What makes a company great? Early in the 20th century, it was the ability to mass manufacture that made industrial powerhouses like Ford and GE so successful. From the 1960’s to the 1990’s, the great companies were the ones who dominated at distribution like Toyota and Walmart. From 1990 to 2010, the greats were companies like Amazon and Google who were (and are) masters at controlling the flow of information across systems.
And the holy grail for today’s brands? According to Forrester Senior Analyst Rob Brosnan who presented at the SAS Customer Connection on CI, this is the age of the customer. It’s all about knowing your customers and expertly managing customer interactions the way they do at Facebook, Harrah’s, and Apple.
”If you know your customers and can master building long-term relationships with each and every one of them on an individual level, that’s what will give you a sustainable competitive advantage,” says Brosnan.
Think about the way you went about your last big purchase. You probably started with research, going online to read reviews and compare prices. You might have gone to the store to try the product out. And then, life happenned, you got sidetracked, and didn’t get around to purchasing the product for weeks or months — or you started over again with research.
“Consumers slip in and out of the path to purchase,” says Brosnan. ”As a company, your ability to connect the dots and understand your customer’s purchase journey is highly limited – you may see the customer pop up in multiple areas, but not be able to piece together the entire path.”
Why is understanding the customer’s path critical?
“If companies ignore the path to purchase, particularly the research phase, then customers have likely already formed an opinion about where they should shop or what they should buy before your company even gets engaged,” says Brosnan. “If you’re not providing them the content they need to help them make a decision, then you’re out of the game.”
Another key point: If you’re going to build a profitable relationship with a customer, you can’t stop at acquisition, or wait for them to make the next purchase. “You have to know the path to purchase so that you can guide and drive demand down the road,” explains Brosnan.
To help marketers map out the customer’s journey, Forrester’s done in-depth research into each phase of the process:
Consumers are spending more time doing research — even for less expensive (i.e. lower consideration) products:
- 82% research before buying.
- 66% research lower-consideration products
- 54% primarily use digital channels to research (Google is the No. 1 search engine for research; No. 2 is Amazon. Brick-and-mortar stores come in at No. 3).
The bottom line: “Companies need to ask themselves, ‘Are we doing enough at the research phase to help consumers through the process?’” says Brosnan.
How is this changing? Online is growing, but brick-and-mortar stores still dominate purchases:
- 67% purchase in traditional (offline) stores.
- 58% purchase online using desktop, laptop, or netbook computer
- 14% purchase online using a tablet
The bottom line: “Tablet is only at 14% now, but is going to grow, so be prepared for mobile to play a dominate role,” says Brosnan.
If a customer bought offline, they tend to use offline support channels (in store or call centers, so traditional forms of customer service still matter. If a customer purchased online, they start with email for service requests.
The bottom line: The channel customers were brought in on matters.
Engagement phase (ongoing)
“Consumers engage with brands for deals,” says Brosnan.
- 54% want deals, discounts or promotion.
- 41% want free samples.
- 33% want to learn about new products.
- 66% of those who engage use multiple channels.
The bottom line: “You have to market across channels,” states Brosnan. “Customers are incredibly empowered, and if we aren’t thinking in a cross-channel environment, we’re going to miss the boat.”