An annual quick Google search will tell you that customers are different. They have different priorities, different concerns and higher expectations. Those differences significantly affect the customer journey, or the total sum of experiences that customers go through when interacting with your company and brand.
In the increasingly digital landscape of the past 15 years, the traditionally linear customer lifecycle journey - which has the customer traveling a predictable trajectory starting with awareness, which leads to interest, then consideration, and then on to intent, evaluation and finally, to purchase - has evolved into a much more abstract model. Customer journeys are an ever-changing web, influenced by peers, political views, health and environmental concerns, the podcasts they listen to and the highly curated Instagram newsfeeds they find themselves swept up in.
So while we are all well aware that customers have changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to remember that they will not stop changing and evolving as we head into a world where the new normal becomes, well, just normal.
It is ultimately up to businesses and brands to nimbly adapt to “today’s” customer, and then just as easily, shift gears to adapt to the customer journey of tomorrow. A brand’s success can be swiftly determined by its ability and willingness - or lack thereof - to do so.
With that in mind, here is one fundamental, strategic consideration that can better enable brands to reach customers where they’re at:
Never forget that your customers are human beings, first and foremost.
If 2020 taught us anything (and it sure did teach us a lot), it’s that we are all only humans. We are not impervious to pandemics, no matter how developed we are as a country, we are not without flaws, at both the surface-level and the more systemic level, and our priorities will shift based on fundamentally basic human needs - consciously or unconsciously - at a moment’s notice.
No amount of data, AI, or digitization can account for the fact that at the end of the day, your brand’s customers are human beings. Even as customers shift their purchasing behaviors to a primarily digital, e-commerce landscape, the ability to showcase true humanity on and off-line - to speak to real human beings about bills that could no longer be paid on time, to say thank you to front-line responders or watch as a brand completely shifted their product development as originally produced products no longer served the in-the-moment needs of a customer - was what ultimately carried brands through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the customer journey continues to evolve, the notion of “our customers as human beings first” should be front and center to your brand’s customer acquisition and retention strategies.
While touchpoints - where you will tangibly reach the customer - are still important considerations, developing a more needs-centric approach will allow brands to more nimbly and efficiently keep up with the ever-evolving customer journey.
So, what does a human-first, needs-centric approach to the customer journey look like?
This type of approach encompasses a few core pillars in order to be successful.
It is...intentional and communicative. Focusing on needs rather than touchpoints requires brands to get to know their customers and stay in touch with them repeatedly. After all, how else will you know their needs if you don’t go straight to the source? A one-and-done survey every so often is not enough to truly develop a clear understanding of your customer. Whether that is through email communication that invites customers to share feedback, a deep dive into online purchasing trends, an audit of how customers actually spent their time on your website, or less formal engagement strategies through Facebook Live or Instagram Stories, it is important to incorporate constant feedback and learning about your customers into this strategy.
It is...flexible and intuitive. As many times as we have said, “content is king,” we’d like to add “context is queen” as a follow up point. Rather than assuming a customer will follow a black and white script to find a solution that meets a specific need, a needs-centric customer journey approach considers all possible ways that a customer could get from point A to point B, based on their needs at the time. Then, it goes a step further and introduces what might be the most helpful source of information and resonant messaging to continue leading the customer along their journey, based on those needs. This requires some intuition and creativity to find the perfect blend of channels - such as search, chat, voice, video, or sponsored content - with the right messaging points along the way.
It is…transparent. The human-first, needs-centric customer journey is transparent from multiple perspectives. It is transparent from a data standpoint and it is transparent from a sustainability standpoint. A PwC study found that in-spite of ongoing concerns around online privacy, more customers are open to sharing first-party data if it helps bring about improvements with a brand’s products or services. If a brand can be open and honest about how it will use the first-party information it collects to create a more optimal customer experience, customers will be more likely to part with their information.
In many ways, the pandemic brought health, the environment, and equity to the front lines when it came to influencing consumer needs and purchasing decisions. As such, customers are also more likely to support a brand that aligns with their own values, and are much more likely to part ways with a brand that does not share those same values, making it more important than ever for brands looking to adapt their customer journey strategies to authentically and transparently discuss commitments to critical issues such as social and climate justice and clearly articulate how their values are integrated into the work that they do, the problems they solve, and the services that they provide.
Looking to find a new, more nimble and more humanistic approach to your brand’s customer journey strategies? We can help. Reach out today and start the conversation.