Marketers Move to Chart Journeys in Real Time
After talking about it for more than a decade, most companies today are still somewhere just beyond the initial stages of customer journey analytics. But as real-time capabilities become more commonplace—and in greater demand—marketers are starting to rely more on the technology to improve their customer contacts.
“Customer journey analytics has been a very top-of-mind initiative for over a dozen years now. It’s a bit of a moving target because the tools for analytics have changed quite a bit, and companies need to account for the broader range of ways that consumers interact with the brand and the velocity of those interactions,” says Cory Munchbach, chief operating officer of customer data platform provider BlueConic.
When it comes to customer journey analytics, one of the biggest deterrents to date has been the lack of a clear understanding of the technology. It’s tough for companies to understand how to use customer journey analytics without universal agreement around what it is.
Some see customer journey analytics as the weaving together of every customer touchpoint across channels and over time. Other definitions identify it as a tool to connect millions of events from customers’ points of view or as a data-driven approach to analyzing and quantifying the impact of all customer behavior on business outcomes. Some see it as a way of tracking and analyzing how customers use the full range of available channels to interact with companies.
In a recent survey by Pegasystems, 26 percent of respondents cited adjusting and adapting to the needs of the customer as the main goal behind customer journey analytics; 8 percent defined it as a way to help them make intelligent and sensitive decisions, collaborating on the phone with customers during the process.
Rick Blair, vice president of product strategy at Verint Systems, acknowledges that customer journey analytics not only differs from company to company and from customer to customer but can also be different for the same customer during different engagements. For example, a bank customer might have one journey for opening a checking or savings account and quite a different one for applying for a mortgage. In either event, mapping the data destination will be different.
“You need to understand all the levels within the organizations and how these analyses start to make their way up the C suite,” Blair says. “The second the C suite starts looking at metrics across the customer journey, they’re going to ask how to make it better.”
Inertia has also kept many companies, particularly B2C businesses that had relied on personal connections, at the very basic level of customer journey analytics, according to Christian Wettre, general manager of Sugar Sell and Sugar Market at SugarCRM. “If you did not have a significant e-commerce or digital engagement on your website prior to this, you’re lagging behind. You’re not used to analyzing data in the same way.”
CUSTOMER JOURNEY ANALYTICS HAS A HISTORY IN SALES, BUT NOT MARKETING
But regardless of what was holding them back, marketers are turning to customer journey analytics in greater numbers, taking it out of the sales domain that had long been the main business driver for customer journey analytics.
Matthew Nolan, Pegasystems’ senior director of product marketing, points out that today’s customer interactions go far beyond making purchases.
While most real-time customer journey analytics are focused on sales, there are other uses as well, adds Lucie Buisson, chief product officer at Contentsquare, a digital analytics software provider. For example, if a customer calls in with a complaint, real-time journey analytics will enable the company to quickly understand the issue and take appropriate action.
“In the future, companies will be able to do that more on the innovation side, understanding the intent of the user and what the customer is trying to achieve,” Buisson says.
Nolan agrees. Customers today communicate with companies because they want to learn something or solve a problem, or because they already have a product and want to figure out how to use it better, he explains.
Michael Ramsey, ServiceNow’s vice president of product management for customer workflow products, agrees that the analytics and journey information shouldn’t stop with sales, noting that returns and follow-up service should be included as well.
A REAL NEED FOR REAL-TIME CUSTOMER JOURNEY ANALYTICS
Regardless of the reason, what is clear is that a large percentage of companies are currently at the very earliest stages of customer journey analytics. As they move forward, though, real-time capabilities are the most crucial element.
Forty-eight percent of respondents to the Pegasystems survey said real time should allow them to make decisions “very quickly, anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes.”
Pegasystems countered that real-time decisioning should really happen in less than 200 milliseconds, far faster than most companies can handle, unfortunately.
Companies have typically designed customer journeys using static information, which is insufficient in today’s digital economy, says Esteban Kolsky, chief customer experience evangelist at SAP. “Companies have looked at the static map as gospel for how customers always react with an organization. But in reality, there are small and large changes. With real-time customer journey analytics, you can actually spot those changes in real time and adapt throughout the interaction.”
The need for real-time rather than static data and responses is evident. Contentsquare reported in its most recent Digital Experience Benchmark Report that 47 percent of website visitors end their journeys after viewing just one page on a website. On mobile, that figure is even higher—at 50 percent, meaning responding in real time (with a chat, etc.) is so much more critical.
Buisson adds that the smaller screen and typically shorter site visits using mobile also increases the need for real-time customer journey analytics. The Contentsquare study showed that 64 percent of online visits came from smartphones in 2020, a 16 percent increase from 2019.
There’s little time to make a first impression, the report added, with the average viewer spending just 54 seconds on most websites.
The need for real-time customer journey analytics accelerated as a result of the shift to digital with the COVID-19 pandemic, but most companies are still catching up to customer expectations, says Niki Hall, chief marketing officer of Contentsquare. “Everything was digitally disrupted; brands couldn’t keep up.”
Real-time analytics are needed to optimize modern customer journeys that take many different forms, according to Kolsky.
One day a customer might check his banking app via a mobile device, look at his balance, and move on. The next day, he might investigate a car loan or another product, and real-time customer journey analytics, if used correctly, could trigger a bank response, such as a chat screen pop-up or a call from a loan officer, he says.
“That’s when analytics really kicks in,” Kolsky states. “Once the customer completes the journey in two different ways, we can look at both the amount of effort that it took us and how many systems were involved. We can optimize by using analytics so the next time the customer comes in, both [channels] are optimized.”
And then a customer checking a balance will obtain that data quickly, while the customer needing human assistance will quickly be connected to the right person, Kolsky explains.
Adding to the complexity is the fact that many organizations have a lot of conversations going on with customers at the same time, through different channels, involving different business units (marketing, accounting, etc.), Pegasystems’ Nolan says.
All of this should be included in journey mapping to maximize customer lifetime value, Nolan says. “At the very basic level, real-time customer journey analytics uses a single event to set up a series of additional communications.”
FOR SUCCESSFUL CUSTOMER JOURNEY ANALYTICS, YOU NEED TO BUILD A BLUEPRINT
However, before delving into real-time customer journey analytics, companies first need to build a blueprint of what systems are already in place, what information is already being collected, whether that data is in silos, and what needs to be added to be successful, Verint’s Blair says. “You need to do a gap analysis.”
Kolsky adds that real-time customer journey analytics is more than just a technology challenge, arguing that most companies lack people with the technical skills to make the most of the technology.
At the basic level, businesses need to transition from a customer engagement mind-set to a people-centered mind-set, taking sometimes disparate communications and putting them into a single customer journey, says Joseph Ansanelli, CEO and cofounder of Gladly, a customer service platform provider. “The next level is to embellish that with other events, like customer satisfaction surveys.”
With real-time customer journey analytics, once companies discover that returning customers’ satisfaction levels have changed, they can take proactive steps to discover why and make changes to increase satisfaction levels to where they were before.
“Companies need to have the wherewithal to capture interactions, [including] who’s visiting the website, reacting and interacting with your email, [or] having conversations with your salespeople,” SugarCRM’s Wettre says. “Once you’ve systematically captured the data, the first real output is that customer journey timeline.”
“The next level is a little more sophisticated,” Nolan says. “Companies will use products like Salesforce Journey Builder to look for specific events and then define a series of communications around it.”
Beyond the basic level, companies shouldn’t simply collect data and react, but collect data, feed it to a decision engine, and then react to make the optimum recommendation at a given time, Nolan adds.
Blair agrees, saying some real-time customer journey analytics are insufficient.
“It’s not just about tracking or listening and analyzing; it’s about acting,” Blair says. “Otherwise, all you’re doing is passively listening.”
Munchbach agrees. “Where a lot of companies fall down is that they do a lot of tracking, and they do a lot of reporting. But that’s it. They don’t have any way to turn it into activation. Why would you need something in real time if you’re not going to do something about it?”
Companies just starting out can get to the basic level with simple tools like Google Analytics, according to Munchbach. “Journey analytics or the ability to do them isn’t a victory in and of itself. You still need a way to operationalize that data. You still need to have the infrastructure in terms of the people and skill sets and resources to make a lot of use of it. Outcomes really need to be more tied to, ‘How it is helping us serve our customers better?’”
IF YOU'RE BEHIND WITH CUSTOMER JOURNEY ANALYTICS, FOLLOW THE TOP E-COMMERCE COMPANIES
Wettre advises companies that are behind in using real-time customer journey analytics to examine what the top e-commerce companies are doing and to follow their leads.
As more companies went to digital transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, more started using real-time customer journey analytics.
For example, many car dealerships had to limit salesman-customer interactions, so they connected their websites with CRM systems and analytics to get a handle on which vehicles potential customers had viewed and how they arrived at the dealer’s site (directly or from a search engine or third-party marketplace), according to Zach Klempf, founder and CEO of Selly Automotive.
Similarly, mortgage companies brought in real-time customer journey analytics to turn prospects into borrowers by using details from customer searches and other sources, said Garth Graham, a senior partner at Stratmor Group. “The ability to do real-time journey analytics has to focus on the fact that the mortgage journey can be very different based on the profile of the individual borrower. A borrower’s journey is far different for purchasing than for a refinance transaction. The ability to aggregate that data can be very powerful,” he says.
Real-time analytics is particularly important in the lending industry because prospects’ financial situations (additional credit card borrowing, job loss, etc.) can change quickly.
Within the next year, Wettre expects B2B and B2C companies to become much more Amazon-like, with data collection and customer journey analytics using AI to deliver the content (technical details, pricing information, customer reviews, etc.) to help move the customer further down the sales funnel.
“At SugarCRM, we are seeing demand that we apply this type of intelligence and provide this type of analysis for our customers,” Wettre says.
Kolsky adds that AI uses context to deliver the right journey to the right customer at the right time.
At the most advanced level, real-time customer journey analytics tracks information that comes from the browser; cookies; the ads a customer viewed; the length of time spent viewing an ad and the action taken after viewing the ad; data from other company touchpoints; and aggregate information from other vendors, according to Kolsky. “The more information you have about a customer’s behavior, the better the profile you can create in real time.”
Artificial intelligence is critical to handling the volume of data and to delivering next best interactions in real time for specific customers with specific journeys, Wettre adds.
However, Wettre and others agree that only the most sophisticated companies are using artificial intelligence with real-time customer journey analytics today. The technology, though, is expected to be used more widely in the next couple of years as real-time capabilities and artificial intelligence become staples.
Phillip Britt is a freelance writer based in the Chicago area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.