Customer Journey Management – Q&A with Sheila McGee-Smith

We recently sat down with communications industry analyst and strategic consultant Sheila McGee-Smith, of McGee-Smith Analytics, for a Q&A session on a topic that seems to be on everyone’s mind in the customer experience industry today: customer journeys! Below is a recap of the conversation, providing great insight on why customer journeys are increasingly important to delivering a great experience and how companies can get started on the path to optimized customer journey management.

What are the components of a customer journey today?

A customer journey is a collection of steps that a customer takes – in the words of business thought leader Clayton Christensen – to get a job done. It recognizes that customers do not interact with a company one interaction at a time, but in a series of sometimes iterative steps to complete some task – and this often occurs over different channels, involving different people within the company. The task could be a simple one, “Find out if a bill payment check cleared,” or a complex one, “Choose the best big screen television for the family room.”

For even the simplest questions, e.g., “Did the check clear?” there are typically multiple steps in the customer journey: find the telephone number for the bank, dial into the voice portal, enter security information, select checking account and finally input the check number. For that same task, there could be a completely different set of customer journey steps if the consumer wants to use a mobile device: download bank mobile application, create mobile app account, check cleared checks, decide to contact bank for assistance, choose between a voice or chat interaction… and so on. With the “Choose a television” task, the number of steps would likely extend to include research on the Internet, getting advice from family and friends, and visiting a retail outlet to see various choices. And each of these journey steps might send the customer back to an earlier step to begin again. Often, the more complex the journey, the more channels that customer use.

Unfortunately, most of today’s customer experience platforms and applications were not designed to track connected customer events over a period of time and a number of different channels, e.g., mobile, web, contact center interactions. New solutions, that often include predictive analytics, have been designed to both track and predict the path a customer journey will take – so that a business can ease the journey and maximize its returns.

Why is the C-Suite talking about customer journey?

As recently as 10 years ago, if a consumer wanted to buy a product or service, they went into a retail location or picked up the Yellow Pages to find a provider. The customer journey from shopping to buying a product was relatively short and the consumer likely had very few interactions with the company. The increasingly digital, empowered customer of today typically starts their journey to a purchase in any one of number of new places or channels, but it’s probably online and long before they decide the talk to a real person. It may be exploring an electronic retail consolidator (like Amazon) or a social venue, like Facebook or Twitter, to look at reviews and to ask friends and family for suggestions. This is increasingly as true for consumer as for business purchases. CEOs and C-Level executives recognize that this change in buying behavior requires corresponding changes in how the company creates and manages their customers’ experience, moving from focusing on single interactions to optimizing the end to end customer journey.

Once the types of journeys are defined by the company, CMOs must identify the steps taken by buyers during those journeys and provide content and context that moves customers toward successful outcomes – for both the customer and the company.  It quickly becomes clear that optimizing customer journeys requires involvement of the entire business – not just marketing.

The CIO organization is also an integral part of implementing and supporting the required applications and processes, as well as gathering and analyzing mountains of data to predict customer behavior during journeys. The CEO and CFO are enticed by the reported returns from exploiting customer journeys – decreased costs to serve, increased direct and add-on sales and increased customer “stickiness.”

How does a Customer Journey approach benefit customers?

When a company begins to look at their engagements as a series of customer journeys that consumers and businesses are on to get jobs done, they can better understand how to provide the “wow factor” that will keep customers coming back. One obvious way is to shorten a customer’s journey – instead of a five step process, make it two by using information the company has readily available. Providing employees with full context of the customer’s previous interactions is also critical to ensuring a smooth and often shorter customer journey.

For example, American Express matches my home phone number to my account when I call, obviating the need for me to find my credit card, input the 16-digit number, input the number again when I fat-finger and make a mistake, and answering up to 3 security questions correctly. I love American Express, especially compared to the credit union I use that continues to verify my address, telephone number and email address – EVERY TIME I CALL.

What’s the business benefit of managing customer journeys?

From a company point of view, the benefits come from inserting the right information and customer context at the appropriate point in the customer’s journey. If customers tend to visit a website early in the journey of deciding on a big screen television purchase, offering comparative data on how your sets compare favorably to competitors’ is good content to provide to make sure the continuing journey includes your company’s products. If the next step is often to visit a retail outlet to physically inspect the alternatives, offering a “Where to Find” guide with the comparative data is the right answer. In the end, businesses stand to gain increased revenue, more efficient operations and better customer loyalty when taking a customer journey management approach.

How can a company get started incorporating a customer journey approach into their customer experience culture?

The good news is that the most important customer journeys – the ones that most dramatically impact bottom-line revenue – are easily identified. If you are an airline, “Buying an Airline Ticket” is the journey you want to optimize. If you are an insurance company, customers will evaluate your company and your brand based on the “Reporting a Claim” journey they take.

Identifying the steps that customers must take to accomplish their task using your company’s procedures is the part of the customer journey that is both relatively easy to identify and to impact. How can you streamline the process using information you know about the customer and what he is trying to do?

The contact center is often an integral part of many customer journeys – and the place to start is recognizing that customers are on a journey and ascertaining where they are along that journey. Keeping track of the customer activities and making that available in real-time to agents in the contact center is a great place to start. Once contact centers have begun capturing and analyzing journey information – and especially successful journeys – this information should be shared with other department leaders like CMOs and line of business heads to inform marketing, product and support decisions. The ultimate goal would be to create cross-department/cross company teams that work together to break down the company silos customers usually face in their journey.

Thanks for reading, and please let us know if you have any comments below!