It’s gotten to the point where I can pretty much predict -- with accuracy that would put the most sophisticated artificial intelligence tools to shame -- what my barber will ask me about popular culture, and when.
Once I’ve been settled in the chair, the cape over my upper body and the first squirts from the water bottle have started to sink in, he almost always checks in to see if I have been engaged with whatever is the most popular news item of the moment. This has ranged from the Super Bowl (couldn’t have cared less), the Oscars (I went to bed early) or Donald Trump’s tweets (please, no). I usually lie through my teeth and try to sound like I know what I’m talking about, because I realize exactly what he’s doing.
Barbers and hairdressers have understood the concept of a customer journey for a long time. Whether he would articulate it this way or not, my barber wants to humanize the process of cutting my hair in a way that builds trust and affinity to him and his shop. He does it almost exactly between the point of need and the point of purchase.
The customer journey for most retailers, on the other hand, has become a lot more complicated. Just look at a recent survey of North American merchants by retail consulting firm BRP, where 81% say they plan to offer what it calls ‘unified commerce’ by the end of 2020.
“Customer expectations for a personalized and seamless experience require retailers to follow customers’ journeys across channels as they research, shop and purchase,” the study said. One example is making information about customer orders more visible across all major channels within three years, which 91% said was on their to-do list.
Order-tracking, of course, is about the journey of products, not customers. It’s really only covering the space between the moment of purchase and the moment of fulfillment.
In some areas (grocery shopping comes to mind) the customer journey can still be pretty cyclical. When it’s less about a moment of need versus “want,” the key interactions on the journey may be difficult to map out. When does someone decide to buy a high-end watch? How does someone with an amazing car determine they should go out and get an equally amazing motorcycle?
This is the grey area after consumers are (presumably) satisfied with what they’ve bought and have not yet identified what they need or want. It’s less of an isolated moment than a period of time -- let’s call it “the period of dreaming.”
Until recently, retailers might have assumed the period of dreaming was when they could take a prolonged break from active marketing or demand generation. It probably seems more strategic to wait for the signals that someone is ready to take out their credit card again, whether it’s keywords, web site clicks or the arrival of customer in a store, browsing the shelves.
Truly unified commerce, through, makes sure that the relationship between retailer and customers is more giving, more supportive, more attentive than that. Yes, you need to make sure you have a consistent and seamless experience across mobile, desktop, physical store and so on. But you also have to demonstrate you’re interested in enriching their experience well beyond the time they walk away with the product in their hands.
This is something subscription-based services tend to do well, because they need to drive engagement. It’s why Netflix sends me e-mail messages when they’ve added a new TV show or movie I might like.
There’s nothing stopping more traditional retailers, however, from offering ideas about how to get more out of the products their customers purchased, to suggest add-ons or complementary items (whether they sell them or not), or just great content that shows how similar customers are using products and building community with them. These kinds of activities will go a lot farther than the generic e-mail survey asking how they liked the store service, or to offer a rating or review.
Retailers need to make sure they’re not treating the customer journey as a route on which they simply try to make a sale. The real customer journey is something woven across our daily, ongoing lives -- and the best retailers learn to invaluable companions every step of the way.