The idea that the interactions a company makes with its customer should follow a preferred path is not particularly new. The big shift revolves around what the preferences mean.

A “journey” is no longer a preferred method for closing a sale. Since those dark, dismal times when closing the sale was the focus of all CRM tools (way back in 2009), we’ve come to understand that a sale is but one transaction in a broader context of digital experience.

Whether the next sale happens, and even whether sales happen elsewhere, depends to a great extent upon how organizations respond to the transaction that just closed.

“I encourage our clients to think about customer journeys,” Mike Hughes, the managing director and Chief Customer Officer for London-based PeopleTech Consulting, told CMSWire.

(Editor's Note: You can learn more about mapping data to the customer journey at CMSWire's DX Summit 2015 conference Nov.  3 and 4 in Chicago.)

“Dear CEO...”

Hughes and his firm are retained by large, European corporations (the names of which you’d clearly recognize), for the express purpose of consulting for them on how they can better reach their customers.  

While in recent years, Hughes has written prominently on the subject of how startup firms can begin mapping their customers’ journeys, a few of Hughes’ own clients came to their first conclusions on that score in the mid-19th century.

“Part of the joys of being a consultant or a new executive going into an organization is that you can see things that others don’t see,” he explained.

He related an anecdote where he immediately realized he had embarrassed the CEO of a major consumer products manufacturer after he related cases of actual journeys that company’s customers had been experiencing daily, for years.

Mike Hughes - Managing Director, PeopleTech
“I think getting organizations to think within the customer context, getting them to know what the journeys are  — sales, service, retention, whatever, depending on the industry  —  is very valuable, both to well-established organizations and to high-growth companies, rather than this sort of functional mindset that is just born out of their own prejudices and beliefs about how their products and services are being derived and delivered,” he continued.

Many of us who came into the information industry from the computing side rather than marketing tend to perceive journey mapping as a type of programming.

Indeed, this week at its Dreamforce 2015 conference, Salesforce has been demonstrating the use of its Marketing Cloud as a resource for customer journey plotting.

There are a number of software vendors that offer some sort of flowcharting or step-by-step planning, specifically for the task of journey plotting.

If you know where customers are supposed to go and how they get there, their premise is that you can manage the process better.

Processes, Products and Services

Hughes is not against using software in the journey mapping process.  Indeed, since any omnichannel marketing plan will inevitably involve client devices, some kind of automated approach is necessary to manage potentially millions of endpoints simultaneously.

“People need to be aware of the way in which processes, products and services are being delivered,” he said.  “But I don’t think it needs to be down to the n-th degree of subtasks and sub-processes and return loops, and all the rest of it, unless you’re talking about supply chain logistics.”

Human interactions don’t appear very human when they’re logistically planned, as anyone who’s ever lost a presidential debate will tell you.

That said, there remains some issue over whether a journey map should detail the customer’s interactions with a person representing a company, as opposed to with the company.

Put another way, since a customer service agent represents the face of her employer organization, isn’t it important that all customer interactions with that agent — the true customer experience — be perceived as with the company more than with the agent?

“If you’re going to do everything by rote, then you might as well turn off the human channel altogether,” said Hughes.  “If you’re going to go that direction, then technology will be able to deliver faster, cheaper, and with a greater level of consistency.

“It’s about finding the right way to use the human interaction in a different way, notwithstanding the developments of AI and robotics and everything else.  We’re probably still a little way off in being able to completely mimic those behaviors in an electronic channel.”

Perfecting Customer Service Automation

Once a customer makes contact with a human service agent, Hughes believes, that agent should have a full understanding of the context in which that contact is being made.  

That context is something that good software can deliver, so long as it is an active component that communicates with customers through multiple online channels (Web, apps, voice, etc.) as opposed to a passive web server that collects data from input forms to be processed later.

“I should understand, I should have a view of, you as a customer,” he stated.  Giving a further hint of Hughes’ long experience with a certain category of customers, he added that the human agent should understand where customers reside with respect to their current contracts and upgrade cycles.

It might also be helpful for an agent to know the customer’s relative income status, and maybe his personal mood during the last conversation.

It’s clear, though, that all these variables place the customer at some point along his journey map that may be indeterminate until the point in time when person-to-person contact is first made.

There is no “square one” for where these stages of the journey begin.

Learning Opportunities

That having been said, the process of determining where a new stage does begin, believes Hughes, may be very effectively automated.

“Sometimes we get hung up in different terms — be it ‘digital,’ ‘omnichannel,’ or ‘contact centers’ rather than ‘call centers.’  Put the labels all to one side.  What we’re really talking about is a connected company, isn’t it?” Hughes told CMSWire.

He’s lost track, he said, of how many conversations he’s had with organizations that regularly delegate responsibility for various customers to different corporate divisions  — for instance, consumer, SME, enterprise, corporate.  It’s not that certain customers are delegated to particular divisions, but rather certain products.

As a result, a customer who purchases four products with the same brand, ostensibly from the same manufacturer, could end up being handled by four separate customer service divisions... all of which claim to be great “customer companies.”

Way too often, in these cases, a customer’s journey becomes a real-life game of Frogger, with the customer reversing course, hopping backwards, and re-engaging with call center... no, with contact center agents to launch the whole process over again.

It should never be the customer’s responsibility, Hughes stated, for the customer to re-orient himself when his journey goes off-course.  More to the point, there should never be an “off-course.”

Brand Ambassadors

He related a story about a personal friend who left a small organization to join a much, much larger one.  At a dinner party, this friend chatted about the various customer complaints that were typically fielded.

But since those complaints were from consumers, folks like this friend who worked in the enterprise division were lucky to be insulated from them.

Hughes said he then teased his friend about having actually become a member of the “brand ambassadorial team” for this particular, well-renowned company on all points of the globe, whether it’s from the enterprise division or elsewhere.

To which this friend responded, said Hughes, “’I hadn’t thought of it that way.’”

Hughes then reminded this person about the prior job: a member of a consulting boutique of about a dozen people.  In that prior role, if any customer had raised a similar complaint to any of those people in the organization, Hughes’ friend was well-known to have owned that complaint as though it were directed to that person.

So with respect to those customer journey maps you may have seen where the company is represented as a whole (for example, one big circle), and the point of contact with the customer is perceived as “the company,” from Hughes’ perspective, this could be a good thing.

“One of the reasons people start splitting their companies into divisions, or product areas, or whatever,” said Hughes, “is because of traditional leadership and management concepts.”

Companies may partition and subdivide themselves as a way to gain expediency in producing products, rather than to deal with the customers of those products.  There’s a bit of a conflict, Hughes stated, between compartmentalized structuring (which I would call “bureaucracy”) and the fluid view of the organization as a whole which it tries to project for itself.

Certainly B2B customers will behave differently than retail customers, and probably organizations will delegate different agents to handle these groups.  But the ethos of a singular company behind all aspects of customer relationships, stated Hughes, “is quite powerful.”

It may not be possible for a large conglomerate to avoid necessary subdivisions.  But Hughes believes that since the customer will always perceive the brand as one entity rather than several, the company behind that brand must project itself in the ideal form of what that customer perceives: as one entity.

If you'd like to learn more about journey mapping, it will be a topic of discussion at our DX Summit, which will be held  Nov. 3 and 4 at the W Hotel City Center in downtown Chicago Find out more here.

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Title image by inbal marilli.