It's not enough to be customer-focused these days, according to Michael Winnick, founder of remote research platform Dscout. “You have to be customer obsessed." Speaking at the 2018 Dreamforce conference in San Francisco, Winnick said that most work aimed at understanding the customer journey doesn't really reflect the experience of actual users. “You need to understand the moment that the customer interacts with the product," he said. (Dscout uses mobile technology and video to investigate how people actually experience products.) Failure to understand that context can bring on a “downpour of negative consequences," he warned.
Winnick went on to outline four different types of customer journeys:
- The service In this case, you're looking for “cracks" in your customer's experience.
- The experience journey, or your customer's interaction with your product or service.
- The decision journey that leads to the purchase in the first place.
- The life journey, such as going off to college, which may be the furthest away from your product but comes the closest to the customer's personal experience.
In trying to understand these journeys, he said, we tend to focus on customer touchpoints. But journeys really turn on your ability to successfully integrate your customers' mental context—to understand what they're thinking and feeling at those touchpoints. “It's not enough to know where and what about the journey, but why," Winnick said.
A Moving Target
Achieving this understanding is especially challenging because the customer's context is often changing in ways that are hard to predict. We tend to have a “skewed perspective" of our customer, Winnick said, because we see their journey through the perspective of our own products and services. As an example, he described the efforts of a financial institution to appeal to new college freshmen, based on the institution's hypothesis that a student's financial journey would start with opening savings and checking accounts. But what they found was that those steps were far down the target customer's lists of priorities—way below looking for bargains and cheap deals. Fixating on their own product could have led the institution to miss that key context.
—Michael Winnick, founder, Dscout
It's also important to understand what your customers are expecting. Their expectations aren't set by your competitors, Winnick said, but by the most innovative digital companies out there—in terms of customer experience, the standards are being set by other companies. He describe a project Salesforce Ignite and Dscout carried out around a traveler's process of planning and taking a trip. The hypothesis was that people would prefer the process to be as frictionless and seamless as possible, so they first tried to shorten the planning stage. What they learned was that people often enjoy the planning process, and that the most memorable, emotional moments of a trip are often the unexpected, friction-filled ones.
And the most memorable moments tend to be what determines people's overall opinion of an experience. “People judge an experience based on how they felt at the peak and at the end—the 'peak-end rule,'" Winnick said. “When we want to improve the customer journey, we need to measure the peaks and valleys" rather than looking at some “average" of experiences.
Best Practices for Managing the Customer Journey
Winnick concluded by offering a few pieces of advice on best practices in managing the customer journey:
- Don't apply internal models to customer behavior. The customer journey is not a linear path through evaluation and comparisons. There will be lots of starting over and going back.
- Ground your journeys in real customer experiences. To determine what those are, you can use fancy tools, Winnick said, or you can do something as simple as asking customers to draw their own journeys on a piece of paper.
- Audit journeys quarterly or semi-annually to make sure they're still accurate. Getting new users in the system gives the best read on any expectation gap.