Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Customer Journey Starts With Me

In my troubles with Kia (by the way, they got wind of my social media blitz, and gave me a call this week -- I'm encouraged, but more on this situation later) I've discovered something important about the customer journey.

The journey doesn't start at the door, to either a brick and mortar store or to a brand's landing page. It doesn't start with a company at all. It starts wherever the customer begins their own individual journey that minute, day, year. And this starting point matters. Let me tell you why.

I'll use my Kia experience as an example. When I have a problem with our van and have to bring it in, my experience does not start once I walk through the customer service door. It starts when I have to pack toys, snacks and juice bottles and extra changes of clothes and diapers -- necessities for time spent in a waiting room with two toddlers.

It continues when I have to bundle my children up and cart each one out to the van individually over sometimes icy sidewalks or snow. Barring any frozen door problems -- in which case I would have had to maneuver the children through the front doors and wiggle through to the back seat and buckle them in -- we all drive 20 minutes to the Kia dealership.

That's when the journey really starts. So if my Kia has multiple problems, and I have to experience this tedious journey often, it would be appropriate if the reception I get at the customer service door acknowledges and tries to mediate my troubles. After all, they've got my extensive service history at their fingertips.

You can translate this into an online experience as well. For instance, during the holidays, many people are using the web to shop from a variety of stores.

But if your website is hard to navigate, or your site has a tricky spelling and doesn't show up in search, or if it takes a long time to load, a user may be turned off to your brand. Not because any of these problematic qualities in particular, but because in comparison to the other sites they have been to, yours is not measuring up.

When I write stuff like this, I'm always looking for the takeaway. In this case, recognizing the starting point of the customer journey is important, because other brands, and other experiences, set expectations for your brand.

You may not be able to control these externalities, and you may not always be able to live up to such high standards. But you can do your best to make your destination in a user's journey as painless and as pleasurable as possible by paying attention to their activities and interactions with your brand (your store, your site, the experience you offer).

And being helpful (i.e. a site's ease of use, or a store's quick and successful product fix) and friendly (i.e. a site giving recommendations based on past preferences, or a store's acknowledgment and apology of excessive service visits) -- not either helpful or friendly -- goes a long way in a customer relationship.