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Business talk a big talk about customer journeys, but then doubts creep in. Here are four ways you might be sabotaging your customer journey programs PHOTO: elizabeth lies

Companies still talk the big talk when it comes to building out fully automated customer journeys, but then doubt creeps in: is it worth the effort? Do customer journeys deliver the ROI you want? 

We frequently see journey campaigns outperforming ad-hoc marketing campaigns by a factor of four. That indicates customer journeys have a role to play.

So why the growing skepticism about journeys? Well, they do sometimes have their limitations, and they can sometimes not be as successful as envisioned. In my view, too many of these programs suffer from four fundamental problems: they treat all customers the same, they don’t “listen” to customers or take notice of their activities, they are too complex, and they are set in stone, never to be updated or modified.

4 Customer Journey Problems (and 4 Fixes) 

One Size Fits All

Too many programs treat all customers identically, with the same communications, the same messages and the same offers. Now that marketers have more data than ever before, they really should be able to tailor a journey for each individual.

When you say this to clients, some will kick back and question if it’s practical to have journeys that are truly individual. They know the data is available, but they wonder if it is really possible act at that level of granularity. My response is always this: If you design them the right way, it’s entirely possible to hyperpersonalize your communications.

Take as an example an email that might be triggered in a journey. You could use granular data to populate content blocks within a single email template. A client we work with populated its email using segment (12 different values), local store (200), suggested product (50) and recency (10). That immediately yields 1.2 million possible permutations of the email. The email tool just inserts relevant blocks of content (images, links, title and text), all driven by the data.

It may seem like a big challenge to generate that different content, such as an image for each segment, but if you plan for this at the design stage or when speaking to the creative team, it’s not difficult or expensive. From the customer’s perspective, there is a high perceived value to receiving hyperpersonalized messages that are relevant to them at the right time in their journeys. It becomes an adaptive customer experience.

Fix: Use the data you have about your customers, and plan early to minimize costs and effort.

Not Listening

It can be tempting to think of journeys as a purely one-way vehicle, just pushing messages out to customers. However, the most successful journeys also “listen” — they are adaptive. As a consumer, it’s nice to feel that your behavior is being noticed and that you are receiving messages that reflect your earlier actions. When you make purchases, open and engage with emails, visit a store or speak to someone in a company’s call center, it is nice to receive messages that indicate that the company is aware of those activities. When this doesn’t happen, it can feel like one-way traffic and not true customer engagement.

Again, you don’t straightaway need to build in every possible touchpoint and response. Just show that you are listening to the main interactions your customer has with your brand. You could, for instance, insert a piece of “thank you” text into your templated email to a customer if you can see from your granular response data that he or she has made another purchase. As you learn, you can evolve into providing a fuller experience.

Fix: Monitor your customers’ behavior and try to incorporate what you learn into any messages you send to them.

Too Complex

The temptation for many companies is to design ultracomplex journey programs on a whiteboard and then try and build them. As marketers, most of us can’t resist getting those pens out and sketching out how a campaign journey could look. Those creative juices come to the fore, and it’s very easy to quickly go from a blank whiteboard to something that looks more akin to a map of the London Tube. Even then, as you review, it’s tempting to add even further complexity by thinking about exceptions along the journey — often ones that would be relevant to only a handful of customers.

Whilst it’s great to be creative, it’s also important to be pragmatic. Always consider two questions: Will this be straightforward to build? And will everyone be able to understand the journey? After all, who wants to be waiting weeks for a complex journey? Surely, it’s far better to start smaller with something easy to implement where you can demonstrate value and then evolve. And make sure that others can follow your journeys; they might need to maintain them and tweak them. If a journey is too complex to understand, there is a real risk it won’t ever reach the goal you envision.

Fix: Start simple, and then refine. Focus on pathways that most customers will go down; don’t try to account for every eventuality.

Set in Stone

It’s often tempting for marketers to set up a journey and then just leave it to run. Sometimes it’s because no one really understands it — maybe the creator has left the business, and everyone else is frightened to change it. Or it can just be because other campaigns, often ad hoc, are the focus. Yet, with successful journey campaigns often producing four times the results of many ad hoc campaigns, there can be more business value in improving a journey than there is in trying to get a new ad hoc campaign out of the door.

If your campaign has been set up correctly, it should be easy to see how it’s performing, particularly if you can compare it to a control group. As you review results, you can start getting creative again and see how you can make it even better. Don’t be tempted to make wholesale changes. Rather, do it on a continual improvement basis where you can test and view the uplift from each enhancement. If some of your ideas don’t improve things, you can take them out and try the next ideas on your list.

Fix: Schedule time to review your campaigns, come up with a priority list of how they could be improved, and test those incrementally so you can determine whether the changes yielded any benefits.

The Goal: Exceptional ROI

Customer journeys have a role to play in the context of creating an adaptive customer experience. They enable marketers to take advantage of automation to deliver the right message, at the right time, through the right channel to each customer. Hyperpersonalizing those messages, listening to customer behavior, starting small and refining as you learn will not only help you set up those journeys, but also ensure that they deliver exceptional return on investment.