Most companies don’t really understand their customers. “Big data” is not the answer. Even if organizations collect piles of data from every customer interaction, they still aren’t getting a full picture of what’s going on.
What’s the path to deep customer insight? Customer Journey Thinking. Organizations must stop looking at customers through their internal lens of interactions and focus their attention on customers’ overall journey.
New Realities of Customer Interactions
Companies have always struggled to understand customers, but it’s getting even harder. New technologies (Internet, mobile, social, etc.) and consumer preferences have changed the way that people behave. Today’s consumers are different then they were 20 years ago (even different from 10, or five, or even two years ago). Compared with just a few years ago, customers follow paths that are more:
- Information-rich. Companies used to dole out pieces of information knowing that customers had little access to anything more that could validate or repudiate their message. Today, information is widely available.
- Multichannel. Companies used to depend on a stable set of interactions in each channel, sales in stores, service over the phone, etc. But an increasing number of interactions are happening in online and mobile channels and being blended with those traditional channels. In a recent Temkin Group study, we found that 43 percent of US consumers check competitors’ prices on their mobile phone when they are in a store.
- Interconnected. Companies are recognizing that marketing and service interactions aren’t isolated events. When a customer has a greats service experience, they are very open to messages about making additional purchases or believing positive comments about your brand. After a bad experience, any marketing event will likely fall flat.
- Beyond you. With the growth of social channels and technologies for sharing information, people rely less on what they hear directly from companies. As a result, influencing an individual is no longer sufficient for affecting behaviors.
Focus on Your Customer’s Journey
How can you better understand customers in this changing world? By recognizing that they don’t want to interact with your organization. That’s right, customers don’t wake up in the morning thinking, today I want to interact with your bank, retailer, health plan, etc. Customers have goals in their lives that sometimes lead them to interact with your firm. The interaction is not the central component, it’s just a part of a much broader journey.
If a mother has a young daughter who needs surgery, she’s not calling her health plan because she wants to. She’s contacting the company because it’s a required step in her journey of helping her daughter get better. If you don’t recognize what customers are really trying to do, then you’ll never fully understand them. If you don’t examine your interactions in the context of their overall journey, then you’ll never be able to fully meet their needs.
If you want to build loyalty, then you need to stop focusing on your interactions and focus on your customers’ journey.
Embrace Customer Journey Thinking
How can companies create a focus on customer journeys that spans across their organization? By adopting what Temkin Group calls Customer Journey Thinking. Companies can get employees building deeper empathy for customers by getting them to continually ask and answer these five questions:
- Who is the customer? Start by recognizing that different customers have different needs. So it’s important to understand who the person is before we think about their specific journey.
- What is the customer’s real goal? Customers aren’t usually contacting your company because they want to, they’re doing it because of a deeper need. To understand how customers will view an interaction and what’s shaping their expectations, you need to think about what they are really trying to accomplish.
- What did the customer do right before? When customers interact with your company, it’s almost always part of a longer journey. So you need to think about where they’ve been prior to the interaction in order to understand how they will respond to an interaction with your company. In many cases, these previous interactions will include people and organizations outside of your company. After you’ve answered this question, ask and answer it at least two more times.
- What will the customer do right afterwards? When customers interact with your company, it’s almost never the last step on their journey. So you need to think about what they will do next to understand how you can best help them. In many cases, these subsequent interactions will include people and organizations outside of your company. After you’ve answered this question, ask and answer it at least two more times.
- What will make the customer happy? Rather than just aiming to satisfy customers’ basic needs, think about what it will take to provide each customer with the most positive experience — given what employees know about customers’ real goals and their entire journeys. The focus on customers’ emotional state will help employees stay mindful of customers’ holistic needs.
Customer Journey Thinking is a critical step in truly understanding your customers. Does this mean that “big data” is dead? No way. Once organizations have mastered Customer Journey Thinking, they’ll have the context to gain even more insights from advanced analytics.
About the Author
Bruce Temkin is managing partner of Temkin Group, a research and consulting firm specializing in helping organizations go through customer experience transformations. He is also the Chair and co-founder of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA.org), a global non-profit organization dedicated to improving the discipline of customer experience management. Temkin also authors one of the most popular blogs in the space, Customer Experience Matters.
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