The Customer Journey In The Social Media Era

It seems like every day, I’m seeing an advertisement for the position of Chief Customer Officer.  Although not nearly as ubiquitous as many other occupations, it’s indicative of the importance many companies now place on the customer and ensuring that their experience in dealing with the organization is positive, regardless of where in the buying cycle the customer is located.

Previously, the individual who normally was in charge of this function usually had the title of Director of Customer Service.  They were generally someone who had been primarily involved only in customer service and had risen through the ranks after many years of service.  This has all changed dramatically and will continue to do so at even more of an accelerated rate, due to the complexity of today’s customer journey in the social media era.

No longer can a business prosper if it doesn’t address the issues and concerns of a customer at each stage of the buying cycle.  Long gone are the days of a purchase representing the end of the customer journey. Due to social media, in a number of industries, if the customer is not continually nurtured and any type of cognitive dissonance addressed, it can have incredible financial consequences.  The smallest complaint can quickly go viral if posted to social media and become extremely disruptive and potentially cause irreparable damage.  There are many examples of this occurring over the past several years.

To ensure this never takes place and that any point of possible conflict is addressed, each and every organization needs to first take an introspective look at themselves and determine how they are positioned during each stage of the journey, from initial prospect to lifetime customer.  Each point is dissimilar requiring different strategies, tactics and tools.

To cover all of these, requires an initial understanding of what they are before one can proceed.  Identifying them can be complex and is best approached through the involvement of any department within a company, that either has direct involvement with a customer or whose actions can significantly impact the interaction with a customer.

The initial step is through a complete exercise in customer mapping, with an objective of ensuring an understanding of what transpires at each stage and how a lifetime customer can be realized, as this is so crucial to the company’s financial success.

Customer Journey Mapping

If done correctly, this will take some time and involve a number of individuals, but it will be well worth it.  Each conceivable touch point needs to be noted and dissected.  Based on my experience in working with some of the world’s largest companies, I would focus on the following:

1.  The 4P’s

At the outset, the product offering, pricing, distribution channels and overall marketing strategies should be reviewed to ensure each is aligned with the mission, goals and objectives of the company and the customers.

2.  Customer Definition

Who is your best customer?  Who is the target audience?  What are their expectations regarding service, messaging, and all other aspects of the journey?  This should be carefully reviewed and summarized as part of the process.

3.  Nurturing Of Current Customers

Although most focus on the customer acquisition stage as the starting point in analyzing the journey, I feel it is important that the current customers are the first to be addressed.

With the exception of a startup, for most businesses, the real revenues and profits come from existing customers. They are generally amenable to cross-selling and upselling opportunities, which can be done at a much lower cost than with new customers.

You want to make a determination as to what your current interactions look like and what can be done to improve upon them. What content would be of interest to your customers?  What social media channels are they on?  How do they feel most comfortable in your interacting with them?

In the case of national accounts in B2B enterprises this might even involve quarterly meetings with report cards; so that you can gauge the strength of the relationship and what has to be done to better align, to help foster an increase in sales and to fend off any competitors.

In the case of B2C companies, this review would be heavily focused on using internal customer data.  Gleaning as much information from the data as possible to identify the best customers and how you’re addressing such issues as the order process itself, complaints and loyalty programs.

4.  Customer Acquisition

Unlike current customers this requires a different approach, strategy and tool set to maximize the potential of acquiring a customer.  Acquiring a new customer generally is not easy due to the competitive environment and might consist of multiple steps before an initial purchase is actually made.  This is where social media is playing an ever increasing role as a huge percentage of consumers now base their purchasing decisions on testimonials and reviews on social media.

There’s a lot more to this entire process that could be discussed at further length, but I just wanted to provide a few tidbits which you should consider.  This all leads to what is really paramount; namely, creating the ultimate customer experience.

Customer Experience

Whatever you do, while conducting this exercise think of the likes of Apple Computers, Starbucks and Ritz Carlton.  All of these companies do an excellent job in ensuring that anyone who deals with them has an excellent experience, during each and every stage of the buying process.  In fact, to take advantage of the power of social media in conveying the positive experience of the customer journey with it, Ritz Carlton has an entire social media campaign coined under the hashtag #RCMemories.

I’d suggest you check it out, as it will give you some great ideas on what a company with a large amount of experience in ensuring memorable customer journeys is doing.  In fact, Ritz Carlton has been so successful in this area that it actually has a division that does nothing but advise other companies on the Ritz Carlton way of doing business.