Everyone is talking about the customer journey but what does this entail for your communication strategy? In her book entitled Kundresan – din guide till hållbara kundrelationer (The customer journey – your guide to durable customer relationships), Margareta Boström has taken an in-depth look at how customer journeys actually function.
One of the insights she is keen to share is that the company’s communication must be better adapted to the different phases of the customer journey. A customer journey is often defined incorrectly as the period from the point where a customer identifies a need and begins to seek out information about a product, to the time when a purchase is made. This is actually the definition of the classic purchasing process.
“However, the customer journey and the purchase process are two different things,” explains Margareta Boström.
When companies see the purchase itself as crucial to the beginning and end of the journey, they’re missing out on all kinds of opportunities to build relationships. There are also phases before and after a purchase that play a key role in the contexts of knowledge, preferences and added sales – without leaving traces in the sales or web statistics.
The need controls the customer journey
In order to illustrate what she means, Margareta Boström makes a comparison with the London Marathon. In most cases, the process of signing up does not begin with a burning desire to run 26 miles along the streets of London. The decision is defined by completely different considerations. For example, it may stem from a desire to get fitter, or to prove a point to oneself or others. These initial thoughts could just as easily result in a decision to sign up for a triathlon or start practicing yoga. In the same way, the decision to purchase a new barbecue may come from wanting to get better at inviting people over for dinner than the desire to own the latest model with its pizza insert.
To gain insight into what form the individual customer journey takes, we have to understand what drives the customer, and what value the purchase generates. For a participant in the London Marathon, simply taking part can endure as a major victory for many years to come.
“You could talk about it at Christmas parties, and tell the story to your grandchildren. A century down the road, the race could still be a touchpoint,” adds Margareta Boström.
It results in the runners themselves and their nearest and dearest maintaining a relationship with the London Marathon brand for the rest of their lives.
Simply seeing a brand in a context that isn't negative means that your familiarity with the brand naturally expands – as does the chance of this brand being top of mind when you next make a purchase.
The phases of the customer journey
Customer communication has different objectives in different phases of the customer journey. As a company, you therefore need to build up an image of which phase of the customer journey the communication is to support. The message changes depending on the function.
Even though it is impossible to adapt the communication to match each and every customer exactly, you can make sure that the same information is available in different ways so customers can choose the format they prefer.
One example is to present the terms and conditions of purchase as a list of FAQs. Another way could be to let customers decide which channel(s) they wish to use to receive their invoices, and then adapt the message accordingly.
“If you send out invoices as SMS texts, you have to think about how the recipient will read them and consider what’s most important to communicate. It doesn’t have to be the same message everywhere, but the customer must always recognize you.”
Only by understanding what drives customers do you have the chance to communicate the right message in the right channel. So as a company, you have to ask yourself the following question: How do customers want to use my company?
Loyalty not always the objective
From the perspective of concepts such as Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), it may come across as a defeat if the customer only stays for a short time. However, long relationships are not necessarily better than short ones.
“The company may not be relevant to the customer any more, no matter what we do. In this case, it’s quite simply a waste of time and resources to try to get them to stay.”
If you can honestly identify a benefit to the customer in buying more from you, run with it. But if you’re only relevant on a given occasion, don’t try to force the issue.
“Try to work out why the customer is buying your product.”
It is often said that digitalization has resulted in customers becoming less likely to buy multiple times from the same company. According to Margareta Boström, however, loyalty has often been more a question of locking in customers and a lack of options. The advent of digitalization has resulted in an infrastructure where the customer has the opportunity to “chop and change.” Customers can be loyal to a group or to a product without necessarily being loyal to a given reseller. If the cell phone you were planning to buy is no longer available with one operator, it’s only natural to move on to the next.
One consequence of this is that customers today maintain ongoing relationships with several companies. This means that it is more realistic to focus on the level of repurchasing than on loyalty in and of itself.
Identify your best argument
One way to get to the heart of the matter with regard to communication and business concept is to start with the customer’s need in relation to the company. It is often possible to find a common denominator. Margareta Boström mentions Apotea as a good example. Customers want to do business there, but not because they stock a unique range – you can buy pharmacy products everywhere today; rather, their popularity is based on their customer service.
“Pär Svärdson, CEO of Apotea, quickly identified that repeat purchases are determined by comfort and the opportunity to choose the delivery method. This is what makes them successful.”
As a company, it is therefore a question of finding the parameters that help you stand out, and then focus on them intensively. This means that the mental work needs to be done first, and that you need to answer questions regarding what you want to achieve in the customer relationship and which customer needs exist in relation to your brand.
Dare to think innovatively
“It pays to think innovatively and to be creative and inquisitive when planning your communication,” says Margareta Boström.
This means that you sometimes have to go against the prevailing trend. People aren’t watching as much TV, but if the ad screened suits the context and exerts influence in the right phase, then investing time and money in TV advertising need not be a misstep. The most reliable way to assess impact is to check correspondence between the ad and visits to the website and/or sales. You can test, assess and question both past and present choices.
“Media agencies are often zeroed in on x channels, but even they need to be able to think differently.”
Margareta Boström thinks that the companies should do more research themselves rather than simply handing all decisions over to external consultants. They need to be active and dare to test their own ideas, because an agency simply cannot know the customers in the same way as the company does.
However, there is no need to keep on reinventing the wheel over and over again. According to Margareta Boström, something as simple as a PR giveaway is an underestimated channel. For example, if you accept a reflector from a company and attach it to your dog’s collar, you’ll see it three times a day when you’re out walking your dog. And it thus becomes a touchpoint, too.
“Simply seeing a brand in a context that isn’t negative means that your familiarity with the brand naturally expands – as does the chance of this brand being top of mind when you next make a purchase.”
Look after your customer data
Today, a great deal of information is available through the company's own systems, and this provides plenty of opportunities to examine the same issue from multiple perspectives.
"A lot of organizations have excellent resources in their customer data, and can test all kinds of things – but this takes thought. The same channel may be right for several different phases, but with different messages. Companies therefore need to start checking out what works," concludes Margareta Boström.