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Customer journeys: mapping out the future

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31st Jul 2007
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Every customer has a different experience with a company. The challenge is understanding what their individual needs are. Louise Druce looks at how companies are mapping their customers’ journeys.

Talk to three or four friends or colleagues about their dealings with the same company and you'll often get a very different account of their experience. And it’s just these discrepancies that companies are now trying to track to provide a more consistent service.

A classic case is the way that purchases and complaints are handled. If you want to splash out on a new mobile phone, a car or holiday, for example, call agents are usually falling over themselves to help you - and close the sale. If something goes wrong, however, it can be a long battle to resolve your grievance.

But even sales can take a hammering if you haven’t thought about what it is your customer really wants in the first place. Jon Fuller, director and co-founder of IT consultancy Centrix, highlights the case of a retail bank that found product sales were falling and customers were starting to tail off as well, but had no initial clue how to salvage the situation.

"If you want a new phone, call agents are usually falling over themselves to help you. If something goes wrong, however, it can be a long battle trying to find a resolution to your grievances."

The problem stemmed from the fact that it had databases built around past relationships with customers and their dealings with the company, but didn’t know how the customer felt about the experience or what they were looking for next.

“It realised it was much more product-orientated than customer-orientated,” Fuller explains. “It was thinking about selling products but not marketing them to what the customer wanted because they didn’t know what the customer wanted.”

Going the extra mile

It’s a common problem for businesses. Before it undertook an extensive customer mapping strategy, Airmiles was rich in customer behaviour data but it was not so confident when it came to understanding why customers behaved in a particular way.

”We’ve spent a long time over the last year looking at the needs drivers and the attitude drivers that go with the customer’s journey so that we can better understand what we need to say to customers and personalise that message more,” says Dan Martin, head of analysis and research at Airmiles.

The main challenge was that customers were joining Airmiles from a variety of different source – through Shell or Tesco, for example – and had different starting points. Some customers would look to save a set amount for, say, a specific trip and redeem them, while other customers were in it for the longer haul.

“We found a lot of our customers joined us and then, within the first year, they started to turn off the programme and we lost them,” Martin explains. “We developed a programme that actually talks to them specifically in the first year, depending on how they join, and takes them through a personalised collection plan so they know how they can collect Airmiles and what the thresholds are that they need to achieve to get their reward.

"The challenge for us is keeping them engaged and enthused throughout the process and understanding their changing requirements as they go along." Dan Martin, head of analysis and research, Airmiles

“The challenge for us is keeping them engaged and enthused throughout the process and understanding their changing requirements as they go along.”

Aside from collecting behavioural data, the company carried out an extensive needs and attitudes survey around six months ago to garner thoughts from its current customers on how and why they were collecting Airmiles, as well as their perceptions of the service. This was then coupled with the behavioural data to get a deeper and more holistic picture of what their customers wanted.

“We have value segments based on customer data,”says Martin. “What we’re looking for is customers increasing their value within those segments. What we’re not trying to do is push everybody up into the top segment because it wouldn’t be right for everybody to be at that stage in their journey.”

The benefit, he continues, is an understanding of where customers are at and how the company can reinforce or change their behaviour, as well as a deeper understanding of where the drivers and the barriers are.

“We need to make sure we’re smarter at reacting and talking to customers to tailor a programme that suits them, and not make too many assumptions,” Martin adds.

Going through the journey together

Virgin Atlantic has gone on a literal customer journey, from door to door, to understand the emotions of its first-class customers and improve any gaps in its customer service. This encompasses the process from check-in to the departure lounge and then the flight to the moment they reach the front door at their destination.

It undertook a number of strategies to try to emulate the customer experience, including onboard surveys, interviews with customers, conducting research to try to understand the psychology of the customer’s experience, and even arming passengers with audio equipment to talk through key stages of the journey.

"The most important elements in customer journey mapping are understanding the emotional need states of the passenger and how they differ and change over time." Richard Benton, senior product manager, Virgin Atlantic

What the company found was that the excitement that customers initially experienced on the flight started to wane about half way into the flight. Another low point was at their destination airport, the time between waiting for their luggage to arrive and waiting for the limo to take them to their accommodation or office. If the luggage didn’t arrive for any reason, there was also an opportunity to improve response times to the problem and turn a negative experience into a positive one.

“The most important elements in customer journey mapping are understanding the emotional need states of the passenger and how they differ and change over time. Also, what they want to experience throughout the journey and what is most important to them,” says Richard Benton, senior product manager at Virgin Atlantic.

“You also need to be able to measure your performance against it, otherwise you’re not going to know whether you are delivering or not.”

Read more features, practical case studies and white papers about customer experience management.

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