My research into customer experience management shows that companies are increasingly aware that the customer experience has a profound impact on business success. In almost equal numbers, participants said it determines the loyalty of customers (21%), the propensity of customers to recommend the company to others (21%), the amount of additional purchases they make (19%) and their general level of satisfaction (19%). Furthermore, companies also realize that good experiences save money, because customers complain less (11%) and contact them less frequently (9%).

The challenge is to define what the customer experience is. In an ongoing discussion on LinkedIn, several contributors say it includes people-to-people interactions and point out that the customer experience depends on the emotional state of the people handling interactions, their skill levels and their ability to access the information needed to resolve the interactions. However, the customer experience comes in other forms as well, such as seeing or listening to a company’s advertising, visits to the corporate website, phone calls, email, letters, IVR menus, text messages, using mobile applications and the company’s presence on and processes for handling social media. These interactions occur throughout the customer life cycle, from marketing through sales, customer service and potentially retention activities. They can also involve transfers from one person to another, or from one communication channel to others. Handling transfers is, I believe, particularly tricky, as in many cases customers must repeat previously provided information, which can be very annoying.

Our research shows that the biggest challenge for companies in multichannel customer service is consistency; for example, when customers check the balance of their accounts on the Web, it should be the same if they check it through IVR, through a mobile app and with any call center agent. Failure to achieve this consistency can increase costs as customers switch channels to get the answer that best suits them, and it can have a negative impact on customer satisfaction.

One way to ensure such consistency is to use customer journey maps, which are similar to process flow charts but focus on interactions and the flow between them. Our research into customer relationship maturity shows that the most customer-focused companies more often use customer journey maps to better understand when and how customers interact with them, how those interactions are handled, and what processes and systems they need to have in place to ensure consistency and the best possible experience.

Customer journeys maps should cover the complete customer life cycle and cross business unit boundaries and communication channels. To develop them, we advise companies to put together cross-functional groups that map different types of interactions, identify when they are likely to occur and outline how customers might flow from one interaction to another. The maps should consider different customer segments and how the flow might be different for, say, high-, mid- and low-value customers. The groups should consider the impact on people, processes, information and technology to ensure consistency; for example, companies might consider deploying desktop technology to give anyone handling an interaction easy access to a common source of customer information and to ensure that everyone follows the same process. Our research, and some of the responses to the LinkedIn discussion, show that companies that successfully map the customer journey find more efficient ways of handling customer interactions and gain better outcomes from both the company’s and the customer’s perspectives and which show up in better performance metrics.

The customer experience is a hot topic of conversation. Getting it right every time, across all touch points, is a demanding task, especially in light of the proliferation in the number of ways customers interact with a company and the difficulty of assessing how they feel during and after each interaction. Journey maps are an emerging technique to determine how interactions should be handled and how each interaction can be turned into a positive experience that results in happy customers and the desired business outcomes.

Regards

Richard J. Snow

VP & Research Director