What is Customer Journey Orchestration – and why is it getting so much traction?

The 2022 Forrester Journey Orchestration Wave has just been released. (spoiler: we’re delighted to have been named a “Leader” for the fourth time). Given this launch, we felt it apt to refresh ourselves on the meaning of Journey Orchestration. Buckle in…

You’ve surely heard about Customer Journey Orchestration over the last couple of years. It’s gained enormous traction for (finally) delivering on the holy grail of ‘unique, motivating customer experiences’, and being directly attributable for wide-ranging business metrics. Unfortunately, a familiarity with the individual terms journey and orchestration can lead to some confusing the discipline with ‘journey planning’, or ‘campaign orchestration’ when in practice, Customer Journey Orchestration is radically different.

So, what is Journey Orchestration – and why has it become so fundamental to senior management within so many brands?

Traditional Customer Journey planning is a One-Way Street

The received wisdom, stemming from the earliest days of Direct Marketing, is that customer journeys need to be ‘designed’ by marketers, who are traditionally responsible for the relationship. Comms planners synthesize scenarios based on common insights and plan experiences for swathes of people, directed at the most likely scenarios. When the wind blows in the right direction, this creates the ‘best possible’ experience for the maximum number of people. At least, in theory.

Naturally, the associated planning and technology supporting this approach are fundamentally designed to uncover brand opportunities to seed a product or service. Rather than orchestrating journeys, this is the organization of campaigns, promotions and pre-determined customer life-stages. Meanwhile, departments acquire their own discrete technology and set individual KPIs aiming to further commercial ambitions or increase efficiencies. Unsurprisingly, experiences are therefore misaligned and organized around the needs of the business. Many brands behave like one-way cat flaps: talking at customers without ever considering their needs. So much for the ‘age of the customer’!

Unfortunately for these businesses, times are changing fast, as many of their competitors will be providing customers with individualized experiences (newer businesses are often built this way from the ground up). As a result, customers simply expect more from all of us. As Steve Cannon, CEO Mercedes Benz USA, said famously: “Customer experience better be at the top of your list when it comes to priorities in your organization. Customer experience is the new marketing.”

“Customer experience better be at the top of your list when it comes to priorities in your organization. Customer experience is the new marketing.”

Steve Cannon, CEO Mercedes Benz USA
Current approaches fall short by focusing brand, not customer, needs

The Customer Experience Gap

This ‘gap’ between customer expectation and delivery is a serious yet common problem. At Thunderhead, we refer to it as the Experience Gap.

The issue is often systemic and unintentional, since individual departments are structurally blinkered; appraised by simply delivering their function without the need (or ability) to absorb cross-functional insight. In Marketing, this may be acquisition volume or campaign effectiveness. Call Centers try to keep call times down. All the while, Sales seek to exploit the most cost-effective route to conversion. The associated technology then operates like a greyhound: fixated on a single, undeviating target. But unlike the mechanical hare, customers are unpredictable creatures. And (especially over time) journeys are completely different. Given all this, it’s easy to understand how businesses fail to satiate the evolving needs of individual customers or provide consistent experiences across touchpoints. As the competition catches up, customer expectation and experience are drifting further and further apart.

“You Can’t Become Customer-Obsessed Without Becoming Journey-Centric”

Joana de Quintanilha, VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester

A shift is needed. To change things up, we need to hand over control of the customer journey, and associated experience, to the person who knows best. Clue: It’s not necessarily your comms planner…

Putting the customer in the driving seat of their own journey

It’s clear that ‘personalizing where possible’ (the old approach) simply won’t cut it any longer. New businesses like Monzo, and the myriad Direct-to-Consumer retail brands (from CUUP to Burrow) have customer-centricity as their raison d’être, causing big ripples in their respective sectors.

Done right, customer-centricity means moving past segments: every customer can genuinely expect to be treated as an individual, rather than a cohort or trope. Our practice of personalization has been usurped by ‘individualization’: given that each customer’s needs evolve over time, orchestrating individualized journeys allow businesses to contextualize, adapt and respond to evolving customer intent in the moment. This is far more than what’s just been clicked – we’ve written about intent-driven journeys in this post. Rather, we must connect, decipher and recall every single interaction (digital or not) to provide an instant, seamless and ‘end to end’ conversation.

A shift is at play. A fixation with ‘personalization’ to support transactional goals has given way to individualization, supporting longer-term objectives. Vision, strategy and associated technology are coalescing around the customer

In its article, Transform customer journeys at scale – and transform your business, The Boston Consulting Group describes this well: “The best way to reimagine journeys is through an approach known as zero-based design: starting from a clean slate to develop innovative solutions that truly address the customer’s needs.”

What is Customer Journey Orchestration?

Customer Journey Orchestration is a unifying technology that learns, understands and orchestrates customer conversations and journeys across all interactions and organizational silos. This provides individual customers with a unique, evolving brand experience. It also extends beyond marketing, incorporating sales, service and ecommerce.

Customer Journey Orchestration Diagram with customer at the centre
A Customer Journey Orchestration Hub is a unifying technology that learns, understands and orchestrates customer conversations and journeys across touchpoints, business silos – and over time

By being less prescriptive and more responsive, we’re handing over control to the customer. But this leap of faith means we no longer ‘dictate’ journeys – and instead, start enabling them. And it means customers get where they need to go.

Shifting to a customer mindset can feel uncomfortable as we grapple with a perceived loss in control. But with the right technology, the process is straightforward, and provides entirely unique and attentive experiences for customers. You can read more here about the customer-led journey.

But the effort pays off. Engagement increases. Trust isn’t far behind. And fortunately, business fortunes follow.

What is The Forrester Journey Orchestration Wave?

If you’re not yet acquainted, Forrester’s Wave is a globally renowned font of knowledge; a heavily researched navigational guide for “buyers considering their purchasing options in a technology marketplace”. (A Which Report for tech vendors, if you like.) Compiled by its analysts having interviewed vendors and their clients, the Wave Report organizes a category’s major players into groups, from ‘Challengers’ to ‘Leaders’, also scoring their individual strategic direction and strength of product offerings. The very existence of a Forrester Wave entirely dedicated to Customer Journey Orchestration serves to demonstrate just how critical this practice has become for so many brands.

The author of the Forrester Journey Orchestration Wave, Forrester’s VP and Principal Analyst Joana de Quintanilha, was recently our guest presenter on the Thunderhead Webinar, sharing her views on: “Why Customer Journey Orchestration is Critical Today”. It’s an excellent account; click here to watch the full webinar replay.

Business benefits of Customer Journey Orchestration

Clearly, Customer Journey Orchestration provides better end-to-end customer experiences. Practitioners are well versed in the symbiotic relationship: happier, more loyal customers support business growth.

But the impact runs even deeper. Shifting from a traditional siloed approach to looking at the entire lifecycle across a business’s divisions – has a breadth of commercial benefits, from reduced ‘cost to serve’, to employee engagement. Customer Journey Orchestration also provides the means to iron out journey hotspots throughout; across website, call center, app or store. This means that, with the help of visualizations and journey analytics, it then becomes possible to appraise and improve holistic ‘experience’.

This is a powerful concept with the ability to evolve long-standing KPIs. In its June 2020 Report, Journey Centricity: Learn from The Leaders (by Joana de Quintanilha), Forrester describes how “Journey centricity leads to higher revenue, reduced costs, and better CX”. The report cites “forward-thinking companies like Bank of Montreal (BMO), The Economist, E.ON, and Lloyds Banking Group…shifting their focus away from channels and touchpoints and toward journeys instead”. Similarly, The Boston Consulting Group finds that scaled journey transformation can improve advocacy 20-40%, reduce cost-to-serve by 15% and 25%, and increase revenue between 10 and 20%.

Our own experience reflects similar, significant impacts and clients have seen far-reaching benefits. For example, we reduced call volumes by over 25% for one retailer by servicing customers on more effective channels. One of our sports clients increased its team’s global ticket sales by 6% through journey-based engagement. And in short time, we uncovered over $1m monthly revenue for a leading telco provider.

Because Customer Journey Orchestration is not restricted to (generally campaign- or offer-based) marketing endeavors, organizations are suddenly empowered to make deeper connections beyond marketing, across service and sales, benefitting from their powerful new insight. In one case, we used real-time customer interest and intent, fueled by purchase history, and saw a 19% uplift in cross-sell for a consumer electronics client.

Once everything’s connected, KPIs can also be cross-departmental, customer-centric and long term. It’s no exaggeration to say Customer Journey Orchestration is fundamentally changing the way businesses operate as they pivot with customers as their organizing focus.

A Wave of change

No wonder then that Customer Journey Orchestration is taking hold so quickly. In our own poll with Marketing Week of almost 500 marketing and CX, 85% of respondents reported that customer-led journeys were either ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ for brands, with over half stating that they believe the benefits would be “transformative for their business”. Similarly, in it’s 2020 Journey Orchestration Wave™ report, Forrester describes how “A new breed of journey management tools has emerged to help firms fuse data across channels, touchpoints, and systems to better understand and orchestrate customer experiences”.

This emergence is because  platforms, like the ONE Engagement Hub, are proving their worth – and the market has sat up and taken notice. If you’re interested in Customer Journey Orchestration, and who the major players are, The Forrester Journey Orchestration Platforms Wave™ Q2 2022 is a very good place to start.

Download your own copy of the 2022 Forrester Journey Orchestration Wave and see the results here

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Or if you’d like to know more about Journey Orchestration, do get in touch

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