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Putting First Things First: Defining the Customer Journey and Why It Is Essential to Any Type of Retailing – Omni-channel or Not!

Posted By Administration, Thursday, April 9, 2015
Updated: Wednesday, April 8, 2015

by Dwight D. Hill, McMillan Doolittle LLP

Most retailers believe they know their customers – understanding what type of shopper they are and what triggers will likely yield a response to a promotion or advertisement of some type. Indeed this is true in many cases. Retailers are also developing ever-greater degrees of sophistication in determining the right level of e-mail or website offers required to entice a purchase, where programs can be managed and reviewed with precision. In addition, most e-commerce organizations can explicitly show the most common paths to purchase through the website.

What we see, however, is value left on the table at the store, where 85-90% of the business continues to reside. My previous post discussed the proliferation of digital tools that are now appearing at many retailers of all types, from Argos in the UK to Verizon and even FedEx Office here in the U.S. We also discussed how retailers should be thinking about improving associate adoption. But, we must not forget one additional element critical to success – the customer journey that likely begins on the web and ends in the store. As a retailer, you should not only be thinking about where best to invest in technologies that enable the customer experience, you should also be working on defining all elements of the customer journey itself.

Drawing out the ideal customer journey is important for at least two reasons:

  1. It allows a retailer to design the experience from the "customer's point of view"
  2. It's comprehensive – it affords the opportunity to include all enabling service behaviors and digital elements within the journey from website to store

This process also provides the venue for key questions to be addressed, including:

  • How does your customer choose to interact with your brand?
  • Does she reserve online and pick-up in store or simply browsing on the web first, then continuing that experience in store?
  • Is she more price-focused and simply looking for the best price?

Addressing these questions can help ensure that whatever path she chooses, the experience is world-class.

We believe retailers and brands that create innovative experiences share a few common traits:

  1. No organization is left behind. All customer-facing and supporting teams are included in the journey definition and mapping process, from the front lines of stores, omni-channel, e-commerce and IT to the more supporting cast members including supply chain, merchandising and training.
  2. They've actually spoken to their customer. Customer feedback is included as an input and drives every decision.
  3. Executives have shopped their brand as customers and understand the reality of the customer experience. Senior leaders have firsthand knowledge of the real customer experience, having shopped all channels, ordered and returned merchandise! It's amazing what a dose of reality can do.

By prioritizing the customer journey and taking a "first things first" approach, retailers can holistically design a customer experience that is world-class, regardless of channel or entry point. Have you analyzed your customer's journey lately?

Dwight D. Hill, whose background includes leadership roles with Neiman Marcus and Deloitte LLP, is Partner, McMillan Doolittle LLP. Dwight can be reached at

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Tags:  Omni-Channel 

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