Digital has completely transformed how we shop, and no two customers are the same. They find out about, research, compare and purchase products in an infinite number of ways. They think in omnichannel. Brands and retailers need to understand that omnichannel doesn’t just mean connecting a single digital experience to a physical one, for example, buying a product online and picking it up in-store. The customer journey, or the path to purchase, is manifold. And consumers are increasingly taking control of their own journey.

Customers no longer interact with a single touchpoint of a brand’s digital offering – a website, or an app, or a store front – they interact with the brand as a whole. And in order to promote a positive customer experience, every interaction has to be consistent and integrated.

So how can brands better understand the customer journey? By getting to know both their existing customers better and those yet to be converted to the brand. Here’s how brands can make sure they’re offering the ultimate user experience to consumers.

Understand Your Audience

It may be an obvious point that audience opinions, use cases and feedback vary by culture, context and region. Yet still many brands seem to take a  one-size-fits-all approach. When you ask the same question to one segment of customers from a single region who shop only via a mobile website, of course you’re likely to get similar answers. But this can hardly be taken as representative of your whole audience. Broaden the scope just slightly, and the results will change.

Understanding customers is the first crucial step on the path to tailoring customer journeys, and if you’re looking to expand your customer reach you’ll need to get feedback from multiple different segments. Working out what channels customers prefer, when and why they use them,  involves getting feedback that’s indicative of the many, not the few.

Give Back Control To The Customers

Nowadays, shopping doesn’t just mean heading to the store, picking out a product, paying for it, and bringing it home. Customers are inundated with options for how they want to shop. They can browse the website on a desktop, scroll through it on their mobile, via an app, or now even an IoT-enabled or connected device. Digital innovations provide us with infinite freedom of choice and of movement, allowing us to shift between digital channels as we please, and take control of the shopping experience without the influence of the brand.

Increasingly, customers prefer to choose how and when they engage with companies. A recent Deloitte study showed that two thirds of consumers prefer a self-directed shopping journey, up from a third in 2015. As consumers gain control, the brand arguably loses out. As the power of the brand begins to diminish and that of the customer increases, companies need to understand all of the possible paths to purchase consumers can take, keeping in mind every touchpoint until the journey’s completion.

Take Into Account Every Brand Interaction

The digital side of brand experience and perception isn’t just shaped by a website and a mobile app. Banner ads, email campaigns and of course, social media, have a huge role to play in influencing purchases. According to a 2016 UPS/comScore study, 77% of online shoppers use social media. 39% of these follow retailers on social media, 34% state social media influences their purchases and 23% have purchased a product on a social media network.

That’s an enormous number of potential customers to reach. To effectively curate customer loyalty, brands have to empathise with the consumer. They must account for every single channel where brand and customer meet and understand how it feels to be a customer at each touchpoint.

Talk To Customers Before You Build Things

There’s a saying that goes ‘Ask for forgiveness, not permission’. This may work when you disobey your parents, but it doesn’t work if you’re a retailer. Waiting for customers to notice bugs before you’ve fixed them is business suicide. You get one chance to prove yourself online before a consumer will find your competitor or delete your app. Brands need to get customer feedback during the creation and testing processes in order to create a seamless experience that resonates with the user. Waiting until after the launch of a new product to iron out the creases is waiting too late.

To do this effectively, there needs to be a real shift in the way brands use feedback. Brands need to put wireframes and prototypes in front of customers before product updates or new features are launched. Feedback needs to be built into the software development lifecycle, and it has to be iterative. Brands must be listening to the customer in real-time before any problems start to fester.

The path to purchase is both digital and physical, marked by a number of touchpoints. By really understanding customers and the journeys they are taking – and keeping on top of how they are evolving, brands can build loyalty with existing customers and a chance to impress prospective customers by providing the best user experience possible.