Understanding the connected customer journey

To create a legion of loyal, happy, frequently-returning customers you need to know where each individual is in their relationship with you, and how best to meet their needs at any given moment. Sounds straightforward, right? After all, anonymous individuals can still be 'identified' by device if not personal information, and their messages tailored according to context: someone with a decent dwell time in the dining precinct around 7 on a Friday night is probably open to a meal offer. Once they take up that initial offer, join your loyalty club, install your app, register for email updates - then you can move to more advanced personalization and a more meaningful relationship. But the customer journey is less straight forward now than it may have been in the past; we rarely show up and shop in the same place every time, with no other interaction beyond the transaction. It's far more likely that we'll research a product on the web, compare prices, check our apps for a relevant offer, perhaps engage our social network for reviews. And even while in store we're likely to continue using mobile for research and comparison – 82% of us use our phones to check out products we're about to buy - creating more touches, generating more data, and resulting in more opportunities for our journeys to branch off.

All of which makes the connected customer journey a tricky one to track, and to keep up with. In an age where 1/4 of us have changed our mind while waiting in line to buy because of something we’ve seen on our phone, marketing personalization platforms really come into their own. If you can't identify your customers and their actions in real time, there's no way you can talk to them and influence their buying behavior in the moment. Customer surveys won't help you here.

Knowing what your customers are doing – or what they’re intending to do – at any given moment is key to knowing how best to reach them (and not in a stalkery way; savvy marketers have a fairly good idea by now of what constitutes creepy). When deciding how best to guide people at every stage from anonymous potential purchaser to loyal repeat customer, it's more important than ever to think beyond 'how can I get her to buy more'.

The next best action isn't necessarily the next best offer. Mobile isn't just an advertising medium, just another channel for pushing promotions. Now we're talking utility; giving customers a reason to return to the store or app in the face of enormous competition and limited bandwidth. The majority of us are likely to use an app frequently if it makes our lives easier, which means doing more than just facilitating a sale. Google found that 38% of consumers will download an app if it's required to complete a purchase but half will delete that app immediately after. If the intention is to remain front of mind in order to encourage customer loyalty, then surely you'd be aiming for more longevity than that.

Customers are connected

The good news is that just as connected tech has made following the often-convoluted customer journey more complex, it has given marketers more and better opportunities to reach people. Visits to brick and mortar locations can be supplemented and supported with mobile and IoT tech, marketing messaging personalized across physical and digital media. Brands are encouraging customers to make tech part of their shopping experience to great success – beauty retailer Sephora has famously stated it wants people to showroom, and has given its customers the tools to use mobile in-store in a way that benefits everyone.

So although the customer journey is more complex and trickier to map than it was in the disconnected days, brands now have far more opportunities to connect with people along their path to purchase. By combining transaction data with live data from mobile and connected devices, marketers are able to account for context (important!) and reach customers at the exact moment they're positioned to buy – a moment that differs from person to person. This does assume a positive, ongoing customer relationship however; one that relies on brands providing customers with something more useful than an invitation to spend more money. Marketers need to become customer engagement experts and figure out how they can keep a conversation flowing continuously throughout the customer journey - not just when it's time to run a campaign.

And it requires an omnichannel mindset; the understanding that the customer journey now involves a multitude of on- and off-line interactions that can only truly be understood – and leveraged – with the right systems in place. Mobile is, for just about any business that has a bricks and mortar location, the best tool for connecting with customers - it's the most continuous form of connection you have with your customers. But while powerful, mobile on its own isn’t enough. The customer's experience should be seamless as they transition from their desktop e-commerce browsing to their mobile app and into store. All these devices and channels really have to start being treated as and working as one with a unified strategy and content.