(Editor’s note: this post was originally published by Business Insider Australia)
Buyers always want the best customer experience and so sellers must constantly reassess what the new “best” means, and transform themselves to deliver it. This is more important than ever for businesses competing in a buzzing, digitized market.
This is why leaders understand the importance of business change, and their long-term strategies cater for experimentation and innovation. But innovation isn’t one-size-fits-all for every area of the business, so what does it mean for marketers?
From a strategic perspective, the more marketing looks at the business from the outside, the more it can help to transform it from the inside. A brilliant way to get externally-focussed like this is to actually “become” the customer.
You can do this by creating a true-to-life, virtualized world of customers and their journeys through the business. While this sounds lofty, it’s possible with the right technology and by using a practical step-by-step approach.
Telsyte and SugarCRM recently produced a report for marketing leaders, titled “Digital Leaders Use Customer Journey Maps to Guide Business Transformation” It draws on feedback from 255 CMOs surveyed in the 2015 Australian and New Zealand Digital marketer Study.
Just over half the marketing leaders said, “Our team promotes an understanding of the customer across the organization, helping to shape its entire approach to business transformation.” Six common themes stood out:
- Predict and embrace change
There’s no doubt that change is happening – fast and merciless – as we watch some brands like Uber and Amazon thrive while others like Blockbuster and Borders have collapsed. A common thread is the way these brands respond to changes in customer preferences – to what ‘the best customer experience’ looks like. Some embrace the new best, while others seem to keep doing what they’ve always done and stagnate themselves into irrelevance.
Businesses need a logical and intelligent way to understand and engage with their markets, to constantly figure out what they need to change and why.
Marketing can help to identify and respond to change by creating virtual world of customer types and the interactions they have with the business. This system, which is based on real-world customer behaviors, tells the business what ‘best’ means to any customer at any point. It’s based on customer journey maps populated with customer personas.
- Define your customers with personas
You can think of a persona as “a fictional individual that represents a group of people with similar needs and behaviors, and aims to bring this group to life.”
Consider, as an example, the imaginary persona of ‘Brian’. First you create a short story of his current situation based on the information you have, and then distill this into a fact-based profile that shows exactly what’s important to him. This is powerful stuff, and now marketing can creatively engage with Brian, and anyone in the business who has contact with him can help to deliver Brian’s own specific idea of ‘best customer experience.’
The information you use to build personas can come from a number of sources – perhaps it’s anecdotal, gleaned from people around the business who have contact with Brian. Or maybe it’s a set of facts taken from a survey that Brian completed.
Don’t despair if you think you don’t have the budget to create personas. You can start simply by creating ‘assumption personas’ based on whatever insight you can gather from around the business. You can hone these personas every time you come by qualitative insight from observation, direct contact or formal research.
Looking at customer data over time will allow you to make new judgements too, like “most people matching Brian’s profile tend to abandon a website if they can’t work out how to navigate it right away.”
- Use your persons to build a customer journey
Now you have a set of personas, it’s time to see how they interact with your business. Customer journey maps put the personas into real-world context by visually modelling the steps the customer follows as they find, buy, use or talk about what you’re selling.
By going alongside the customer as they take a journey through your business, you can see what’s important, when and why. You can identify points where the business isn’t providing exactly what the customer wants, or where things are inconsistent and confusing, and help those areas to make changes. By shaping the ‘best’ journey like this, you can guide the customer to their final destination and make the whole experience something that sets you apart.
You can engage user experience designers to create detailed customer journey maps for you, but if you don’t have budget to set aside you can start by sketching them out yourself. Try running workshops around the business with individuals and teams who have contact with customers who can give you relevant insight. You can improve and build on your maps with information you glean from your ongoing marketing activities.
Whichever way you choose to develop your maps, be sure to make them relevant and useable. Startlingly, a huge 45% of organizations surveyed said they do have customer journey maps but rarely use them.
So what makes a customer journey map useable? It should clearly highlight information that various parts of the business can use to shape the customer experience at their points of contact. You might want to list a clear set of steps and label which departments are responsible for the experience at each step.
There are a number of ways to visually present your customer journey maps, each with its own advantages and limitations. Whatever you choose, be sure that the people who need to use your maps understand their value and how to use them.
If you’re keeping your maps up to date, you’ll quickly see when customer preferences and behaviors are changing. And if the business is actively using your maps, it can quickly respond to this change. This is a key enabler for successful digital business transformation.
- Make personas and customer journeys work in the real world
Your personas and customer journey maps will most likely be created and updated with both qualitative and quantitative data captured from multiple sources. Bringing data together like this is easiest with a modern CRM software. A best-in-class CRM integrates with other systems and forms a unifying backbone for both sharing and gathering customer information across every part of the organization.
Once your personas and customer journey maps are created, people in direct contact with customers need to easily match customers to a persona, to see where they are in their journeys and act accordingly.
The key word here “easy.” For most businesses, their customers’ journeys are messy and complex. Maps make sense of them, and when they’re made available via the CRM throughout the business, orchestrating great customer journeys – and evolving with change – becomes much easier.
- Create a culture of customer experience
The point of having personas and customer journey maps is to support customer-centered decision-making across the business. Once you’ve created your personas and maps, and then made them accessible and easy to use, the next challenge is to motivate people to actually go ahead and use them.
When you work with colleagues to build your maps, you should explain what you’re doing and why. It’s vital to get the whole organization excited about understanding the customer, as well as changing as a business when customer preferences change.
Share the vision that everyone has a role to play in providing the best customer experience and thereby contributing directly to the success of the business. Creating and owning customer journeys together is a great way to get everyone behind this shared vision.
It’s important convey that personas and journey maps evolve over time, so everyone’s ongoing participation is crucial for them to be a powerful business transformation tool.
- Nurturing innovation
So back to the idea of business innovation; imagine if marketing can suggest innovations that will be guaranteed to deliver more value and better customer experiences than ever before. By using a CRM to bring customer personas and journey maps alive across the business, marketing can offer exactly this.
Like with any business investment, you’ll need to demonstrate the value of CRM-enabled personas and journey maps. Once you’ve got these practices in place, you’ll be in a position to measure not just marketing performance but also the contribution of every area that touches the customer journey.
You’ll be able to demonstrate how changes based on customer insight are directly impacting customer satisfaction, performance and profitability.
Something so valuable to the business should be worth further investment so you can develop and deliver more, and keep marketing in the center of business transformation.
To find out what other marketing leaders are doing with customer journey mapping, and get some pointers on how to put it in place, get yourself a copy of the report.