Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in Internet Retailer.

Organize cross-discipline teams around distinct stages in the journey and manage each stage as you would a product. Eliminating a point of friction in the customer journey often requires a vision not to solve a marketing problem, but to build a better experience.

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Marketers know all too well the importance of the customer journey. While the outputs may vary, all journeys identify patterns in behaviors and map those interactions between a person and a brand across a myriad of touchpoints. Journeys are also phenomenal consensus-building tools. A well-researched, high-fidelity customer journey can be an excellent way to create a common understanding between brand managers, creative teams, business analysts, and media buyers.

But increasingly, the trouble spots in a customer journey are not solely the result of a marketing deficiency, and thus not easily solved simply by better marketing or communications.

“We need to think about the stages in a customer journey not as a chain of marketing problems to solve, but as a distinct product all on its own,” says DEG Strategy Director John Stauffer.

Consider a strategist assigned to a new retail client. She’s conducted a customer experience journey and discovered the following friction points along the way:

  • That the data revealed browsing products on the mobile website was cumbersome, and nearly a fifth of people preparing for an in-store visit decided to go elsewhere as a result of the poor experience, specifically the lack of a side-by-side product comparison feature.
  • That Glassdoor reviews revealed a mixture of positive and negative comments from employees, with many comments from salespeople who complained of a high-pressure culture and unattainable sales quotas.
  • That there was discrepancy in the terms and conditions for a product discount when comparing in-store signage to a paid display campaign currently in flight.
  • That the e-commerce conversion rate was only slightly above last year’s and below the target for the current year.
  • That in-store customer intercepts revealed four in five members of the retailer’s loyalty program were either unclear or unaware of the benefits to which they were entitled.
  • That, in a handful of occasions, when delivering products to a home, the delivery staff was unable or unwilling to haul away a customer’s old product (e.g. mattress, fridge) despite having been told this was included in the purchase price. While isolated, those incidents were posted to the local store’s Yelp! business page.
  • That post-purchase loyalty among those who chose to finance a purchase were negatively impacted by complex online bill pay portal, specifically that scheduling reoccurring monthly payments required an extraordinary set of steps to properly arrange when compared to auto, banking, or insurance autopay accounts.

Consider the nature of those problems. To solve the low points in this hypothetical journey, the strategists needs to marshal a combination of disciplines: some problems are a mix of marketing and sales, some are marketing and technology, and others are marketing and HR teams. Some are not marketing problems at all.

Yes, building great digital experiences requires great creative ideas. But it also requires the scale to deliver enterprise technology and alignment between the CIO and CMO, and coordination among a host of functional areas including HR, financing, delivery, and sales training.

As the industry moves from a media-driven, channel-driven perspective to one that’s more integrated and oriented around the customer experience, the teams working to solve for the problems in the journey need new ways of working.

A Product Mindset

Treating each step in the journey as a product changes one’s perspective. Like a product, a stage in the journey is the sum of many interlocking domains including design, engineering, user experience, media, and mobile.

To solve for this, we need to think about the stages in a customer journey not as a chain of marketing problems to solve, but as a distinct product all on its own. Treating each step in the journey as a product changes one’s perspective. Like a product, a stage in the journey is the sum of many interlocking domains including design, engineering, user experience, media, and mobile.

And, like any great product, it’s overseen by a product manager. Someone who acts as a sort of CEO for that product. Someone who can prioritize features, define market fit, make new ideas happen, and ensure it all stays aligned to the vision.

In the digital experience agency world, that role is typically a strategist. And, increasingly, those folks are discovering that to solve for a point of friction in the customer journey means to rally a cross-discipline team and define a vision not to solve a marketing problem, but to build a better experience.

This requires a unique set of four focus areas:

1: Create an Taxonomy for Critical Moments in the Experience

To be effective, strategists need to create a common language to define each stage. This includes a specific definition for how and why a person both enters and exits this stage. The taxonomy should be objective and well-understood among an interdisciplinary team. Every journey will have its own unique classification system. Some common ways may include understanding the degree to which a stage in the journey is low or high consideration, the degree to which a stage in the journey occurs in public or private, and if it is part of an established routine or new behavior. At DEG, we deploy a Moment Matrix planning tool as our own way to classify the taxonomy for each critical experience. Building the dictionary is critical in coordinating cross-disciplinary teams working to solve for the biggest challenges in the journey.

2: Select the Right Narrative Arc

Too often, marketers apply a linear time-based narrative arc to journey work despite knowing full well the chaotic, messy, nonlinear nature of real people. It can be tempting to borrow the traditional marketing funnel as the scaffolding for the journey. But true digital experience work requires an understanding of context—what are people doing, thinking, saying, feeling—inspired by the principles of design thinking. A stage in the journey could be as fast as one click when a lead downloads a whitepaper. Or, a stage in the journey could span months of enduring back pain before someone decides it’s finally time to talk to a doctor.

Like any product, a stage in the journey must have key indicators of success, informed by analytics capturing all dimensions of the stage.

A national movie-theater chain recently developed a journey focused on going to the movies. It revealed more than two-dozen small decision points clustered around the where, when, with whom—questions inherent to every movie ticket purchase. Many of those decisions were made, then reversed, then made again. Digital experience strategists know when to choose a narrative arc organized as broadly as major life stages, or as narrow as a daily routine of getting a cup of coffee, and everywhere in between.

3: Collect and Organize Experience Analytics

Like any product, a stage in the journey must have key indicators of success, informed by analytics capturing all dimensions of the stage. This is not simply campaign performance metrics, but also customer-driven analytics relevant to that stage in the journey inclusive of customer care, in-store experience, search and browsing behaviors, word of mouth, net promoter scores, and employee advocacy. To rally teams, decide on a single key indicator that reflects a brand’s effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) and a cluster of smaller, diagnostic metrics that serve as levers teams can pull to improve performance.

4: Understand Current Capabilities

Like a product manager, a strategist’s job is to build a roadmap of activations organized around the projected level of impact and effort. But too often, what’s proposed is so far afield from what the organizer can reasonably handle, that nothing gets done. Sure, this big idea may win awards if executed properly, but does the client have a master data management solution in place that will allow delivery of a personalized experience? Suddenly, there’s a host of non-marketing related dependencies to tackle before that idea takes flight.

2019 Marketing Trends Across Digital Channels

At DEG, to help manage this, we deploy a diagnostic tool designed to understand current-state capabilities across nine dimensions. From there, we can better answer both the impact and effort sides of the equation for all future executions. This includes “foreground” capabilities like personalized content and mobile apps to “background” capabilities like data strategy, business processes, and resources. Like a product manager, strategists need to constantly balance the “impact” and “effort” sides of the equation when building roadmaps.

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