Follow the Data When Mapping Your Customer Journeys


The last couple of months have been a chaotic time for businesses across all sectors. The pandemic has forced companies to rethink how, when and where they engage customers and embrace digital transformation in order to ride out the storm. I’ve found this to be especially true for financial services firms, many of which have recently asked for help adapting their customer journey playbooks to a process that is drastically different from even six months ago.

All they know is that right now, customers are anxious, reluctant to reach out, and uncertain about what comes next or what it looks like. I tell them the best way to navigate today’s shifting customer journey is to embrace a data-driven operating model (DDOM), which will help them better understand and anticipate their customers’ unique challenges and needs during this chaotic time.

Fortunately, I tell them, the digital tools exist to help optimize every stage along the customer journey.

No journey is ever too chaotic to be managed

Even before the pandemic, the “customer journey” had begun shifting with the rise of digital savvy and mobile first consumers. Financial services marketers had to design seamless omni-channel experiences that felt cohesive, no matter which platform customers accessed them from.

In practice, however, customers rarely think in channels. They simply jump from one platform to another, often multiple times, using whichever method is most convenient before buying a product or being serviced as intended. This unpredictability, combined with recent shifts in customers’ desire to be anonymous, makes it difficult for marketers to identify their customers’ journeys and optimize their experiences – but not impossible.

Customers are individuals, and their individual journeys still matter, so companies that invest in formal customer journey management programs often see better engagement rates and higher ROIs. According to a research brief from the Aberdeen Group, companies that took a data-first approach to customer journey mapping saw a 54 percent greater return on marketing spend, 24 percent more positive social media mentions, and 10 times greater customer growth.

But what’s driving this surge in ROI? The short answer is data. Today’s customers want their experiences to be more personalized than ever and the only way to meet customers’ new expectation is taking a DDOM approach.

With each new brand experience or touch point, consumers are continuously telling companies what they’re interested in and how they want to be engaged. To map customers’ chaotic journeys to their customer experience efforts, financial institutions should adopt a dynamic, real-time customer journey management platform that adapts to their customers, rather than the other way around.

How to Optimize the Customer Journey

To meet shifting customer expectations, financial service providers should to be able to deliver a frictionless, omni-channel user experience that is unique and personalized across myriad potential journeys.  From originations to customer management to collections and recovery, lenders can’t simply take a piecemeal approach. They need a holistic view of the customer at any given moment during their journey. This means taking a centralized approach to managing customer data, which unfortunately, can be very difficult across large organizations.

Chances are your company’s problem isn’t whether you have data; it’s not having access to the right data at the right time, which is usually driven by an overly complex data infrastructure that impedes the flow of data and subsequently, the flow of insights.

According to the Aberdeen Group, this is why fewer than 40 percent of companies have established a customer experience management process such as DDOM. Thankfully, there are certain steps organizations can take to be better positioned to meet customers’ expectations at any point during the customer journey.

  • Break Down Silos: Many companies still divide their operations based on channel, technology, and role – and that’s just within marketing. The same thing happens in other departments that interact with users, such as customer service or product teams, making it very difficult to unite every part of an organization around a cohesive customer experience strategy.

When a company’s analytics, mobile, and email teams all rely on their own fractured technology, the result is a fractured customer experience. Embracing DDOM-powered customer journey management requires companies to break down silos, so they can capture real-time and historical data and stitch it together, creating a seamless experience.

  • Use Customer Journey Maps: Customers are individuals, each with their own unique journey with your company, and most would like to remain anonymous. For this reason alone, it’s important that organizations adopt business personas to help deliver personalized experiences while respecting and meeting customers’ needs for privacy.

By adopting a digital platform capable of analyzing and organizing all of its customer data, a company can create customer journey maps based on its users’ various personas. It can then use these maps to provide staff with ready access to granular, real-time data, along with recommended steps, customized content, and additional products or services, so they can assist customers in a more personalized way.

  • Have the Right Technology In Place: You can’t expect every customer to experience the same journey, because multiple customers presented with the same experience will react differently. What needs to be consistent is how the journey makes your customers feel: each experience should be optimized to your customers’ circumstances in a way that makes them happier and your operations more efficient and profitable.

Doing so – by creating the real-time overlays at the heart of DDOM – requires a sophisticated platform that understands how and where the data that feeds it is collected. Companies collect a lot of data, but it has to be the right data, and it must be put into a single unified space to ensure they can take advantage of customer profiles and dynamic customer mapping.

Implementing a successful DDOM-powered customer journey strategy doesn’t just require a shift in thinking: it also requires companies to have the right technology in place. Many businesses believe developing a few customer journey maps is enough, but the truth is there is no single customer journey, or 10, or 100. In today’s chaotic environment, on-demand personalization is crucial to navigating the storm and cannot be done without data and AI.

Not only is AI capable of identifying and learning from patterns across all customer journeys, it can help companies target and reach new segments of people, wherever they are, who need their services. It can automatically evaluate each step of your model to ensure that it’s working, and if it’s not working, identify where customers are dropping off and where their experience can be optimized. Most importantly, it works quickly, and can scale up as your customer experience management efforts grow.

By having the right technology foundations in place, following the data, and leveraging AI/ML along the way, businesses can optimize specific stages of their various customer journeys, driving improvements they could have only dreamed about before their digital transformation.

Jim Reitz is Managing Director, Financial Services & Insurance with Adobe.

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