Have you bought your competitors’ product? This might sound like madness. You probably do competitor analysis, if not regularly at least once in a while, to keep your positioning fresh. Why would you need to go further than that? The answer to that question is that you need to experience their entire customer journey, from how they treat their prospective customers end–to-end and then to learn what they do well. You cannot do this as desktop research. For example, what does the billing process feel like, how does it work?
Everyday use of competitors’ products and services will reveal more about where your own product is lacking. Of course you will have bias; that is only natural as your product is better, of course! But if you can suspend that bias, this research will allow you to discover new opportunities of where you can improve both your product and your service and create more value for your customer and for your brand. (There are caveats in the B2B world. This can be pretty tough, but not always impossible.)
Competitor analysis in this way is all very interesting and useful, but the real question is:
Have you bought your own product?
Have you ever bought a product or used a service and felt like asking “have they used this themselves? Do they know how this feels?” Whilst companies often engage in mystery shopping research, it is limited to the sales process. It is not the same as buying the product, experiencing it and using it and mapping the entire journey yourself – otherwise known as Customer Journey Mapping. By doing this compared to your competitor product, you can work out where you are creating negative customer experiences and also discover missed opportunities.
Good competitor analysis that leads to useful insight is all about asking the right questions. Here are some questions to think about when creating your Customer Journey Maps:
What is it really like to purchase your product or service and then what is it like to experience the service or own the product?
Consider that your customers journey actually starts with their research and initial engagement. How do you support them in this research? How are you capturing their concerns, considerations and needs at each stage so you can then use this data throughout their entire journey? You may discover that you have a “leaky” funnel if you are not supporting your customers research needs. Then, as you move on through the purchase process, you need to determine whether the process is “disjointed” in any way? Do you ‘forget’ what the customer came to you for in the first place and behave like a goldfish as the customer goes through different parts of the process?
What questions will the customer have at each step? How are you answering them? Are you answering them?
When testing software, the idea is to break it by considering everything the user could do. When the software is fixed, another set of tests are done to see if an additional problem has been inadvertently introduced. If customer processes can be tested and approached in the same way by considering as many questions as you can that the customer may have, then you can have more confidence that everything will run smoothly.
Consider Hilton hotels, for example, where every part of your stay is tested and purposely designed down to the smallest detail. In the hotel business, the small details count and you may think that this level of detail does not apply to your business, but the devil is in the detail. This is where you can be a star or a flop in the eyes of your customer.
How could the experience of using the product be faster, better, or more enjoyable?
Do you put your customers on hold when they visit your contact centre? Does the customer have to queue to get to your product? These are all parts of the journey that are often neglected when building customer journey maps, as most people assume there is not much that can be done about them. But look a little closer. First, does the customer have to queue? Is there a way that you can shorten the wait or get rid of it? Second, why not make the wait more interesting – this does not mean playing lift music! For example, at theme parks where people are queueing for rides, there is often some form of entertainment to make the wait a little less tedious, so the queuing becomes part of the experience.
How much variability is there between products, and is that good or bad?
Sometimes consistency is good, sometimes variety is good. McDonald’s are famous for their consistency – you can visit a McDonald’s anywhere in the world and know that the Big Mac is going to be exactly the same in every outlet. However, if buying a piece of art or a craft item of furniture, then you want it to be unique, its uniqueness is a large part of its intrinsic value. Between these two extremes, there are elements of your product that your customer will value as being consistent, and there will be elements that variation and surprise might be an opportunity for you to increase value.
What might your customer like to configure to their needs?
Beyond variety and ad hoc changes to your product is the question of product configuration. What changes can the customer make themselves? What is important to your customers that they can change themselves? Again, look at Hilton where customers can select pillows, mattresses, duvets and much more to make their stay as comfortable as possible. But there are impacts on the business in doing this as for every item that can be configured, there are process and systems required to enable that configuration. Understanding what is important to your customers through your customer journey mapping allows you to make informed choices about what configurations you should make possible.
What do I do right after using the product or service?
We are all very familiar with a cross sell or an up sell after purchase like we get from the Amazon store, but after using a product or service, the journey is often less well defined. For example, when using Amazon Prime to watching a programme series, I am immediately led to the next episode at the end of each viewing. Amazon has thought through where I want to go next after using the product. While this is a digital product, where it should be easier to map the customers’ journey after use, it is still possible to consider this in the off-line world by simply buying your own product, using it, and then seeing what happens next.
For an off-line example, I buy a vacuum cleaner; I use it and then put it away in a cupboard. I feel the chore is done. I have lovely, clean floors. What do you think, feel, or do after you have used your product?
These are example questions that will give you some ideas for what to consider when building your customer journey maps.