Article

Kresten Bergsøe
Kresten Bergsøe 20 June 2016

The Future of Customer Journeys

The customer journey is at the heart of the digital transformation and tells the story of a customer's experience interacting with a company. While focusing on customer journey mapping as a means of improving customer engagement, satisfaction and long-term loyalty is gaining traction among marketers, there are two very different methodologies of how to approach it.

Marketers plan typical customer journeys and prepare the best ways to interact with customers at each stage of the journey. While focusing on customer journey mapping as a means of improving customer engagement, satisfaction and long-term loyalty is gaining traction among marketers, there are two very different methodologies of how to approach it.

The static flowchart customer journey and the real time segmentation methodology.

Flowcharts

The typical approach relies on a number of static customer journey maps like this:

The flowchart approach offers two advantages:

  • Control and visibility – The marketer knows exactly what each customer will get at each point of the process map, and in what order, because the marketer designed it in advance.
  • Easier internal communication – Because the flowchart can be shown to other people in the organization visually, it is easy to explain the plan and communicate about it with other people in the company.

The flowchart of customer journeys is a powerful way for marketers to visualize how they engage their customers. Flowchart customer journeys are great for the traditional marketing funnel, which is linear. However it is limiting, and typically only succeed at addressing a fraction of one's total customer base. When customers jump around from one stage to another, skipping particular stages and even going backwards (e.g., to return to behaviors typical of earlier customer life cycle stages) the flowchart structure tends to show its limitations:

  • Flowchart journeys are static – pre-planned journeys can only cover common paths that customers take, but they cannot address unplanned or deviations in customer behavior.
  • Limited flexibility – pre-planned flowchart journeys cannot cover every scenario, inevitably leaving many customers behind, or treated too generally, or even incorrectly.
  • Flowchart journeys relies heavily on the marketer's inherent abilities – only few marketers will be able to foresee and visualize the huge number of different journeys to adequately cover all scenarios.
  • Flowchart structure assumes a single journey for each customer – It is difficult to manage, modify or combine multiple journey maps, even though many customers shift behavior from one path to another during their journey.

Just imagine the typical customer journey of web interactions on the average ecommerce transaction. It typically takes multiple visits, multiple devices and lots of pageviews on different categories before the first product are added to the basket - even more before the basket converts into a transaction.

Covering this use case with static customer journey maps and predefined interactions is almost impossible to do. During most of the customer life cycle, there are literally an infinite number of different combinations of behaviors and paths that customers can take. In order to most effectively communicate with each individual customer in the context of his/her actual activities, behaviors and preferences, the pre-planned map-based approach simply won’t work. No matter what customer journey maps a marketer can plan, customers will inevitably follow many different journeys of their own. Customers will not follow it exactly, rendering it irrelevant to those customers. To make it more relevant to more customers, the marketer needs to continually add more and more nodes and branches to the map. Covering just a few more common customer journeys will quickly force even the smartest and most motivated marketer to create an exponentially more complex flowcharts. These limitations essentially make it unsuitable for managing the journeys of the majority of your customer base. In reality the flowchart structure is not manageable and the cost increase exponentially with the complexity - so it is not financially sustainable either.

Handle infinite journeys using real time segmentation

A newer, and more comprehensive, approach takes a completely different track: instead of pre-planning the various journeys that a customer might take, this approach focuses on dynamically segmenting customers based on their behavioral profile.

This approach focuses on using customer data and a set of criteria defined by the marketer to segment the customers. Each segment has its own call to action and storyboard of experiences to served in specific locations of the customer journey. Segments are calculated for every customer in real-time. These criteria may include any combination of profile information such as:

  • Previous Visitor
  • Visitor is a Customer
  • Customer historic transactions are in top 10%.
  • Customer total number of site visits is in top 20% of site visitors.
  • Total product views in this session is in top 20% of all site visitors.
  • Customer has previously purchased within the last 180 days.
  • Customers top product category interest is xxx
  • Customers top product interest is xxx
  • Customer responded to xxx PPC campaign on Google Adwords

The nature of this structure is that customers enter and exit segments dynamically - simply by consuming content and responding with different behavioral patterns and treated accordingly. This resembles what a personal salesman would do in real life - constantly responding to what he learns about his customer. It could look something like this:

Or it could be built like stages in a traditional conversion funnel. No matter how you slice your journey stages every customer receive targeted experiences at that particular point in his/her journey when they enter or exit a segment on their journey.

The main advantages of the real time segmentation approach to managing customer journeys are:

  • Dynamic and adaptive – customers are treated based on the segments in which they are presently located, each customer's experience continuously adapts itself to changes in the individual customer behavior.
  • Multi-dimensional - customers may be in multiple segments at the same point in time and be served messages accordingly. This way you can address the customer on multiple levels and with multiple subjects simultaneously.
  • Easy to scale and evolve – simply by adding more segments – and the most effective experiences for each – the number of customer journeys handled can increase rapidly, even exponentially, without having to re-engineer anything that was previously built.
  • Greater experience depth – focusing on customer segments allows the marketer to easily write and design content and entire experiences that deeply address the customer's current state. No assumptions or guessing is required as segments is always calculated by the individual customer profile.
  • Higher reach - no customer is left behind, this approach can easily serve relevant messaging to every customer, at every point in the journey. There is no need to limit treatments to particular junctions on particular pre-planned paths.

The real time segmentation approach does not force the marketer to consider and define "hard-coded" journeys. Instead, the marketer need only consider – and address – the customer's "behavioral DNA" at any point in time, without necessarily worrying about how the customer reached that point.

Customer-journey-map.jpg

In this approach, customers create their own unique journeys, and the marketer is always ready for them, with the best messages, offers and incentives – no matter how they arrived at the segment where they are right now.

This approach is infinitely more flexible, and therefore more powerful. The marketer can begin by defining a limited number of customer segments, and the related experiences that each member of the segments should receive to encourage them to take a desired action. As time goes on, the marketer can define more segments to ensure that more and more customer journeys are covered.

The realtime segmentation approach allows marketers to address an infinite number of different customer journeys, by focusing on customer segments and what to communicate, instead of hard-coded, pre-conceived paths. This approach provides greater reach with greater flexibility and adaptability, but more importantly, it delivers a better customer experience.

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