Understanding Customer Journey Analytics

Beth Sanville Merkle

"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.

Today’s column is written by Beth Sanville, SVP, Analytics, Merkle

It’s no secret that consumers expect companies to care about their needs and personalize their individual journeys. Brands, once fueled largely by advertising, are now driven through customer experiences. So delivering great, relevant customer experiences has become increasingly critical for attracting and keeping customers; doing so builds loyalty and advocacy, thereby driving interactions and revenue. 

Customer journey analytics is the science of building data-informed customer experiences. It informs how we understand the customer, influences how we design experiences, manifests operationalized changes and helps to shape individual experiences in real time. At its best, customer journey analytics ensures a systematic means of evaluating and monitoring outcomes and improving the process. Building and delivering optimal customer journeys is a business discipline and process that must start and end with data.

The six steps of the customer-journey execution cycle are not independent; they should connect and influence each other. Let’s dive into each step.

1) Connect and enhance data

The most foundational aspect of customer journey design is the ability to identify, collect, synthesize and act upon multiple dimensions of data. During this step, identity resolution, quality and compliance, granularity of data and segmentation of your data will be factored into the overall ability to use it intelligently across the organization.

2) Define the data-driven journey

Once you have as much data as possible laid out and connected, the process of determining the current and the ideal customer journey can begin. Customer experience (CX) analysts and designers can translate the data into insights that are forged into actionable business strategies and tactics. 

Some customer journeys are born in the well-intentioned hearts and minds of marketers with a subjective sentiment of “Here is what I think is happening” or “Here is what I hope is happening.” There needs to be an objective basis for understanding how we know what the customer journey is, what’s working, what isn’t and where the most significant gaps lie.

3) Devise a test design and contact strategy

Test designs and resulting contact strategies are built upon an understanding of the measurement framework, strategy and KPIs. Key activities to consider include synthesizing a set of primary and secondary KPIs that clearly outline what success looks like. Don’t overcomplicate your design testing, especially out of the gate. Testing within a single media, a single point in time, etc., all make the testing less likely to be confounded by challenges in execution, which are to be expected. Construct audience segments based on first- and third-party data and evaluate them for size and appropriate differentiators.

Then, determine how isolated test campaigns will be. Make sure there is sufficient data governance and customer touch control protocols in place within the organization to ensure that the requisite holdout groups will remain pristine and untouched by divergent messaging from other entities within the company.

4) Operationalize

Put that data into action! Tracking and understanding the customer journey isn’t easy, and no business has this entirely figured out, especially with the scale and uniqueness of today’s interactions. While some organizations are better at CRM, some are better at digital and some are better at loyalty; virtually none have the complete customer journey figured out. 

However, making even small, incremental progress in each area facilitates learning and large returns for your business, regardless of organizational maturity. We must rely on knowledge and insight to deliver personalized moments that, when taken together, comprise meaningful customer experiences that ultimately lead to lasting relationships.

5) Apply real-time decisioning and optimization

Decisioning platforms ingest data and signals – such as customer profile, behavioral data, real-time events, interaction context, previous contacts and historical information – and apply sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms to adapt and deliver the next best experience.

The stages of integrating customer journeys to orchestrate the next best experiences include:

  • Single-channel journey: This is the starting point where simple journeys or “micro-journeys” deliver a single channel’s experiences. A transactional journey, such as the abandoned shopping cart, is an example of a micro-journey used during this stage.
  • Multichannel journeys: Personalized conversations with customers are maintained over time across two or more channels using “macro-journeys.” Journeys such as new customers or new product onboarding are examples of macro-journeys, where a combination of email and digital communications helps kick-start the relationship between a brand and a customer.
  • Omnichannel journeys: All customer interactions across different channels and touch points adapt in real time, as customer conversational paths are organic. A combination of push-and-pull tactics are orchestrated to deliver personalized experiences at the individual level. A customer-centric view is required in this stage, along with machine learning and a combination of prescriptive and predictive analytics. Life-stage objectives like growing customer relationships or share of wallet are examples of omnichannel journeys where the optimization of experiences across digital, outbound and service channels are critical.

6) Measure

Too often, organizations think about measurement as an afterthought, assuming if they implement the technology, the measurement will come. This is a costly mistake, leading to large investments with uncertain return on investment and backtracking or rebuilding. 

Key aspects to running a successful customer-focused organization include thoughtful consideration upfront on what kinds of incrementality measurement the business will need, what strategic reporting will inform continual improvement in customer experience through customer journeys and what tactical reporting will be required to ensure systems are operating as desired.

While the case for improving customer experiences has always been necessary and compelling, a new sense of urgency has emerged as customer and environmental changes are pushing businesses to rethink fundamental customer interaction modes. The rise and changing face of first-party data is also vastly changing the potential for transforming customer experiences. 

Customer journey development has been a kind of art in the past. Now it’s an art and a science. The process is complex and somewhat new, and it will take careful expertise and orchestration to make it work. Smart companies will realize this powerful opportunity and act on it.

Follow Merkle (@Merkle) and AdExchanger (@adexchanger) on Twitter.

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