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October 06, 2017

By Courtney De La Peña, SVP, Consumer & Market Intelligence Solutions, RAPP Marketing Sciences

Marketing in 2017 is about the customer experience. The more personalized and seamless you can make a customer or prospect’s journey with your brand or product, the better chance you have of forming an enduring relationship. Astute companies are shifting from a “tell the masses all about our company” approach to a focus on individual connections. That said, every touchpoint has the potential to impact a customer’s perception of a brand and/or his intent to purchase a product. And with so many possible points of interaction, the problem for most marketers is where to focus their efforts.

The key to solving this challenge is in developing a better understanding of the customer journey. However, most journey mapping techniques are purely qualitative and somewhat subjective. And it’s from that context that we at RAPP set out to develop our own proprietary methodology for complementing qualitative journey findings with quantitative rigor.

The CXM Study is RAPP’s proprietary customer journey research methodology. It is uniquely designed to illuminate prioritized opportunities for differentiated experience design based on a quantified diagnosis of the most significant points of pain, influence, and/or apathy along the customer path to purchase and life cycle. This research provides a core understanding of experience gaps as key drivers of brand preference and loyalty. By understanding the triggers and barriers at work, brands can create differentiated advantage in the moments that matter most, fueling customer acquisition, growth, and retention.

In the past three years, RAPP has fielded the CXM Study across 14 verticals, including automotive, financial services, travel and tourism, food and beverage, and healthcare. Through comparative analysis across these studies, we have identified 20 commonly missed opportunities for brands in any industry to create a more meaningful, more valuable, and differentiated brand experience.

20 Things You Should Be Doing to Improve Your Customer Experience, Starting With the Path to Purchase: 

1. Advertise the Experience. Many modern brands make the mistake of eagerly touting benefits and features while failing to inspire potential buyers. However, we found that understanding how it feels to be a customer is as much a consideration driver as understanding the product or service. Use advertising to give prospects a window in because they are getting product information elsewhere.

Consider, for example, the Delta Airlines partnership with Tinder designed to tangibly demonstrate the impact of traveling on one’s dating prospects. Using the message “World Travelers Are More Likely to Be Swiped Right,” Delta painted a wall with various iconic images from around the world and encouraged singles to take selfies in front of the images. The end result: a group of popular Tinder users who suddenly have the travel bug.

2. Offer Upstream Education and Utility. People form their short list (the subset of brands they will ultimately consider purchasing) well before they actually start shopping. Brands that help customers overcome early barriers to entry — without expecting immediate conversion — have a better chance of making the sale down the road.

When it comes to investing, we found that early intimidation often impedes action. From understanding the different types of investment providers in the market to navigating the various investment products and how they work to assessing and weighing the costs/benefits of self-managing an account versus hiring a broker/financial consultant, the lack of basic investing literacy leaves prospects wondering where to begin. Solutions that simplify these complexities and acquaint early intenders with common pitfalls or strategies associated with lifestyle, life stage, goals, and risk tolerance will increase the likelihood of committed action following a trigger.

3. Leverage Ongoing “Tradigital.” While the digital space accounted for the top three categories of marketing budgets in 2016, our findings suggest that printed materials, along with digital, are a top channel choice throughout the customer journey. Instead of choosing whether to allocate money to one space or the other, then, companies should use a combination of both in a complementary fashion. Brands can extend the life, viability, and effectiveness of print with digital enhancements and likewise increase digital engagement through unexpected integration with printed materials.

An increasingly common way that brands are bringing print to life is through the use of QR codes, augmented reality, and the like. However, there are other simple and effective ways to connect the two mediums. Lyft and Uber, for example, often distribute business cards with coupon codes that offer a free ride for referrals at drop-off, connecting an offline experience to a digital asset (referral codes). By creating “Tradigital” experiences — campaigns with both digital and traditional elements — marketers can sustain engagement much longer than looking at channels in isolation.

4. Make Research Portable. Help people take their knowledge with them and access it where, how, and when they need it. According to our study, not being able to effectively consolidate or reference accumulated research during the purchase process is consistently cited as a major point of friction for customers.

For instance, in the food and beverage space, we found that difficulty finding advertised deals and discounts while in-store is a significant source of frustration. Of course, an app is the first thing that comes to mind in helping customers navigate this arena, but that app doesn’t have to be sophisticated to be effective. As a case in point, Target currently has an app that consolidates all of its offers and coupons into a searchable database that consumers can access in-store and then use by scanning their phones during checkout.

5. Recognize Offline Research. Optimizing the online research process is important, but don’t forget people want to do physical research, too. Provide ways for people to do real-world research and add what they see and experience to the things they pin, tag, and bookmark online.

We found this to be particularly applicable to the automotive shopping experience, in which online and offline research are two halves of a whole. Enabling discovery, comparison and non-committed shopping behavior on the lot — i.e., direct access to actual vehicles without sales pressure — offers standout potential. Moreover, utilities that allow customers to access and build upon their online research while at the dealership can streamline the purchase process and drive preference.

6. Facilitate Cross-Comparison. Customers often get paralyzed by the inability to easily make comparisons between options. Strong brands know their strengths and can actually win more customers by simply exhibiting a willingness to facilitate brand-agnostic and transparent comparisons. Moreover, customers often forgive exposed weaknesses in favor of the perceived trust and honesty that these comparisons provide.

Progressive’s Compare Auto Insurance Rates in Minutes campaign is such a strategy. Especially given the nature of the insurance industry — i.e., customer protection, dependence, and safety — Progressive’s transparency tool gives customers tangible proof of its benefits (or lack of benefits) in comparison to others’ and ingratiates it to potential buyers by helping it forge deeper customer bonds.

7. Make a Match, Not a Sale. Most people have a hard time figuring out how a product fits into their lives. Companies should focus on reorienting tools to lead with needs, situations, goals, or style preferences that help people visualize how a product or service aligns with their individual circumstances. Shopping sites that start with “What’s your Style?” quizzes or companies asking what consumers are in the mood for are perfect examples.

In the telecom space, for example, we found that beyond basic package/feature/cost comparisons, TV/internet/phone shoppers struggle to determine the combination of products and service tiers best suited to their lifestyles. Considerations like budget, household composition, content interests, device usage, and needs all come into play. Offering scenario planning tools and tailored product bundles would significantly impact conversion and preempt future attrition.

8. Provide Reviews in Context. The right review at the right moment can significantly sway customer decision-making. As of 2016, 92 percent of customers read reviews online, and 40 percent form an opinion by reading between only one and three reviews. As important as it is to garner reviews, though, businesses shouldn’t just aggregate or provide reviews on an isolated product page. Instead, they should build them selectively into the experience at key inflection points to simultaneously provide a service and drive conversion.

Reading reviews before booking travel is par for the course; however, travel planning extends well beyond the initial booking. Our research found that, between the time of booking and the dates of travel, nearly two-thirds of customers deciding to book supplemental activities or ancillary services — such as tours or excursions — are influenced by what other travelers are doing at their intended destination. Brands that help connect the dots will win.

9. Reinvent the Retail Experience. Data and tech-enabled services can augment the retail environment by streamlining in-store navigation, guiding users to desired products, and fostering the discovery of other items of interest. For example, a clothing store could provide an in-store, online style guide that customers could access.

This is particularly applicable to the food and beverage space, where shoppers are typically ill-prepared to handle inconvenient disruptions to their usual flow or routine. From finding alternatives to products not in stock to navigating the store in search of a new item, a customer’s in-store experience is full of potential pitfalls that can negatively affect loyalty to a product, brand, or retailer.

Google and Facebook now offer products that allow you to give users special offers on their mobile phones while shopping. Google also cultivates local guides and recommendations, offering suggestions and providing reviews as people move through physical locations. These are great opportunities for brands to improve their retail experience without having to build their own custom utility.

10. Bust the Myth. In both casual and considered purchases, unexpected “sticker shock,” heavy disclaimers, and ambiguity will all challenge customer trust from day one. With the modern availability and ubiquity of information, people much prefer upfront communication over “the small print,” so companies should stem premature attrition by offering total transparency upfront.

According to a study by Label Insight, 94 percent of customers say that they’re willing to be loyal to a completely transparent brand, while 73 percent indicate that they would pay more for a particular brand’s products over its competitors’ if they viewed it as transparent and authentic in all ways.

11. Forecast the Future. Product life span and ROI potential are as important as price. Add perceived value to your product by letting people know what they can expect down the line.

Take healthcare insurance, for example, an industry built on unpredictability and unforeseen circumstance: We found that in addition to truly understanding how different coverage or plan types might affect the amount or quality of future care received, buyers want to more proactively understand their total anticipated out-of-pocket cost for a typical health year, especially in the event of a major medical incident or in the context of specific treatment scenarios. Brands can eliminate the guesswork and help compel or facilitate informed decision-making by offering planning tools that illuminate the realities of unforeseen or planned future medical needs.

Even after someone has purchased a product, a brand’s opportunities to thoughtfully engage with that buyer don’t end. The following eight strategies represent opportunities for brands to improve the post-purchase experience with their product or service and thus render future loyalty, repeat purchase, and referrals.

12. Offer Post-Purchase Flexibility. Buyer’s remorse is very real, and customers hate feeling trapped by a purchase decision. Furthermore, that remorse can quickly turn into a brand-image problem. In the travel industry, for example, we found that changing or modifying all or parts of an itinerary prior to or during a trip is a top source of pain for travelers. Brands can prevent these headaches by offering penalty and hassle-free flexibility immediately following a purchase.

Have you ever bought something off Amazon or another online store and immediately gotten an email giving you links to where you can change your order or cancel it? That’s post-purchase flexibility delivered immediately in an easy-to-use format.

13. Build Consumer Muscle Memory. Even with educational materials in hand, most people don’t immediately understand the features and benefits of a product or service that will make them most likely to remain loyal. Bridging the gap from buying to using a product — and getting the most out of that product — by incentivizing active feature-deepening and use-broadening behavior is essential to a brand’s continued viability. In fact, we found that 57 percent of users in the consumer electronics space report that difficulty determining how to get the maximum value or benefit from a product or device and its features significantly influences whether that product remains in use.

Google’s Play the World campaign, which highlights the unique features of its maps app by syncing locations around the world with their Hollywood double, is a great example of building consumer muscle memory. The campaign isn’t complicated, but it connects several Google features in a fully integrated manner: the map with video searches and film with travel. Such a design encourages users to remain on its platform and increases familiarity with its lesser-known features, a heightened and invaluable form of customer engagement.

14. Create Midcycle Delight. The mundane day-to-day has a significant impact on a customer’s likelihood to repurchase. Create stickiness with utilities and streamlined service, engagement initiatives, and simple delights in this neglected phase of the customer lifecycle.

In the automotive space, for example, midcycle engagement is typically overlooked but critically important to potential repurchase. We found that owners often struggle to establish the right maintenance routine for their cars with any level of confidence, which is further compounded by difficulties understanding their owner manuals and warranty details. The amount of pain experienced in these situations that recur throughout the many years of the ownership life cycle has a significant bearing on the next purchase decision. Utilities that enable self-management of the midcycle experience through behavior tracking and triggered notifications and rewards will increase loyalty and the likelihood to repurchase.

15. Support Behavior, Not Just Product. Companies should understand how users are interacting with their products so that they can help strategically shape those behaviors in accordance with product performance expectations. A feature that a business may think is obvious, such as the pervasive use of smartphones, may be difficult for the customer to initially understand unless a brand — just like Apple did — devotes the time to rolling out the behaviors in the same way it roles out the product. Because if the product doesn’t work for the user as expected, regardless of the scope of user error, then it’s the brand that takes the fall.

Brands can ensure that personal behaviors don’t lead to an inaccurate perception of the performance or quality of their products. They can encourage user activities the product is specifically designed for or modify designs to accommodate unexpected user innovation. For instance, Pandora encourages users to provide feedback with simple thumbs up or down buttons, improving user experience over time and moderating their product as necessary. Netflix and other platforms have similar ratings activities in order to provide more tailored suggestions, keeping customers better engaged and happy with the products.

16. Provide Personal Analytics. Whether the objective is to beat a personal best, to track progress toward a goal, or to simply understand personal product use/performance relative to others, customers love their own metrics and insights, which makes dashboards more than just a business or marketing tool.

Companies that add statistics and notifications of progress toward goals to a customer’s dashboard help keep people engaged and encourage product use. Audible, for instance, which is an audiobook service, uses badges and listener statistics to predict user goals and offer them before users even know they have them. Want to earn the Weekend Warrior Badge? Listen to an audiobook over the weekend. Fun fact: I’ve spent two months and 16 days of my life listening to Audible, and I know that because Audible told me.

17. Offer S.O.S Services. A product or service fail in a critical moment drastically affects customer loyalty. If a company understands the common pitfalls associated with their product or service and demonstrates empathy by meeting unexpected circumstances with innovative emergency services, then they can avoid losing customers unnecessarily.

According to our research, customers who experience difficulty when dealing with unanticipated logistical complexities before, during, or after travel can overshadow an entire travel experience and ultimately deter any chance of repeat patronage. Likewise, 61 percent of travelers report that difficulty claiming or verifying vouchers/make-goods for service interruptions or delays experienced on a trip negatively impacted their intent to travel with the same provider again. Brands that anticipate, detect, and resolve issues in a timely and unexpected way will set themselves apart.

Has your coupon app gone down for a day? Offer a coupon for loyal users the second it reloads. Have an embarrassing food safety debacle like Chipotle’s? Clean up your act, then offer free burritos to draw loyal customers back.

18. Aid Recalibration (Not Just Repurchase). When needs or personal circumstances shift, brands lose customers they don’t need to lose. By allowing customers to report how their needs are changing and proactively managing their evolution with the product or service without consequences, companies can better ensure that customers don’t assume there is a more suitable option elsewhere.

We found that when it comes to retail banking, one in two people say that difficulty understanding how to adjust spending and saving to different market situations, life stages, or personal circumstances affects whether their account remains active. Likewise, 69 percent of investors report that difficulty determining whether, when, and how to adapt investment strategies and allocations in the context of market fluctuations and/or their evolving needs influences their decisions to continue specific account contributions. Institutions can help customers maintain a personal portfolio or product fit and sustain healthy account activity over time by informing and facilitating the ongoing adaptation of account configurations and strategies.

19. Leverage Search for Loyalty. Search, as a channel, is as important to customers as noncustomers. Existing customers are using search for answers to common product and service questions. Google Answers is an evolution of search engines trying to keep up with this insatiable demand for quick, easy answers, but it’s also a tool that companies can tap into in order to keep drawing people back to their brands.

Leverage this behavior to adapt site content and create new destinations to be the brand that provides answers. Having discussions with sales teams or reviewing site search bar queries for clues to common questions can help organizations create content and tools that answer those questions or help customers move forward while reconnecting them to their brand.

20. Help Customers Help Other Customers. Getting product and service issues resolved is vital to customer satisfaction. Companies can take the pressure off customer service by enabling user-driven support and peer-to-peer troubleshooting. Apple Support Communities and Google Guides are great examples of this. Both of these services allow users to not just post reviews, but also to answer other people’s questions. The more people businesses can have substantiating their products and making usage easier and more efficient, the more trust and credibility they build as a brand while also helping out their consumers.

By quantifying the moments that matter most to consumers, where there’s the biggest potential for business impact, and which channels customers prefer along their journey, brands can prioritize marketing efforts around the most significant opportunities to create truly differentiated value.

The CXM Study is a cornerstone offering of the RAPP U.S. Consumer and Market Intelligence team and can be customized and fielded for any client looking to quantitatively understand their customers’ journey to inform touchpoint strategy, content strategy, or even product strategy. Want to learn more? Reach out to

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