It’s the journey, not the destination: customer experience in the digital age

By Andrew Lea

Many people assume that their decisions to purchase or recommend products and services are based purely on rational, logical evaluations: value for money, quality, ease of use, and so on. Whilst these are, of course, important, few people realise that the customer journey is as important to our decision-making as the product or service itself.

In their purest form, customer journeys are the experiences and interactions that customers have with a company or a brand. Companies can differentiate themselves from their competition by optimising these journeys, thereby delivering a better customer experience. The recent rise of the digitalisation of customer journeys has left traditional marketing strategies increasingly limited in their effectiveness; customers are becoming less loyal to brands and more fragmented in their choices.

McKinsey recently published a research report on the purchase activity of 20,000 consumers. The report demonstrates how the standard linear (step by step) customer journey route is changing towards a more non-linear networked journey. It goes on to summarise that, with a circular rather than linear experience, this new customer journey now consists of four key stages: Consideration, Evaluation, Purchasing, and Enjoyment (including advocacy and repurchase). The role that communications need to play in this new user environment is no longer specific to one stage of the journey, as was the case previously. The users’ experience is now becoming a key influence at every stage of the customer journey. For example, how many times have you decided not to consider a purchase online based on the star rating (or lack thereof)? How many times has poor online information about a product made you choose a competitor? Have other customers’ reviews ever put you off a purchase?

Indeed, customers are quickly becoming a major source of information about brands and products; they are asking questions, writing reviews and blogs, posting across social media, and publishing photos and videos. It is no surprise, therefore, that companies are finding it increasingly difficult to control the narrative within the customer journey. User experience has become a key lever in this, particularly when it comes to digital user interaction.

A paradigm shift is underway. It is no longer sufficient to create a traditional marketing campaign and ignore the impact that user experience and its many elements have on purchase behaviour. A customer who feels deeply connected to a brand will often purchase without comparing either prices or competing products, so turning customers into brand advocates will become increasingly critical for companies in the age of the digital user.

We are now not far from a point where customer journeys and their experiences will be greatly influenced (or even superseded) by the digital user journey, and the experiences they evoke. If you can understand, optimise and direct these digital journeys, you’ll be one step ahead of the competition.

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