CX Touchpoints as Stepping Stones: Understanding the Customer Mission

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Many companies look upon the customer experience in terms of discrete touchpoints or channels. “We want to understand how customers experience the call center” or “What is the customer experience when they go to our website . . . mobile app . . . store . . .?”

This type of silo thinking is looking at the world from the wrong end of the telescope. Can you envision a house by looking at only one brick? By itself, a brush stroke on paper is meaningless; as one of thousands of such strokes by a Picasso it is a component of a masterpiece.

Similarly, measuring how customers interact at an individual touchpoint or even multiple channels without perspective is insufficient and potentially misleading. Those experiences have meaning only in the context of the Customer Mission – that is, what the customer is trying to accomplish – and they have impact – that is, affect the larger customer relationship – only if they strike an emotional chord that renders the interaction memorable.

So we need to do both – create emotionally positive experiences within the context of the entire customer journey. If we help our customers achieve their mission, we have laid the foundation for a positive interaction; if we leave a favorable emotional impactful, we will have created a memorable experience that results in positive behaviors.

The Mission and the Journey
Customers interact with companies to do something, to meet some objective. The Customer Mission is completed – or perhaps frustrated – through a Customer Journey comprised of one or, very often, a series of interactions with the company. Each touchpoint is a stepping stone along this path.

The Customer Mission gives meaning and context to touchpoint interactions. The objective is never simply to visit the website, walk into the store or restaurant, or call the company. Rather, customers go to the website to learn about the brand, check out the product line, or perhaps see where the company sources its fabrics and materials; they might go to the store to look for a specific item, see what’s on sale or simply browse for new fashion ideas; they might be contacting the call center for information on a recent purchase, to initiate a transaction or simply to change their address.

The specific interaction or touchpoint experience is given meaning by and is better understood in terms of the Customer Mission, not as a stand-alone interaction. The website may be great for getting information about the company, mediocre for finding and downloading product information, and absolutely horrible for placing an order. The call center might be very efficient for handling administrivia , acceptable at handling a disputed charge, but cumbersome and frustrating for information on the status of an order. The “average” website or call center performance isn’t very instructive, as it obscures the crucial information as to the specific successes delivered by and problems incurred at the touchpoint for different Missions.

Why does context matter? McKinsey found that performance on journeys is 30 to 40 percent more strongly correlated with customer satisfaction than performance on touchpoints is … and 20 to 30 percent more strongly correlated with business outcomes (“The truth about customer experience,” Harvard Business Review, September 2013).

Many “touches,” moreover, are completely forgettable and fleeting. This doesn’t mean, of course, that you can ignore performance in the hope that the customer forgets a miscue: after all, problems are a catalyst for the most enduring memories. But it does mean that once completed, most experiences simply fade and are forgotten, leaving no meaningful imprint on the customer relationship. Such experiences are mere sand castles.

If you want customer interactions to reinforce the larger relationship, you need to strike customers with positive emotions that impress upon them favorable memories. More importantly, it is critical to minimize the times when customers come away with a “bad taste,” as negative emotions can linger and undermine the overall relationship.

Journeys and MicroJourneys
Many Missions are simple and entail a single touchpoint: a customer logs onto their account to make a payment; another goes to an ATM to withdraw cash; a third calls the automated system for store hours. Others are more complex: having decided to, say, upgrade their cell phone (their Mission), the customer embarks on a Journey that involves a series of interactions or touchpoints they need to navigate to make this happen. There are, moreover, a number of different paths a customer can choose, each of which constitutes a MicroJourney.

• One customer, for example, searches for specific information about different phones online; they print out the different specs; they read formal product reviews and user blogs; they decide on the cell they want; they go to a provider’s store and ask for and purchase the phone they want; the customer proceeds to customize the new device.
• Another starts by searching for general information online but then goes to the provider’s store to see and handle different phones and ask for advice; the store representative gives their opinion on the relative merits of different phones; the customer tries various phones, takes a few pictures; the customer asks to have all of their pictures and contacts ported to their new phone; the rep suggests a class for new users; the customer wants a new user guide and is instructed that they can go home and download the guide.
• A third speaks with a rep at the call center and is directed to look online; the customer goes to the website, is frustrated and abandons the effort.

There is any number of variations or microJourneys for the same Mission.

This mission is completed (or frustrated) by customers pursuing a wide array of microJourneys involving both different and similar touchpoints. The Journey called “upgrading my phone” entails a wide array of different microJourneys or paths taken by different customers pursuing the same Mission. The touchpoints with which they engage, moreover, overlap with those used by other customers who might be purchasing accessories, handling administrative tasks, looking for additional information, complaining about a billing or other problem, wanting to increase their data or modify their plan.

The phone store might be involved in each of these Missions. In all likelihood, however, their performance varies depending, at least in part, on the customer Mission. To effectively measure, understand and manage the touchpoints requires a contextual understanding of what the customer ultimately was trying to accomplish and the interactions in which they engaged along their microJourney.

Touchpoint Experience Management
As companies increasingly seek to institutionalize the process of collecting customer feedback at the point of interaction, they need to take a step back and gain a sense of perspective. Yes, every touch is an opportunity to delight customers, deliver on the brand promise and reinforce the customer relationship. But it’s critical to understand the experience from the customer’s standpoint. For the customer, the interaction has a purpose; it’s a step along the path to a Mission.

Companies need to step beyond the type of inside-out thinking that wears blinders and sees the touchpoint experience as an end in-and-of-itself and recognize that customer interactions have meaning only in the context of the Journey to complete a Mission.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Agree. From my perspective, the key phrase in your post is “create emotionally positive experiences within the context of the entire customer journey”, followed by the key desired outcome, “memorable”. This will guide you through the microjourney and journey components which most leverage positive and negative downstream behavior.

  2. Howard, this strikes a chord. Agreed, in order to measure an outcome the intent is necessary. Still, let me give a little twist.

    I think of touch points as a menu out of which the customers choose the ones that are convenient at the time. Customer journeys consist of a (non linear) sequence of touch points that stretch from them identifying a need to them retiring the solution that fulfils the need. Touch points are offered by companies and selected by the customers. Every single customer journeys is different from the other and cannot be fully pre-planned by the company – nor should they be.

    I think so far we are in full agreement.

    Here comes my little twist: I do not think that companies need to invest much into every touch point they offer. Why? Because some (perhaps many) touch points do not or cannot differentiate the company. So the company needs to focus their efforts on the ones where it can effectively differentiate itself from the competition. There is no need to wow a customer everywhere. That only leads to a vicious circle of ever increasing expectations. Instead companies need to concentrate on the moments of truth, of which there are probably 4
    – the moment customers search for a solution
    – the moment they get first into touch with your product/solution
    – the moment(s) they experience it in use
    – the moment you managed to advocate for you

    I have described this model (which is not mine) in http://customerthink.com/customer-experience-management-and-customer-expectations/

    Two ct from Down Under
    Thomas
    @twieberneit

  3. Actually, we appear to be in near radical agreement: by no means did i mean to imply every touch matters. Far from it, as most interactions are fleeting and of little consequence — unless, of course, something blows up.

    Our agreements aside, I think the issue is more complex than your four moments of truth. Salience will vary depending on the customer, the underlying product or service, the type of interaction and — the point of my post — what the customer is trying to accomplish.

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