The traditional customer-engagement funnel—beginning with cultivating awareness and ending with securing a customer's purchase and loyalty—has lost its relevance. Today the greater need is for a "nonstop customer experience." After all, many of today's buyers neither enter nor exit a channel at one point. As long as they're using a smartphone, tablet, or Internet-enabled PC, they are continuously in the channel. Their journey is unprecedentedly…
- Dynamic. Customers can control and vary their routes within and across channels. People often start or stop engaging with providers at less-predictable points, even circling back to choices they've already made.
- Accessible. More content than ever is put in front of customers, much of it beyond a company's control. The voice or noise of others is increasingly influential.
- Continuous. Because touchpoints are always on, consumers can continually compare and evaluate a provider's promise versus delivery, and how the resulting experience matches up with their expectations. As a result, evaluation—not purchase—is now the focal point.
A more dynamic, accessible, and continuous customer journey can affect different customer segments differently. How can companies align their marketing, sales, and service activities to exploit these shifts?
Follow and Guide
Companies that can follow customers as they shop, purchase, and consume are better positioned to understand the underlying intentions associated with each choice the customer makes and anticipate and even facilitate that customer's next steps. For example, a company may be able to identify at which point, and why, a customer leaves the purchasing path. Take Motorcycle Superstore, which studies how people search for particular products and adjusts the language on its Web site to match the terminology that it discovers in customer searches.
Following customers' journeys can help companies guide them toward additional purchases. One key is analyzing customer behavior and delivering a brand message when and where it will have the most influence. Online travel-booking companies are good examples: When a customer purchases plane tickets, most sites present choices for the next logical move—the selection of a hotel or car rental option.
Filter and Curate
Companies can't control the tidal wave of information and opinion that continuously breaks over the Internet. But they can listen, learn, and, to a degree, influence the behavior of nonstop customers. By figuring out what content is making a difference, organizations can develop customized responses. Home Depot does this by using quick response codes to encourage customers to access its content-rich mobile site. The codes bring up product information and reviews, instructional videos, and an option to purchase online.
Curating complements the filtering function by seeking to put only the most relevant and attractive content or offerings in front of the customer. Netflix's Queue is a good example. By encouraging customers to evaluate their rentals (and making it easy to do so), the company follows unobtrusively while customers lead each other. The organization then steps into a curator role—tailoring recommendations that reflect customer reviews and encouraging customers to broaden their scope.
Synchronize and Optimize
Companies can benefit from improving customer experiences and ensuring that interactions are consistent across marketing, sales, and service. American Express optimizes customers' experiences through platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The company offers cardholders discounts based on their activities on the sites. All they have to do is synch their social accounts to American Express. Offers are extended and redeemed by the company so customers need not deal with coupons or rebates.
Preparing for the Inevitable
Transformative change is often needed to drive growth in this new reality. That could mean honing analytical abilities, implementing interactive technologies, or restructuring a company's operations. However, the overarching benefit—an organization attuned and responsive to the needs of today's customer—is too important to ignore.
Robert Wollan is the managing director of Accenture sales and customer service. Paul Nunes is the executive director of research at the Accenture Institute for High Performance. Oliver Schunck is the offering development lead for Accenture's marketing transformation group.