Enabling Customer Journeys with Intelligent Assistance

May 9, 2017

By Jack Cooney | Marketing

A brief look into the new way of optimizing customer journeys with intelligent assistance, strengthening loyalty, and influencer marketing with... The Rock?

Earlier this year I read Forbes contributor AJ Agrawal’s article, 17 Marketing Trends To Watch Out For In 2017, which provides an excellent framework for evaluating customer experiences and more importantly, identifying areas for significant improvement. The four trends that resonated for me, Interactive Content, Influencer Marketing, Mobile Video, and Mobile First Strategy, did so because of the ease in which they could be implemented combined with their collective upside in influencing customer behavior. No surprise that 3 of my 4 were also Agrawal’s top 3. For me these are the 4 that typically fuel my imagination and explore various What-if scenarios related to researching new products online, in-store interactions with sales associates, or completing a purchase at checkout.

This was exactly the case for one of my more recent outings to a well know national retailer. Like most people, I don’t methodically research, evaluate, and deliberate every purchase decision over an extended period. Sometimes I simply recognize I need something and head to the closest store known to carry that item. My loyalty usually starts with proximity! In this case, I was tagging along with my wife and daughter who wanted to restock on school supplies at a store location we frequent in our hometown. Once there, I split off to look at their selection of keyboard and mouse combos. I had recently set up a new home office area and wanted to reward myself with some wireless accessories to complete the project. The options on the shelves ranged from $30 to over $70. I read through package details to ascertain which one was the right one for me, eventually settling on the lowest cost option since I couldn’t justify spending more. With my wife and daughter still off on their own, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to Google reviews for the keyboard I was now 99% committed to buying. The search results delivered reviews along with a list of competing online and brick and mortar retailers offering the same item at, wait for it… lower cost.

Consumers use mobile for in-store intelligence before making purchase decisions. Retailers should too.

I decided I could be patient and wait, especially if it would save me even more money over the cheapest option I was now holding, so I put the combo back on the shelf. Later, when I rejoined my wife and daughter at checkout, I asked the cashier if the store did price matching. The answer was yes – Score! Great customer experience! – as long as the item was from another brick and mortar retailer which my phone confirmed. I left and returned to check-out with the combo in hand at which point the cashier asked if I wanted the extended warranty; I answered, “No thanks.”

Quick aside, I usually default to giving a poor customer experience rating for the “extended warranty ask” at checkout because it chips away at my buying decision using non-supported FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) as a motivator.

The cashier called in a supervisor, a young woman, to get the price match approval which proceeded to set off a series of customer experience missteps. It started with me having to show my phone again with the competitor website pricing info. Confusion set-in on whether or not the items were the same thanks to labeling differences on the packaging made by the manufacturer. The supervisor walked me back to the aisle with the keyboards and tried to get me to switch to another, slightly more expensive alternative. Still not wanting to pay more for something I couldn’t see added value in – added value she wasn’t able to communicate either – I had to dig into the product details on my phone and compare product numbers. Starting to feel like I was being judged a con artist, I pointed out that while the labeling wasn’t exactly the same, the model and product numbers were in fact identical. The supervisor finally conceded and authorized the price match, not so much as she felt it was the right thing to do, but more likely because she had run out of viable alternatives. Back at checkout, she opted to not apologize for the confusion, but did make sure to ask, “Would you be interested in the extended warranty?” Sigh.

Even though I completed the purchase and got the best possible price, I left thinking I should check out the next closest retailer where hopefully I won’t have to work so hard to get the best value for my money. These are not the types of customer journeys that lead to loyalty loops!

Anyone familiar with the current technology options available to marketers – at least when budgets are approved – knows exactly why my experience is so painful to hear. It is a relic of the old way of treating customers. The new way is optimizing each and every touchpoint in the customer journey, regardless if the consumer starts online or walks through the automatic doors. The 4 trends Agrawal highlights are the types of building blocks marketers can and should use to create “intelligent assistance,” helping to guide consumers through complete customer journeys that result in amazing overall experiences and profitable purchase outcomes that keep customers coming back.

Imagine my story updated to the new way, starting with me parking my car outside the store. I receive an app alert on my phone, “Looks like you’re visiting us!  Can we help you find anything today?” I press “No thanks, just browsing” and make my way inside. I use my phone to search reviews and make note there appears to be cheaper options. Remembering my retailer app has a price-match feature, I use it to scan a product barcode, then hit the lower price search button. A moment later the app says, “Great catch! Show this to your cashier when checking out to get the appropriate price reduction!” Show this is hyperlinked to a video of a celebrity spokesperson (in my imagination it’s always Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) who bellows, “Give this customer a better deal!” Underneath is a You May Also Be Interested In section that shows me Ink Cartridges, Batteries, and Extended Warranty options as well as a discounted “most popular” bundle option. I go to check out. The cashier and I chuckle over The Rock video and I leave in a slightly better mood than when I entered. The loyalty-loop has been strengthen, not because of the price match, but because of the ease in which the customer completed a very satisfying transaction. The only FUD in this scenario is what one should expect trying another retailer!

Intelligent assistance should be the priority for marketers with today’s trends making that new reality possible. The sooner marketers can embed intelligent assistance into their customer journey strategies, the sooner they can see the improved customer experiences that typically herald higher campaign performances.

*Special thanks to Tom Friedman for introducing me to the concept of intelligent assistance in his book, Thank You for Being Late.


About the Author

Jack Cooney
Head of Marketing

Jack is a sales and marketing professional with a passion for great customer experiences. When he’s not launching new campaigns or updating Salesforce, he enjoys writing, driving, and embarrassing his kids. He currently oversees all content marketing and demand generation responsibilities for 89 Degrees.