Is Your Customer Journey Set Up for Success?

April 6th, 2017

A senior marketer’s ability to find and create valuable experiences for customers has grown dramatically in recent years. Beyond the traditional responsibilities of brand and creative management, senior marketers (such as CMOs, Brand Managers, and Product Marketing Managers) now use analytics to track customer interactions, measure the quality of engagement, and determine the effectiveness of an enormous range of different marketing tactics.

Marketers often map out a “customer journey” in order to manage successful engagements. The customer journey is the complete sum of experiences that your customers go through when interacting with your company and brand—mapping out these interactions gives you a holistic view of how customers engage with your company. While many marketers focus on developing positive interactions, a customer journey is a plan that focuses on how a series of engagements can generate momentum from awareness, to sale, to ongoing loyalty and advocacy.

According to a Salesforce report, nearly all senior level marketers agree that a comprehensive journey map is absolutely critical or very important to their business. At the same time, the report mentions that this map has largely been an aspiration for marketers—in part due to siloed business teams and a disjointed view of customer data, only 29% of enterprise companies would rate themselves as very effective or effective at creating a cohesive journey.

Senior marketers should take the responsibility for this challenge head on; to be successful in creating a useful map, you will also need to be the leader of the technical and analytical development of their teams. You should have an intuition for how data can enhance, track, and articulate the customer experience—as this intuition creates new possibilities for the type of relationships companies can have with their customers.

In this post, we’ll walk through some examples of how we have seen data capabilities determine the success of customer journey initiatives for our clients. We’ll also offer guidance on the data-related initiatives that you can start today to begin fostering closer ties with your customers—regardless of where you currently are in your specific state of development.

What can your data do for you?

We’ve seen data play various roles in creating strong customer engagements. Here’s a look at just a few.

Data integration helps marketers optimize analyses for different, more holistic, outcomes (Social Gaming)

For many businesses, legacy and heterogeneous systems are a challenge for creating an integrated customer experience—the data is often structured with a narrow lens on a specific product or domain. We worked with a social gaming company facing this challenge: they wanted to create a cohesive customer experience across all their games by extending the preferential treatment that loyal customers receive for their favorite games to new games on the platform.

On a per-game basis, our client was technically sophisticated—they could build out events, correlate performance with targeted marketing strategies, and articulate the effectiveness of different campaigns. However, this sophistication fell apart at the organization-wide level. After several acquisitions and the use of third party licensing for games, the company found itself with a broken analytical architecture—each game optimized for itself, but there was a lot of opportunity in optimizing across the business. By supporting the integration of different data from different silos, the new architecture enabled the company to:

  • Increase customer satisfaction by rewarding loyalty. By not being able to establish a single view of their customers, our client was continually losing opportunities to tailor experiences for their customers. For example, high-paying customers that had “preferred” status for certain games would return to being “unknown” when they started playing new games. By helping the client carry customer status across games, players will have greater satisfaction and loyalty.
  • Improve game development by understanding interaction patterns. Some of the most important metrics in gaming—e.g., alliances and teaming—are challenging to measure. Breaking down silos allowed the client to utilize novel sources of data, like gaming chats, to articulate a “web of influence” and its role in engagement and profitability.

By reframing the customer journey as an experience that transcends individual games—and developing a supporting data architecture—our client was able to both develop an engine for growth and improve profitability on an individual basis, by both reducing the acquisition cost (UAC) of customers and increasing their lifetime value (LTV).

Modern architectures help marketers redefine the product suite and their customer relationships (Digital Entertainment)

Take a look at the data sources you’re using in your marketing efforts and you may find some unexpected insights. For example, is there untapped value in your existing customer relationships? A digital entertainment company wanted to develop a modern database architecture that would allow them to understand user consumption at both a customer and population-level—at a microsecond granularity.

Redesigning the client’s architecture to identify and articulate the customer’s consumption patterns ultimately gave the client vastly more usable data about their customers, which led to:

  • New customer offerings. Our client used these new capabilities to develop more effective cross-selling opportunities and to develop products that provide guidance to content providers.
  • Improved strategic decision making. This view of consumption informed large strategic bets for the organization—for example, the decision to give away existing products for free in return for increased engagement.

The client had always had tremendous potential to understand customer engagement and consumption patterns—they were a portal for millions of users. However, their existing platform was limited by its underlying technology and a myopic view of the role of data. In their original product offering, the collected data was not necessarily perceived to have inherent value. We find this type of oversight to be common for marketers beginning to build analytics within their teams.

Note: This concept of “instrumentation”—the process of logging and tracking customer interactions—is important when creating an engagement plan. Instrumentation creates a more nuanced understanding of what customers find valuable about your products and services. For our client, this instrumentation influenced their entire business: from feature development, to sales, to pricing, and even to marketing copy about the efficacy of their existing product suite. Instrumentation is so important, in fact, that it is something we at SVDS specifically assess when considering the data maturity of a business.

Digitization can require updating back-office processes to meet customer expectations (National Retailer)

Work that begins in the marketing department often extends to influence other parts of a business. In one example, we worked with a traditional brick and mortar retail client that was in the process of developing their digital presence.

As their customers began to spend more time purchasing items online, our client realized that they would need new capabilities to support new types of interactions—for example, granularity in tracking inventory. When creating its online presence, our client found itself frequently selling under-stocked items from the website, and then had to follow them up with costly gift card apologies to disappointed customers.

We helped the client gain an understanding of their inventory baseline and establish a real-time view of changes in supply and demand. This allowed the business as a whole to establish new customer relationships and a leaner efficiency:

  • Customer interaction with the brand. E-commerce has developed some great features to incent purchasing behavior—we have all experienced messages like, “There are only 3 items left in stock!” or “Order by 11:59pm Tuesday to get by Christmas.” Our client’s new modern inventory infrastructure allowed them to create similar features, increasing trust and confidence in the brand.
  • Reduced working capital. In the past, a granular level of detail—across stores, channels, and partners (e.g., third party sellers)—was not required from legacy operations. In developing a new system, our client was able to serve items that were stocked-out in their web distribution centers from stores in close proximity to the buyers. This allowed our client to reduce their buffer stock and protect against obsolescence.

For our retail client, marketing’s strategic influence and digital leadership forced growth in other parts of the business that benefited customers and improved the company’s competitive position.

Creating opportunities with data

The examples described above all involve companies we would consider to be leaders in the use of data to drive more useful customer engagements—first and foremost by recognizing their need to embrace change. There is a big shift taking place, and that shift will become the new normal.

You should be trying to learn quickly, and fail fast. Companies that are able make the best use of their data and infrastructure earlier than their competition are at an advantage—both with regard to increased customer loyalty and improvements in new product development.

In a November 2015 Harvard Business Review article on the customer journey, the authors stated that, “Best practitioners aim not just to improve the existing journey but to expand it, adding useful steps or features.” As mentioned in the examples earlier in this post, we have seen the same trend: clients who can harness their data to create effective customer experiences often make further investments toward developing their capabilities.

There are data-related initiatives that you can can begin pursuing today to develop stronger relationships with your customers. Make an honest assessment of where you stand now, and find yourself in the sections below.

If you are starting from scratch

Possible problems

  • Identifying how to make decisions based on data-driven insights
  • Identifying single points of ownership within the organization

Suggested approach

  • Focus on top-down buy-in. Without recognition from leadership, data initiatives will struggle to get relevance with business users and may be piecemeal efforts, diminishing the value of investment.

If you are performing early project identification

Possible problem

  • Mapping out customer journey initiatives

Suggested approaches

  • Get alignment on the full picture. It is important to be able to articulate the “full view” of the customer experience as it has a large effect on decision making. For example, only tracking successful interactions would lead to very different conclusions than understanding users that “turn away.”
  • Plan for iteration. It often takes time to understand where your map does and does not match your customers’ realities.
  • Start small. Change can be incremental—look for low-hanging fruit.

If you are establishing visibility

Possible problem

  • Data integration

Suggested approaches

  • Prioritize data collection in tandem with journey mapping. In instrumentation, it is important to know what behaviors you can collect directly from customers and what behaviors you have to infer based on their actions. This influences what additional data sources you include to support decisions you make for the business.
  • Seek to reuse and extend data services. Developing known, validated, and consistent data assets for your business increases their utility and dramatically improves trust in the developed insights across the organization.

If you are optimizing for growth

Possible problems

  • Personalization and automation

Suggested approach

  • Enable advanced analytics. Optimize for automation to create feedback loops and self-learning capabilities that make it easy to identify and capitalize on growth opportunities.

Customer preferences and expectations have changed dramatically as businesses learn how to develop new digital experiences, collect feedback, and augment existing offerings. Success requires understanding what information you need to collect about your customers, instrumenting processes to be able to track customer behavior, and developing the analytics that allow your business to optimize customer interactions. As a marketer, you must be willing to grow with the needs of a modern business.

Has your company taken any steps to strengthen their customer engagement strategies through better use of data? Share your story in the comments.

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