The agency world is filled with visions of perfectly joined-up customer journeys. With the help of strategists, creatives and experience specialists, we look at the origins and plausibility of that vision.
The 'joined-up customer experience': whose dream is it anyway? / Tamanna Rumee via Unsplash Strong Rubber Bands
’360° views of consumers...’ ’Perfection at every touchpoint...’ ’Fully joined-up customer journeys...’ Listen to the goals of marketers and their clients right now and it’s easy to get the picture of a single big dream: a technology-enabled, universal stitching-together of just about everything to provide faultless flows through streamlined brand worlds.
But whose dream is this? Where does it come from? And is anyone getting anywhere close to realizing it?
As M&C Saatchi London’s chief data strategy officer James Calvert says, a version of the joined-up dream is quite natural, thanks to a “general, though not always stated, belief that when you have things working together, performance will be better,” and that, ”if we make everything look like it’s all part of the same thing, it’ll work better”.
Seems true enough. But as Avery Hennings, lead experience specialist at The Marketing Practice, puts it: “We can all sit here and say that a joined-up experience is better than a fragmented one… what we’re missing is the ’why’.”
It’s not customers who are leading the charge; certainly, words like ‘joined-up experience’ aren’t on many of their lips. And a quick poll of our assembled experts suggests that it’s not always clients who are demanding fully joined-up customer experiences either. “Sometimes we hear about a ‘2025 vision for a connected journey’ coming from the very top,” says Ogilvy Experience’s strategy director Michael Crewe. “But then the people you’re working with on a day-to-day level all have different metrics and different targets that they’re working towards. It can be difficult to look at it end-to-end because their goals don’t make sense together, so when we’re trying to join it up, we’re not building something that’s truly connected, but using rubber bands and sticky tape to try and stitch things together”.
Often, it is agencies that become evangelists for what some would call ‘joined-up thinking,’ thanks to what Journey Further’s conversion director Jonny Longden calls, simply, a “disconnect between strategy and execution”. Customers might not be in the streets demanding joined-up thinking from the brands they buy, but as DPDK’s chief creative officer Michael Vromans has it, “they’ll let you know when it’s not good“. He says: “Great design is the absence of ripples; it’s hard to discern when it’s seamless, but it’s easy to point out when it’s not”.
According to our panel, the roadblocks in the way of seamlessness won’t surprise many: siloed organizations, failure to understand what customers really want, creaky old decision-making processes, failures to understand timescales of change. As Jacob Harris, partner at Known, says: “The long-term effects of the joined-up customer journey are well-studied, but you show this to a client at the start of a project and no one wants to wait for that. There’s this interesting balance between what they want to drive now versus what you can show them that exists in their categories before you can even get into understanding the customer”.
‘Joined-up’ is all well and good, but it will of course mean something different for every brand – not least because joined-up consistency will be straightforward for smaller brands that show up in one place, but rather more complicated for global brands that show up everywhere.
Hallane Hill, content lead at Optimizon, argues that the key is convenience: “Consumers want convenience as they move between digital and physical interactions with brands. Their shopping experience needs to be the same at every single touchpoint.” Kristie Naha-Biswas, Assembly’s head of strategy, agrees, adding: “It’s about finding those opportunities to connect online and offline, and adding that extra connected experience so that consumers have what they need when they’re researching or shopping.”
For Calvert, the joining up isn’t worth much unless it’s joined by another value: simplicity. “Sure, people will let us know when there’s a problem or if something feels confusing, but what they’ll never say is, ‘why don’t you consolidate your apps and make that better?’” Joining up, in other words, goes beyond simply fixing the problems that customers tell you about; it can also mean trimming back elements of the overall experience that aren’t pulling in the right direction.
Crewe calls this challenge the “effort to understand the entire world of the customer,” but also understanding that “your brand plays only a tiny role in that”.
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