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PHOTO: ThisisEngineering RAEng

Today’s user journey is complicated. It covers a number of steps your customers engage in and usually includes multiple channels, such as:

  • Mobile and desktop digital experience.
  • Customer service agent interaction.
  • Engagement with automated services, such as chatbots.
  • Convergence of digital/physical boundaries, such as curbside pickup.

Best practices in digital development cycles have matured greatly over the past years. The shift-left movement is now the mantra for many organizations. When companies shift testing to the left, their teams are able to catch issues earlier in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Investing in the process at the early stages of the SDLC has proven to yield better user experience results and has been a big means of cost-cutting for organizations. A bug found at the end of the SDLC can cost 100 times what it costs if found earlier in the process.

It should therefore not come as a surprise that investing in the definition, design and implementation phases is truly where it counts.

Customer Journeys: The Definition Stage

A great customer experience starts with understanding your customer, their wants, their needs and their expectations. Generally speaking, once defined, much of what happens in the definition won’t change.

The following critical decisions must be made up front, as they will dictate how good the customer experience you create is:

  • What functionality do customers expect? Investigate what challenge you’re solving for and what functionality is expected in order to solve for that challenge. For instance, people using a food ordering app expect flexibility in customizing their orders.
  • How do people view your brand and, as a result, what level of interaction and service do they expect? If you have a high-end, luxury brand, your customers will expect higher-touch customer service. That doesn’t mean one brand is better than the other, but there are fundamental differences in buyer expectations. Based on that, what do these expectations mean throughout the customer journey? Does it mean more prominent ways to contact customer service? What is the in-person expectation? Brands need to define early on in order to be fully aware of brand expectations during this stage. 
  • What’s important to the user? Based on your industry, product or service, certain attributes may be more important than others. Is it speed of service? If you’re Amazon, Prime users have become accustomed to deliveries in two days or less. Is it continued enhancement? If you’re in software, are your users expecting iterations yesterday? Could it be quality? If you’re Apple, your users are accustomed to premium products that constantly improve on user experience. To figure out what’s important — and I can’t emphasize this enough no matter how obvious it sounds — listen. Gather information from users by getting survey feedback from site visitors, interview them, review customer service logs, do usability testing, create user groups — just always be listening.

Related Article: Empathy Fuels Today's VoC Programs

Customer Journeys: Design and Implementation

Once you’ve defined what a great user experience looks like for your customers, you have to design and implement it. Here’s how to set yourself up for success:

  • For digital properties, engage in prototyping and iterative loops of getting user feedback on those prototypes. Have people who are representative of the target user view the prototype to assess the user experience prior to development, which makes it possible right from the start to work with the customer to understand whether or not ideas are moving in the right direction.
  • Understand which customer service interactions can be automated. Simple automation can address most common simple questions and actions. Advanced automation, such as artificial intelligence, for instance, can be used to tackle more advanced actions. Chatbots are becoming far more common across every industry. Create chatbot prototypes and gather user feedback similar to the way you do for digital properties.
  • For digital-to-physical journeys, create a workflow and play that out with actual users. We’re increasingly seeing our digital and physical worlds converge and some amazing applications make that happen seamlessly. But it’s not easy. To get there, run competitive analysis and studies to understand where the gaps and hurdles are. Solve for everything that can break along the way as we meld the digital and physical worlds.
  • Once your designs are solid, implement them. Test, test, test … and when you’ve finished, test again.

The customer journey will define your success. Don’t rush through your product development without going through the key phases — it very well could lead to an early exit for your product and company.

Related Article: Focus Your Customer Journey Maps on Actions, Not Abstractions