29 Jul 2020 21:24 IST

What customers want: A connected journey

Four distinct strategies are instrumental in creating the exceptional consumer experience

When managers are asked to list the drivers of willingness-to-pay on the part of their customers, their primary focus is usually on tangible and intangible features of their products or services, such as quality and brand. These are critical factors; however, willingness-to-pay can be determined by a broader set of drivers. As billions retreat into solitude, a primary indicator of the customer experience will now be how firms deliver experiences that meet their unique needs with care, compassion, and concern. Every action customers take is an entire journey by itself, and at every step of this journey, there is an opportunity to either delight or have them endure a pain point.

It is important to distinguish the three phases in this journey:

Know: This is the first part of the journey where the latent need of the customer is made clear, both to the consumer and the firm.

Request: In this second part of the journey, the need is interpreted as the request for a solution to a specific problem.

Respond: The final part of the journey, where the customer experiences the solution.

Nicolaj Siggelkow, in his book Connected Strategy, unveils four distinct approaches that firms use to minimise the friction of this customer journey. These experiences are characterised by the part of the journey they affect.

Let’s look at the four distinct but connected strategies that are instrumental in creating exceptional consumer experiences.

Prompt and fast response

The prompt and fast response experience begins at the point in the journey when a customer recognises what she wants. The firm’s sole purpose is to make it as simple as possible for the customer to place the order, pay for, and receive the product in the right quantity. It works best when customers know what they want and the firm is competent in rendering it quickly. The problem arises while fulfilling a random customer request, such as “I want to eat a chicken katti roll now, even though I am at a vegetarian eatery,” as this can be costly and unfulfilling.

Tailored offerings

The tailored offering moves further upstream in the experience cruise, helping the customer find the best viable option that would fulfil her needs. Both prompt / fast response and tailored offerings can only work if customers are conscious of their needs. In this context, a firm can delight its customers by finding them a product best suited to their needs, and also gain efficiency benefits by proactively directing them toward something that can be easily fulfilled. The key criterion here is the recommendation process. Customers who like to make the final decision but still value advice benefit from tailored offerings.

Proactive recommendations

Anticipating a consumer’s needs and offering recommendations works best for latent needs that customers are conscious of but have a tough time pursuing, for whatever reason. Yes, the customer wants a chicken katti roll, but once reminded of the potential health risks, she is willing to order idlis instead. For this to work, the firm needs to have a deep knowledge of customers who, in turn, should be willing to share their data with the firm and value its advice, even if they still have the final say.

Automated execution

When the firm is aware of a customer’s need even before the customer is aware of it, there is potential for an automated customer experience, where the firm determines the need of the customer proactively. Automated customer experience should be the connected relationship of choice, particularly if the firm can understand the user so well that it is rightly positioned to make purchase decisions as efficiently as the user herself. Furthermore, it requires an ecosystem in which errors are not too consequential. Customers who are content with having a continuous data stream with the firm, trusting that the firm uses the data to fulfil their needs at a reasonable cost, will be open to such an automated experience.

Such an option should not, however, be viewed as the most desirable route for every transaction. Customers differ, and, for some transactions, the risk of getting it wrong with automated execution is too high. While technologists might see automated execution as an ideal solution, there can be no going away from good, old-fashioned getting to know your consumer through more direct interactions. Only such an understanding can enable the creation of the most relevant consumer experiences. This may require the brand to create a range of connected customer experiences.

In essence, each of the four connected customer experiences has its advantages, and each can work optimally if used for the relevant and specific use cases and for specific sets of customers.