It is time to talk about customer journeys and customer journey orchestration.
The theme of two of my recent articles has been about customer data. First, in my article Why you don’t want a 360-degree on the customer I rubbed the coveted 360-degree view on the customer, which is utterly meaningless as a contextually relevant view on the customer is required to take any decision or action.
Then I followed up with the view that a customer data platform (CDP) is not an end in itself but a means to an end.
Actually, two ends.
They are engagement and experience.
Back in the day when no one talked about CDPs I wrote in a guest post There is no customer experience without customer engagement to Paul Greenberg’s ZDNet column that a well-orchestrated CRM system sets the foundation “for every meaningful and relevant engagement, proactive (company initiated) as well as reactive (customer initiated), which covers all communication/engagement channels, and an increasing number of possible touch points. The CRM system, at its core, is channel- and touch point agnostic. But it supports and serves all of them, every single one — including those that we do not yet know of.
The customer engagement, as an ongoing process, itself happens via any number of interactions, the touch points chosen by the customer, but offered by the company”.
This is, of course, based on Paul’s definition that “customer engagement is the ongoing interaction between company and customer, offered by the company and chosen by the customer”.
Nowadays one could replace the term CRM with CDP, but how we call it doesn’t really matter. The point is that there is a system that collects and analyses data on customer interactions and offers it as actionable information. All this within the limits of what is legal, legitimate, as well as offered and consented to by the customer.
What is important is that what called touch points then and will call contact points going forward, form a customer journey when a customer interacts with them.
A little detour — why “contact point” instead of touch point?
Customers usually interact with a company to solve a need. This might be information or the desire to exercise or the need for a mobile communication, or whatever else. Take your pick.
To fulfill this need, customers interact with a lot of different assets, including the product and/or service itself. Looking at the mobile communication example, this is typically solved by interacting with a smart phone. This happens well post purchase and until the phone breaks or gets retired for good.
Touch point is a term that is marketing laden. This means that its scope ends at the point of the customer purchase, at the latest. Therefore, I prefer using another one, like contact point, which is not perfect either. Happy to get suggestions for a better term.
Coming back to Customer Journey Orchestration
Now, the ability to analyze the interactions that a customer has with a business’s contact points neatly leads to real time interaction management and its big brother, customer journey orchestration.
Customer journey orchestration is currently all about preparing paths to take for the customer. Nearly all vendors that work in the area supply software that helps in assembling these journeys. These journeys are like paved ways that the customer is supposed to take. While this is often meant to be an attempt to reduce process friction for the customer, this is inside-out thinking as opposed to outside-in thinking. It is also more often than not meant to simplify the engagement process for the company, akin of creating a funnel into which customers are guided.
On the other hand, customers cannot be assumed to take a linear journey. They regularly are on several journeys in parallel, change devices and/or communications channels, step back to get additional information, compare different vendors, and many more.
In brief, they follow their own, customer managed, journey instead of a journey that is managed by the company for them. However, the interactions along this journey are (mostly) in a context.
Or in the words of Graham Hill, who looks at this from a service-oriented logic angle: “Customers don’t plan out their journeys in detail, instead, journeys ‘emerge’, one interaction at a time. We should design service experiences to allow interactions to emerge, not around fixed journeys”. He continues that it is our job “to create experience platforms that enable customers to interact with us faster, easier and better. What customers actually do is up to them. The more we constrain customers’ behaviour, particularly through rigid service experience design, the more customers are likely to continue their journey with someone else, or to abandon it entirely”.
This has some serious consequences for the implementation of customer journey orchestration.
The very first of these consequences is a totally different mindset, one that looks at the customer journey out of the eyes of the customer instead of the corporate eyes. Don’t get me wrong, the interests of the business need to be considered, too, but these form boundaries for which contact points can and will be offered to customers.
This creates a need for massive and scalable real time customer journey analytics. Interactions of any given customer at any given contact point need to be analyzed in milliseconds to be able to deliver the best reaction to the customer’s action — the one that answers the immediate demand, anticipating the customer’s real interest. All this requires the customer’s current context. This is why a contextually actionable set of customer data needs to be available, which is the job of a CDP.
The third consequence is a need to design the contact points accordingly. They should be laid out like steppingstones or a menu of options that customers can take according to their own choosing. To do so, they need to be available throughout channels and to deliver information to the customer that is relevant right this moment, in the format that is appropriate for the channel of the customers’ choice. At the same time, they are collecting the data that is necessary to help customers moving forward on their individual journey, and which can be used by downstream contact points.
The requirement to be able to feed contact points independent of the channel also explains why personalization needs to be channel independent.
Don’t manage your customers’ journeys
Customer journeys are as individual as customers. Journeys are non-linear and move across different devices with some steps travelled offline.
Your customers will manage (and orchestrate) their journeys individually for themselves. So, there is no need to design journeys for them. it is even counterproductive. Instead, provide them with the platform and channel independent menu of interconnected contact points that help them to do it. Based upon a strong real-time customer journey analytics, this is the most powerful way to help your customers achieve their objectives their way and at their pace.