Enhancing the customer journey is not just for Christmas

29th Jan 2016

Renato Quedas, vice president, solution strategy for Micro Focus, looks at the evolution of the customer journey and what businesses should be doing to enhance this in 2016

It came as no surprise to hear the British Retail Consortium dub December 2015 an “online Christmas” in a report earlier this month, with the proportion of online spend up across all categories from footwear to furniture. And with Forrester Research predicting an annual online shopping growth rate of nearly 10% through 2018, the average consumer will spend over £1,300 in online shopping by 2018 – that means a potential of £308 billion in online spending alone!

Retailers will be fighting furiously for every slice of that £308 billion pie over the coming year, but in order to accommodate demanding customer expectations, online businesses must be considering every stage of the customer journey. After all, customers, more than ever, have increasingly growing demands for top quality online experiences and less patience for distractions or loading lags while shopping.

Responsibility lies with the retailer  

In order for a product to be successful, the perception of the customer journey needs to be aligned with what the organisation wants the product experience to be. However, every organisation also needs to make a commitment to listen to its customer and be prepared to act on customer demands. Without this understanding, it is almost impossible for an organisation to make accurate decisions about its product.

Responsibility lies very firmly with the retailer to understand what the customer expects from its product, so it’s vital that they collect data on how their products are used. Companies that don’t collect and analyse data around the customer journey are already at risk as they are delivering products blindly. At the very least, they should be talking to customers. Understanding their demands will enable business leaders to implement a sound business strategy.

However, if organisations listen to just a “select few” customers rather than a well-balanced set representing the market, this can all backfire. Having a process in place to decipher which ideas will truly enhance the customer journey is key. Customer Advisory Boards should help companies and product managers to steer products towards online success as opposed to allowing innovation to become a disruption to the customer journey.

Fostering a customer centric culture

It’s important to remember that we’re talking about a ‘journey’, which starts from the moment a customer first interacts with your product through the clarity of the message on a website, or on the words and approach your call centre team has when prospecting. Executives need to be mindful of this, ensuring investment across the company relates back to a customer-centric culture and is prioritised accordingly.

But a culture like this isn’t just down to the leadership team – there needs to be an aligned standard that fulfils customer expectations across the organisation. That ‘standard’ represents the promises delivered by marketing, product functionality from the development team, and the desired outcome from the executive team. Anything above this ‘standard’ is a bonus, providing it does not disrupt the customer journey.

If the company is not on this same page with the product and the customer journey, it can quickly become a blame game, with people and departments pointing fingers. The development team often ends up with the shortest straw, with the mandate to “get it done”. And as a result, when they aren’t able to produce what has been requested, they cut corners and harm the customer experience.

Looking beyond revenue

You can almost hear the headlines now – “[Insert retailer’s name here] website suffers hours-long outage on Black Friday costing it millions of pounds in lost revenue.”

We’ve all heard these stories and seen the numbers of failed retail sites during peak hours, but revenue figures don’t tell the whole story since customers looking for a good deal are usually happy to put up with a bad website. This means looking further towards other targets for insight, such as new customer acquisition figures, bounce rate or length of time at purchase. 

While it is clearly important for organisations to track revenue, it’s essential retailers are also aware of the reason they may have lost a customer. This is really the only way to improve the customer experience, build brand loyalty and create a life-long customer.

Beating the post-holiday blues

After the holiday season is over, it’s important to take a step back and consider the best strategy for providing a consistent, functional and appealing experience which will attract shoppers to websites and win customers all year round.

The first test is to ask whether your first customer is still your customer. If you can answer ‘yes’, then congratulations – you must be consistently delivering on meeting customer expectations! If not, something has been lost in translation and it’s likely that metrics such as bounce rate are being ignored. Retailers need to look at where they’re losing their customers and be prepared to enhance every stage of the journey. This will ultimately lead to happy customers who will purchase well beyond the festive season.

Customer expectations and behaviour have been deeply impacted by the Internet and everything that surrounds it. From computers and mobile devices to wearables and the Internet of Things, consumers are embracing multiple devices across multiple platforms in every area of their lives. With this in mind, retailers should have the customer experience front and centre of any product strategy.

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