Optimizing the Customer Journey

Working in the world of marketing and especially marketing technology there are always new ideas and buzzwords to chase. In many cases these are not necessarily new ideas but emerging technology has given them new life. Customer relationship management and engagement are two such ideas. Brands have been managing customer relationships and interacting with customers for decades but technologies like high-powered CRM systems and social media are enabling brands to supercharge these ideas to great effect today.

One of the most interesting new/old ideas we have been tracking that has been getting a lot of coverage lately is the concept of the “Customer Journey”.  Quite simply, this is the path a customer takes from pre-awareness through purchase and ultimately loyalty. Conceptually, this idea actually matches up well with the traditional purchase funnel of: Awareness, Consideration, Trial and Repurchase/Loyalty.

Despite the tons of ink and infinite keyboard strokes dedicated to declaring the purchase funnel dead, I believe it still exists however in a form far from linear, the way it used to be. Similarly, the Customer Journey is nothing like a nice straight path rather, it’s more like a labyrinth with numerous influencers, both branded and unbranded, detours and re-routes along the way.

Data (and not necessarily big, huge data) now provides the opportunity to really drill down into the journey from a quantifiable point of view to specifically define the path customers take to purchase based on a deep understanding of needs, wants and expectations at each step of the journey.

Naturally, there is no shortage of information to read about these customer journeys. One of my favorite posts is from the Harvard Business Review entitled appropriately enough, Competing on Customer Journeys. My highlighter ran out of juice going through this one, but there are four steps described here to optimize today’s customer journeys:

  1. Automation: What are you currently doing behind the scenes or manually that you can now automate through an app or on your site to move the journey along? For example applying for financing or scheduling an appointment or consultation online.
  2. Proactive Personalization: Using historical data from past interactions or personal data from external sources, how can you build a personalized experience for each site visitor? If you sell home security systems as an example, and you know from third party data that a site visitor is a pet lover, then tailor that person’s site experience starting with related products that involve watching pets like in-home cameras.
  3. Contextual Interaction: Similar to the idea above, customize a site visitor’s experience on your site based on past interactions. If you sell cars and someone has configured a particular model and then left the site, the next time they visit start with their configured model on the home page they see and include an online scheduler for a test drive.
  4. Journey Innovation: As each of the steps above is executed, codify learning and continually improve the journey based on what you learn to continually provide value to the customer and your company.

Finally, another a-ha idea is that what you think is the customer journey might not resemble the actual journey at all. You may think that issues are well resolved in your call center or that the user experience on your website perfectly satisfies user needs. However, this might not be the case at all. There are a number of companies that provide customer experience analytics to analyze data from a number of journey sources and then create new, optimal journeys based on what they discovered. These new journeys can be overlaid with existing ones to see what gaps exist.

While your customer’s journey may be a long and winding road, there are dozens of technologies and platforms to help you along the way. One caveat however, as with all initiatives like this, start with strategy over tactics. Dive deep into customer research and align their goals with your objectives before mapping out the journey.  This syncing up at the outset is always a great place to start.

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