In the age of the continuous brand relationship, brands must stop viewing their customers’ experience as a journey. The phrase ‘customer journey’ is archaic, as the words have a built-in linearity – every journey has a start, and more significantly an end. Customers are not automatons, and brands shouldn’t see them as such, or they risk pre-determining the end of their relationship.
But if brands see customers as actual people, and gain a deep understanding of their individual needs, desires and behavioural patterns, they begin to see their interactions with customers for the subtly nuanced relationships they are. They move from seeing a brand experience as a journey, to seeing it as a continuum. And having made that leap, a brand can truly start to create meaningful customer connections, transforming itself into a far more relevant force in a multi-channel world.
Marks & Spencer recently took a significant step in liberating customers to interact with the brand in a seamless multi-channel way. Instead of continuing to view online purchasing as a journey beginning and ending in the customer’s home, they put touchscreens in stores, through which customers could browse the entire range online and order on the spot. Instead of dictating behaviour to the customer, they’re blurring the lines between the channels, and becoming a more relevant brand to their customers.
One reason that brands might resist moving away from traditional customer journeys is a fear that delivering a consistent brand experience across a nebulous multi-channel model might be challenging, or even impossible.
But other brands are embracing the opportunity this challenge creates, and coming to the realisation that how and what a channel is used for can say just as much about a brand as that channel’s content. In other words, the medium is a message. And if it’s not possible to use to an existing channel to connect in the most meaningful and relevant way, then these brands devise a new channel from scratch.
Marks & Spencer and many other brands have now brought online digital experiences to the physical space, but adidas have taken the idea to another level. The Virtual Footwear Wall is an innovation that allows adidas to reshape a retail environment to be relevant to any customer who stands in it, as they are able to effectively re-design a “physical” bay of shoes according to their own needs and preferences.
It shows the customer benefit of thinking beyond the old paradigm for journeys. But it also proves that something specifically built for the customer can also make a business more efficient and adaptable, as the wall allows adidas the potential to display its entire range in one physical bay.
It’s perhaps tempting to view the growing irrelevance of linear customer journeys as a result of technological advancement, but the truth is that there is a greater ideological principle driving this change. Multi-channel solutions are the natural conclusion of customer-centric thinking.
No one has advocated this approach more than Barclays, who driven by Antony Jenkins, are now rebuilding themselves by looking through the eyes of the customer. Barclays have put a customer-centric strategy at the heart of all their channels, to make their customers’ lives easier in any way possible. They’re moving away from the traditional constrained linearity of functional banking processes, and instead looking through the customer lens at how they actually live their lives. Just look at Pingit.
So, how can a brand that doesn’t have the desire or means to be multi-channel address the needs of its customers? The simple answer is that it can’t.
The reality is that brands were previously able to define a customer journey easily, and had the means to dictate how and when their customers interacted with them. But this is no longer the case. Customers are more aware now than ever before of their right to be engaged on their terms, and so there is no longer a separation between a brand that is multi-channel, and a brand that is customer-centric. They are one and the same thing.
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