How to become a customer journey pinball wizard

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If you were to draw a customer engagement journey on a piece of paper, what would it look like? Would it be a straight line, with pre-determined touchpoints and regular intervals? Or would it look more like a screen on an erratic heart monitor, with lines veering up and down at strange and unexpected angles? The sad fact is that far too many marketers still think of the journeys their customers embark on as the former; a strictly linear, prescriptive process in which they dictate what the customer wants and needs. In reality, the exact opposite is true.

As much as marketers will try to script the journey their customers undertake, the truth is that there are any number of factors such as personal experience, taste and other, more intangible, preferences that inform which direction it takes. The natural consequence of this is that there is no ‘typical’ customer journey. It would, for example, never be accurate to compare customer behaviour at each point in the lifecycle to that of a slow journey on a train travelling in a straight line with a pre-determined number of stops. Instead, the average customer lifecycle is much more consistent with a pinball, shooting around a machine in multiple directions at a rate of knots. For marketers, it is, of course, hard work trying to keep the ball in play, and nigh on impossible for them to dictate where it will end up at any given time!

So what’s the secret to beating the pinball machine and getting to a high score? The key is to try and be as proactive as possible by focusing on context. Pinball is a game that, by its very nature, puts you on the back foot and requires quick reflexes as well as the ability to react quickly and decisively to rapidly changing circumstances if you are to make progress. With customers using multiple channels and devices, sometimes at the same time, a marketer will always be too late. But what if a customer strategy was formalised in a way that allowed for contextual decisions? Handling a pinball, or a customer, in flight can be a tricky skill to master, but if you have technology available that’s fast enough to contextually optimise each customer touch for a high score, things become significantly easier.

Real-time technology has progressed to the point where there are tools available to help organisations achieve this. They use predictive models and decision strategies to formalise a so-called ‘Next Best Action’. Not only does this help to more clearly understand customers and their history, but it also plays a big part in allowing marketers to employ effective real-time marketing techniques that can contextually reflect what is happening at any time. For example, identity matching, complex event processing, web analytics, and other technologies create an extended profile which will help marketers to understand where a customer’s mind is, where they are in their particular life cycle and what’s the optimal path forward towards a high score.

Too often, marketers have an insufficient level of understanding or context around their customers. As a result they struggle, even in some simple cases, to know how to use the data they have at their disposal. At a time when digital disruption is permeating service-oriented industries and consumer expectations are reaching new heights, marketers need to adopt a strategy for personalising service to help foster long-term customer relationships. By using the right technology to better understand customers on a one-to-one basis, businesses can stay ahead of their customers’ needs and provide inspired experiences that surpass their customers’ expectations.

As the customer journey bounces from touch point to touch point, marketers also need to move away from a channel centric mindset. Looking back at the race for organisations to establish themselves online, this threatened to turn a company’s traditional business and web business into almost completely separate operations. As other channels like mobile and social came along there was another rush for organisations to be present in those channels, forgetting that the customer is constant across all of them. Naturally, the characteristics of any one channel need to be leveraged, but the experience must be a coherent one for your customers.

Marketers need to be able to unify the customer’s experience across all of their products, and do so consistently across the different channels, both inbound and outbound. Customers must also be able to move their conversations from one channel to another without having to start again.

None of this will, of course, make the customer journey any less erratic from the perspective of the marketer. However, it will, at least, put them back on the front foot, and allow them to engage with their customers in a meaningful and effective way at every point in their journey. When all’s said and done, marketers must remember that although the customer journey isn’t something they can control, it is something they can play with – and that becoming a customer journey pinball wizard isn’t nearly as difficult as they might think!

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