8 Tips to Transform Your Customers’ Journey

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The basic concept of a customer journey has been around for a very long time. From the early days of direct mail, marketers could target their print collateral to arrive at a household generally within a few days’ time range, perhaps triggered by receipt of a product registration card or scheduled around seasonal dates. Catalogs like the Sears Wish Book or publications like the Farmer’s Almanac were cornerstones of the customer experience for these brands.

In the late nineties, digital on-demand printing made small-batch printing and dynamic personalization possible. When email marketing debuted shortly thereafter, the idea of marketing around the customer lifecycle really took hold because, for the first time, marketers could plan with precision the exact time of a communication and, eventually, trigger it in real-time based on customer action or inaction. Marketers could also measure effectiveness and close the feedback loop via direct response.

The ability to plan and measure communications with precision and personalize them for relevance to specific lifecycle phases broke new ground. As digital and social channels proliferated, marketing messages could be orchestrated to reach the consumer from multiple devices and screens, reinforcing and amplifying the message.

Computer software makers have, for decades, developed user journeys to describe the steps a user goes through in interacting with their software. The worlds of software and marketing collided with the martech ecosystem. ESPs matured from list-based sending tools to powerful marketing automation, data management, and customer segmentation platforms. It is hard to believe that Salesforce Marketing Cloud introduced Journey Builder only eight(ish) years ago. Providing a powerful environment for mapping out and building a customer journey in a highly interactive and visual environment, Salesforce’s Journey Builder made the term ‘customer journey’ a household word.  

Today, journey mapping, planning and lifecycle management tools are everywhere and are getting ever-more powerful, fueled by ever-more data. Some platforms have tried to broaden the terminology surrounding customer journeys to a more holistic concept of mapping or orchestrating the entire customer experience.

As an industry, email marketing has benefited from its ability to thrive in a multi-channel world, prove itself as an anchor channel in the marketing mix, and leverage data and interaction points to execute sophisticated customer journeys. These capabilities transformed email from the old batch-and-blast paradigm to its new role as a communications hub and workhorse marketing automation channel.

Journey planning and building tools have made tremendous leaps in functionality in recent years. When Salesforce Journey Builder debuted, it offered the full-featured capability to both design and execute your journey from the same interface. Many other ESPs rushed to introduce tools that replicated the planning and diagramming of a journey but lacked the execution layer. As a result, marketers still had to go to a different UI to build their target segments and execute their messaging.

Today, even many low-cost ESPs targeted to small businesses offer full-featured journey management tools. Still, many remain very segment-centric in design. The reality is this: if you have the data you need and a good segmentation tool, you can accomplish largely the same results.

For example, a welcome series on a journey mapping tool typically involves defining an entry point (the subscribe or first purchase action) and a sequence of communications with a time-delay built into each step. With a subscription date and a good segmentation tool, you can execute the same message sequence.

Whatever you call it, good customer journey maps benefit marketers in numerous ways. Among other things, a well-designed journey map can help marketers:

  • Build rapport with customers
  • Deliver on key brand messages at the right time
  • Identify and overcome friction points in a subscription-onboarding process
  • Incentivize repeat purchase behaviors
  • Drive customer engagement and retention

What tools do you need to develop a good customer journey or optimize an existing one? Do you need Salesforce Journey Builder? Adobe Experience Manager? Will something else do the trick just as well?

The trick to designing a customer journey is often less about the tools you use to execute it and more about the planning and thought process that goes into creating it.

Here are my top 8 tips to transform your customers’ journey. You may be surprised to learn that many of the tools you need are already at your fingertips.

1. Narrow Your Focus to a Single Key Metric

If you took a birds-eye view of all the interactions of your brand across all its customers, the idea of mapping out all these interactions would, no doubt, be overwhelming. Think of this 30,000-foot view as a mesh of experiences loosely joined together rather than one linear journey. Every customer is different, so every journey may be different.

The Customer Journey (capital J) is comprised of many smaller journeys (lowercase j). Think of the customers’ experience holistically—from the point of acquisition to the website, apps, and multi-channel outbound communications with which the customer will interact—but break down all these points of interaction into manageable chunks focused around improving one key metric.

Narrow your focus by identifying which mini journey and key metric you want to tackle. Think through the specifics of the business problem or metric you want to improve. Break your journey up into its most basic measurable unit. This can prove easier to implement, manage, and update than a complex, sprawling map with many branches, key metrics, and KPIs.

Here are a few questions to answer in this phase of planning:

  • What is the lifecycle phase of the customers? Are they new customers, existing customers, or at-risk / lapsed customers?
  • What are the start and end points of this specific journey?
  • What are the various logical branches you may need to design for during the journey?
  • What is the single key metric or KPI this journey should be focused on improving?

2. Map Messages to Channels

Think about the key messages you want to convey in your journey and map each one to a specific channel. If email is your primary or only channel, this part will be easy. However, if you have email, SMS, direct mail, and app/push messaging, careful consideration is required to ensure you leverage the channel most likely to deliver a measurable result and that you design your messaging strategy so that each channel amplifies and reinforces your key message.

Think through the when, why, and how of each message—the timing, what triggers it, why the selected channel is uniquely suited for each message, and how the messages will be delivered to the customer.

3. Map Data to Messages

Messages can be triggered in real-time based on customer actions or inactions or scheduled as date-based recurring messages. Determine what data signals your journey will require to initiate it and what data you need to drive decision logic and personalization.

  • What behaviors could result in a change in path during the journey, a divergence in messaging version or sequence between two or more groups during the journey?
  • What data is needed to drive each step of the journey?
  • What action is the Journey attempting to reinforce and is that measurable?

This is a good time to validate that you have the data you need, it is accessible in your marketing toolset, and it is stored in a format that is actionable for marketing segmentation, targeting, or triggering.

4. Get to Know Your Customer

Of all the steps, this is by far the most important. Think about the customer mindset at various points of their lifecycle and relationship with your company.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What messages may be competing for their attention from other companies?
  • What experiences, good and bad, have they had with your brand or product?
  • What led them to your brand or product in the first place?
  • What is required to create loyalty or keep them coming back?
  • How can you thrill and delight them?
  • Is discounting the right strategy or is there something else that will be equally or more impactful in their experience?

Develop customer personas to help put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Make a purchase or subscribe to your own product to gain insight. Make friends in Customer Service. Spend a day listening in on customer service calls or reading through email exchanges—make this a routine part of your job as a marketer.

Then, put on your psychologist hat. Use mind-mapping tools to chart the customer mindset at each phase of their journey with your company. Apply insights about customer mindset to the key metric you are trying to improve.

5. Analyze and Learn from Historical Data

Analyze response data for any existing messaging that you will be replacing, updating, or carrying over. Get a sense of what worked and didn’t work. What messaging resonated and what fell flat? Figure out the why from the customer mindset perspective.

Once you are familiar with the past, create benchmark metrics. This is what you are setting out to improve upon.

6. Create Messages

Write messaging and design creative only after you have all the insights to get it right or improve upon previous customer experiences. Cater and personalize messages based on key customer cohorts. Decide what messages you will start with and which ones you want to test into. Consider the channel, the delivery mechanism, and the CTAs.

For an email, consider the subject line and pre-header text along with the additional detail that will be covered in the body. Work with a designer to ensure that the most critical information and CTAs will be displayed above the fold. For detailed content, consider breaking it up between email, push, and website landing pages.

Thoughtful and well-executed information design and easy-to-read layouts help keep the customer engaged at each step of the journey.

7. KISS

Keep it Simple Simon. This rule can apply to many of the steps along the way. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Avoid unnecessary complexity in v1. Get the big stuff in place and then test and iterate your way toward optimizations. 

If you don’t have access to a visual journey creation tool with all the bells and whistles, like Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s Journey Builder or Adobe Experience Cloud’s Journey Orchestration, that should not stop you. Use Visio, PowerPoint, or an online tool like LucidCharts to get started.

8. Execute

Once you have planned your customer journey, you need to execute to bring your vision to life. Take an audit of your customer data and marketing platforms and tools to identify any gaps. At a minimum, you need an ESP with good segmentation capabilities, the ability to segment based on relative dates, and to manage scheduled recurring campaigns; access to the key pieces of data you identified in step three; and at least a daily data refresh frequency.

If your journey involves customer events, check to ensure your marketing database contains complete date stamps when these activities occur. This may include tracking page views or conversion events that occur on websites, during the purchase funnel, in apps, etc.

If your journey involves multi-channel customer touchpoints, you obviously need the tools and platforms necessary to target, orchestrate, and send messages to each channel. To accomplish orchestration, you may need to integrate cross-channel response data into a centralized marketing database used to drive the journey.  

If your journey involves real-time triggered messaging, evaluate your ability to plug into customer behavioral events and figure out how you can leverage real-time data to execute APIs that can trigger real-time messages.

The more complex your journey, the more gaps you may identify. Figure out a back-up plan. For example, can a real-time trigger be converted for the short-term into a daily scheduled trigger? If you need to scale back your ideal plans, then track and measure your journey’s effectiveness to support a future business case for investment in tools that will make possible the ideal journey you envisioned.

February is Black History Month, Y’all—Support Diversity, Equality, & Inclusion

I’m delighted my post will be published during Black History Month. This year, I enjoyed a day off on Martin Luther King Jr Day for the first time. I enjoy working with companies who have invested resources toward Diversity, Inclusion, and Equality initiatives. These are examples of recent change brought about by social awareness of racial justice since the murder of George Floyd. Often, great change comes only after epic struggle. For many of us, George Floyd’s murder represented that epic struggle and the fits and starts our society has taken toward equality over the long, often painful, arc of history.

The Black Lumascape is another example. If your ideal journey requires investment in new tools or technologies, check out the Media and Marketing Technology section on the Black Lumascape.

DE&I initiatives focus primarily on a company’s ability to attract and retain a diverse workforce. They should also encourage diversity in vendor and partner relationships and the entire ecosystem that enables the business to thrive. You can learn more about each company in the Black Lumascape here.

In all likelihood, you can plan and implement a version of your journey with the data, tools and platforms you already have. The results of a well-planned and executed journey should speak for themselves. Success will help you justify a future business case for investment to improve and optimize your marketing automation capabilities.

But remember this—the most important element for designing an effective customer journey is understanding the customer and their experience with your own product or service.

For that, you need only don your marketing psychologist hat!

02Dedmannick fewings br9D5K3UTRQ unsplash 600Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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