The “customer journey,” is one of today’s hot research topics. Rightfully so, as it can provide essential insight on how to guide customers on the path to brand choice, adoption, and ultimately, loyalty.
As a customer, every interaction you have with a company is an evaluation process: Should I buy goods or services from this company? Should I continue with this company or go elsewhere?
The valuation of your company by your customers is an ongoing process, with critical touchpoints along the way. As a marketer, it’s important to identify the most vital touchpoints – or milestones in the journey – and understand how to act on them.
Over the past few years, Consumer Truth has conducted a broad spectrum of customer journey studies that included companies offering a wide range of products and services. As you’d imagine, the journeys and their most important milestones varied considerably. But there was one overarching theme that determined the outcome of a milestone: It was only successful in propelling the journey forward if its result made the customer feel appreciated.
That’s right, appreciated. It sounds so elementary, because it is. Yet in so many cases we heard about customer journeys going off track when critical brand touchpoints failed to make the customers feel as if they were cared about and valued. Invariably, this was the most common mistake that drove customers away. Conversely, when customers reached an important milestone on the journey and felt appreciated, they continued on a loyal path.
And customers had very strong recall of the most important loyalty milestones, when and how they happened, and if they felt appreciated. Sometimes the milestone was something that went surprisingly smoothly. Sometimes it was a bump in the road that was repaired.
But why is making your customer feel appreciated so enormously important on this journey? (Even more so than other factors that seem like key reasons for choosing and staying with a brand, such as price or quality.) Because your customer is an individual and doesn’t want you to forget that, no matter what the business relationship is. In these days of automation, mass communication and dehumanization, your customer feels increasingly less like an individual and yearns for a human-ness in all areas of their lives, including in their brand relationships.
In our research, we found that there is nothing that better reinforces that you care about your customers than by demonstrating that you appreciate them. It conveys that you recognize them for their patronage and loyalty by caring about how they feel and what their needs and desires are. Making your customers feel validated in this way is essential to making them feel that choosing you was the right path for their journey. Your customers need to feel appreciated to have confidence, comfort, and ultimately trust in your brand. These are the vital stepping stones on the way to brand loyalty. The sense of appreciation becomes a two-way street when your customers not only continue to use your brand, but also recommend it to others.
Appreciation: the most important element on the journey
How do you best make customers feel appreciated? We identified six key ways, based on themes that came up again and again in customer interactions across a myriad of industries. We call these the “Six Axioms of Appreciation,” and they are best expressed in the customers’ words:
- Be straight with me: If you want to build a long-term relationship with me, then be honest and transparent. This will build my trust and encourage me to keep my business with you. Deliver what you promised. If anything has changed or gone wrong, let me know quickly and for what reasons. Everyone makes mistakes, just be sure you admit yours and fix them effectively.
- Make things easy: I’m very busy. There are a lot of demands on my time and my life has gotten increasingly complex with responsibilities. If you can take some of the hassles away from me (and not add to them) I would be truly grateful. Make your brand easy to get and use and give me prompt and thorough service if I have issues.
- Keep in touch: Reach out to ensure you are meeting my expectations. If not, tell me what you are going to do about it. This will show you care and in return, I’ll be more open to expanding my business with you. Ask me how often I’d like to hear from you, what topics interest me most, and how to best communicate with me, (e.g., email, phone, text, etc.).
- Recognize my individuality: I am not everyone else. I have my own set of needs and personal preferences. When you make the effort to understand and address them, I feel valued; you empathize with me and see me as more than just a faceless customer. I am thankful when my loyalty and spending levels are rewarded with special deals/discounts.
- Treat me equally: Although I want my individuality recognized, it’s annoying—even insulting—to learn that I am not being treated the same way as your other customers, especially ones who are newer. I should always feel like I am getting terms, deals and service that are at least commensurate with the business I am giving you.
- Do me a favor: Do things outside of your expected scope. Find meaningful ways to be proactive and helpful, like offering cost savings, information about what’s new and ideas about doing things better. If I’m in a pinch and reach out to you for assistance, it means a lot to me if you come through. Going above and beyond makes me to want to do the same for you.
How do you use these Axioms of Appreciation? Make them guideposts for the most important milestones—once you’ve identified them—on your customers’ journey. This will help blaze the trail to loyalty and advocacy for your brand.