Originally published on CMSWire, May 2013
Analyzing customer behaviors and journeys takes a lot of work. Customer interactions are part of a complex of experiences that can occur in many channels and with many functions in the enterprise. Customer experiences are occurring as events, related to cross-functional and cross-channel processes that need to be integrated into a sense of a "single experience" from the customer perspective, as well as integrated in terms of data, process, people, and practices within the enterprise. Further hard work must be done to orchestrate customer touchpoints, which can include multiple teams within the enterprise. Truly putting the best foot forward for customer interactions can be tricky and complicated, even when the best of intentions are in play.
But from the customer's perspective, it's simple: did I get what I wanted or needed -- or not?
And the customer perspective is what counts. What looks complex to vendors probably makes perfect sense to customers – it's their journeys after all. Many organizations are embarking on complicated approaches to working with the customer journey because it has complexity. But I think the real issue is that engaging customers now requires more work from all teams in the enterprise, and many organizations aren't prepared to handle the transition. Dictating step 1, step 2, step 3 with the notion that everyone behaves the same does not work anymore, if it ever did. Social media sites encourage the individual to step out – and companies now have to deal with it.
Understanding Your Customers
I've written quite a bit about the "customer as buyer" both here in CMSWire and in my blog. I've talked about connecting the customer journey for B2B software purchases to content marketing and to marketing automation. I've explored the complex interrelationships of three journeys for buying and using enterprise software. Any way you slice it, work has to be done, assessed and fine-tuned to learn more and more about current and potential customers, and how to apply knowledge and insights to developing products that customers will want to buy, and then how to market and sell them.
Part of the hard work depends on robust customer segmentations and predictive analytics. These "tools" require time to set up, refine, and measure against outcomes; then more time to continue improving and changing. Just as the customer journey is frequently ongoing, with no "final destination", the work to engage and support the customer during the buying journey also has no final destination, particularly if companies want the customer to continue to purchase, successfully use and recommend their products.
Analytics can be very important to understanding customers as related to company strategies. But while data and insights help organizations make better decisions, it's the "people" part that often makes or breaks the purchase. Purchase decisions can be based on emotions, hidden agendas, influence from friends, family and colleagues – or even whim.
Customer behaviors constantly change, markets change, business environments change – sometimes for good, sometimes for bad. So efforts for understanding and supporting customer segments and their myriad journeys must be continuously updated. The constants: create products customers want and need; put high quality into all efforts; focus on the customer first, then align company goals to what the company is going to do for customers.
There's no one-size-fits-all. B2B customer journeys are really different from B2C; within those two mega-categories more differences emerge. Multi-channel customer experiences are often fragmented and hard to assemble into a "singular" experience. For one company and its products, there can be multiple customer / buyer journeys. There can be multiple customer categories, and within those categories multiple customer segments. It all depends on the products, how they are sold, who is the target, and how well a company wants to interact with customers.
Customer journeys may mutate, stall, meander – and this simply may be standard operating procedure from the customer perspective. So organizations need to get comfortable with the changeable, quirky nature of buying journeys, and apply "responsive design" to customer service and support, marketing and sales, and corporate goals and strategies. Not only do companies need to deliver what customers want and need over multiple channels and multiple devices, but companies themselves may do well to adopt the persona of a mega-channel with an agile customer focus. Internally a great deal of integration has to happen for teams, functions, processes, and data before an enterprise becomes an interoperating and responsive organization. Successful outcomes can be aligned with customer behaviors and requirements after the organization admits that only the customer owns the experience with the company.
Source: Brian Solis
Detours Along the Way
Because life is not linear, and neither are most customer journeys, organizations have clear challenges to following and understanding the personalized travels of their buyers. Organizations need to get busy with meeting such challenges to gain real understanding of customer segments and buying proclivities. Organizations create marketing plans to provide support, content, promotions and offers that will stick to the customer wherever the journey is. But these plans often harken back to linear thinking rather than working with the loops and veerings that really happen.
Loops, veers, stalls and detours in buying journeys frequently have nothing to do with the value of products and services or with what other vendors are offering. Customers are people who have work, distractions, other buying journeys (personal and work-related), family matters, and all the other messy stuff of day-to-day life. And surprise! -- most customers simply do not dedicate a full time focus to a particular buying journey. It doesn't matter if it's a B2B or B2C journey.
Detours can include new channels that demand new ways of engaging customers. Mobile devices are increasingly more important to buyers for investigating products and vendors, looking at peer recommendations, asking questions, and in many cases making purchases. Mobile requires new approaches to apps and content – and requires greater agility in organizations to deliver mobile-smart experiences for customers. But many companies lag here and are missing great opportunities. This detour then becomes a dead end for the customer journey.
It's Not Your Journey
The customer takes the journey – companies don't lead them or manage them. Companies can provide what is potentially needed at each touchpoint, made more effective when handled using the customer perspective. Companies shouldn't get in the way of the customer taking the journey, but should make it easier for customers to find what they're looking for and to make purchases. Of course "easier" is a relative term. Organizations are striving to provide the right information and support at the right time on the right device and the right channel. Many times this works pretty well or even great; sometimes not. Relevance changes constantly.
Not only do customers have no interest in being "managed" by a company, it's really not possible. But solutions and practices for customer-focused touchpoints such as websites, social media, CRM, CEM, and product fulfillment can and should make it easier for customers to acquire products and services in ways that can also map to company goals. If discarding the notion of customer "command and control" in favor of recognizing that considerable power belongs to the customer proves to be more effective for gaining and retaining customers, then solutions for the different touchpoints should facilitate customer-enabling functions.
The best outcome of any customer interaction or experience should be the value that is derived by the customer – the assessment of that value also belongs to the customer. Organizations don't always know what value was received – or if it was received – even when asking customers directly. It may well be that continuously improved behavioral and predictive analytics processes will reveal far more in this area, far better than a multitude of customer interviews and surveys. Customer actions speak louder than customer words.
About the author: Julie Hunt understands and sees the overlap and convergence of many business processes and software solutions that once were thought of as "separate" – and how this impacts both software Vendors and Buyers, as well as the strategies that enterprises implement for how technology supports the business and its customers. Julie shares her takes on the software industry via her blog Highly Competitive and on Twitter: @juliebhunt For more information: Julie Hunt Consulting – Strategies for B2B Software Solutions: Working from the Customer Perspective