Guest Blogger

This is an abridged extract from ‘Marketing to the Entitled Customer: How to Turn Unreasonable Expectations into Lasting Relationships’ by Nick Worth and Dave Frankland, with Josh Bernoff.

Customer experience is crucial to a company’s success. If customers have a great experience — that is, if they get what they’re looking for every step of the way with your company and don’t encounter frustrating obstacles — they’re much more likely to become loyal customers.

There’s a whole science now developing around customer experience and how to optimize it. But, for marketers in particular, the traditional view of customer experience may be getting in the way of delivering relevance in every channel, based on all the data the company can bring to bear. The traditional view of customer experience begins with a customer journey — a series of steps the customer takes to get from point A (say, never having heard of your brand) to point B (say, buying your product). To improve that customer journey, you are supposed to create a “journey map”: a diagram of how the customer gets from here to there.

As author and Frog Design veteran Adam Richardson describes it in an article on the Harvard Business Review online, “A customer journey map is a very simple idea: a diagram that illustrates the steps your customer(s) go through in engaging with your company, whether it be a product, an online experience, retail experience, or a service, or any combination.”

This exercise of journey mapping is definitely a useful way to identify sticking points within the customer’s experience. For example, the financial services company Barclays Africa used journey mapping to examine how customer service agents handled complaints. It created a map of that journey featuring all the steps and pitfalls in detail. It then turned that map into a learning tool that it used to train agents to quickly identify the root cause of customers’ problems. And, as Forrester found, after the customer experience function itself, the group most likely to be involved in these journey-mapping initiatives was marketing.

The problem is that marketers use the same term to mean something very different. In most marketing departments, what’s actually happening is a distorted caricature of this disciplined journey-mapping process. The “journeys” that marketers typically focus on are often discrete and linear marketing campaigns, such as an onboarding program, retention campaign, or win-back initiative. For example, they may analyze the “abandoned cart” journey, a sequence of steps that happens after a customer abandons her shopping cart on a website. Or they may look at an “onboarding” journey, a series of messages they send after the first time someone buys a product from them.

The problem with these journeys is that they assume the consumer will follow a defined path; as the possible branch on that path ramify, the marketer struggles to manage all the permutations. Ultimately, the problem is that the marketers still act as if they are in control. They are undertaking marketing campaigns and treating them as if they are journeys. They’re not thinking consumer-first. Any true customer experience professional will tell you why these “journeys” fail.

First of all, they are journeys as described from the perspective of a marketer, not a consumer. In understanding an actual customer journey, we start with the consumer’s motivation (for example, pay my bill) and follow that customer as she attempts to accomplish her goal. But no actual consumer says, “I’m on a journey to become interested in, and then eventually buy, this lawn mower” (or gym subscription, or insurance policy, or sport utility vehicle). The customer doesn’t even perceive her potential interest in, and interaction with, your company as a journey — that’s a construct forced on her activities by marketers.

As the marketing experts at Retention Science describe,

“The whole point of the [marketing] funnel was that the competition narrowed down as you went through the process; people started with one big group, and then eliminated brands until they were left with the winner. In stark contrast, consumers today take matters into their own hands: By looking up reviews and researching online, asking for opinions and referrals, it’s now the norm to add one or two options after eliminating a few from the original selection… Consumers are no longer evaluating or selecting their purchases by how much your marketing message is able to sway them one way or the other. It’s now a much more complicated conversation, with consumers doing their own research and independently comparing and contrasting. It’s one reason that roughly 70% of purchases are abandoned at the shopping cart: Shoppers often start looking for external product reviews before pulling the trigger, and just as often disappear down the black hole of Googling.”

Whether it’s approached from the traditional customer experience perspective or from the marketing campaign perspective, journey mapping simply cannot cope with trying to make a generalization about decisions and pathways to purchase that are that diverse and variable. So put the journey mapping aside for a moment — or use it, as the professionals do, to identify and streamline only the most common experiences that your customers have. When it comes to consumer-first marketing, you need a different approach, one that can cope with the thousands of possible paths that your customers may be taking at any given moment. We call that approach adaptive customer engagement.

Adaptive customer engagement

In an adaptive customer engagement strategy, the marketer’s job is, at any given moment, in whatever channel the customer is interacting with, to deliver to the customer exactly what is most likely to be of help or interest.

This takes place in a repeating cycle of three steps:

  • Identify the customer regardless of channel. Bring to bear all relevant data about that customer.
  • Continue the conversation across channels. Whether the customer is in a store, on your website, viewing an ad, using your app, reading email, or calling or chatting with your customer service staff, use the information from the “recognize” phase to deliver exactly what the customer is most likely to respond to or perceive as helpful.
  • Use every interaction to gather more data. Prepare yourself for the next interaction by learning as much as possible about the customer and how she engaged at each previous interaction. These steps are essential to go from marketing overload to the consumer-first marketing model that entitled consumers expect. If you don’t want to behave like a loudmouthed boor, you need to know who you’re interacting with, extend the connection with each interaction, and deepen the relationship by learning more.

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