Organisations generate revenue though selling products and services to consumers. The stated objective of business is to solve consumer problems at a profit.
Hence it all starts and ends with the consumer: what they want, need and are prepared to pay for it.
The winner is the brand that sells the most products or services, at the best possible price, to the largest number of buyers while maintaining their margins.
To enable this, the brand must know what its consumers want and need – and position itself in the best position to solve this need. Become the brand-of-choice when a consumer need arises.
For the consumer to come to the decision to purchase – and where to purchase it – they would have gone through a complex journey to decide whether or not to purchase the product. This decision could have been near instantaneous through an impulse buy (i.e. a soft drink or beer) or after months – if not years – of diligent research (i.e. a home or motor vehicle). This includes the product itself; the features and benefits it has over competitive products and the after-sales support beyond the purchase of the product.
Even if the journey itself is complex (like when buying a home), a consumer can go through the journey very fast – and often even intuitively. Hence what we may see as a systematic process is largely a seamless set of steps – not even always consecutively. Yet, even if intuitive, the brand needs to understand its consumers to ensure it is “positioned” at key junctures in this process.
Any brand wants to be where the consumer needs intersect with brand benefits.
Within a digitally enabled universe, it means the deeper the brand can understand the journey its consumers will go through, the better it can ensure that it is present at every step the consumer may take in the decision journey. The deeper the brand is aligned to the consumer, the more likely the brand will be bought. In classic marketing terms, large companies like P&G ensure that their brands have top-of-mind awareness when the consumers’ need arises.
This complex path that the consumer goes through in order to decide which product to purchase is called the “Customer Decision Journey”. A Customer Decision Journey is essentially about consumer needs. Therefore the need consumers have at key junctures in the decision making process.
The Customer Decision Journey can be simplified into the following steps:
- Pre-purchase – or research – phase (when they consider buying; the triggers that will signal that they are in the market; the signals that will make them want to buy; the information they require at this point about the category and the brands on offer);
- Purchase, be it physically or virtually phase (how the brand shortlist is decided; how the brand decision is taken – and the steps and information requirements in the buying itself);
- Post-purchase phase (for instance, purchase reinforcement; after sales service, guarantees, brand follow-up and rewards, social media reinforcement).
Each of these key steps could have a myriad of subtasks that will support the primary steps in order for the consumer to come to a successful outcome.
For a brand, its competitive advantage now lies in how deeply it understands its consumers and their decision journeys, facilitated by the data it holds about them.
The above decision journey becomes far more complex and shorter due to the extensive set of digital resources consumers have available to them. At any point in time, a consumer has access to myriad of reviews from both trusted sources like consumer ratings companies to user generated reviews which are invariably biased based on preferences and experiences. This takes away a lot of the power from the seller and places it squarely on the consumer.
In order to start taking control of the decision journey and to better influence the consumers decision, it is important for the organisation to understand at which point the consumer interacts with them and to also understand how they can guide that journey before and after that interaction has occurred.
The following steps can be used by organisations to optimise the process of engaging with their consumers:
- Define the customer decision journey
Sketch the perceived customer journey and decision process. As the decision journey itself is generic for all brands within a given product or service category, it is the way the data is used and understood that matters.
- Map the customer touch points
Once the customer journey has been defined, map out where the organisation interacts with that journey. A physical “map” is useful as it makes the process visible and tangible.
- Map the processes and technology used back to the touch points
The methods by which the customer is interacted with during the journey is vital and should be defined and understood before it can be optimised.
- Plan how to better guide the customer journey
This looks at how to improve processes, how to better leverage the technology currently used or identify new technology required and most important how to best use the data being captured.
After going through the above process, a clear action plan on how to improve the organisations current processes and technology should drive higher engagement and revenue from the customer, but ultimately the number one rule should always remain, and that is putting the customer first.
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