Maybe you've got a smart logo and tagline, you're killing it on social media and your marketing team is bringing the inbound leads, but for some reason they're dropping off before the point of sale. Something is going wrong along your customer's journey—it's time to take a hard look at the customer experience, or CX.
Your brand is a living and breathing journey your customers are on, whether they're speaking with a salesperson, interacting with your website, opening your packaged good or any number of small moments along that journey. In a perfect world, these distinct interactions build a cohesive and consistent experience that reinforce your brand identity—but creating a cohesive brand is easier said than done.
“I've seen a lot of brand work that ends at the brand message," says Noel Johnson, an ad, design and strategy world veteran who is now director of account services at Most Likely To, a boutique agency in San Francisco. “The tough question is how you bring it to life through customer experiences."
“Your business has the best shot at growth when your priorities align with your customers," says Lynn Koble, group director of customer experience at Sullivan, a branding firm specializing in working with financial services firms.
The magic happens when brands align their business perspective with a customer need in a way that only they can, when they create experiences that deliver on their promise. It's important to give customers moments that matter to them, but those moments must also matter to your brand and business.
Discovering the Customer Experience
Customer experience can be defined as all the interactions that build a customer's relationship with a brand. Your brand is only as good as its ability to influence those moments.
—Lynn Koble, group director of customer experience, Sullivan
“The challenge is that customers move fluidly, and repeatedly, between channels, devices and contexts at various stages of engagement with a brand," says Sullivan's Koble, “so their journeys are never straightforward." That's why it's important to get a 360-degree view of the experience from the customer perspective to shed light on which specific moments to zero in on to help move the needle.
But how do you do that? Research.
“Watching your customers and talking to your customers brings through their true experiences," says Johnson. “The qualitative research is the most valuable, but it takes time." In a retail business you might look at things like: How do they take things off the rack? Where do they need help? Do their friends join in on the purchase? “Just watching how people move through the experience can be pretty enlightening," adds Johnson.
With a mix of research information, the next step is to build a visual, or customer experience map, to understand all the touchpoints customers have with a brand.
Mapping the Customer Journey
“You can't underestimate the value of a simple visual," says Johnson, citing a large financial services firm client that devalued the customer experience until they saw their customers' journey mapped out. “It wasn't until the leaders could see a visual of what their customers were going through that they really became engaged in the idea of improving that experience." That examination of their customer experience and its visual map became such a powerful unifier for the company that it turned into a public relations initiative.
Sullivan builds detailed customer experience maps for clients including exact points of interaction clients have with a brand, sometimes focusing on specific types of experiences, like onboarding to a new technology or focusing on a particular customer persona. And Koble stresses that when mapping your customer journey, it's important to include third-party partners and other brands that influence the journey along the way.
“Customers don't limit their experience to your brand or think about your internal silos," she says. “They have an experience made up of moments that matter to them, so creating customer-centric experiences means thinking in the same way that they do."
At Sullivan, Koble worked with one financial services business that wanted to improve the customer experience for their merchants, from small businesses to large corporations. “The importance and value of a good customer experience was something that the marketing, digital product and customer service teams could all agree on," she says, “the problem was that the teams were approaching improving CX in very different ways, based on how they defined/segmented the customer. Marketing was looking at business volume, digital product was interested in active authenticated users and customer service was concerned about call resolution."
While all of those approaches were valid, they prioritize a business perspective and painted an incomplete picture by focusing on the what, not the why. By mapping the journey from the point of view of behavior- and needs-based customer profiles they developed through complementary qualitative research, they shifted and aligned team mindsets toward a customer-first perspective.
The customer journey map also synthesized the teams' disparate inputs into a cohesive whole, revealing opportunities across the experience that all teams could relate to. By then looking at those opportunities through the lens of the brand, in this case one that offered the promise of premium service, they developed actionable recommendations, such as website guides tailored to employees and to end-users.
“It's the visual that everyone can relate to without getting hung up on wordsmithing," says Johnson. “So often brand gets boiled to a statement, but a map can be a more unifying tool and much easier to understand, for clients and internal teams. It can be really valuable but the challenge is making it true to the customer's experience. Companies can have a lot of biases. It's important to keep it true to what the customer is actually experiencing."
Examining problems from the customer's point of view is an essential mindset shift that's strategically sound. So why don't more companies do it? Some companies assume they know their customer. Others might be deterred by complexity, which can make that holistic view and those end-to-end decisions feel overwhelming. But keeping focused on your customer's journey can help enable you to create meaningful, measurable improvement in their experience—and your bottom line.