When Customer Journeys Do Harm
by Guy Gouldavis

Customer journeys are prevalent today for good reason. They’re a distinct improvement over the previous marketing era— one too corporately self-serving and not customer-centric enough. The danger with anything that becomes accepted, however, is that it stops being questioned. Conceptually, customer and consumer journeys are not flawed, but the way they are used in marketing often is. Here’s why:

  • Too often, customer journeys are developed and thoughtlessly prescribed as a linear progression. This is at odds with real-world consumer behavior, which is anything but linear. People’s engagement is more dynamic and often lacks the continuity of progression assumed by many customer-journey-mapping approaches.
  • Customer journeys are developed in conjunction with personas, which compound the problem because they tend to be weaker representations of customer segments. Many personas are "fluffy": subjective and qualitatively based instead of rooted in relevant behavior. Persona profiles are also one-dimensional: They wrongly suggest people have a singular need state for a category rather than several ones that differ according to context or time of day.
  • They can result in UX that "herds" prospects along a limited number of paths. The next generation of marketing — 1:1 engagement — is not supported by this approach. "Journeys of One" must become the new basis on which people experience brands. Customers don’t — and won’t — behave as predicted in the mapped-out way many customer journeys today are designed.

How to Fix Your Customer Journey Maps

Focus on inflection points, not the flow. With every category of consumer goods — as with all areas of human activity — certain moments are more important than others. These inflection points have disproportionate influence when they occur, whether people are searching, evaluating, buying or experiencing ownership. People want to navigate these major moments on their terms. They want choices that are relevant. They don’t want distractions or confusing content.

Deliver an inflection point experience correctly and it’s possible not only to make a deeper impression, but to collapse the entirety of consumer decision-making into a single step — or short-circuit it to a brand’s advantage, at the very least.

Approach every inflection point (not touch point) as an island. Sounds odd, right? There’s so much emphasis on using agile ID to bring a person’s dispersed history to the moment to personalize the experience. That future is not yet here. Until then, designing each inflection-point encounter to serve "unknowns," make each one work that much harder to connect. Fueled by a fusion of advanced engagement modeling with adaptive content, which approach will serve up meaningful, evolving real-time engagement that doesn’t depend on any individual’s history to be a highly personal, relevant experience.

But don't take "island" too literally. Zero in on context. An inflection-point encounter designed to fully satisfy and convert the customer without depending on prior knowledge is one thing. But people will always bring their personal context to a moment. A creative exercise that empathetically profiles those kinds of contexts will yield insights for experience design.

The number-two insurance company in the U.S. was able to significantly improve customer retention and LTV in this way. It understood that people bring different emotions and experience expectations to reporting an accident and beginning an insurance claim. By registering both, and servicing the remainder of the call with the appropriate sentiment and degree of touch (high vs. low), the business saw market-leading retention rates from what had been a major inflection point of churn. The brand enjoyed highly positive word of mouth, too.

Take a fresh look at how you’re using customer journeys. They can do good, but sometimes the things we love can be embraced a little too hard.

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