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Why the Customer Journey Matters More Than Ever

The customer journey really is coming back, argues industry luminary Jill Dyché, chiefly because competition for customers in the digital marketplace is insanely competitive.

Can one of the most interesting women in business intelligence make even the most shop-worn of topics interesting again? Industry luminary Jill Dyché did at this month's TDWI Executive Summit in Las Vegas. Her topic: the customer journey.

Dyché, vice president of best practices with SAS Institute Inc., argues that the customer journey really is coming back, chiefly because competition for customers in the digital marketplace is insanely competitive. A botched or less-than-satisfactory customer experience doesn't just mean a missed opportunity -- to make a sale or to bank some good will -- but possibly the loss of the customer.

“The key is to have a relevant conversation with that specific customer at the time of that interaction because we may not get another chance. Optimizing that interaction, [offering that] next-best-action is really the Holy Grail when it comes to customer outreach. It may not even be a next-best-purchase. It may just be [a] thankful customer,” she said.

In marketing, “customer journey” is shorthand for the sum total of a customer's many and varied interactions with a company over the duration of a business relationship. This journey is a product of interactions across all touchpoints (in-person interactions with sales personnel; call center interactions; website or Web chat interactions; and so on) in the course of transacting business.

Interest in the customer journey tends to come in and out of vogue. To some extent, this is a function of just how hard it is to achieve a unified view of the customer -- across all systems and contexts -- at just the right time. (The second problem is to marry this unified view with timely predictive analytic insights. This is no less hard. The integration component is a necessary prerequisite, however.)

The technology that underpins this consists of lots of on- and off-premises data integration (DI) and event-messaging plumbing -- with both stateful and REST-ful interfaces. It also involves scads of integration touchpoints (some elegant and programmatic, some -- in the case of legacy apps or repositories -- inelegant and screen-scrape-y) between and among systems.

There are more touchpoints than ever before, says Dyché. This is both an opportunity and a challenge for enterprises. On the one hand, they can collect incredibly detailed data about customers, their interactions, their conscious and non-conscious preferences and affinities, and so on. On the other hand, they have to be able to use this information.

“Customer value is elastic,” Dyché continued. “We need very detailed information about customer behaviors and interactions so that we can not only do the pre-facto but the post-facto analytics.”

Challenges for resource-strapped companies (or for companies that have been slow to digitize their businesses) is when and how to begin. You start by taking stock of where you are, she argued.

“Some companies only know very, very basic information about their customers that they've collected in the days of an analog relationship. Use this as a health check. What do you know about your customers today? Do you know where your customer is in their journey?” Dyché told attendees.

“Regardless of what we're doing, there's an escalation process between analog and digital. There's an escalation process between [going from] a vague understanding of what customers want versus [developing] a pinpoint understanding of what they're doing and what they'll do next.”

The meaning of “customer journey” has changed over time, Dyché noted. In the past, it was seen through the lens of “RFM:” i.e., recency, frequency, and monetary. In other words, how recently has a customer done business with a company, how frequently do they tend to do business with that company, and how much do they spend with that company on average. Businesses are still interested in the same data, Dyché said, but at a level of detail that's simply staggering.

They're aided in this regard by new technologies (and new usage models) that facilitate the collection of detail data and are associated in the minds of (most) consumers with convenience, too.

She cited the example of the “magic band” she received when she checked into a Walt Disney Co. hotel. When Dyché asked if she really needed the band if she was just attending a conference and not visiting any attractions, the employee at hotel registration answered, “You do if you want to get into your hotel room.”

Dyché found the interaction eye-opening. “It’s not just about how you navigate Disney World,” she explained. “Disney’s using this data to optimize the complete customer experience and tailoring it to you. It's amazing what they're doing with this data!”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer with 20 years of experience. His writing has focused on business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics for almost 15 years. Swoyer has an abiding interest in tech, but he’s particularly intrigued by the thorny people and process problems technology vendors never, ever want to talk about. You can contact him at [email protected].

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