Once upon a time, digital services were fairly straightforward. Across all manner of industries, the main purpose of any technology investment was to enable a transaction with the customer. If your business had a website, it was there to handle transactions, ensuring that the right amount of money was taken in the right format for whatever product you were selling. In those simpler times, when a single online channel was the pinnacle of sophisticated customer experience, this focus on the final transaction wasn’t a problem. Yet in today’s environment, the customer’s journey is just as important as the finish line – perhaps even more so in some cases. Today, customers want to use an online service in a manner that suits them, with more engaging, personalised and seamless experiences that meet their ever more discerning expectations. In other words, it’s the journey they’ll remember, not the final destination.
Playing the long game
Most of the time, a customer’s final transaction represents less than one percent of their entire experience with a brand. When looking for a holiday, we don’t visit a travel agent, flick through a brochure and make a booking. We spend hours online researching potential destinations, running travel and hotel combinations through a third-party website, and settling on the best option based on a whole range of factors. A Friday night film no longer requires a quick trip to Blockbuster, we scan through reviews before matching them with what’s available on the various streaming apps we subscribe to. Even high-street staples like the bank branch aren’t immune to these digital changes; we don’t simply rely on our local branch manager’s advice, we research interest rates, terms and deals across a range of banks before committing to a mortgage. This is a time-intensive process, even for something as simple as streaming a film. During this journey, the customer could make hundreds, possibly even thousands of interactions across a range of competing websites. So, when it’s time for that final transaction, how can you make sure it happens with your brand?
Leaving a mark
As with everything in the digital economy, speed is of the essence. If your online experience is slow or un-responsive, the customer will look somewhere else. Whether it’s online or in-store, long waits and inefficient service are the frustrations that customers remember. Those businesses that offer both will soon find themselves abandoned. With that in mind, every brand must ensure that its online services are able to access the data they need to operate flawlessly, regardless of traffic. Just as a customer might be deterred by a queue spilling onto the street when out shopping, any digital service that doesn’t work smoothly will simply push customers towards competitors. At best, the customer might browse there to ‘window-shop’, before going elsewhere for the actual transaction.
The personal touch
One of the quirks of the e-commerce revolution is that despite less physical contact with a brand, customers still prefer a personal touch. Customers reward offers and interactions aimed specifically at them with that all-important transaction. A new family looking for a mortgage, for example, won’t be interested in offers aimed at prospective landlords. Even the mighty Amazon has fallen flat in this regard; ordering a set of lightbulbs for your house typically leads to a flurry of lightbulb recommendations, no matter how well-lit your house might now be! Customers expect better personalisation than this, and having the capability to update preferences based on real-time data is vital to achieving good results.
Great digital experience is all very well, but the fact is that this type of capability is beyond many organisations. All too often, a brand might be geared up to process that final transaction quickly and efficiently, yet will struggle to cope with the more fluid, complex online experience that they’re now expected to offer. Despite this, many still persist in relying on their existing transactional technology to handle 99 percent of the customer’s journey – perhaps by modifying or using software add-ons to paper over the cracks.
This, however, causes more problems than it solves. The more that technology is tampered with or added to, the more complicated and costly it becomes to run. Meanwhile, unless its workload is carefully balanced and provisioned for, there’s a risk that performance will suffer. This can quite realistically lead to the worst-case scenario: technology that either can’t perform according to the customer’s needs at any point of their journey, or technology that only continues to provide the service needed by becoming essentially a black hole that swallows resources.
Ultimately, brands need to take a good look at their interaction-to-transaction ratio, and make sure that one leads to the other. It simply isn’t logical that the bulk of an organisation’s technology investments end up supporting one percent of the customer’s overall journey. It follows then that technology must be up to scratch: legacy technology, built to master transactions alone, shouldn’t be relied on without supplements that support a richer, more engaging customer experience– allowing the brand to truly connect with its audience.
In 2019, it’s not the one percent that really matters to brands, it’s the 99 percent that precedes it. There’s no point in mastering the one percent if your customers will get frustrated and move on at some point during the 99. Catering to that 99 percent will be the thing that makes the difference, this year and beyond.
About Perry Krug
Architect, office of the CTO, Couchbase