Loni Kao Stark on Customer Journey Mapping: Social, Contextual & Crossing ChannelsManaging the customer journey is challenging for even the most seasoned marketer. Here Loni Kao Stark shares some of her insights into getting and staying on track. 

Mapping the Customer Journey

As someone who spends a lot of time working with customers and learning about how they need to support their own customers, I asked Kao Stark if she saw customer journey mapping as a valuable process.

Kao Stark said that on one level it's a simple process -- follow a customer through their interactions with a company, figure out what the experiences are and optimize what's most relevant, "what delights."

The challenge -- and the key -- is to scale it up and do so consistently across channels and lots of customers in a way that's feasible.

To be successful, you segment customers into different groups. Then find your core personas (e.g. new vs. existing), then break those down and look at the journey at a lower level. What you need to do is segment out those core personas for the initial engagement perspective.

One thing Kao Stark pointed out is that while many talk about 1-1 interactions, it's really more of a reality in B2B than it is in B2C. With B2C, you really need to be able to segment different personas and figure out core desires.

It's also about thinking that the customer journey never really ends. Start off with light interactions  and move to much deeper ones.

Crossing Channels in the Journey

Cross channel focus is another area that challenges brands when defining customer journeys. Many people start in one channel and tend move to different channels. This makes mapping the customer journey even harder. Kao Stark gave the example of a US bank that gives its users the same id across its channels.

Another example of this cross channel journey approach for both unified data and context is FirstEnergy who supports its customers across its website and mobile apps in a very local approach. FirstEnergy looked at the context of how customers were using mobile and found it was much more task oriented, so it exposed those tasks via mobile apps that offered a local mobile experience.

Social in the Journey

Social media tools impact the customer journey. But what do these social media interactions play? Kao Stark says to start with awareness, and do some predictive modeling to see what interactions are more valuable. When someone decides they want a deeper interaction (e.g. submit ideas, want more information, talk to other customers), then this is when you get into a social community.

A side note on Communities and user-generated content:

UGC and Communities
Building a community required participation by more than the organization that built it. User generated content (UGC) is key to getting value from community because it means members are invested in what the community is all about. And yes, not all user generated content will be good, the same could be said for brand generated content (although one hopes a concentrated effort is made to ensure it is top quality). One benefit of things like rating processes is that over time you can be sure that the quality content floats to the top.

But that doesn't mean anyone can post anything any time and it simply goes live. In most cases, articles and contributed content go through a review process, mostly to make sure things are accurate. According to Kao Stark, some brands grapple with being comfortable with the fact that there can be content such as vendor agnostic comments (i.e. mentions of competitors), but you can't quell all this information from a community. All a brand can really do is ensure things are factually accurate.

Adobe has 60 million users and growing on its own site and not all are from paid channels. Many come for communities and useful content, and for user generated content. Adobe is not a stranger to brand owned communities. Its communities come in the form of forums around the Creative Cloud, Packageshare and developer communities for Experience Manager.

Kao Stark said that Adobe is doing more things around communities and social media activities this year -- she says the company sees the value and that brand-owned communities are a natural place of maturity for social for a company.

Many organizations are looking for a way to develop a hub on their own property for conversations. That's what happened for SAP. What SAP found was that acquiring new customers through paid channels would double the traffic, but it's not sustainable unless you can keep those customers on the site. And that's what communities do.

Ramping Up and Keeping Context

A few final thoughts from Kao Stark on mapping your customer journeys. 

So is journey mapping complicated? How do you know where to start? 

It's challenging to interact with all the data, but you need to keep the context in mind as you go along. Focus -- don't try to solve everything. Start simple and test things. Do not test a complex journey model because you won't be able to figure out what's working and what's not. You need to know what's most useful to customers and what's your message.

She also says that silioed technologies are the real challenge. Marketers start to feel like they are system integrators and take a tech focus as opposed to being able to think about the customer and the content. 

Finally, segment. What's most valuable to the segment? Apply the segment across the channel to get consistency and deliver relevant content. If you can't do it for all your segments then look at a few you can do it with. Rally the internal employees and customers, make it more fluid and social for customers to interact with other customers and employees directly -- let them make their own journey, or as Kao Stark likes to say -- choose their own adventure.

Image courtesy of Michael D Brown (Shutterstock)