Guest author Pini Yakuel is the founder and CEO of Optimove, a provider of automated retention marketing services for customer-centric businesses.
Marketers have a veritable arsenal of tools to help them understand and manage their customer relationships. One that has become de rigueur these days is the customer journey map, which is essentially a flowchart that lays out the customer’s experience of dealing with your company.
They can be very helpful, acting like visual aids for marketers who want to understand the customer experience and ensure they’re engaged every step along the way. But these flowcharts are inflexible, which makes them less capable of handling today’s consumers and their constantly evolving needs.
Their linear nature can be severely limiting, and too much dependence on them can even be downright harmful to customer engagement. B2C (business-to-consumer) services, in particular, tend to have complex relationships with customers that can involve multiple scenarios and contributing factors.
Marketers would be better served by terrain-based maps. Traditionally used by topographers to show the literal lay of the land for a region, these maps offer a more accurate and realistic portrait of the customer journey, while providing the flexibility and adaptability necessary to engaging customers on a one-to-one basis.
Shortcomings of Flowchart-based Customer Journey Maps
Customer journey maps can be very helpful. They act like visual aids for marketers, who use them to ensure customers are engaged every step along the way.
Companies can then prepare how they want to interact with customers at each stage of their journeys. They also allow for easy communication between teams, because they offer a neat, tidy representation of the customer experience.
Unfortunately, actual B2C customer journeys are hardly ever as simple or straightforward as a flowchart portrays.
Most customer journey maps start out at Point A (an initial website visit, for instance), and end at Point B (a sale, perhaps). These linear flowcharts let marketers believe they have the control to steer each customer toward a desired final destination.
But if you were to represent every branch for every “if/then” scenario in an actual customer journey, the map itself would become unwieldy and irrelevant.
Plus, static flowchart maps cannot possibly account for unplanned behaviors, which could leave out many customers or lead to them being treated incorrectly.
The typical customer journey map is too rigid to cover every customer experience and scenario, which makes it difficult for marketers to adapt changing needs, or customers who may shift behavior from one path to another.
Getting To Know The Terrain
A terrain map, or topographic map, shows all of the physical features of a given region, such as its mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes and so on. It does not usually include roads or highways, because the point isn’t necessarily to help the viewer traverse the area, but to simply understand its features in relation to one another.
It’s useful to draw customer journeys using a similar type of map, because you don’t necessarily need to know how users got to a specific location. What’s most important is where they are now.
Instead of trying to force customers down a specific path, terrain-based maps allow marketers to visualize and identify all of the most important intervention points where customers might be found, based on their “behavioral DNA” or patterns.
For instance, one region of the map might represent customers based on how long they’ve been active, while other regions might represent spending patterns, product affinities, responses to previous engagement campaigns, etc. The criteria you use to define your different “regions” can vary, which means that you can strategize by targeting a narrowly-defined micro-segments of your user base.
Meeting The Demands Of An Expanding Terrain
The terrain-based approach to building customer journey maps allows marketers to segment customers into groups as large as entire countries, or as small as individual households, all based on specific behaviors. Then you can make sure that the most relevant messages reach every customer at a particular point in his or her journey.
This method is far more dynamic than the flowchart-based approach, because it continuously adapts itself to changes in customer behavior. It is also easier to scale and evolve because the number and sophistication of the customer journeys can increase rapidly—even exponentially—without having to re-engineer anything that was built before or worry about planning out certain paths in advance.
You can begin by identifying a sample of customer micro-segments, and defining the messages that will spur them to take a desired action. As time goes on, you can define more of these segment-and-campaign pairs to cover more scenarios, without over-complicating the map.
A terrain-based approach to drawing customer journey maps allows marketers to easily and dynamically definite a nearly infinite number of customer micro-segments.
There is no other practical way to manage the complex customer journeys that are, quite simply, a fact of life.
Images courtesy of Optimove