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PHOTO: Josh Hild

A personalized customer journey should be produced in tandem with the launch of any new product. Unfortunately, it’s often thought of only after the fact. After all, a product, no matter how disruptive, is not going to drive much revenue for your business if no one successfully adopts it. Fortunately, your peers have written a number of helpful articles here at CMSWire covering everything from customer journey mapping, to future-proofing your customer journey map to shaping your customer journey with context. Yet you’re still likely to encounter some challenges along the way — everyone does!

That’s the bad news. The good news is that most of these roadblocks have already been encountered and best practices exist to help you navigate them more quickly than ever before.

For clarity, it should be noted I'll be looking at the customer journey that happens post-sale, the one that defines the interaction between the customer and the vendor from the moment they sign the deal and become an official paying customer. So the challenges addressed here are ones that occur after a deal closes, not during the interactions leading up to a sale.

Challenge No. 1: Creating Cohesion

If you’ve ever worked in a large organization you know getting anything done that requires significant resources (in terms of either staff or money) necessitates sponsorship from a senior-level executive. Otherwise, your budget won’t get approved and mid-level managers won’t authorize their direct reports to spend time on your project. Creating a customer journey is no different. Before anything else, you’ll need to craft a business case for why your work is important.

Focus your pitch on revenue retention. To be frank, revenues are the metric executives are most likely to care about. For example, say you’re in the SaaS business — how might a personalized customer journey contribute to the company’s bottom line? According to number-crunching from Gainsight, the top indicator of their customers’ likelihood to renew is the breadth of features they use. All else being equal, customers using more product features are more likely to renew their subscriptions. Armed with this knowledge, you can make the case that investing in a customer journey that teaches customers about all the features your product has to offer and trains them in their use will see higher rates of renewal.

Once you feel comfortable with your business case, it’s worth taking one more step before meeting with your prospective executive sponsor: accounting for what you already have. Even in the absence of defined customer journeys, most businesses have at least some collateral that will be of value, such as onboarding or product documentation. By surfacing this, you’ll demonstrate to your sponsor that you’re not “reinventing the wheel” and have mapped out the most efficient way to deliver the customer journey.

It’s unlikely you’ll know of all the nooks and crannies where relevant content is hidden. Don’t be afraid to set up meetings with customer facing teams (customer success, support and services) and your developers to explain your goals and uncover useful assets. These are the teams that will be interfacing with customers across their journey, so it’s worth getting them on the same page even if you don’t need them yet.

Finally, choose your prospective executives sponsor carefully. At most organizations it is not appropriate to involve marketing and sales either as sponsors or in the process of creating the journey itself. That’s because your colleagues in these departments are focused on generating leads and closing new logos. By contrast, a customer journey is designed to solve a very different problem: helping customers be successful with software they’ve already purchased. Your CEO or most senior customer success executive are a better choice for executive sponsorship because they’re more closely tied to the needs of existing customers.

Related Article: Critical Moments: Where Customer Experience Is Won or Lost

Challenge No. 2: Defining Scope

One of the topics on the agenda when you meet with your execute sponsor should be the scope of the journey. You need to answer key questions like how many products will be supported and what each target persona looks like. This is critically important in order to align expectations and avoid the kind of scope creep that can result in exceeding timelines or resource allotments. In most technology scenarios, the creation of customer journeys mirrors that of the software development life cycle itself — understanding requirements, designing a solution, building a solution, testing the solution and deploying the solution for customers.

Once your sponsor’s support is confirmed, it’s time to meet with the heads of each customer facing team to walk them through what they’ll be required to do. This can take the form of either a direct commitment from a department head or the assignment of a representative to complete the team’s responsibilities. Either way, you will need a firm commitment to both what will be delivered and when. This will help ensure the journey is completed on time and other departments are not held up by a lagging team.

While it would be nice to assume that everything will be done on its own, each team has its own priorities and it’s ultimately your responsibility to ensure the journey is completed on time and on budget. One of the best ways to keep track of progress, address any roadblocks and enforce accountability is to hold recurring weekly check-ins with each relevant department head (or subordinate) individually.

Related Article: The Secret to Actionable VoC and Customer Journey Mapping Programs

Challenge No. 3: Delineating a Timeline

Hand-in-hand with defining scope comes defining a timeline. This takes two forms: internal timelines and journey timelines, the former refers to when collateral will be completed by internal teams and the latter refers to what customers will receive and when. While it’s listed as “challenge #3,” internal timelines should be agreed upon with both your executive sponsor and each relevant department or team at the outset of journey creation.

If a department head has delegated her team’s responsibilities to a subordinate make sure that you’ve spoken with them directly about the scope and timeline. Don’t assume that the subordinate knows what timeline they’ve been committed to. Their supervisor may not have informed them and, to reiterate, it’s on you to make sure everything is completed on time.

By contrast with internal timelines, journey timelines need not be agreed upon with your executive sponsor (she may not want to be involved at that level of detail) and can be a point of discussion with team representatives. However, they should be as detailed as possible. Every customer interaction needs to be laid out from the moment a deal closes. Does an onboarding call need to be held with each customer? If so, how long after the deal closes? Exactly what emails will be sent to help guide customers? What content is needed to support that guidance? How will content be curated? What is the path of escalation if a customer has issues? If a service or consulting engagement is included in the deal what does that look like and when will it begin?

You may not be able to answer all these questions in detail at the outset but you should have a general idea before you begin meeting with each team and work quickly to fill in the blanks.

Related Article: Does Your Content Marketing Strategy Stop After Purchase?

Challenge No. 4: Supporting Self-Service

Those of us in customer success pride ourselves on our ability to multitask and handle multiple accounts at once, but there is only so much you can do. There are only so many hours in a day. If you’re in the SaaS business, you likely have a large number of customers (or aspire to have a large number of customers), each of which represents a comparatively small spend. There is only one solution to this challenge of scalability: self-service.

The idea of self-service is simple: allow your customers to directly access relevant content so they can answer as many of their own questions as possible without the involvement of you or your staff. While this obviously saves the vendor time and money it’s also beneficial for the customers — who are now able to solve their problems faster. If there’s an easy fix for a problem that can be found within an online FAQ or onboarding document, most people would much rather leverage that than have to wait for an account rep to return their call.

However, an investment in customer self-service is an investment in the future. You’ll need to spend resources up front to create collateral that will only be used by customers once they’ve been onboarded and passed through the initial stages of their journey. With that in mind, you still need to allocate time and resources to develop the necessary collateral during the creation of the journey itself. Customers are likely to move through their journeys at varying paces and you want to ensure that relevant collateral is in place ahead of time. One of the worst feelings for a customer success manager is to be caught off-guard, not having the collateral to support their customers. Customer journey creation necessitates the mapping, resourcing and creation of collateral that may well not be used until well after initial onboarding, including documentation, knowledge articles, videos, etc.

Rather than directly delivering all content to customers on a one-to-one basis, the process of self-service transitions the customer success role to one of content facilitation. Customers can now learn at their own pace while you step in only on occasion to ease the process. For example, if you notice that a customer is leveraging only a limited set of your product’s features you can consider sharing training materials on the power of the remaining features and how to get started with them.

Obvious as it may seem, it’s worth emphasizing that enabling customer self-service is not a license to ignore your customers. There’s nothing customers hate more than a vendor that only talks to them when it's time to renew or when they’re trying to upsell or cross-sell.

Final Best Practices (Tips & Tricks)

There’s no silver bullet for solving the challenges inherent in journey implementation once you’ve signed a new customer. However, while every vendor (and customer) will encounter their own issues, certain best practices will help you avoid common pitfalls. Most of these are very straightforward, but you'd be surprised how many vendors forget to put them into practice.

First, ensure that a kickoff call is held with each new customer to outline their anticipated customer journey, their points of contact and escalation and what collateral they can expect to receive and when. Follow up with an email so this is all in writing and the customer can refer back to the information on their own time. The purpose of the kickoff call is to get everyone on the same page and ensure expectations are set from the very beginning of an engagement. Second, communicate often and widely with both customers and other teams. Nothing can ruin your credibility with customers and colleagues faster than a feeling that you’re not available. And any potentially concerning news (acquisitions, restructurings, etc.) needs to be communicated by customer success so it can be positioned in the right way.

Like software, a customer journey is constantly changing and evolving. It is never “done.” Always leave the door open for colleagues who want to participate but be clear the journey isn’t necessarily open for feedback. You are the expert accountable for the customer journey’s success so you must have the final say in its design. Because of its ever-changing nature, don’t be afraid of shipping a customer journey that’s not perfect. It’s better to have an imperfect journey that’s open to iteration than have nothing in the hopes of building something better later.

Most importantly, if you can come up with a process or make an adjustment that will make your customers’ lives easier, do it!