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Why we should stop talking about ‘the’ customer journey

Something important I learned as the CEO of T2tea growing the business into global markets was the need to stop talking about the customer journey as if a customer gets on the train at Grand Station Central and off at The Last Stop.

There is no single ‘customer journey’ because a customer is not the same person each time we meet.

People change. Our relationship with them changes as we learn their likes and dislikes, preferences, personality.

A customer is really multiple people over time and has multiple journeys. Retailers need to understand that and put the organizational structure, technology and communications in place to make it happen, often easier said than done.

It’s hard  to map all the  touchpoints let alone  shifting interactions with them, although technology is making it easier.

However, you have to use technology to help evolve a relationship by better understanding and serving customers, not to amass scores of data about purchasing patterns.

We have to move from having a Data Strategy to an Emotional Data Strategy – driven by the question – how do we build that deep relationship with our customers that moves from ‘service” to “connection’? Connection is the irrational, we all have gone to a store that is out of the way just because we love the way we ‘feel’ when we leave. You’re moved from ‘just a service’ to a connection that you rave about to friends and family. Recommendations carry far more currency and advocacy than other company generated advertisements.

Often someone comes into T2 tea with a purpose in mind, to buy something functional like a gift, tea cups for example.

But once in the store they’d start to explore other possibilities, they immerse in the experience and world of tea.

They’d buy the tea maker but smell tea samplers or try a cup of new feature tea like Chill Out Chai and you’d hear ‘I had no idea’ or ‘let’s try that’ and the dynamic would shift, from being purely functional.

It moved from process into experience and if the relationship continued to build, passion.

That also meant that next time they shopped with us, online or instore, we had to take into account that things had changed.

Treating a customer who knows and likes us as if you’ve just met is like introducing yourself to the person who sits next to you at work every day. Crazy.

Data, purchasing data, is really useful for that but has to be used with a people-first mindset because the moment you treat a person attached to the data as a piece of data, you’ve lost as you’ve missed the emotional connection.

You have to look at that data like a map of conversations you’ve had and a way to better understand who they are so you can add layers into their experience that they value. Not which you value, but which they value.

If they only drink black teas you might want to introduce them to flavoured black teas and samples of herbals for the afternoon. But if you know that they only come for the Lady Grey because it’s the only thing they drink then you’ve got to know and respect that as well.

Beyond purchasing data it’s also about how you can use technologies for communication and social engagement.

We know for example that customers are likely to purchase off the back of other customers’ recommendations. I know I do. Our customers, like most people’s customers, are talking about what they like and don’t like on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, depending on their preferences, so that means we have to be there with them, listening, responding.

Ideally we want to curate that ‘retail cohort’ and move them into advocacy, because brand advocates have the biggest influence on how your brand is perceived out there.  That’s not something that can be achieved if you consider the relationship to be purely transactional at the point of sale.

It means we want to provide as many places and reasons for our people to connect up and be there with them when they do, without being over intrusive.

We do this through electronic data messaging and visual communication and technological advances are enabling ever better personalization.

Some retailers are already experimenting with targeted personalised videos, sending out video content to customer segments but I think we’ll see personalization increasing to the extent we can send individuals a direct videos message, whether that’s on email or into a social media network, depending on what they’ve signed up to, to check in or wish them happy birthday or make a suggestion.

For retail executives this new reality means we have to –

  1. Shift individual leaders in isolated businesses areas to recognize the needs of the customer first?
  2. Restructure business cross functionally to align with the customer journeys piece?
  3. Enhance the experiential journey for the customer to drive passionate sustained connection?
  4. Talk customer experience and journey to the same degree as financials.
  5. Put our teams first, we will never develop the experiential, irrational emotional connection from our customers if we don’t have it from our teams.

As an industry, we’re not set up for this.

For one, the owner of customer /relationship has to be at an executive level but manage cross functionally, but it has to go way deeper.

The organizational structure of most businesses remains siloed and ‘customer’ usually ‘belongs’ to an area like customer experience or marketing. Rethinking this will take a lot of work. It will probably be easier for start-ups that are innately cross functional to get this than established businesses with legacy structures and systems, an issue obviously that transcends retail.

That’s what I am thinking a lot about right now.

I have written a Pink Paper with some thoughts on leadership if you’re interested in reading more you can download it here.

Rachel Kelly, CEO The Retail Collective, former global CEO of T2Tea

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