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Empathy at every turn: Exploring the modern customer journey

Reena Leone, Log in to subscribe to the Blog

If you’ve read any articles around the state of digital marketing in the last several years, you’ve undoubtably heard that the customer is in control right now. They not only expect every interaction with a brand to be completely relevant to them, but for the entire experience to be consistent across all channels. That expectation has become more complex as more and more channels have been added to the modern customer journey. While web, mobile, apps, and email remain top priorities for business, new channels continue to emerge. Customers aren’t thinking about a brand’s channel management plan or whether they struggle with data silos – they expect businesses to know who they are and what they want, especially if they’re a repeat customer. Connected customer experiences were already the absolute bare minimum; then COVID-19 happened.

With global turmoil, everyone is on edge and brands cannot afford to be anything less than 100% empathetic. Every interaction can make or break the customer relationship. Traditional customer journeys that push customers down sales-only or product-specific paths of the brand’s choosing aren’t going to cut it. It’s time to look beyond short-term sales wins and go for the long game – modern, empathetic, customer-centric journeys. Let’s look at four non-sales use cases – key opportunities for building lasting customer relationships.

1. Service… before there’s an issue

Customers will always head to a brand when they are in need of service, that’s a given. But brands also have the opportunity to use their customer data to preemptively offer services to their customers, effectively solving problems before they happen. And with a global pandemic, this level of service means a lot more to customers who have a million other things on their minds. An example could be a bank that sends out information about setting up overdraft protection before a customer gets hit with a fee. Or a telecom sending out an equipment upgrade offer before someone’s cable box or modem starts failing. Helping to solve potential customer problems before they happen shows customers that you’re always thinking of them and have their best interests at heart.

2. Nurture along the way

Out of sight, out of mind is a common problem for brands these days. Competition for customer attention has never been greater, while attention spans have never been shorter. Brands need to remind their customers that they’re there for them – in ways that feel organic and not forced. This is where nurture journeys come in. This is particularly important in industries where customers might only interact with them a few times a year (hopefully), like with insurance or healthcare.

Let’s look at healthcare as an example. Almost every healthcare company likely has a nurture journey related to COVID-19, designed to educate and inform members about prevention, symptoms, treatment, vaccines, etc. At the same time, most also have wellness journeys – centered around things like fitness, effectively managing routine care, or membership programs – designed to help customers maintain or improve their health. Nurture journeys are fueled by all types of content: podcasts, articles, videos, studies, news, etc. Because people often have multiple interests and concerns around their health, they’d be exposed to different journey and content configurations to see which topics and formats best catch their eye. Much like with service journeys, the goal is not to sell or convert – it’s to build engagement, increase trust, and develop customer relationships long term.

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The modern customer journey isn’t a straight line

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3. Retain whenever possible

Now more than ever, businesses need to keep every customer they can. Retention journeys need to strike the balance of reducing customer attrition and maintaining profitability – without maximizing incentives.

Telecom providers were already considered essential prior to the pandemic. But the pressure only increased when businesses started to close, schools switched to online learning, and the need for fast and secure home internet became paramount. Now, unhappy customers are far less forgiving and more likely to churn if they aren’t receiving the internet speeds they need at the price they want. But one way a telecom company could reduce churn is to be proactive about retention offers.

An example of a proactive retention approach would be offering faster speeds at the same price for those households who have newly increased bandwidth. Instead of waiting until that customer calls the contact center frustrated about their slower internet speeds, these types of personalized and proactive retention offers are based around the customer’s needs. Much like service, these offers get ahead of the problem, which ultimately costs the company less and shows the customer they care – improving customer satisfaction and loyalty levels at the time they’re needed most.

4. Build financial resilience

The pandemic and resulting economic fluctuations have brought about a new type of journey that’s becoming increasingly more important – resilience. Industry leaders have realized that early intervention in client financial struggles can reduce collections and bad debt write offs. Resilience journeys are a bit more complex than say, a standard nurture journey that provides information or financial resources. An organization needs a strong understanding of individual customer context and their ability to pay – resilience journeys apply to customers who have been in good standing but have recently fallen on hard times. While they require a deeper level of understanding, they remain relatively low risk and provide substantial benefits.

When a bank notices that a high-value customer has suddenly stopped paying their credit card bill, for example, a resilience journey would proactively reach out to that customer and provide them with a personalized offer of reduced terms that should allow them to stay in good standing, if accepted. Or if a utility company notices non-payment from a long-term customer, they can provide information on government programs designed to help folks get back on track. Collections are never fun; and this is probably the type of journey where empathy is most important. If done right, it’s a win-win for both the customer and the brand.

How to deliver modern customer journeys

It’s no longer about collecting customer data and actioning it along the customer journey but how fast you can turn it around – ideally within the same interaction. At Pega, we call this real-time decisioning and when applied to the entire customer journey, this gives brands a desperately needed edge in an increasingly competitive market. Knowing a customer’s context and being able to react instantly means you can deliver a hyper-relevant offer that really demonstrates that you understand their needs.

When channels were more limited, decisioning was less advanced, and the world wasn’t figuratively (and sometimes literally) on fire, you could get away with shepherding your customers down a predetermined path of your choosing – likely towards a sale. These fixed experiences, driven by rules and reminders and served up to customer segments rather than individuals, were largely acceptable. Not anymore. With more and more channels available, customers are forging their own, often non-linear paths. They were already far too savvy for the hard sell and the pandemic has made them even less tolerant of it. These days, many customers are also wise to the fact that their data is being collected, as they are asked to accept or reject cookies multiple times a day to comply with privacy regulations. If they agree to data collection, they expect that data to be used to provide them with a better experience, every time. They don’t just want to buy from you: They want information. They want expertise. They want to feel like you care. They want to be treated as an individual.

Empathy at every touchpoint is the only way forward.

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Topic: Personalized Customer Experiences

About the Author

Pega’s Senior Content Marketing Manager Reena Leone helps clients around the world realize the positive impact that one-to-one customer engagement can have on customer experience and ROI.