How to Avoid Friction with Innovative Customer Journeys

Carlton Retland
minute read

New research from Forrester, Applause shows curbside is here to stay

Since March, we’ve seen shopping behaviors change as businesses and shoppers adjust to COVID-19. But will those new behaviors hold for the foreseeable future?

For a significant portion of consumers, the answer is yes, according to Forrester Research. Roughly one-third of consumers expect to continue to leverage curbside pickup, online grocery shopping, contactless payments and same-day delivery, per Forrester’s survey of 1,093 adults in the United States.

In September, I hosted a webinar with guest speaker, Forrester senior analyst Kelly Price, who presented those survey results. We discussed how customer journeys are evolving in 2020, and accelerating in areas like curbside pickup. Price and I discussed how businesses can better map out and validate their new customers journeys, and even discussed some examples of organizations that I’ve helped while at Applause.

Roughly one-third of consumers expect to continue to leverage curbside pickup, online grocery shopping, contactless payments and same-day delivery, per Forrester’s survey of 1,093 adults in the United States.

Our webinar is available to watch in full for free here, but I wanted to provide you with a few key takeaways in this blog post.

Curbside pickup presents multiple potential points of friction

We spent a lot of time in the webinar discussing curbside pickup, and with good reason. Curbside pickup is a great example of a customer journey that has had its adoption accelerated greatly by the pandemic. You could argue that curbside pickup is even mainstream now.

The thing is, when a company adds a new customer journey, there are always multiple potential points of friction they need to consider. In this graphic, we’ve identified more than a dozen potential friction points, and these are just the tip of the iceberg.

How can businesses avoid friction? First, you would need to ensure the curbside pickup option is prevalent and noticeable within the app. The instructions around how it works, including how the customer picks up items, need to be crystal clear. If you don't get this part of the journey right, customers will abandon the journey on the first step.

And while people tend to focus on the technology, apps, etc., there are physical parts of the journey that are critical too. That includes proper signage for designated parking and pickup instructions. It sounds simple, but we see companies get this wrong on a fairly regular basis. Is the signage clear and in the right place? Did employees respond quickly?

Here’s a personal anecdote to prove this point: A friend recently needed to pick up something from a home improvement retailer. This particular retailer was in a large strip mall with a very large parking lot that was shared with multiple retailers, and she literally drove around for 10 minutes trying to find where she should park to receive her curbside pickup. That’s a point of friction for the customer, and it’s something you can easily identify with testing.

Innovative customer journeys are coming

We’re already seeing some businesses get innovative with new forms of customer journeys. For example, here at Applause, we’ve started conducting research into curbside returns. Essentially, this is when you want to return a purchase, you go on the company’s app or website, schedule a drop off time, drive to the store, drop off the item that you want to return without entering the store, and get a refund.

Curbside returns were extremely rare (practically nonexistent) prior to COVID-19. But in the last few months, Applause’s research found that three out of 15 large retailers are now offering curbside returns. Applause is helping retailers by putting together custom teams to test this new journey.

In the last few months, Applause’s research found that three out of 15 large retailers are now offering curbside returns. Applause is helping retailers by putting together custom teams to test this new journey.

The testing of this return journey is really important because these particular retailers are trailblazers. When it comes to curbside returns, there aren't established best practices and there is no blueprint. So it is very, very important to test and learn about this particular journey out in the field. If you’re going to offer something new and innovative, you need to go out and validate the journey, collect data to provide insights, and then use those insights to iterate on the next version and test again.

Make customer journey research, testing more efficient

In the webinar, we discussed eight steps of customer journey research and testing:

  1. Gather existing data
  2. Identify gaps in knowledge
  3. Create a research plan
  4. Recruit representative customers
  5. Conduct interviews for initial insight
  6. Understand context over time with a diary study
  7. Dig deeper with follow-up interviews
  8. Validate with larger group of customers

These eight steps bundle into four overarching themes, as you can see in the graphic below: Plan, Recruit & Schedule, Research, and Validate. The timelines represented in this graph are based on a company working on their own to complete the steps.

“When you start to kind of time box this out, it moves into months for a single project, which can be more time than we ever have,” Forrester’s Price said in the webinar. “And oftentimes we're dealing with journeys that have a relatively high degree of risk, and we might not have this much time.”

There are a variety of techniques that you can employ to hack these steps — in the webinar, Price identified substituting in-person settings with remote ones, and adding in existing data and infrastructure to facilitate validation. These make a lot of sense to me, and give organizations the opportunity to truncate that timeframe while still getting the research they need to make informed decisions.

I’ve been closely involved in the testing portion of the equation, given Applause’s stance as the leader in real-world testing. As you can see in the graphic, it can take months to conduct and validate research — if you do it on your own. Leveraging Applause is a way to get the research results you need without sacrificing speed. Applause has in-market testers that match just about any demographic group, and they are ready to go through a customer journey at a moment’s notice — our testing services team is really good at recruiting the right testers in the right places. Those folks can validate a customer journey in a matter of days, if not sooner — the turnaround times we’ve provided for customers with very specific requests have been incredible to me.

Those were just a few of the top takeaways I had from presenting this webinar. You can watch the full presentation I did featuring Forrester senior analyst Kelly Price here, and if you have any further questions, feel free to reach out here.

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