What’s a customer-led journey – and why should I care about it?

Brands have come a long way from the carefree days of mass marketing, when single-channel monologues masqueraded as ‘customer engagement’. Over the last decade, technology has quietly transformed marketers’ vague assurances of customer-centricity into a genuine reality.

And once bewildering portmanteau, Adtech and Martech have evolved at such pace that they can genuinely empower brands to ‘converse’ in dialogue with customers at scale. We live in exhilarating times. Which makes it especially frustrating when you consider that only a small percentage of brands capitalize on their promise to put customers first

Customer-led journeys are the solution to the problem. So, what are they – and why is everyone talking about them?

Annoyingly, humans are unpredictable

Although they truly know better, many businesses employ legacy, channel-based goals and targets based on meeting their commercial objectives. Consequently, their customers are herded into segments and linear, premeditated journeys. This becomes destructive over time because (obviously…) different people have very different needs, which themselves don’t remain static. Long story short, customers often endure inconsistent, largely irrelevant experiences and feel they are not being understood.

Here’s a simplified onboarding journey from a well-known energy brand. It’s a familiar example, essentially designed to fulfil corporate goals:

Standard journeys are idealistic – and don’t always align with customer needs

Clearly this a ‘brand-led’ approach; any associated automation is driven by business efficiencies, rather than a desire to improve individual customer experiences. And crucially, it’s not reflective of reality:

  • Customers’ needs differ as they embark on their uniquenuanced journeys.
  • These are independent of our (idealized) scenario plans and business operations. And, inconveniently, their journeys are not linear or predicable.
  • Individual customer priorities are unique and diverse, from complaint resolution or technical query, to financing or upsell opportunity. We found that in the above example, a significant proportion actually sought to investigate in these weeks whether their (aged) boiler would be covered by insurance.
  • Without understanding intent, the business fails to prioritize and time its conversations. This results in a potentially poor first experience for many customers – and huge missed opportunity for the business.

Fittingly, customer-led journeys start with the *customer*

Customer-led journeys change the approach at a fundamental level, reimagining the role of communications from being brand driven (and planned by channel) to customer led (activated across channels). Responding to individual, evolving intent elevates a brand from making empty promises, to being demonstrably customer focused.

Humans are unpredictable creatures, so planned (and linear) customer journeys cannot compete with the responsiveness of customer-led journeys

By understanding what one customer seeks (intent), customer-led journeys provide the ‘next best conversation’. To get there, this considers an individual’s recent experiences (e.g. ongoing complaint), the best channel for the task and armed with all context, whether the current/pending marketing campaigns are appropriate. While it may seem counterintuitive, marketing may even be withheld in the process, but customer trust – and commercial reward – will follow.

Happiness is contagious

It won’t take a huge leap of faith to comprehend why customer-led journeys create improved experiences and engagement. But beyond good practice and happier customers, why is this important for the business?

Customer-led journeys provide a far broader organizational contribution than traditional journeys, which tend to be limited to marketing departments. Forget marketing automation platforms or conversion rate optimizations (CROs); in this brave new omnichannel world, tech like Thunderhead’s ONE Engagement Hub can visualize and orchestrate the entire journey, incorporating not just marketing channels, but sales (such as car dealers or retail EPOS), service and operations. This not only creates potent and connected insight; it also means that the business can start to morph itself around the real needs of its customers.

We recently invited Forrester’s VP and Principal Analyst Joana de Quintanilha (author of the Forrester Journey Orchestration Wave) to present her views on “Why Customer Journey Orchestration is Critical Today” on a recent webinar. It’s a great overview, so do have a watch –  click here for the full recording.

“A customer will create the most value for you at about the point you create the most value for him”

Don Peppers

While technology and strategic approaches may change, one thing remains constant: Value for the customer creates value for the brand. We recently commissioned research with Marketing Week, asking almost 500 Marketing and CX professionals about the developing role of customer journeys. Among the many insights, it appears that 85% regard customer-led journeys as being essential or very important for brands; over half felt benefits would be “transformative for their business”. 

Source: Aggregated TH client results 2016-18

I’m hoarding a stockpile of case studies illustrating how customer-led journeys positively influenced the business levers above. But sadly, I’m working to a strict wordcount – and you’ll probably be relieved for me to spare you the details. Suffice to say the evidence beyond our walls is also compelling. Take banking: McKinsey identified that omnichannel customers are more engaged, have a longer tenure, and generate over 200% more revenue than their single channel counterparts. [McKinsey: The-winning formula for omnichannel banking in North America]. Equally, the impact of the associated, improved customer experience is substantial: Forrester states that a single point improvement in the CX index equates to $9.82 per customer in direct banks, which based on 3 million customers, ladders up to an incredible $29 million revenue opportunity.

The impact of customer-led journeys goes far beyond the marketing department

Embarking on the (customer-led) journey

Businesses are broadly aware of the far-reaching rewards to be reaped from the adoption of customer-led journeys. Yet despite a shared understanding, there is often a lack of urgency; in our customer-led journey research with Marketing Week, nearly 40% gave “not considered a business priority” as the main barrier. Perceived cost or ‘time to value’ are common, if misplaced, drivers of this mindset – and without cross-departmental KPIs, there’s no impetus to change. 

The thing is, customers expect change: according to Salesforce, 73% expect companies to understand their individual needs and expectations, with 71% demanding real-time communication. Of course, in today’s instantaneous and connected consumer landscape, things are moving faster than ever before. And thanks to legal and tech developments, switching is at an all-time high; as frustration leads to churn, it’s never been easier for customer to vote with their feet. While this may all sound a little bleak, rest assured – it creates opportunity: PwC [Future of CX Survey] found that 86% of buyers are willing to pay more for a great customer experience

To quote the infamous Chicago entrepreneur Bugsy Malone, “You give a little love, and it all comes back to you”. I think he was onto something; if you care about your customers, you should investigate the potential of customer-led journeys.

Apart from yesterday, there’s never been a better time to get started.