Since mainstream digital technologies first emerged, organisations tried to calculate how to best leverage them for commercial gain. One of the central developments in this field was the idea of the customer journey. Customer journeys describe how consumers interact with a business and pass from one stage of the purchase process to another. They often start with the Awareness stage, where customers first discover a brand and its products. And they finish with the Sale or Purchase stage, where customers complete their purchase and are re-engaged later to maintain the relationship. Over the years, customer journeys have undergone drastic changes. The way we interact with businesses today is considerably different than just five years ago. So what does a 2023 customer journey look like? In this article, we explore several core concepts and developments that differentiate 2023 customer journeys from those that came before. \tReworking your Customer Journey Map The customer journey is not a static pathway that never changes. It evolves and adapts to new consumer behaviours and habits. It accommodates the latest technologies and it responds to emerging trends. It is dynamic and always evolving. Sometimes customer journeys shift quickly. Other times there is a slow, gradual transition to new ways of engaging with your business. https://www.inform-comms.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Reworking-your-Customer-Journey-Map.jpg This means you need to regularly rework your customer journey map to ensure it is up-to-date and accurate. If you are working from a customer journey map that is two or more years old, you are most likely operating on inaccurate information. So, to understand the customer journey in 2023, you first need to revisit your mapping and assess whether the way your customers interact with your brand is changing. \tSocial Media is the First Line of Engagement In the past, consumers typically found out about businesses via word-of-mouth or traditional advertising. While this has been changing for the best part of a decade now, we believe the scales have finally and firmly tipped. Social media is the frontline when it comes to brand engagement. Digital content now drives brand awareness just as much as any other medium. Whether it is blogs, vlogs, Instagram posts or LinkedIn articles, this content often represents the moment of discovery for new customers. As such, many businesses emphasise digital content above all else as they battle for attention on popular platforms. TikTok is an excellent example. Previously a platform almost exclusively dedicated to trending dance videos, it is an increasingly influential commercial tool that is well-suited to generating interest in brands and products. It hit the remarkable one billion active users milestone in 2021 and experts anticipate the platform reaching 15 million active users in the UK by 2025 (Social Shepherd). Perhaps most interesting is the amount of time users spend on the app. The average user opens TikTok 19 times every day and children spend an average of 75 minutes a day viewing TikTok content (Social Shepherd). While TikTok is just one of many relevant social media platforms, it illustrates both this and our previous point. It shows that social media is now the first line of engagement and how consumer behaviour changes quickly and regularly. \tOnline Research is Ubiquitous Omnichannel ideas have been around for a while. So long that we should all have a handle on why the free flow of information, customers and employees between channels is beneficial. However, just because we understand what omnichannel is and we historically worked to eliminate customer service silos and the like, does not mean we can rest on our laurels. We must keep working to ensure our omnichannel strategy is relevant and effective. For instance, one of the most significant recent changes in consumer behaviour is the growth in in-store online research. https://www.inform-comms.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Online-Research-Is-Ubiquitous.jpg Let’s start at the beginning. 81% of consumers perform online research before making a purchase (Invoca). And 56% of in-store shoppers use their phones to research or price compare while in a retail outlet (Google). Essentially, online research is changing in-store behaviour and what, how and when we purchase items. For businesses, this is a crucial development. In 2023, they will have to invest time, effort and resources in refining the relationship between brick-and-mortar spaces and digital channels to ensure they exploit the trend toward more online research. \tFriction-Free Checkout is Essential Removing obstacles from the customer journey has long been a cornerstone of Customer Experience (CX) 101. Yet many organisations are yet to get it right. One of the chief offenders is checkout. Customers want to move from research to purchase quickly and seamlessly. We have grown so accustomed to easy one-click payment processes that we find it frustrating when we are forced to stop and dedicate time to purchasing an item. For this reason, friction-free checkout should be a major target for businesses looking to perfect the customer journey in 2023. \tCustomer Data Offers the Best Insights The amount of customer data at our disposal keeps growing and growing. In many cases, organisations collect so much data they don’t know how to leverage it. This year, we believe high-performing organisations will place even greater focus on utilising data to form a more accurate and holistic picture of consumers’ wants, needs, preferences and behaviours. Omnichannel strategy will facilitate the gathering of information from diverse channels, allowing for a more granular understanding of customers. Additionally, AI-driven analytics will enhance our ability to pick out valuable insights from large data sets and shape the way we approach marketing, sales and customer support functions. https://www.inform-comms.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Customer-Data-Offers-the-Best-Insights.jpg \tKeeping it Personal With more data at our disposal and a better, more comprehensive understanding of customers, organisations can also make the customer journey much more personal, tailoring it to the unique needs of specific individuals. Crucially, personalisation is no longer something consumers simply like. It is something they demand. McKinsey research shows that 71% of consumers expect personalised experiences. And 76% get frustrated when there is no personalisation whatsoever. The trend toward greater personalisation shows no signs of slowing. If anything, it appears to be accelerating. There is very little stopping companies from offering highly personalised experiences across all channels and organisations should begin working to achieve this throughout the remainder of 2023. \tThe Addition of New Channels While there has been plenty of social media and automation-oriented disruption in the last decade, a host of new technologies and channels are set to shake things up even further over the coming years. These technologies may not be fully formed and ready to go yet. But they are on the brink of widespread adoption and we expect them to grow in influence during 2023. They include: https://www.inform-comms.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/The-Addition-of-New-Channels.jpg Augmented reality - Various projects have had a go at AR in the past (Google Glass and Pokemon Go!, for instance). But it has not hit the mainstream yet. It has the potential to revolutionise in-store shopping experiences, blending digital and real-world retail channels in the process. Virtual reality - VR appears to have made more progress than AR in some ways and is coming into its own as a means of engaging with brands. Tours of flagship stores and interactive experiences are becoming increasingly common, too. While VR’s origins may lay with gaming, its future is most certainly intertwined with commerce and customer engagement. Metaverse - Much has been made of Zuckerberg’s inability to get the Metaverse off the ground in quite the way he had hoped. But the rise of this type of platform seems inevitable. It may radically alter how we conceive of consumer-company relationships and disrupt organisations’ use of traditional customer service channels. As we move through 2023, organisations need to start considering how they can integrate new and emerging channels into their existing customer journeys and what value they can extract from them. This ensures the groundwork is complete when it comes time to implement these new channels. \tAI and the Customer Journey If one digital technology is set to turn everything on its head, it is Artificial Intelligence. AI has also been with us for a while and rules-based systems have been used extensively in customer service environments. However, generative AI and Large Language Models are a giant leap forward. Their ability to advise human employees, automate complex tasks and analyse vast amounts of data will change the face of customer service forever. From increasingly intelligent Chatbots to telephony agents who use Natural Language Processing and Sentiment Analysis to determine a customer’s mood or emotional state and have AI generate the most effective response, the latest generation of AI technologies will change everything. Actually, they already are. Generative AI and LLMs are not the technology of the future. They are the tools of today. Across all industries, the race to implement AI across the customer journey is on. Those who fail to keep pace will struggle to survive and organisations need to start considering what role AI will play now. There is no doubt in our minds that by the end of 2023, GAI and LLMs will be well established. \tBuilding Versatility Into the System Finally, to improve the customer journey in 2023, companies must consider the current pace of technological change and innovation. We are moving at a frantic pace and developments (particularly in AI) are occurring on a weekly and monthly basis. This means we need to build versatility and flexibility into the customer service system. We cannot afford to stay still too long and we do not know for sure exactly where these technological developments are leading us. With this in mind, organisations should ensure they remain flexible. Avoid legacy software that locks you into a particular path. Choose technology that can scale as you do. Look for solutions that improve your ability to pivot quickly and adapt. https://www.inform-comms.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Building-Versatility-Into-the-System.jpg What Next? 2023 is turning out to be a fascinating year for those interested in digital customer service and the technologies we use to deliver memorable customer experiences. Overall, customer journeys are becoming increasingly complex and varied. This reflects the growing influence of digital technology in our lives. Fortunately, these new digital solutions also enable organisations to cater to complex and varied customer journeys. Understanding the customer journey in 2023 means recognising things are changing far faster than ever before. Unpredictability and relentless innovation may end up as the year’s defining characteristics. Consequently, businesses must remain focused on accurately mapping ever-shifting customer journeys and ensuring their digital channels are capable of change. The companies that can best exploit their understanding of the customer journey will be those that are agile and able to shift focus quickly. At Inform, this is a core aspect of what we do. For example, having previously leveraged our experience and expertise to implement Intelligent IVR and Chatbot solutions at the City of Edinburgh Council, we are now launching its new NLU Telephony Council Tax Service. This demonstrates our ability to build long-lasting professional partnerships based on considered and effective technological development and a comprehensive understanding of how customers interact with the council’s services. As both the councils’ and customers’ needs change, our technology can scale and adapt to changing circumstances, making it highly versatile and valuable. Our expert team have been providing customer self-service solutions for over 30 years. Call us on 01344 595800 or drop us a line to find out more.