How re-mapping the customer journey in 2021 is imperative to stay ahead of your customers

17 minute read

Team BlueVenn

Customer journey mapping is when you model the likely passage of a customer, from the moment they become aware of your product, to (if you’re lucky) the point they choose to buy, then beyond that to foster retention and loyalty. The idea is to look at the journey from the perspective of the customer, to see how simple it is to follow, where it veers off their intended course, and which touchpoints may be adding difficulty or inertia to their experience.

Once the business can determine all of this, it becomes easier to understand where you have blind spots in your knowledge of the journey, and identify missing technologies, tactics or data flows that could be negatively impacting the customer experience.

The 2020-2021 Coronavirus pandemic has significantly impacted how customers browse and purchase products and services, therefore any journey mapping done before the imposed lockdowns or restrictions we’ve been party to may need to be re-mapped, to consider rising hybrid consumer behaviors.

Why is journey re-mapping going to be so important?

The goal of customer journey mapping is to make the experience as smooth and engaging as possible, to boost the likelihood of a conversion and create loyal customers and advocates. In other words, it’s about helping the customer to achieve their aims, quickly and easily, so that they will leave with a good impression of your brand and continue to buy more over time (loyalty) and recommend you to their friends (advocacy).

A well-planned customer journey is a requisite for business success, leading to great rewards. According to research by Dimension Data, 81% of businesses cite customer experience as a key differentiator, with 92% saying that optimizing it meant that customer loyalty improved. And, according to research by Quadient, journey mapping is a demonstrably effective way to improve that experience for your customers.

However, how many journey maps, prior to the pandemic, will have gone to the lengths of planning how that customer journey might be impacted when stores are shut, online demand (and returns from online orders) increases, in-store queuing becomes mandatory, and delivery networks are placed under extreme pressure – all of which impact the seamless customer journey.

There is a lot of data to back up the idea that customer-centric businesses see more success. PwC’s survey of 15,000 people revealed that 73% named customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decision, with 32% saying that one bad experience would cause them to walk away from a brand they loved. So, is the pandemic potentially giving your customers a bad experience? Do you know which customers are moving from traditional offline journeys to online? Can you react to regional store closures and provide a good, seamless experience throughout?

Getting customer journey mapping right

Whether you’re using a mapping tool or just plotting your map out on a long sheet of paper, there’s no point in doing the job by halves. You’ll need to think about every stage of the customer journey and go through a five-point process to make sure your map is soundly thought out and will help you to simultaneously please the customer in a tough climate and achieve your business objectives.

  1. Get to know the customer (or the groups of customers) you’re planning a journey for
  2. Get your team (and other teams that will affect the journey) fully on-board
  3. Don’t forget that today’s customer journey isn’t linear (especially since there are many pandemic-induced issues to consider)
  4. Look for opportunities for improvement and test, test, test!
  5. Don’t stop there – journey mapping is an ongoing process

Getting to know your target customer

Remember, you’re not planning a journey map for any old customer, you’re planning it for your customer, which means you will likely have a lot of unique information and data about them and how they interact with your brand. First, you’ll need to determine why they come to your website or app, where they go while they’re there, and what products or services they’re most interested in. You’ll find a lot of meaningful data that can help you with this in loyalty systems, ERP systems, surveys, eCommerce platforms, product systems, CRM and call centers, consent platforms, advertising solutions, data warehouses, home grown databases and more.

The obvious first step is to collect all of that data together for analysis, so that you can start to map out a common journey for each type of customer. (That is no mean feat but can be accomplished a variety of ways, including through investment in a Customer Data Platform.) Segmentation is thereafter an essential process, allowing you to think about typical journeys that groups of similar customers take. Looking at the traffic, time per page view, bounce rates, exit rates and user flows on your website, you may start to see some identifiers that could indicate progression or aversion in the website journey.

Next, think about what makes notable interactions particularly popular or unpopular. If you have multi-touch attribution, consider how and when customers are entering a journey and are reaching a conversion. If a customer didn’t convert, where and why did they churn? If they did, what page or platform were they most likely to come directly from, and what did they buy? Were they a repeat customer?

The customer responses and data you consolidate will help you to build up a few personas of likely buyers for your products. These should be kept firmly in mind when mapping the customer journey, and you will probably want to create a different map for each desirable persona, keeping their particular motivations, characteristic behaviors and preferences in mind.

Get all required teams on board with journey optimization

The main thing to check here is the feasibility of the proposed journey with all who will be involved in it, and to ensure they understand and approve their expected involvement. According to Gartner, this should include not only those who will be involved in delivering the actual customer experience, e.g. Customer Service, call centers, those responsible for distributing marketing materials, IT and Sales, but those who work behind the scenes to optimize it, such as customer insights and analytics professionals.

All of these people might have different priorities and goals, and all of them are likely to be experiencing new difficulties in the face of the pandemic, whether that be staff shortages, reduced budgets, or unexpected changes or surges in their part of the customer journey. A food retailer, for example, is likely to have seen an overall rise in demand for its products, but especially for alcoholic beverages and non-perishable foods, while perishable goods such as fruit may be less in demand. Stocks and storage will need to be adjusted accordingly. Then, the demand for click-and-collect and delivery will have risen, while less customers will be coming in store, so staffing and resources will all need to be shuffled to accommodate these shifts.

Each different department within the company will be coping with different issues, all of which they will be best placed to explain, and all should have a chance to make sure the customer journey is deliverable, acts upon data insights, and fits in with their scheduling, capabilities and needs. It’s important, too, to be able to understand that the journey will need to be adjusted as customer behaviors, product demands, regulations and staffing levels alter over time, which they are likely to continue doing at the drop of a hat for the foreseeable future. It will therefore be important to have the right customer analytics tools in place to recognize when interventions and modifications are needed.

If there are areas in the customer experience where multiple departments will need to be involved, or where resources might prove to be an obstacle, you’ll need to ensure that operational plans and adequate support is in place within the journey to cope with any problems. For example, where you know reduced staffing levels at a call center will cause delays, it will be important to get chatbots in place or diversions to other help resources that can take up the slack. It’s therefore best to involve all stakeholders before even starting to plot the journey’s course, so that you don’t waste time crafting a customer experience that it isn’t possible to achieve.

Remember that customers plan their own journeys, and they won’t be linear!

Each customer journey is unique, especially in these days of omnichannel marketing, when a customer could just as easily land on your site from social media or through an app as they might by clicking a link in a marketing email. And, with habitual brick-and-mortar shoppers increasingly shopping online, according to our Retail Study, while everyone is shopping more online, the customer journey is unrecognizable from the pre-pandemic model, with lots of different channels fighting to take up traditionally offline footfall.

Once the regulations loosen, it’s hard to predict whether customers will stay online or be extra eager to rush back to the high street, but companies will need to be prepared for either eventuality. One thing is for certain, no longer will the journey progress from need, to awareness, then research, comparison, selection, and purchase. These stages all cross over each other, with the customer determining how and when they enter your journey, where they go from there, and what stage they’ll convert at if they do so. Plus, with online reviews and product research becoming a larger part of the buying journey, whether the customer converts or not may not even be down to the actions of the company.

Putting your customer first

That’s why it’s important to map the journey from the customer’s point of view. Once a persona is settled upon, all possible entry and exit points must be considered. What are the important moments when intervention from the brand could make, or break, their experience? And who should make those interventions? If they put something in the cart, then leave to browse a competing website, an automated ‘item in cart’ message or a discount offer could pull them back on track.

And, if your deliveries are taking a little longer than usual because of increased demand and a shortage of pickers and packers, ensuring customers receive email or text alerts to keep them informed at every stage, from order, to dispatch, to arrival at the door (inside an estimated time window), will make it far more likely that they’ll be satisfied with your service and overlook the delay. Every possible journey scenario involving the persona, from each entry-point to checkout, should be considered and plotted using data insights, and this process should be repeated with every key persona.

Possible obstacles, or ‘pain points’ should also be pondered, things that might cause them to pause or leave the journey altogether. What if they call and have a longer-than-usual wait to reach an agent, or an item they usually order isn’t available because of shipping difficulties? Would an apology phone call, alternative product suggestion or the offer of a free gift make all the difference and reverse the negative impression? If so, being able to recognize these difficulties in real-time and automate a response, or alert the relevant department rapidly, could prove to be the difference between losing or retaining customers.

You must improve, test, and improve again

When opportunities arise to influence the journey or to stamp out the pain points, they should be taken. Luckily, since you’ve involved all stakeholders in the mapping, they will all be on-board to help make the necessary preparations and adjustments and make sure your re-mapped journey is Covid-friendly and future-proofed against the full spectrum of eventualities.

Once all necessary steps have been taken, a member of the team should assume the persona of the customer and walk through every possible journey scenario for that customer. It’s likely that you’ll discover one or more of the suggested measures hasn’t fixed the problem or has introduced new issues and opportunities, or that ones you hadn’t yet considered will crop up. If that’s the case, great! That means the mapping process is working, and you’ve spotted the problem before your customers encounter it. You will continue to make adjustments to the process and test again until the walk through all possible scenarios is a smooth and easy one.


Journey mapping is an ongoing process – a long, winding road

Great! So you’re done, right? Wrong. The thing is, even in a more stable climate, successful businesses change continuously, with their skills base and structure evolving, new products or services being added, new markets being explored and promotions pushed. Your customer base will also change, as technologies shift, economies fail or thrive, and trends come and go.

Every change of circumstance is likely to bring with it a shift in your business’s key personas, marketing goals and capabilities. For that reason, you’ll need to be sure you have access to data insights from each possible touchpoint on the customer journey, to monitor the ebb and flow of custom and any contacts, complaints, reviews and online behavior you’ll need if you’re to understand your customer’s aims and needs. As well, you’ll need technology that enables you to put your map into action across all channels.

Provided you keep up the customer journey mapping and testing, you’ll be able to keep up with the times and please your customers, even in the unprecedented, unpredictable, rapidly changing situation in which companies (and customers!) around the world find themselves now. The moment you stop, though, your customer journey will grow dated and problems will start the creep in. Shaping the brand experience using customer analytics shouldn’t be a one-off exercise, it should be an ongoing operation.

Using customer journey mapping as a springboard to get ahead of your customers

Of course, with lots of different personas and touchpoints, it’s very hard to accurately predict which personas will take which precise course along the customer journey. If a company could do that, they could plan their resources and automated push notifications with even greater precision, leading to a better conversion rate than ever – something that is sorely needed as marketing budgets are being slashed, even while conversions are more crucial to success in an overcrowded online market than they’ve ever been. Thanks to Machine Learning (ML) and predictive modelling, it’s now possible to make this pipe-dream come true.

Machine Learning is a branch of AI that can use a journey map as a basis for continuous learning, gathering more and more intelligence about the likely outcomes each time it goes through it. As the Data & Marketing Association explains, by using different ‘clustering algorithms’, an organisation can settle upon the most likely next steps for a customer in real-time, helping it to further the aims of both the customer and the business by intervening in the journey to engage the customer at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right way. This methodology is known as Next Best Action, and it helps companies to supercharge the customer experience by giving their customers what they want and need before they even realize they need it.

In terms of how it works, ‘Supervised’ learning algorithms first run through the journey map over and over, to learn the movements of the assorted personas, then follow a customer through the journey live to see which persona they’re likely to fit into, according to their movements so far (and therefore, where they’re likely to go next). Meanwhile, ’unsupervised’ algorithms can reach the same stage without going through the learning stage first, and deal with less formulaic journeys besides, but they are harder to gain data insights from.

All of this sounds very complex, but provided a company is equipped with the customer journey analytics tools needed to analyse the data points of the journey in real-time, a Machine Learning tool ready to make use of that data, and omnichannel campaign management abilities that will allow it to apply insights to the journey itself, all of which a CDP may have, setting up a self-refining customer journey map to take customer engagement to a new level is an easier process than you might imagine. All those enriching details, like pain points and intervention opportunities, will become ever-easier to spot, enabling orchestration of responsive actions that will make your customers’ lives easier.

The customer journey map – and journey – of the future

A journey map, then, is only as good as the customer analytics feeding into it and the tools, data flows and resources you have available to implement it. If you’re finding that a large number of customers are falling off at the stage of adding products to your cart, then you may want to consider some basket abandon analytics and triggered responses. If you’re finding a lot of traffic from an influencer is hitting a 404 page, then you need to consider redirects, or if you’ve suddenly seen a surge in web traffic but no increase in orders, you’ll need to look at the data to understand why.

A Customer Data Platform (CDP) is designed to provide you with full access to every data point that you need in order to analyse your customer data in full. Every journey step, transaction, web visit, cart abandonment, return, etc., is stored, timestamped and made available, enabling you to piece together the journeys of a single buyer, or indeed the journey of hundreds, or millions, of customers that follow the same patterns. Some CDPs have integrations to Voice of the Consumer and survey tools too, which will enable you to match your first party data with sentiment and actual feedback from your customers at each point of the journey.

The next step is to then have the tools and skills required to make sense of the unified data in the CDP, AKA the Single Customer View, and create common maps that your customers are following. The great thing about most Customer Data Platforms is that they also provide the ability to easily analyze and segment the data, and in platforms like BlueVenn, marketers can use “train-of-thought” data visualization tools to explore all potential variations of customer behaviors more easily.

Continually improving your customer experience

Although the pandemic was neither predicted, nor welcomed, it has done most businesses a favor in one respect. Its very unpredictability and impact has highlighted the woeful lack of crisis planning and agility in their customer journey mapping operations. Never has it been so clear that having the customer analytics tools, processes and companywide support in place to rapidly and continuously improve the customer experience is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

This may be an extreme situation, but regardless of climate, no business can survive without pleasing its customers. Businesses that put customer-centricity at the heart of their vision, goals and plans, with the aim of crafting the most seamless flexible customer journey possible, will emerge from the pandemic stronger and ready to take their place as a dominant force in their respective markets.

To learn more about BlueVenn’s customer journey orchestration and analytics software, you can register for our bi-weekly live demonstration webinar.

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