Once data is connected and a business is ready to take a journey view of its customers and processes, they need tools that make it possible to see the journey narratives. At ClickFox, we set out to develop new visualizations to support that exploration and one of our primary new tools is Dominant Path, a visualization that enables users to quickly see at a glance what is going on in their customer journeys.
We drew inspiration from the classic Sankey diagram, which has been used effectively since the nineteenth century when the eponymous Captain Sankey used it to illustrate the efficiency of steam engines. Even earlier, it was used by Charles Minard to illustrate the staggering attrition of Napoleon’s forces along with the impact of distance and temperature during the 1812 march and retreat from Moscow.
The Sankey diagram resonated with our team because it does a good job of conveying the flow of almost anything—information, material, objects, and so on—as it changes over time. It remains a mainstay tool for diagramming engineering processes.
As we looked at modern uses of Sankey diagrams and considered their application to presenting business processes, a few shortcomings became apparent. Most significant is the Sankey’s focus on highlighting events themselves, rather than connections between disparate events.
A Sankey diagram from the International Energy Agency highlights the limitations. This interactive diagram allows the viewer to see how raw energy resources move around the planet. When you select a node (what we could call an event) in the diagram, you can see the energy in the step before and after that point, but the detail ends there. We can’t see, for example, detail of what individual energy sources are coalescing at that node.
Journeys need more detail than Sankeys provide
The Sankey diagram does not work when you want to look more than one step out from any given node. This is a problem. When we look to, perhaps, provide a business with the means to quickly spot specific journeys that are lowering CSAT scores, that additional level of detail is essential.
A low CSAT may be the result of a number of different customer paths. Each individual path itself may be quite complex. In a phone tree, for example, it may be relevant to know how many times a customer pressed, “I want to speak Spanish,” or how many times they tried to key in their account number. Any one of these frustrations could impact CSAT.
The specific event contributing to the low CSAT score may be many steps forward of any given moment. Since a traditional Sankey would only show one step back at a time, we considered how to visualize that added complexity. We want to show everything that might contribute to the customer’s journey from the start to the end. This requires a visualization in which the connections between the events, the flow, and sequence of information are primary, and individual events are secondary.
Thus the biggest challenge we faced in developing the Dominant Path visualization was to control the level of visual noise. The solution was to group similar paths together, which made it possible to highlight outliers. When you look at a Dominant Path visualization compared to a traditional Sankey diagram, you’ll find customer journeys that are similarly grouped together on one path. That makes it easy to spot one customer, or a set of customers, who are not doing what the other 90% customers are and then look back to find out why.
It’s worth noting that much more information can be derived from Dominant Path over ClickFox's current Traffic View. The Dominant Path visualization gives users a way of distinguishing their customer's journeys at a glance. Even in a small format or from across the room, the view will show if customers are unified in their journeys or if they are following individualized, unique paths.
Dominant path is also designed as an interactive tool that enables business users to drill into business processes. It is a powerful alternative to typical business process modeling, where experts apply their best understanding of what customers are doing (or should be doing) to create a diagram. Dominant path reveals reality, using real and immediate data, to lay out in real-time what customers are doing and allows you to explore that reality iteratively and interactively.
This example of Dominant Path drills into a low CSAT score. We start by looking at everything that led to the low CSAT, but quickly discover that a lot of the traffic leading to low CSAT is being caused by a web processing error. People encountering the error are calling an agent, who fixes the problem but does not change the fact that the customer is dissatisfied as reflected in the CSAT. In effect, the user of this visualization starts with the endpoint that they are interested in, in this case, the low CSAT score. They can then backtrack through time to identify the specific events leading to low CSAT. This is the kind of actionable information that hides in plain sight in a traditional data table but leaps off the screen in an interactive, Dominant Path visualization derived from connected data.
We continue to refine this visualization to shorten the time between insight and action. When one journey costs a business $300 in service representative time, another journey $100, and a third results in a sale, there is an opportunity to identify paths that can be improved and automated. Ultimately we want this kind of accessible visualization in the hands of every business user in a position to effect change for their organization.
See Dominant Path in action:
Co-written by Jon Wisda & Pedro Quinones