Understanding the customer journey isn’t possible without data. With more parts of the journey than ever before taking place online, customers are giving your business a wealth of information with every interaction. Companies can (and should) use this information to improve the customer experience and turn occasional customers into lifelong customers — but only if they use the data well.

One person who knows about the critical nature of this customer data is Mukesh Mirchandani, Vice President of Global Field Solution Engineering for Freshworks. Freshworks is a sponsor of CMSWire's DX Summit Fall Session, taking place online Oct. 28 and Oct. 29. We spoke with Mirchandani on topics related to his DX Summit presentation, “Using the Customer Journey As a Vehicle to Break Down Data Silos.”

How COVID-19 Changed Customer Behaviors 

CMSWire: What did the customer journey typically look like two years ago and how has the COVID-19 pandemic changed that?

Mukesh Mirchandani: The customer journey has been a fantastic tool to understand both customer behavior and expectations. People make decisions on how to buy a product, service or solution for themselves or their company. There’s a lot of upfront research that happens in that process, especially if you’re buying something for your company. If you are buying a product for yourself, you are going to want to try the product in a store.

But how customers have changed their buying patterns will have an undeniable impact on the customer journey post COVID. Let’s look at retail as an example. Previously, if I wanted to buy a new product I would definitely check it out in the store. I’d want to see, touch and feel the product. COVID has impacted that; more people are making decisions online and remotely. The digital footprint of the customer journey has expanded because the in-person footprint has shrunk.

The second clear impact COVID has had is this: people want highly efficient products. This isn’t entirely new — people have always valued efficiency and effectiveness. But since COVID has shrunk consumer spending, people are optimizing for efficiency. That focus has definitely accelerated during the COVID pandemic.

Having said all this, the fundamentals of the customer journey are still the same. Customers are doing a lot of online research and making decisions that brands might not be aware of. Once a sale has been made, the expectations around customer service have become much higher and more pronounced.

CMSWire: Why is it important to gather data around the customer journey?

Mirchandani: The digital footprint is the highest it’s ever been. This means there’s at least three possible rich datasets businesses can gather and use. The first set of data is acquired in the research phase. People are researching brands and companies they’re going to buy from. They’re reading reviews online and googling before they make a purchase. People are spending way more time on your website than ever before. This creates a very rich dataset on what people have consumed and explored on your web and social properties. If a customer has spent a lot of time on a page you know they’re very interested in that product. Upfront research with or without you knowing who your customers are is a rich set of data. This goes beyond retail and includes researching B2B software.

The second set of data is acquired during the sales process. In retail that’s a short process. But in B2B it’s a longer process, and can involve an evaluation period, trials, proofs of concept and more. At the end of the day a rich set of data gets created here, which helps you understand your customers even better.

The third set of data comes about in the customer service phase. Think about a sale that’s already happened, which is when we transition to customer service and try to convert our one-time customers into lifelong customers. When customers reach out to you for any reason, their communications and how you respond to them creates a third set of data and a more robust digital footprint on your customers.

Three distinct sets of data come about in the customer journey: research, sales, service. Taken together, they give you insights into what your customers expect from you.

Mukesh Mirchandani of Freshworks: "Empathy and insights come from having the right data."

Data Collection Surpasses Data-Driven Insights

CMSWire: What do most organizations miss about gathering data to understand the customer journey?

Mirchandani: In the last five years or so many organizations have done a good job of collecting data. More CIOs realize the impact data can have on their success and they’re working with their teams to ensure the right data comes together.

What organizations are still working on is using data to garner insights. If a customer took Action A followed by Actions B and C, which resulted in a purchase, is this series repeatable? Do multiple customers follow these specific actions or is this one customer an outlier? Organizations are particularly struggling with it, because it’s a hard problem to solve. Customer experience platforms have been disjointed in the past. No one platform does sales marketing and service really well — which is one of the things Freshworks is trying to solve. Our aim is to create a unified customer record, having everything in one place being described by one data model.

CMSWire: Who are the stakeholders for customer journey data? Which teams can best make use of such data?

Mirchandani: The custodian of the data is IT and this should reside in the CIO’s office. Think about data at the layers that unifies the customer journey. Who should own it? If it's marketing, they will focus on the marketing journey. Sales cares about the deal, about leads. Customer service thinks in terms of tickets. But how do you create a data model that transcends functions? IT has that broad view that brings the data into a unified model, which you then unleash for actionable insights. IT departments are the unsung heroes of any organization.

Learning Opportunities

CMSWire: What are the biggest challenges to data collection relating to the customer journey?

Mirchandani: Getting insights from data. Think about what data does for you. A lot of sales organizations talk about 'knowing your customer' or 'approaching your customers with empathy.' But how do you know them? Without having access to the right data, can you be empathetic about them? Empathy and insights come from having the right data.

Organizations need a uniform way of describing a customer. The intent has always been good but there isn’t a formula for creating these insights. Only you as a company know the value of the action on your website. As such, data collection is somewhat of a bespoke process because your processes and services are unique. The right customer experience platform can give you a consistent way to describe that data. You decide the value of an action and we give you a consistent way to describe it. Once you have identified the signals you can then unleash actions to improve the customer experience.

CMSWire: How can businesses identify which customer journey metrics are the best to collect for their organization?

Mirchandani: The definition has to come from your own corporate strategies. Signals and metrics are different for each different strategy. What’s important to your business? Cross selling? Customer retention? Improve customer satisfaction? Based on that, different events will become important to you.

CMSWire: How can businesses transform customer journey data into actionable insights?

Mirchandani: Journey mapping is invaluable in discovering actionable insights and is something organizations are investing a lot of time in. But it should be done in the context of understanding your customers. One of the key advantages to journey mapping is its ability to identify two customer extremes, which will provide the blueprints for building a successful business.

The first is your most loyal customer. These are the people who shop your website every month. If you’re a B2B organization this customer buys exclusively from your platform. Mapping this customer gives you insights into maximizing wallet share. The second extreme is the unhappy customer, the person who did business with you once but never again. If you do good journey mapping for these two customer personas you’ll get insights on actions that led to your most loyal customers and missteps that led to your least loyal customers.

CMSWire: What does the future look like for the customer journey?

Mirchandani: There’s a lot of optimism around the pandemic being over soon, with many people hoping we can get back to a semblance of normalcy. That said, it’s hard to say how organizations will evolve post pandemic. However, I imagine a couple of things will continue to happen:

First, customer expectations around convenience and efficiency will stay. People have realized the power of convenience and that isn’t changing anytime soon. Second, post-pandemic customers will continue to expect high empathy and personalization. If organizations want to retain customers they have to care. Organizations that don’t demonstrate empathy will struggle. All in all, the future is going to be about data, knowing your customer and creating insights from the knowledge you’ve gained.

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