About Those Customer Journeys…

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The idea of customer journeys—that if we can identify the path customers take to buy and use our products and services, we can tend to them better—does have some merit. Alas, like most latest and greatest ideas for the enterprise, best intentions die upon execution. Usually the attempt to document those paths results in companies trying to control and “force” customers onto a particular journey.

This concept of building journeys for customers is problematic—it’s far from what customers want or what brands should be doing. Customers change their “paths” constantly, and by the time a journey is “adopted and implemented” in an organization, it’s quite certain to be dated, usually due to content that is no longer relevant (or as relevant) or changes in the customers’ needs and demands. Bottom line: There is no need to document and “manage” journeys, as most companies are wont to do these days.

Recent research and discussions have led me to ask the question in a different way: Is there a place for journeys in an organization? Can a company and a customer benefit from a “customer journey”?

CRM as we know it—the 360-degree view of the customer based on collected data from sales, marketing, and customer service operations—is no longer what consumers want or what companies should value.

Customers expect, and soon will start demanding, to be tended to in personalized, optimized, end-to-end experiences, operating in a continuum: Each interaction builds on the previous ones, and seeks unique value that may or may not be related to the original intent. To deliver on these end-to-end experiences, brands will need a lot of data and rules that apply to that data; it’s no longer about the interaction, but about the value it generates.

The data itself has limited to no value in isolation. But as a whole? It becomes quite valuable.

The value is not because it is part of a 360-degree view of the customer, as CRM purports to deliver, but because it is part of a “journey.”

The beginning of the next wave of CRM—where we are going in the next decade amid transformation projects and initiatives—is a concept similar to journeys and based on the concept of continuums. There are three things CRM must become:

1. An end-to-end experience regardless of business functions (e.g., marketing, or customer service, or a mix of the two).

2. An omnichannel, self-service, outcome-driven interaction—or the exact opposite if the customer so desires, but with the same results.

3. Chosen by the customer, for the customer, and executed per the customer needs at that precise moment (which may change in 30 seconds, or 30 days, or even 30 years).

Your job is not to learn what customers want. Your job is to figure out how to build the best possible multichannel, dynamic, flexible, and responsive infrastructure in your organization so you can let customers build their own personalized, optimized experience for each interaction based on their needs and wants for that specific moment.

Whether they need a quick, single-word answer or a lengthy explanation, as a result of the same question asked in two different contexts and situations, your infrastructure must be able to figure that out and provide both, and learn from that interaction so it can improve the next one.

Those are the customer journeys your customers, and your stakeholders, can get behind.

And those are the customer journeys you should focus on: ever-changing, ever-demanding, and ever-focused on customer needs—not on making it easier for the company to document what the customer is doing.

Esteban Kolsky is the principal and founder of ThinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. He has more than 25 years of experience in customer service and CRM consulting, research, and advisory services. He spent eight years at Gartner and has assisted Fortune 500 companies and Global 2000 organizations in all aspects of their CRM deployments. He can be reached at esteban@estebankolsky.com.

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