This is the first episode of a new series titled The Customer Journey. Spanning across different cities in Africa, the series explores the decision journey that consumers take from considering a product or service to purchasing it and bonding with the brand.
The catalyst for creating this series was a comprehensive study conducted by McKinsey’s David C Edelman and Marc Singer. The problem that they identify is that « digital tools have put shoppers in the driver’s seat, allowing them to easily research and compare products, place orders and get doorstep deliveries. Companies have been largely reactive, scrambling to anticipate customers’ next moves and position themselves where customers will find them. »
How can companies shape consumers’ decision journeys ? How can they lead rather than follow?
In Africa, thanks to the growing internet penetration and the explosion of mobile over the past decade, consumers’ access to information and ability to exercise comparison and choice have never been greater. However, due to a number of factors such as the very large number of unbanked consumers, the mistrust in online payment, the relative unreliability of home delivery; the vast majority of consumers still prefer by far traditional brick-and-mortar retail formats.
As a result, it is essentially in the real world, only when customers are in-stores, that companies can shape their journey, create an engaging experience, and earn loyalty. They must competently navigate and manage the face-to-face interactions with customers to understand them.
The journey is a sequence of actions that customers take before purchasing – consider, evaluate, decide; it can last several days or just a few minutes, can take the form of a single store visit or of repeated contacts (for instance, in the case of a product that consumers deem as long-term investment or that they think of for a gift for a third party).
This first episode takes us to a ground floor alley of the Rosebank Mall in Johannesburg. There I spotted a young couple of shoppers and quickly understood they were about to embark on their journey. Back then (mid 2015) I was keen on advancing the knowledge on the intricacies of the decision making process for a certain consumer segment. The McKinsey study was coincidentally released in the November 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review.
As customers commence their journey, the retailer starts his own multi-step sales process: understand the customer, present the product, pitch and influence, convert the potential into a sure customer. In the customer understanding phase, he tries to assign roles to each individual part in the couple : who is the influencer ? who will use the product ? what is the customer’s level of product information ? who is the payer ?
The set of answers form a dashboard that the retailer uses for navigating the interactions with the customers. It turned out that the female shopper took all the roles – chief negotiator, main decision maker, user of the product and eventually, payer. Seizing all opportunities to place the seller into a reactive position, she led the interactions to a destination unforeseen by the seller: a bundle purchase at a slightly discounted price.
The retailer is also a winner beyond that one sale with the couple. At his particular position – he has a small sized open space, limited visibility on the streams of shoppers (two escalators meet behind him), and the contraints of a pop-up store – he faces the challenge of catching the attention of passing shoppers. Therefore, every time a shopper stops by, both the prospect of a sale and a publicity tool emerge. He must maximize them.
Nevertheless, by succeeding at attracting shoppers, at retaining them “in-stores” beyond a certain time threshold, say 3-5 minutes, so that they themselves attract other shoppers, the retailer reaches multiple goals, from creating real sales opportunities to delivering enjoyable customer experiences.
Similarly, companies and brands who succeed at building effective customer journeys are the ones who master four capabilities: they deeply understand consumers, they make a compelling case for their product or service, they invest in designing, testing, refining the customer journey, they implement a sound customer experience strategy including customer service, customization and innovation.
Many retailers now know how to interpret and anticipate individual traffic lights and connections along the path that customers take in the restricted space of a store, so as to meet and exceed customer expectations. Once the female shopper grabs the product and keeps it firmly in her hands along her journey, smart retailers and brands can see an overture to take the lead in the interactions, to take the customer engagement to a higher level, and create new value for the customer.