The Customer Process: The Five Things You Need To Know Now


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Recently, Esteban Kolsky (who also posted this on his blog), Brian Vellmure and Krissy Espindola were summarized in a white paper from NICE based on their roundtable discussion on The Customer Journey: The Five Things You Need To Know Now. No, I’m not planning to dismantle it. But, what I’d like to do is put my twist (and expand) on this topic in order to more completely address (in my opinion) the challenges of companies that want to become customer-centric; but default to mental models that don’t really separate them from the pack. It’s one thing to be really good at what you do, it’s altogether another thing to do the right thing; even if you don’t do it all that well at first. This is more about service innovation, and not surprisingly, I have a slightly different take on the world.

As a quick recap of my thinking, customer journeys take a look at your current service and the experiences that your customers have as they execute the journey. We can find places where they are unhappy, discouraged, super excited, etc. This is worthwhile work if you know, I mean really know, that the service you are offering is the best option in the market. Even then, you might be looking for ways to add cost to a service (make it premium) whose features already overserve the vast majority of the market (especially non-consumers of your service).

For instance, if you serve commuters with a train service, you must believe that incremental improvements in the train experience will provide the best experience options, at the right price, for morning commuters; for example. Another example might be the horse buggy business; but I’ve already buggy-whipped that one to death.

Journey map inputs you receive are in the context of your service, and the odd chance that you will collect an indicator of an emerging threat are lagging indicators at best; and non-repeatable very likely. In order to be truly customer-centric, while also holding a strategic market advantage, you need indicators that are forward-looking. By this I mean that if updated over time, they will clearly depict where perceived value is shifting to in the value chain. Customer journeys simply don’t get you there; nor does traditional VOC (Voice of the Customer). When attempting to grow the business (almost always) companies are faced with disrupting themselves, or being disrupted by others, and neither of these realities are well received.

So, let me attempt to evaluate the Customer Process across five similar categories (in no way am I suggesting five is the right number, or the wrong number).

In the world of outside-in process, you will often hear how to look at a company’s process from the outside-in. We start at the point of the final transaction and we work our way back through the process asking how steps add value to the customer along dimensions like speed and quality. I have problems with this because it focuses on existing processes, much like a customer journey focuses on specific services. The other big problem is the goods-dominant logic built-in to this approach. We are assuming that value is transacted at an exchange event (the end-point of the company’s process).

Using the lens of Service Dominant Logic, we understand that products are actually services, and that value is co-created between company and customer during the use of the service. Just as importantly, we understand that a customer is trying to get a job done when they hire a service. When this job (which is a solution agnostic process) is deconstructed into steps, we understand that they have multiple needs at each step which they evaluate relative to importance and satisfaction (Net Promoter Score not required).

So, each step is a chance to co-create value through resources that enable the customer, or through resources which can be integrated with other resources (by the customer, or you the company can help there too). However, you need to understand one more thing: value will not be optimized until the customer gets the entire job done; whether you can see the steps or not (green steps). Visualizing those invisible touch points (including that last step) in a quantifiable fashion is critical; and these steps are clear opportunities for a company to find new ways to co-create value with a customer, and thereby enhance the overall experience.

Mapping the customer process (before designing solutions) is critical in order to understand quantifiable value at a granular level, as well as at a high level. It must start from the ground up in order to have the sort of actionable message themes from the customer you need to make strategic bets before anyone else. Understand what your customer is trying to accomplish first, using this approach, to make sure you are providing the right service; and then use the same approach to measure how well your service is being consumed (and you can also use it to monitor the consumption of competing services).

In the world of customer journeys, each journey may very well be different. This is the beauty of job mapping: we are looking at a solution agnostic process of what steps are required to get a job done; not the process of using a specific service. In order to do this we need to make some distinctions:

  1. Getting to work in the morning: this is a job that a customer is trying to get done. They may opt to take the train, they may drive, walk, or ride a bike. Context is important; such as what options are available, and what constraints (budget, time, etc.) a particular customer might have. Taking a train to work as a journey, is only partly helpful.
  2. Purchasing a ticket; e.g., for a commuter train: this is one of many consumption jobs. There are steps a customer will go through to determine what options are available during this job (maybe comparing bus to train) and understanding this will help a company with their job of selling the ticket.

It’s highly unlikely that a single map will get your job done any more that a single number will tell you how awesome you’re doing; or what specific strategies must be employed if you’re not so awesome. You may need to deconstruct each step as a separate job and create metrics for them as well. While marketing will greatly benefit from this process, this is not a marketing job.

Once again, optimization is great if you are already doing the right thing. The problem is that the right thing changes over time; because while customers continue to get to work in the morning, and they will define the perfect execution of that job the same way over time (the underlying customer metrics), the weight they give these metrics will change as their perception of value will change as new solutions emerge over time – and features ultimately overserve a market whose needs have shifted across the value chain. It would benefit companies to see this early (in a repeatable process), so they can get ahead of the game (they might not be in the train industry anymore). Look at what Tesla is doing; they may not be in the car industry much longer if a larger growth market appears (and that might be happening with batteries – we’ll see). The key is their willingness to find new growth markets and not show blind devotion to their core business. Will journey mapping a train ride make any sense when we get Star Trek transporter technology? Oh, perhaps for some.

Oh, this is so true, but what customers are not saying could be the biggest miss of all. The proper form of feedback must be created in order to bring predictability and usability to the forefront. As Tony Ulwick puts it, the problem with VOC (Voice of the Customer) is that there is no agreement on what a need is. This is both true across functional areas of a business (R&D, Marketing, Sales, etc.) as well as across businesses and industries. He states:

  • Companies do not know what inputs to capture
  • Customers do not know what inputs are needed
  • Customers offer “requirements” in a language that is convenient to them
  • Many firms try to translate the inputs into something useful
  • A mix of input types results
  • Inconsistency in structure, content and format is common
  • Success is not always achieved

As a result, companies determine that customers don’t know what they want, or that their requirements change too rapidly over time. In fact, the most important feedback we can capture is related to what our customers need. Therefore, what companies need is a more systematic method of structuring and measuring what customers need.

Customers purchase services (and products) to help them get functional, emotional and social jobs done. Each step of a deconstructed job is where customers (even though they may not know it) use forward-looking metrics which define exactly what the successful execution of the job should look like. In the terminology of outcome-based logic, these metrics are called desired outcomes; and are each equivalent to a specific customer need, at a specific step in the process.

There can be scores of these metrics for any particular job. And keep in mind that you will want to look at related jobs and consumption jobs as well; so it can be a bit more work than we’re accustomed to. In a nutshell, there is only one form of feedback that is forward-looking, consistent in value, and repeatable; and it can be used in a variety of ways.

There are a number of dimensions through which customers evaluate a service (or product).

  • Speed: while not all jobs have to be done quickly, they do need to operate within contextual time constraints. A customer might wish to minimize the time it takes to accomplish something; but they might also want to increase the likelihood that they can accomplish something within time constraints (e.g., obtain as much rest as possible before morning)
  • Stability: This relates closely to consistency, where it’s important the inputs into a process, or outputs from the process are more predictable.
  • Output: A customer may wish to scale, and volume could be constrained by waste and inefficiency. Therefore finding ways to eliminate obstacles is a key category for customer metrics.

Surveys around effort are nice, but they completely lack context. Some jobs simply can’t be “easy” today. Take, for example, understanding customer needs. I wouldn’t say the process I’m describing is easy, but it’s far more stable and provides better output than other options available. It’s also faster to target new opportunities to co-create value in current and emerging markets. Another common assumption is cost which is also contextual; just ask the owner of Ferrari.

If you understand customer needs (functional, emotional, and social) at each step where value is co-created between the company and the customer, you will be creating the experience with hard data that can be updated fairly easily over time. This will feed back into your product/service innovation, marketing, sales, and support processes (etc.).

Once you have built an effective targeting system for perceived value in getting jobs done, you need to determine what the current level of capabilities within your organization and/or the market are. The underlying article talked about obsolescence, and the need to make sure you aren’t investing in service models that will completely change in five years. A suggestion was to “build an infrastructure that enables customers to get what they want.” This deserves further exploration…

One thought leader I follow is Simon Wardley from CSC’s Leading Edge Forum. He has developed an interesting way to understand the dynamics of the value chain called Strategy Mapping (although it appears he has recently renamed this to “Value Chain” Mapping). Essentially, new services (or products) begin in the genesis category where everything is custom and expensive. Eventually, over time it moves toward commodity as components standardize, and possibly even to utility.

I would agree that placing huge bets on building infrastructure that has already (or will soon) become a service makes far less sense than building a genesis service on top of a platform; which is likely built on a set of technology standards that used to be in the genesis category individually. However, someone has to make those initial genesis bets and generally, the timeline for disruption is far longer than 5 years. As Simon corrected me, the length of these cycles is still decades.

I think what we will all agree with is that investing in custom solutions to interface with customers in a multi-channel way, when you can subscribe to a multi-channel capable service, makes little sense. However, if you are in the business of providing a service to customers, you may very well be building custom solutions that are expensive because it is new, highly profitable, and there are few competitors. In that case, obsolescence will likely not occur in 5 years (unless you really don’t know what you’re doing!).

Visualization is important. However, we need to make certain we are not looking backwards (existing solutions) when striving for customer-centricity, and we need to be certain that we can put a number to the experience at each step of the way. I’ve probably expanded well beyond the scope of the round table discussion; but I get to do that! As usual, the comment box is below. Go for it J

Giving Customers a Fair Hearing

The Customer-centered Innovation Map

Turn Customer Input into Innovation

Simon Wardley’s Blog

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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