled with this is the fact that raw data is flowing in from everywhere: customer transaction and interaction data, web and social media data, news and environmental data, and data from more than 50 billion connected devices. Everything from consumer wearables and GPS technology to household thermostats, washing machines and cars. Companies need to make sense of all that data for their brands and consumers.

All this will make sense if we deliberately learn about the customer. Understanding the sum of the ongoing experiences consumers have with a brand and focusing all discussions of the customer journey beginning with customer brand-awareness and ending with the customer advocating the brand to others is what will make our business sustainable in today’s ‘crazy world’.

The Writer is a Management Consultant (Change and Customer Experience). He can be reached on 059 175 7205, koj[email protected], https://www.linkedin.com/in/km-13b85717/

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