It’s personal. It’s emotional. It's multi-dimensional.

And it should be.

Getting a product to the shelf or bringing a service to a customer’s attention is no longer enough to guarantee good sales results.

Today’s consumer demands a much more expansive relationship with you; one that extends far beyond the item or service that you’ve created. Often, it extends beyond factors that are within your control. 

Whether for business or private consumption, today's consumer wants a great experience – not just from your product or service, but from the entire environment that surrounds it: from the journey that they take to get to your product or service, to the steps that happen after the sale’s taken place and the product or service has been consumed. 

The entire environment in which your product or service is positioned, influences the choices of products and services that consumers make.

Which means that in today's highly competitive, multiple sales channels world, it may be harder than ever to ensure that it’s your product or service that gets picked - and, importantly, re-picked, time and again.

What if your customers have a frustrating journey on route to getting your product or experiencing your service?

What if the journey they take afterwards is less than satisfactory and leaves them feeling well a bit underwhelmed and motivated to try something else that might be less hassle to consume instead?

As businesses, most of us rely on or are affected by someone else in the experience that we offer to our target customers. 

It could be as simple as relying on a good WiFi connection to power our products or enable others to access them; it might be the adequacy or condition of the equipment where consumers can access them; or the efficiency and availability of courier services to deliver what we create. It might be the professionalism and conscientiousness of the landlords who take care of our premises and fix something when it goes wrong, reducing disruption to our ability to conduct business as usual. 

Then there are the vital components or ingredients that we rely on to produce what we offer; the reliability and smooth, regular running of public transport for customers to get to where we sell, parking spots, the competence and motivation of sales staff or the condition, maintenance and modernity of the equipment in the shops or supermarkets where we sell. 

That's before you get to the roadworks that set up outside our salons and stores, making it harder to reach us, or the systems integrity and reliability of the payment providers who power what’s often the final step in the transaction process for our customers and without whom, a sale can't be completed.

These elements of the customer experience are not always within our control. But they can become determinative factors in whether a product or service, or even the business offering it, survives. 

So what can you do?

Capgemini’s Ralph van der Pauw, covers just this dilemma in his blog earlier this year, advising that the perfect customer journey “will be defined by how you fulfil [your customers’] expectations.”

It’s critical to balance those expectations, he advises. And in his view, most brands are a lot more responsible for setting those expectations than they realise.

“By balancing the expectation to the extent that you are able to meet it, you’re in control of the touchpoint and able to steer this journey towards the next one”, he says. “Do this for every touchpoint and it will lead you to the perfect customer journey.”

It's common sense and certainly a good starting point. You need to be tracking every touchpoint. 

How often do you design a product or service that tracks every step your ideal customer takes on route to consuming what you want to sell them?

And then, how often do you track and prepare for what happens after that?

And how often do you consider your customers’ expectations at each of those touchpoints?

And even if you can predict what might happen to affect your ability to provide a seamless and perfect customer experience, and you communicate well so that your customers know there might be a glitch, and you attempt to compensate for the challenges that these eventualities raise, they can be fiendishly difficult to accommodate, in spite of the best planning. 

Ultimately, consumers will be influenced by the total environment in which a product is consumed. And if someone else can offer them a better environment in which to consume an equivalent product, your business will suffer. 

In short, even a perfect product or service in design and concept, can be undermined by all the other touch points that affect the less than perfect total acquisition/consumption experience that our customers undergo.  

So is it genuinely possible to achieve a perfect, seamless customer experience for your customers?

I'm not sure anyone can guarantee you that. Business - as with life - is full of unforeseen variables or indeed, variables that you can foresee but simply have to take a risk on, or you wouldn't get to market in the first place. 

Shrewd foresight, careful planning and aiming for a seamless delivery, end to end, definitely help to make a difference when it comes to customer loyalty and repeat custom these days.

The examples to which Jabil’s CMO, Joanne Moretti, refers in the linked article below are a great illustration of why these factors matter - and the difference that they really do make when influencing a customer’s inclination to repeat an experience.

Moretti’s article contains 7 practical and common sense tips to help provide your customers with an excellent customer experience of your product or service, from the start to the finish of their journey to acquiring and consuming it.  They also help you to mitigate the damage that the external factors outside of your control may have. And they go a long way to help you to manage your consumer’s expectations.

Interestingly, Moretti gives a clear warning that technology is not the panacea to addressing the challenges of impressing today’s consumer and that spending money on gismos and gadgets will not guarantee consumer loyalty. In fact, it may actually have the opposite effect altogether.

“Technology is nice, but it is a means to an end”, she warns. “The end being a superior customer experience that can’t be touched by your competitors.”

Technology, if it is relevant, needs to fit within a far wider customer experience-enhancing strategy.

Her tips range from:

  • Keeping your product simple and uncluttered, resisting the temptation to engage in a ‘war of features’ with competitors, which, she says, won’t score you the wins. “Simple, beautiful and making yourself easy to do business with is more important”, and
  • Getting real-time, unfiltered, direct customer feedback about existing product and direct input into the design of improvements and innovations; to
  • Constant, well communicated evolution and improvement of what you offer to your customers, especially where this evidences that you’ve listened to and acted on customer feedback, and
  • Never ‘trading on brand equity’ to sell higher volumes and lower prices, and
  • Always ensuring to the greatest extent you can, that you’ve tracked, predicted and planned for every step of the customer journey, to reach you, to interact with you (or your product and service, where you’re not selling it directly) and what happens next, after consumption has taken place. Because even that last step should not be the final one in your relationship with the customer.

It sounds perhaps rather obvious. But according to the pretty compelling, 'heavyweight' stats that Moretti quotes in her article, the very fact that so many businesses are now identifying customer experience as a priority for realising competitive advantage and business growth in 2017 and beyond, indicates that too many of us are not sufficiently in control of, or planning for, the full sales journey. 

And too many opportunities are therefore getting missed.

Moretti concludes that: 

“[u]nderstanding your customer’s journey in terms of how and when they engage with you, is critical. Every channel they use, every thing that they see and experience, the product they touch and how they touch it or interact with it, what kind of service they get before and after a purchase, how easy things are to use, are all incredibly important elements of the journey and of the experience overall.”

It’s sound advice and worth reading.

And for more advanced and detailed, step-by-step guidance on how to achieve the perfect customer journey, covering all the key essentials, Kurve’s helpful guide is another very good, practical read.