What makes a company great? Early in the 20th century, the ability to mass manufacture made industrial powerhouses like Ford and GE successful. From the 1960s to the 1990s, the great companies were the ones like Toyota and Walmart that dominated at distribution. From 1990 to 2010, the greats were companies like Amazon and Google who were (and are) masters at controlling the flow of information across systems.
Rob Brosnan, Forrester
And the Holy Grail for today’s brands? According to Rob Brosnan
, a Forrester senior analyst who presented at the SAS Customer Connection on CI
, this is the age of the customer. It’s all about knowing your customers and expertly managing customer interactions the way they do at Facebook, Harrah’s, and Apple.
”If you know your customers and can master building long-term relationships with each and every one of them on an individual level, that’s what will give you a sustainable competitive advantage,” Brosnan says.
A long and winding road
One of the biggest barriers to knowing the customer is understanding the convoluted path to purchase.
Think about the way you went about your last big purchase. You probably started with research, going online to read reviews and compare prices. You might have gone to the store to try the product out. And then, life happened, you got sidetracked, and didn’t get around to purchasing the product for weeks or months -- or you started over again with research.
"Consumers slip in and out of the path to purchase," Brosnan says. "As a company, your ability to connect the dots and understand your customer's purchase journey is highly limited -- you may see the customer pop up in multiple areas, but not be able to piece together the entire path."
Why is understanding the customer's path critical?
"If companies ignore the path to purchase, particularly the research phase, then customers have likely already formed an opinion about where they should shop or what they should buy before your company even gets engaged," Brosnan says. "If you're not providing them the content they need to help them make a decision, then you're out of the game."
Another key point: If you're going to build a profitable relationship with a customer, you can't stop at acquisition, or wait for them to make the next purchase. "You have to know the path to purchase so that you can guide and drive demand down the road," Brosnan explains.
To help marketers map out the customer's journey, Forrester has done in-depth research into each phase of the process:
Consumers are spending more time doing research -- even for less expensive (i.e., lower consideration) products:
- 82 percent research before buying
- 66 percent research lower-consideration products
- 54 percent primarily use digital channels to research (Google is the No. 1 search engine for research; No. 2 is Amazon. Brick-and-mortar stores come in at No. 3)
The bottom line: "Companies need to ask themselves, 'Are we doing enough at the research phase to help consumers through the process?' " Brosnan says.
How is this changing? Online is growing, but brick-and-mortar stores still dominate purchases:
- 67 percent purchase in traditional (offline) stores
- 58 percent purchase online using desktop, laptop, or netbook computer
- 14 percent purchase online using a tablet
The bottom line: "Tablet is only at 14 precent now, but is going to grow, so be prepared for mobile to play a dominate role," Brosnan says.
If a customer bought offline, he or she tends to use offline support channels (in store or call centers), so traditional forms of customer service still matter. If a customer purchased online, he starts with email for service requests.
The bottom line: The channel customers were brought in on matters.
Engagement phase (ongoing)
"Consumers engage with brands for deals," Brosnan says.
- 54 percent want deals, discounts, or promotion
- 41 percent want free samples
- 33 percent want to learn about new products
- 66 percent of those who engage use multiple channels
The bottom line: "You have to market across channels," Brosnan says. "Customers are incredibly empowered, and if we aren’t thinking in a cross-channel environment, we're going to miss the boat."
For advice on managing multichannel interactions, check out "At the speed of marketing," an article by Lori Bieda, who leads the CI management team for SAS Americas.
This post originally appeared on the SAS Customer Intelligence Knowledge Exchange.