Understanding the experience that customers value tops the list of most strategic agendas these days. The power of the buyer being in control can no longer be ignored. Sales feel it as their cycles grow longer and become less predictable. Marketing struggles to deliver predictable ROI across a sea of interaction channels where conversations happen without their involvement. Service and Support feel it as customers turn to each other for answers and to share information.
Customer Experience is Table Stakes
Delivering a valued customer experience is a table stake for growth because customer loyalty is a harbinger of future profitability. As the conversation about customer experience expands within organizations the question is no longer “should we adopt this” but “how should we do this.”
The place to start is not with a new piece of technology or Human Resources issuing an updated statement on the company’s values. It’s all those things plus much more assembled into a milestone-based blueprint that leads a company through the transformation at a pace appropriate for the organization’s business cadence, market dynamics, skills and capacity for change.
Journey Maps -- The Starting Point
The starting point for every company is customer journey mapping -- an in-depth and detailed understanding of the ‘who, what, why, when and how’ for each step that the buyer takes in their journey.
Journey maps of the lifecycle of a relationship enables organizations to effectively align their people, process, data and technology to the customer and deliver a consistent, meaningful experience. Journey maps should achieve six objectives:
- Define the archetype journeys for your organization’s buyer segments.
- Document the detailed step-by-step activities that buyer-personas take.
- Define all content assets sought, from which channel(s), and how used by buyer-personas.
- Understand how buyer-personas build and lose trust in vendors.
- Identify when and how the definition of ‘value’ shifts from product- to relationship-based.
- Inventory of all touch points, by journey steps, along with interaction owners and data shared.
Journey Maps - The Wrong Way
How customer journey maps are developed is critical. If the approach is not comprehensive, solely from the buyers’ perspective, any blueprint for change will be ‘paving the cow paths’. Unfortunately, the approach most companies take is inside-out and piecemeal. The most popular methods used to ‘piece’ together customer journey maps are:
- Net Promoter Scores by market segment
- Voice of the Customer
- Voice of the Employee
- Digital property heat maps, web analytics and content performance
While each of these tools is meaningful for what they were designed for, none were specifically developed to produce journey maps. Maps cobbled together from these tools are not only incomplete but have a distinctive inside-out bias. Filling any identified gaps through focus groups, workshops and surveys is not enough to counter the weakness of this approach.
The bottom-line is that customer experience will not measurably improve and the transformation will take twice as long. Different point-in-time, silo data sources will not produce a holistic and comprehensive understanding of the customers’ perspective.
Journey Maps - The Right Way
Utilizing in-person qualitative research is a more effective and efficient method to journey mapping. There are two advantages to using ethnographic research to discover and document journeys: Unbiased and detailed understanding of the buyers’ journey as well as capturing perspectives, emotions and rationale behind the actions that buyers take.
Qualitative research has been the mainstay for CPG brand marketers for decades. Now, B2C and B2B companies in other industries are adopting qualitative research for journey mapping. SunTrust Bank conducted their journey mapping by interviewing retail customers in their homes. The wealth of actionable knowledge gained about their needs, expectations, steps taken, and emotions contributed to SunTrust’s recent success and rapid growth. Journey mapping any other way would not have enabled the bank to deliver what their customers need at the right time, for the right life event, through the right channel. In short, the insights gained transformed SunTrust’s strategy, customer loyalty and growth rate.
The many objections to ethnographic research for journey mapping are unfounded. Within the B2B community, companies believe that customers will not make the time, remember their actions, or be candid. Other common objectives which are incorrect include concerns that the process takes too long, results are too detailed, many different journey maps will result, and it’s too expensive. The reality is that these objections are rooted in the unfounded fear that customers will be negative and the interviews will be confrontational.
Customers Want a Conversation
The surprising reality is that customers, especially B2B, actually want to have these conversations. In their eyes, any vendor that invests in understanding their journey and then aligns people, process, data and technology to deliver a valued customer experience, moves several rungs up the credibility ladder.
And that’s a vendor worth having a loyal relationship with. But you can’t get to that point from an NPS score.
Image Courtesy of Anson0618 (Shutterstock)