Owning the Customer Journey

In the last five years, it has become abundantly clear that the question of digital transformation is not one of if we should prepare for its affects, but instead how should we prepare? And more importantly, how do we anticipate the continued disruptions caused by digital technologies?

Progressive industries like Retail and Media & Entertainment have found themselves at the forefront of the digital revolution, as their survival has depended on their ability to anticipate and adapt to the sweeping changes brought about by digital transformation.

Iconic companies like Disney, Amazon and Netflix have continuously innovated their business models to accommodate the new digital market, while companies like Borders and Blockbuster were slow to react and unfortunately found themselves bankrupt and out of business.

The most important lesson that has washed ashore in this era of digital disruption is that the customer is the new CEO. The customer has the power!

In addition to a younger, finicky, more demanding, power-wielding customer who is both digitally connected and willing to trade his personal information for customized services, there are three industry shifts that make mastering digital transformation increasingly important for today’s business leaders:

#1. Business models are evolving faster than ever to anticipate customer needs. Uber is a great example of this.

#2. Surprising partnerships are being forged. An example of this is Airbnb’s partnership with Concur, an expense management company. Airbnb, once thought of by many including hotel chains as suitable primarily for leisure travelers is now a viable option for business travelers.

#3. New niche players are cropping up in the market every day. zTailors, established by the ex-CEO of Men’s Warehouse, is an example of a new company with infinite potential.

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So, how can companies capitalize on these shifts and seize the digital day? I am completely convinced that the prize will go to those companies with a laser focus on “owning the Customer Journey.” Owning the Customer Journey means providing a seamless experience to customers across the traditional boundaries of services that a single corporation is able to offer.

Owning the journey requires corporations to understand a customer’s digital universe of interactions and adherence to three guiding principles:

Principle 1. Provide absolutely relevant services or products at the point of interaction through collaboration with an ecosystem of partners

Principle 2. Anticipate customer needs throughout their digital journey and most importantly

Principle 3. Deliver continuous value to customers in a boundary-less world.

Most companies engage with their customers using intelligence derived through past interactions as well as information that they can glean from public domain. For instance, a bank predicts life-changing events of its customers, such as a new car purchase, and sends loan offers. A retailer understands its customers’ preferences derived from their past purchases and sends enticing coupons. Some of these offers hit the mark while many miss entirely. These examples illustrate the typical lack of ownership of a customer’s digital journey.

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Instead, let’s look at three potential scenarios in which the company takes ownership:

Bank of America knows that Joe, one of its customers with good credit history, is at Carmax and plans to buy a car today. While at Carmax, Bank of America sends Joe a loan offer in real-time, which makes the car buying process easier for Joe, and increases his loyalty towards his bank.

Saks knows from New York City’s citizen Wi-Fi data that Mary, one of its valued customers, is walking down 5th Avenue. They also know her buying preferences, her past purchasing history and her propensity to spend, and send her an absolutely relevant offer as she nears the store. The timely offer entices Mary to visit Saks, which she otherwise would not have, to buy a few pairs of her favorite designer shoes.

Discover Card knows that Tom, one of its cardholders, is driving with his family to Orlando. Based on his current location, Discover sends him relevant coupons for food, clothing, and gas at stores along his route – all matching his buying preferences.

Each of the above examples underscores the need not just to access and analyze vast amounts of data to better understand your customers’ real-time needs but also highlights the need for partnerships that cross a corporation’s traditional boundaries to provide experiences that span a customers’ digital journey.

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So, what are the right steps towards owning your customers’ journey?

  1. Build your digital strategy knowing that you ultimately want to own the journey of your customers. This will ensure that you make the right choices on the IT architecture, technologies, platforms, solutions and organization structure from the get go.
  1. Realize that partnerships will be key in the new digital age and will require viewing your data ownership differently. Companies cannot view data as their intellectual property, but must view data as a shared IP.
  2. Chalk out markers for success. It may be difficult to plan today for where the Customer Journey will start and where it will end; however, it is easier to create intermediate signposts.

In my interactions with many different companies, I see them getting excited about the possibilities when we discuss how they can own their Customer Journey. This is, indeed, one of the most exciting times for businesses because, for a limited time, with the right strategy, it’s still anyone’s game to win.

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In my subsequent blog posts, I will address how companies in various industries can own the Customer Journey including privacy and security.