There was a great article in the Harvard Business Review, “The Truth About Customer Experience,” that shows more importantly than focusing on providing the customer with good discrete interactions you should focus on the entire journey. Interestingly, even if you have great metrics at each touch point (e.g., people are satisfied with onboarding, customer services call are resolved positively), overall customer satisfaction may be negative because of the holistic customer journey.
The article uses the example of new customer onboarding for a pay TV provider to show how the journey can be negative even when each touchpoint gets positive feedback. As the article describes, “Take new-customer onboarding, a journey that typically spans about three months and involves six or so phone calls, a home visit from a technician, and numerous web and mail exchanges. Each interaction with this provider had a high likelihood of going well. But in key customer segments, average satisfaction fell almost 40% over the course of the journey. It wasn’t the touchpoints that needed to be improved—it was the onboarding process as a whole. Most service encounters were positive in a narrow sense—employees resolved the issues at hand—but the underlying problems were avoidable, the fundamental causes went unaddressed, and the cumulative effect on the customer was decidedly negative.”
The root of the problem is that many customer focused functions (sales, CS, community management) are siloed in different organizations that have individual and insular cultures. These groups shape how the company interacts with consumers but although they may aim to optimize their contributions they lose focus of the customers desires.
The article describes four ways that companies can overcome this problem, effectively embedding the customer journey into your operational process. It is not about removing the functions but building an internal system that looks at customers holistically.
Identifying key journeys
First, you need to define the journeys that matter. Understand from the customers’ perspective what is important to them and how they achieve this goal. Potential journeys for a game company could be changing devices (going from an iPhone to an Android phone), playing with a friend or family member or the purchase process.
You can approach improving the journey in three ways:
- Top-down: Your leadership team sees the journey holistically and adjusts the touchpoints to improve the experience.
- Judgment-driven evaluations: Often needed with a more a longer, more involved customer journey. In this approach the leadership creates a detailed roadmap for each journey, that describes the process from beginning to end, takes into account the business impact of optimizing the journey and lays out a feasible sequence of initiatives.
- Data-driven bottoms-up: The bottoms-up effort begins with additional research into customers’ experiences of their journeys and which ones have the greatest impact to both the customer and your company. This effort includes surveying customers and employees and reviewing customer data (when they churn, spend, etc). Ideally, you would use regression models or other predictive analytics to understand the impact both on users and your company. For many companies, combining operational, marketing, and customer and competitive research data to understand journeys is a first-time undertaking, and it can be a long process—sometimes lasting several months. The benefit, though, is that it allows management to see the customer’s experience of various journeys and decide which ones to prioritize.
Understanding current performance
The second key to building a strong internal system to optimize the customer experience is looking at each element of the customer journey and understand the causes of current performance. This deep dive involves additional research, including customer and employee focus groups or surveys and call monitoring. Combined with the initial bottom-up analysis, it allows the company to map the most significant variations of each journey as the customer experiences it, revealing the sequence of steps from beginning to end. The mapping exercise also exposes departures from the ideal customer experience and their causes, and often reveals policy choices or company processes that unintentionally generate adverse results.
Redesigning the experience and engaging the front line
The third step in overhauling the customer experience is engaging employees to implement the improvements you have developed. You may have identified the key journeys, taken stock of the current situation, but even the biggest improvements will fail if they do not have the support of the employees responsible for execution. You should actually avoid solutions that do not involve the employees having a key role in shaping the outcome.
Even if a fix appears obvious from the outside, the root causes of poor customer experience always stem from the inside, often from cross-functional disconnects. Only by getting cross-functional teams together to see problems for themselves and design solutions as a group can companies hope to make fixes that stick.
Change the mind-set
Finally, analyzing journeys and redesigning service processes get you only so far. Implementing the changes across your company is hugely important—and hugely challenging. Delivering at scale on customer journeys requires two high-level changes:
- Modifying the organization and its processes to deliver excellent journeys
- Adjusting metrics and incentives to support journeys, not just touchpoints
As I have argued in other posts, a customer-centric attitude is again a key to success. If you focus the organization on the customer journey you can move from siloed functions to bottoms-up innovation. The article points out that “most companies keep their functional alignments intact and add cross-functional working teams and processes to drive change. To that end, many companies we have studied set up a central change leadership team with an executive-level head to steer the design and implementation and to ensure that the organization can break away from functional biases that have historically blocked change. These roles tend not to be permanent—indeed, success ultimately involves changing company culture so much that the roles are no longer needed—but they are critical in the early years. “
By focusing on the customer journey and not simply the results of each “silo,” you can resolve some of your company’s biggest issues. New user and existing customer churn, decreased spending, poor word-of-mouth, etc. It comes down to understand your customer holistically and focusing on improving their overall experience.
- Even if you have good metrics for individual customer touchpoints, you may have overall negative customer satisfaction because their journey is not good.
- You need to move away from delivering services to the customer from different silos (sales, customer service, community, etc), define the key customer journeys and build a process for delivering a satisfying experience.
- With a focus on the customer experience, you can overcome some of your company’s key issues, including churn, monetization and word of mouth.