A while ago I wrote a piece in which I asked to not manage the customers’ journeys for them but to instead embrace the notion that customers do manage their own journey.
A short while after, I also co-hosted a CRMKonvo with long time thought leader Graham Hill, who puts in-depth thought to this topic from a service-dominant logic point of view. He says that “Customers don’t plan out their journeys in detail, instead, journeys ‘emerge’, one interaction at a time. We should design service experiences to allow interactions to emerge, not around fixed journeys”. He continues that it is our job “to create experience platforms that enable customers to interact with us faster, easier and better. What customers actually do is up to them. The more we constrain customers’ behaviour, particularly through rigid service experience design, the more customers are likely to continue their journey with someone else, or to abandon it entirely”.
Don’t manage your customers’ journeys
Customer journeys are as individual as customers. Every customer has different needs, preferences, knowledge, information, and another way for resolving issues. In brief, everyone has a context of their own. Customer journeys are often non-linear and move across different devices. In between there very well might be some offline steps. Customer journeys are a sequence of mutual interactions or engagements towards a goal. They can, in fact, be compared to conversations, which are also not linear.
With this thinking, it is a fast transition to the thought that your customers will manage (and orchestrate) their journeys individually and for themselves. Consequently, there is no need to design their journeys for them. It is even counterproductive. Instead, provide them with the platform and the channel independent menu of interconnected contact points that help them to achieve their objective, their way. This, of course, requires a set of tools and methods. Chief of these are strong customer journey analytics and a mapping of customer journeys that include the identification of pain points.
This platform has some more tasks that need to be fulfilled, though.
The very first of it is having as clean and usable as possible customer data. This data needs to be collected from the customer and with the consent of the customer to be valuable in the context. This is because customer data is only valuable if it is applied to a situation and with a purpose. The purpose needs to be to help the customers towards the next step of their journey. This, of course, while keeping the interests of the company in mind, as well. Collecting, organizing, and making this data available in context for business processes is the core job of a customer data platform. In context, because it is the customers’ need that shall be fulfilled at the end of the day – and for this it is necessary to have the current customer context.
Once we have the context, we can start into segmentation by customer interest, stage in the customer journey, and more criteria that can and will differ between businesses. Still, these criteria mandatorily include how important a specific customer is to the business. This business-oriented set of criteria determines which next interaction offers the business is ready to make a specific customer to choose from. These offers often will differ between customer segments. As an example: think tiered loyalty programs. Some services are available to every member, others rather only to members of the top tier.
Once we have established this, it is possible to personalize business reactions to customer actions (or inactivity). In an ideal world, this personalization is even an individualization – something that in current hyperbole is called “hyper personalization”. Personalization – individualization – is about connecting some dots, in particular the customer, her context, and the content that (s)he is interested in, that answers the immediate question.
You may have realized that I didn’t talk about channels so far. The reason for this is that the channel does not yet come into the picture. The customer doesn’t care about channels, only for getting the desired outcome of an interaction with the business. Even worse, a business does not necessarily know which communications channel the customer uses for the next step. This also means that the “content” that gets determined as part of the individualization is still channel-agnostic. The way of delivering it to the customer is still to be determined.
This is where real-time interaction management (RTIM) comes into the game. RTIM is all about connecting four of the five all-important Cs: customer, context, content, and channel. As a result, the customer gets the reply, the content, via the channel of her choice.
The fifth C, the conversation, is the job of customer journey orchestration. With the context and information that is given by the previous layers, a customer journey orchestration engine lays the foundation for the next interaction, the next part of the conversation. While RTIM takes care of the individual interaction with the customer, customer journey orchestration helps the customer (and the business) to achieve the desired result efficiently. It has a strong forward-looking element. Again, this without the benefit of a preplanned and predesigned journey.
So, how to put this into life?
Now, this was a whole lot of theory. The good news is that this is possible to implement, likely even without a whole lot of new tools that need to be deployed, probably only one, assuming that up to and until the segmentation stage everything is in place. RTIM and journey orchestration can e.g. both covered by Kitewheel or Thunderhead. In fact, Thunderhead is the only leader in both 2020 Forrester Waves, the one on Real-Time Interaction Management, and the one on Journey Orchestration Platforms.
Still, the first place to get there is to be clear about what your customers and you want to achieve. What is it your customers contact you for? What do you stand for? What interaction points do you want to offer to which customers? Where are your customers’ and your priorities? How do they achieve their desired results? Where are their pain points? Answering these (and more) questions at least for a part of the customer objectives is paramount to start. Being able to do this requires a good deal of conceptual and analytical work. The good news is that there are quite some sources of information to prepare this, starting from server and app logs, going on to survey results, and even customer journey mapping.
From there on, can you identify your customers, even if they did not register? Do you have consents and interests explicitly given by your customers? It might be that you have. If not, enable this. It is not only mandatory by law (GDPR, CCPA come to mind) but also a good practice. Good, clean customer data that is voluntarily given and used for the purpose, builds trust and helps you to better help your customer.
Decide, which customer outcomes to improve and support – orchestrate – first. This is where RTIM and customer journey orchestration will be implemented as a minimum viable product.
Once these first orchestrations exist, it is time to build and maintain a prioritized portfolio of continuous improvement of the existing orchestrations and extending the orchestration capabilities.
Again, a think big – act small strategy.
Based upon a strategic approach and strong real-time customer journey analytics, this is the most powerful way to help your customers achieve their objectives their way and at their pace, making you more successful as a result.