The results of cultivating a good understanding of customers and improving their experience are well understood. When excellent customer experience is achieved, marketers will better know how to engage with customers, consumers will be happier with our products and services, and, ideally, the business will have an improved bottom-line.
To improve customer experience to any great extent, though, the customer journey must be well understood by the organization as a whole. And, as anyone who has tried will know, understanding the customer journey is not a simple task.
To see where companies are in this regard, we surveyed nearly 1,000 marketers on this topic and published the results in a recent report in association with Emarsys, Understanding the Customer Journey in Asia Pacific.
Understanding the customer journey
What we found was that fully understanding the customer journey involves five key steps:
1) Building the business case
As mapping the customer journey requires spending in technology and resources, marketers must first convince management that the result will be measurable benefits for the business. Ideally the business case will include a designated team for completing this task.
2) Identifying the channels
Once the business decides to proceed, team members should start by looking at the various channels customers use to engage with the company. This is becoming especially difficult in the digital age in which consumers may research on channels which are outside of the company’s control.
3) Acquiring the data
After the channels have been identified, team members need to figure how they are going to measure how frequently customers use each channel and how effective each channel is for the business.
4) Joining the dots
Once the channels are identified and the data is in-hand, the team must consider the best ways to track customers through the channels. The methods will never be perfect, but marketers should review the numerous technologies available for tracking customers and pick one which best suits the appropriate channels.
5) Measuring effectiveness
Coming full circle, marketers must then be able to produce metrics which back up the business case they made in step one. Without knowing what specifically has been improved, the team will struggle to claim that their efforts matter to the business as a whole.
Then, once these steps are completed, marketers are able to use their new understanding of the customer journey to devise a strategy for improving the customer experience, both online and offline.
Where marketers are now
To find out how far along marketers feel their organisations are toward understanding the customer journey, we asked them to reflect on their progress over the wide range of activities above and rate their organisation as belonging to one of four categories.
The answers are presented in the chart below, and an overview of the answers and what each answer may indicate about the respondents’ organizations follows.
In any measurement of progress, there will always be those who have not yet started. As mapping the customer journey has been a priority for some time now, very few (3%) survey respondents consider themselves at this ‘non-existent’ stage of understanding.
For those who are in this state, the problem can be that business as usual is working well and companies do not feel the need to change. This notion should be challenged by forward-thinking marketers as the consensus is that companies now must differentiate on more than just price, they must instead focus on providing a great customer experience.
Building a business case to understand the customer journey, as described above, is an effective first step in doing so.
Many companies have started to think seriously about the customer journey and marketers are keenly aware of the many benefits of doing so.
However, once a company has a business case, a team of project members, and buy-in from stakeholders, issues start to emerge. Following analysis, team members may discover that there is quite a lot they don’t know about their customers and find it difficult to come up with next steps for mapping the customer journey.
Marketers at this level certainly have started on their way, but are still at a ‘beginner’ phase. Just over one in three (34%) of our respondents felt their companies were at this stage.
To move on, team members should ask themselves basic questions about their customers such as:
- What are the different touchpoints customers use to interact with our product / service?
- Is there data available to measure the effectiveness of each touchpoint?
- Do we have a single view of the customer? Or is the data spread out throughout the organization?
Answering these should go some way to identifying what the team needs to do to fill the gaps in their understanding of the customer journey.
Once the team has a plan to map the customer journey, they must then execute it. This involves many tasks such as identifying customer experience touchpoints, including the company’s website, mobile presence, in-store, and customer service centers.
On the bright side, nearly half (46%) of marketers surveyed feel like they are least on their way in this regard and so have rated themselves as having an ‘intermediate’ understanding of the customer journey. But less encouraging is that very few respondents (17%) indicated that they have moved past this stage and so they seem ‘stuck’ at this point.
Some of the roadblocks they face when trying to get all of the ‘pieces of the customer journey jigsaw’ include:
- acquiring customer data, both online and offline,
- accessing data, often locked up in department data silos, and,
- analyzing data with outdated, legacy technology solutions.
These issues slow teams down and so they end up stuck at an ‘intermediate’ level of understanding the customer journey. That is, they have some of the information, but cannot yet piece it all together.
Participants at a recent roundtable discussion held in Sydney had some suggestions for those facing these problems. They recommend that marketers:
- work to change the company culture to be more customer-focused,
- review the suitability of IT solutions for capturing data across touchpoints,
- build up analytics expertise regarding customer data, and,
- prove ROI to the business to ensure existing executive support for customer-based initiatives.
Marketers whose companies gathered the stakeholders, completed the tasks listed above and arrived at a ‘coordinated approach’ both online and offline categorize themselves as ‘advanced’. Achieving this level is a remarkable task and one which less than one in five (17%) have accomplished.
‘Advanced’ is where most organizations aim to be, however. In our 2017 global survey, 70% of respondents said that ‘optimizing the customer journey across multiple touchpoints’ will be ‘very important’ for them over the next few years.
To do so effectively, the companies who are ‘not advanced’ have a lot of work to do.
Econsultancy subscribers can download the full report: Understanding the Customer Journey in Asia Pacific.