What is a customer experience? A tap on a mobile app? An interaction with a web page followed by a call to an agent? A visit to a branch? Is it all of those things? Is an experience a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year?
More companies than ever are connecting data collected across their channels, taking the critical first step toward understanding customer journeys. Yet they struggle to understand the customer experience because the inclination is to apply strict definitions as to what constitutes a “complete” customer experience. They’ll decide that if event A happens and then B occurs 24 hours later, a complete experience has been captured.
We’re all consumers, and we all know that is wrong. When I interact with my bank, I have many short, burst-like interactions—a withdrawal at an ATM, a transfer on my mobile, a click on an offer. I may be more or less happy with any of them, but I wouldn’t describe them as experiences. As a customer, the story of my experience is broader. It may start from any of those points, but it can wind through days or weeks of interactions before my needs are resolved.
Therein lies the next step for companies that want to use journeys to understand customer experience: collecting and determining the set of data that best represents precisely how a customer would, themselves, tell their own story.
This requires companies to take the customer’s point of view when they are deciding how to look at their data. Rather than accepting an internally reported, tightly bounded KPI measure, you need a broader perspective to see things that might be connected in the customer’s mind. That requires a more detailed look at the data.
Rather than focusing on the total duration of customer activity, the customer perspective is better described by the duration of inactivity. Here’s an example framework to build up to a better customer perspective:
- Event: Any detailed, time-stamped record of something the customer did in any channel.
- Interaction: The combination of Events performed by a customer in one or more channels over any period of time until broken by 1-2 hours of inactivity.
- Experience: The combination of Interactions performed by a customer over any period of time until broken by 2-3 days of inactivity.
- Journey: The combination of customer Experiences over some period of time, or bounded by a significant event (for example, “60 days following customer acquisition,” “15 days before and after a new purchase,” or “30 days prior to a complaint”).
The shift to a more detailed understanding of the customer is understandably challenging. The world of relational databases encouraged queries that connect event A to event B to derive a metric such as first call resolution. High-level KPIs are still prevalent, and organizations are driven by the weekly, monthly, and quarterly movement of those numbers. These products of an earlier time and technology have trained businesses to put their focus on well-defined endpoints.
The technology needed to see the broader experience is of more recent vintage. Individuals embedded in legacy reporting structures may be put off just because they cannot influence that big picture.
But meaningful change, the shift to being a journey-centric company, doesn’t happen only from the top. It is also enabled when people in the call center, retail clerks, and chat agents are given context. It helps them to recognize that they are part of a more substantial experience. That experience not only impacts the large entity that employs them, but in a genuine sense can make the customer’s life a little bit better.
When the company’s perspective of the customer is too narrow, companies run the risk of doing an excellent job of solving individual pain points, but missing the underlying causes of dissatisfaction. A customer on a smartphone can touch your app, chat, web page, and call center all from their device, in a matter of minutes. Five minutes is a more important metric to your customer than five channels in five minutes. Customers don’t differentiate or value channels. They see a company and measure their experience—singular—with it.
In a customer-centric world, channel interactions are too granular to be valuable as a starting point. All of a company’s distinct interactions could appear favorable, yet the customer still has a negative experience because the number of interactions required to do business successfully is high. My bank’s service and its people are excellent, but I find it super annoying that I have to call them when I want to move money between my business and personal accounts. Good interactions, bad experience.
Ensuring a good experience is more critical than interactions because that is how all of us live. Fixing interactions is at best a reaction, a patch on something that is broken. A customer’s time between touchpoints is likely more considerable, and more descriptive, of their experience. That is missed when we view customers through the rigid lenses of daily, weekly, or monthly reports. Seeing things through the customer's eyes reveals areas that can be enhanced to improve the relationship instead of always getting bogged down in the details.
Looking at experiences is a proactive approach that helps better understand the customer. Get the experience right and customers can forgive little things.