There’s a myth at the heart of most customer relationship management. It’s the myth that the way to create better customer relationships is to improve every single experience that customers have with you. Over the years, this myth has led to businesses focusing budget and resources on improving the experience at a vast range of different customer touch points. But improving the experience at all of these touch points seems to have very little positive impact on customer retention, or increased spend.
According to Kantar TNS’s Marketing Monitor study,* marketers across APAC now rank customer relationship management as their number one priority, ahead of increased brand awareness. However, investing in every customer experience won’t deliver a positive return on investment – because customers don’t make decisions based on all of the experiences they have. They make decisions based on the memories of a select few experiences. And that’s a hugely important distinction. The most important task for brands is identifying which experiences have the potential to be memorable.
In search of the memories that matter
Most of the experiences that customers have of brands and businesses are just not memorable – and that’s okay. However, on most customer journeys, there will be some moments that are very significant. These are the pivotal moments when memories can be created; when the experience can trigger a flood of positive or negative emotion that will define the person’s relationship to the brand and shape their future behavior. The problem is that brands have a hard time identifying these moments because they can be very different for each customer.
Imagine somebody checking into a hotel in Singapore. Most travellers have no memory of doing this, because it’s a basic transaction that they want to complete as quickly as possible. Imagine though, if that person is on a business trip, has just arrived from the airport and needs to freshen up quickly to prepare for an important meeting. Suddenly that moment of check-in becomes central to the whole customer journey: will the hotel have logged their request for an early check-in? Will the check-in process itself be quick enough to allow them to make their meeting comfortably? This is the moment that matters – and the memories it creates will be extremely powerful.
Can a business realistically hope to identify these crucial moments amidst the tangle of potential touch points? How does it identify the moments that really matter, and the experiences that need to happen, for each individual? The answer lies in a sense of customer mission – something that is all too often missing from customer relationship management strategies.
It’s time for a view of the customer journey beyond the brand interaction
The businesses that succeed will increasingly be those that invest in understanding their customers’ missions to broaden their understanding of the customer journey.
The first step is ensuring that all of the current data collected on customers is working cohesively. In the case of the hotel, do the staff have the customer information they need – for example the request for an early check-in – at their fingertips? Are they empowered to help customers complete their missions?
The next step is to look at data from a variety of sources to build a picture of the potential customer missions. At an individual level, brands can use available identifiers such as email, IP addresses and cookies to understand the journey the customer has been on online. At a macro level, brands can segment data collected from public social channels and other specialized platforms such as service providers to understand the different missions and possible journeys of a "type" of consumer. They can then use the latest research techniques for quantifying emotion, to detect the moments that matter for these different missions.
An evolving sense of mission
In a world where the majority of businesses have access to similar sets of data, brands need to be braver and more creative with the interpretation of what the data reveals, if they want to secure a competitive advantage. When somebody books a flight from Australia to Malaysia, the automatic conclusion is that this person likes travelling to Malaysia and they will alert them to offers for flights to that country. The airline’s interpretation of the customer journey is based on what the customer did last time around.
Imagine how this could change with a broader view of the customer. What if that traveller has, also booked weekend flights to Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia? What if they spend a lot of time on travel websites researching must-see destinations in the South East Asia region? That person’s mission suddenly becomes a lot clearer: to explore the region rather than just to visit one preferred country.
Customer journeys never take place in a vacuum. They are inevitably shaped by factors beyond a brand’s control. A strategy for building the right customer journeys needs to recognize this and commit to identifying the missions that define those journeys, leverage those missions to decipher the moments that matter, and measure the emotions and memories that are created at these moments. Doing so gives a business the greatest opportunity to build the relationships that will determine its future success.
*Marketing Monitor study conducted by Kantar TNS is based on responses from 2,250 marketing professionals across Asia Pacific. The study was carried out in July 2016. Marketers from across 11 countries were questioned: Singapore, Thailand, India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, Philippines, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea.
*This article first appeared in Forbes.