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Realtime Boards: An Innovative Approach to Customer Journey Mapping

Realtime Boards: An Innovative Approach to Customer Journey Mapping

By Crystal Gee, Solutions Associate

We find more and more clients are interested in understanding their customers’ journey to purchase. But from experience, we also know that these studies can be massive and require extensive time and travel, both on our side and the client’s.

In our typical journey mapping interview, participants create a large map that represents their triggers, behaviors, emotions and influences in their decision pathway. All the complex individual journeys, from all the interviews, in all the locations, are then combined, digested and refined in an extensive ‘war room’ synthesis session with our own and client teams. This approach has been very successful in producing strong, actionable decision pathways that reveal opportunities for clients to influence their customers’ decision-making.

However, as believers in the importance of continuous innovation, our team explored platforms that would allow us to do much of the in-depth interviewing, journey mapping and partial synthesis virtually.

Landing on a platform called Realtime Board, we customized it for our own unique systems-focused Journey Mapping approach. This allows us to:

  1. Conduct online journey interviews with geographically dispersed and sometimes difficult-to-reach audiences,
  2. Use an overarching framework and set of journey icons consistent with our in-person work,
  3. Share a screen with the respondent, so they can populate a journey map as personally and in as much detail as they would in-person,
  4. Allow clients to observe the interviews from their own offices, adding probes as the respondent’s journey unfolds.

One interesting application of this approach to journey mapping was for an appliance client. Due to the virtual nature of the interview, we were able to interview people who were actually in the process of making a decision. Capturing them in real time yielded nuances in the decision process that are often forgotten in retrospect.

A final, important point: the Realtime Board makes it possible for us to do much of the pre- and post- synthesis work virtually, so the analysis process is more efficient and quickly identifies the patterns we need in order to understand the human story. This means we can spend more time in-person working on solutions.

We know our clients’ time and money are precious and we’re proud to be able to offer this option for Customer Journey research that allows them to capitalize on what we consider to be a stellar systems approach, while respecting both their time and budget.

Customer journey. Path to purchase. Ideal customer experience. Human-centric design. Design thinking. Systems thinking.

We hear these topics discussed more and more today in research, marketing, and innovation circles. At industry conferences, many research firms touted new “purchase-driven planning” solutions aimed at targeting advertising units based on proximity to making a purchase rather than just audience reach and frequency. And you can’t hit a conference these days without hearing about customer centricity.

The bottom line is we recognize the need to better understand how people (consumers, citizens, voters, stakeholders, etc.) make decisions that impact the business outcomes our clients seek. It’s going beyond the what they do and the why they do it, to stitch it all together via the dynamics of how they do it.

We believe the solution rests in mapping three levels of the decision-making process to uncover the role for the brand to play at every stage.
1. The values people are in pursuit of
2. The pathway that emerges as they take action
3. The systems in which their decisions are made.

Armed with this framework, marketers and innovators know how to resonate with people – they know what to say or do, when/where/how to do it, and what utility to provide.

We call this resonant differentiation. It means you stand out in what you offer the people most important to your success because your efforts amplify theirs – you connect in a way that facilitates progress toward the values they pursue. This means you can plan messaging to say the right things at the right time; you can plan customer experience against what matters in their daily life beyond your product and category; and you can create new products or services that really matter to people.

Our System and Journey Solutions practice delivers extensive programs to architect strategies for communications and innovation. Or, we apply the framework to simple assignments executed in a new way. We help clients view the world from the perspective of the people they seek to attract.

Download our two-pager to learn more.  Or connect with Maury Giles, our System+Journey Practice lead.

Changing the Game with Systems Thinking: Creating a Human-Centric Strategy By Design

A large, US healthcare client of ours believed they needed a new advertising campaign to drive more potential customers to consider their offering. We analyzed their funnel data, and it was clear they had a very low conversion rate among prospects that contacted them. But it was also amazing to see how high their close rate was later in the process – nearly everyone they brought in became customers.

So what was the problem? We set out to solve the challenge.

Our first clue came when we audited their internal systems set up to receive calls, schedule prospects, and deliver their product. It became clear we were dealing with two very different organizations. Their call centers were designed as a direct sales machine that saw callers as leads, not people. In contrast, their product delivery was among the most human-centric designs we had ever seen – everything revolved around the customer.

The second insight nailed it. We mapped the dynamics of the human journey that prospects experience as they decide how to address their health needs. We found people contacted our client at multiple points along their journey – in fact, most called at times in which they weren’t even looking to choose a solution. They either wanted general questions answered, specific information discussed, or just simply someone to talk with about some very personal and difficult issues.

The problem was their customer acquisition system wasn’t designed to intersect with their prospects on their terms. Sure, we could generate a new ad campaign to motivate more people to contact our client. But, their system was discarding valuable relationship opportunities simply because the people were not ready to buy when they called – a misalignment of expectations. Their system did not facilitate the human decision-making journey of many of their prospects.

We worked with our client to modify the approach to their call center, adding additional layers of triage, facilitating conversations about prospect needs, and linking them to resources to answer tough questions. The changes made a difference. Over time, the simple steps of relationship building have enabled our client to attract customers when they are ready to make the purchase decision. And it has opened the possibility of additional sources of revenue through other services they might offer people at different stages of their journey working through difficult health issues.

This experience highlighted the all-too-frequent mistake marketers make when they address symptoms of a problem without considering the bigger picture. Teams are set up across the organization with budgets to address very specific issues – someone is in charge of the call center, someone else is over the advertising, and someone else is over the customer experience, etc. Rarely are these designed as a seamless system.

To your customers, these are all part of the same system – they do not differentiate what happens when they call you from when they come into your store or use your products or even when they see your ads. And, they certainly don’t make decisions in their life solely around the process you build to sell them your offer. They expect you to intersect with their reality, not force yours upon them. And this dynamic has exploded in the digital dominant, app-ified market today.

So how do you build a system that resonates with the life systems that shape how people make decisions in your category?

We believe it requires a disciplined approach to mapping the human journey (not the customer journey) in pursuit of the decisions that relate to your business success. This can be a purchase decision (like in the case of our healthcare client) or it can be a life decision that directly intersects with your category (for example, how young men manage their image with young women in order for a deodorant brand to build loyalty). The journey provides the framework for building a brand system that resonates with the functional and emotional outcomes we, as humans, seek in the decisions we make every day. Marketers need that North Star not just for brand positioning, but they need it mapped across the multiple phases of the journey from awareness to consumption to loyalty, etc.

This is all about finding the right message or experience to deliver at the right time and in the right place. The holy grail of marketing, right?

Media agencies are beginning to talk about this as “purchase-driven planning.” Shopper marketing experts have been talking about this for years as mapping the path to purchase. Many firms are touting their customer journey mapping or ideal customer experience services with greater visibility. And marketers are beginning to flirt with design-thinking principles that have historically been reserved for product innovation.

We believe this is foundational work. It is a core ingredient to strategy built to last. It’s about crafting solutions that are human-centric by design. It is not shopper path to purchase work. It’s not customer journey mapping. And it’s not design research. While these are similar, we see the solution requiring a holistic perspective that starts with the human, not the brand, point of view. And it requires systems thinking to truly solve root cause issues and not put a band aid on one symptom only to create worse problems elsewhere.

We apply System and Journey Solutions to help clients, like this healthcare example, know when, how, and where to most effectively resonate with the people who matter most to their success. First, this means uncovering the rational-to-emotional outcomes people seek in pursuit of personal and societal values. Second, mapping how these vary across unique stages of the journey to making a decision. And, third, auditing the systems that shape the journey and influence the decisions people make.

Knowing what is valued at a rational and emotional level showcases the things you need to say or do. Mapping the pathway illustrates the experience you need to create or facilitate at specific moments. And understanding the system uncovers the role(s) you need to play in context of every else.

Our healthcare client plainly saw this reality. People want to balance life and medical goals in the pursuit of solving difficult healthcare needs. This means they may call you for many needs other than choosing a solution. It also means they need you to play multiple roles at different times – educator, navigator, perspective provider, advisor, etc. Knowing this enables effective delivery of these roles with the right channels at the right times, resulting in an experience that engenders loyalty because it is authentic.

Download our two-page System+Journey Solutions Practice overview to learn more.  Or connect with Maury Giles, our System+Journey Solutions Practice lead.

The “Why Imperative” for Brands: Focusing on Consumption Amid Perpetual Disruption

Electronic payments. Insurance. Ecommerce. Healthcare. Hospitality. Transportation. Name an industry and you can bet “we” are “disrupting” it. And by “we” I do not mean some prototypical millennial wunderkind sitting in an open plan shared office with standing desks, ping pong tables and free craft beer somewhere in Sunnyvale. It is “we”. The consumer.

For years those of us in the marketing world have espoused that consumers own our brands and that every touch point must be carefully considered, curated and choreographed to deliver “on-brand experiences.” And there is a great deal of truth to this thinking in the practice of market research and brand management. However, in a well-intentioned effort to become increasingly consumer-centric, many brand owners may have missed the forest for the trees. Consumers own something much more fundamental than the brands with which they engage; they own the very consumption model itself and established brands are finding themselves sidelined, or increasingly relegated to fast followers of upstarts and innovators.

The “why imperative” is not just about updating systems, processes, and touch points to reflect the brand, it’s about gaining a revolutionary understanding of human decision making to reimagine business models and brand engagement from the ground up. To do this it is essential to know the driving values and motivating benefits at every decision-step in the customer journey and experience with the brand.

This all may appear obvious at first blush, but you do not have to look far to see examples of brands in mature categories loosing ground and relevancy. Take for example major hotel brands with the copious customer information they hold in the forms of transactional data, omni-channel booking platforms, loyalty mechanisms and more. Yet this wealth of insights is largely used to update point schemes, amenities or interiors—all while new entrants like AirBnB and HotelsByDay shake up the industry’s foundation. Meanwhile booking aggregators like HotelTonight threaten the role of brand value among selection criteria. The same can be said for the payments industry as peer-to-peer and mobile payments like Venmo and Apple Pay put yet another screen between the consumer, the payment card brand and the issuing bank brand. Spotify. Netflix. Aereo. Medify. Ginger.io. Uber. Buycott. Threadless. I could go on.

On the surface, putting consumer decision-making at the center of both brand and business strategy would appear a relatively common and straightforward undertaking. Between longstanding market research practices and the nascence of “big data” and all that it promises in the form of behavioral analytics, predictive modeling, and contextual marketing, the abundance of information about consumers is ever-increasing. But is there an inherent complacency in limiting our consumer understanding to funnel metrics and traditional KPI’s? Are we not exponentially served by understanding the underlying values and broader context of product or service consumption itself?

Take in to consideration this statistic from a 2014 study completed by Altimeter Group: 88% of executives and digital strategists stated that their organization was undergoing a formal digital transformation; yet 42% claimed to have not officially researched the customer journey at all. While this may not be a surprising statistic to some, it underpins a broader implication for brands: passive data sources are important for maintaining and optimizing brand touch points by looking at customer engagement as it is today and to incrementally improve interactions in the future—but they are not a proxy for truly shaping a sustainable brand experience in today’s disruptive environment. By limiting exploration of the “why” and leveraging patchwork data to shape their stakeholders’ experience, organizations risk missing out on larger, more strategic opportunities to remain relevant amid disruption and take a position of leadership in the minds of customers.

Through our work with brands in diverse industries from tourism to financial services, we find time and again that when we understand the individual and societal values and motivating benefits that influence purchase decisions, our clients can positively impact brand metrics and successfully reimagine the brand experience to create value for both customers and the bottom line. As brand marketers drink from the fire-hose of all that consumer data, we should go beyond the basic recognition that consumers own our brands, and challenge ourselves to actually engage our consumers to understand why they consume in the first place and how their values may be the key to maintaining relevancy and defining the very experiences they expect from the category.