We are constantly spiraling through lifecycles. Lots of them. Whether you are purchasing food, clothes, cars, houses, financial services, indeed any transaction that results in a brand interaction, you are moving through a lifecycle. These customer life-cycles themselves spiral through several discrete stages, from initial brand awareness to acquisition and onboarding. When a brand engages with its customers, this then drives conversion and retention, and so the lifecycle spiral continues. At each stage, the relationship between the customer and the brand evolves.
Customer Journey Lifecycle Stages
Marketers leverage lifecycles to drive targeted marketing to customers based on their behavior and lifecycle stages. But a relatively new concept referred to as ‘customer journey management’ is now gaining favor through its unique ability to automate the process of nurturing the customer at each brand interaction.
The use of automation in marketing workflows is not new. However, customer journey management represents the evolution of the concept. Marketing automation has traditionally referred to the batch automation of repetitive tasks and processes, whereas customer journey management refers to the governance of the interactions that occur between a customer and a brand. By leveraging automation processes in real time based on a customer’s behavior, customer engagement can be effectively nurtured at each interaction within a customer lifecycle.
Customer journey management enables organizations to effectively segment customers and build behavior-driven journeys through the creation of automated activities prompted by real-time events. These activities send the right message, through the right channel, at the right time, to the right individual, based on their behavior within an interaction.
As customers move through each stage of a lifecycle, profiling data is iteratively obtained through events. Events are typically actions taken by a customer, such as:
adding items to a wishlist on an e-commerce website
abandoning a cart on an e-commerce website
purchasing items on an e-commerce website or at a point-of-sale (POS) system
a mobile device entering a defined geofence zone
a mobile device coming into proximity with a Bluetooth beacon
completing a registration form online.
However, events aren’t limited to customer actions. The plethora of new application areas for the Internet of Things (IoT) can also be leveraged to trigger customer journeys from physical devices. For example, an in-car computer can trigger a service reminder based on an odometer reading, or a thermostat can monitor energy use in a home.
These events and their associated data can trigger customers to enter a workflow, where they are routed through a journey. Based on a customer’s behavior in a workflow — for example, whether they open an email — branches can route the person through different cohorts in a workflow. And once the customer reaches a defined goal, they can exit the workflow and enter a different workflow at the next stage of the customer journey lifecycle.
A useful analogy is provided by the popular puzzle-platformer video game Lemmings, which was released in the early 1990s for the Amiga computer. The objective of the game is to guide a group of humanoid lemmings down different paths past various obstacles to a designated exit. The player can assign a limited number of skills to specific lemmings, allowing them to alter the landscape, affecting the behavior of other lemmings or clearing obstacles, in order to create a secure passage so the rest of the lemmings can safely reach the exit.
The Video Game Lemmings
Well, customer journey management is rather like this game, except that it involves customers instead of humanoid lemmings. Marketers place ‘activities’ in the customer’s path to trigger customized emails, SMS messages and other direct-marketing actions. And there is a similar objective: to move customers along paths in a workflow towards a designated exit, at the same time minimizing the number that ‘drop off’ along the way.But while a number of customer journey management platforms are beginning to surface in the market, not all of them have been created equal. A real customer journey can only stand up if it has two legs: integration and adaptability. Without both of these limbs, it will invariably become unbalanced and fall over. So when evaluating a customer journey management platform, it is critical to evaluate these two aspects.
Integration refers to connectivity. Whether it’s an e-commerce platform, a point-of-sale (POS) system, a website or even a ‘thing’, a customer journey needs to involve each and every touchpoint within the lifecycle. Of course, no single platform can offer universal connection to every single touchpoint. So this integration can only be realized through a deliberate, well-considered architecture with an application programing interface (API) that enables developers to connect every touchpoint.
Adaptability refers to an allowance being made for real-time intervention by a marketer to adapt a customer journey — specifically, monitoring and if necessary refining workflows to help customers reach a goal. A customer journey is based on an assumed optimal workflow for a customer, but the decision process undertaken by a marketer is ultimately subjective. A vast number of permutations exist for any combination of activities, rules and workflow branches. So in practice, a truly optimal workflow is achieved through an iterative process of evaluating, testing and refining workflows as customers move through them.
There are a few emerging cloud-based customer journey management platforms, each of which takes a different approach to customer journey management.Autopilot, for example, focuses on accessibility and affordability. Its intuitive interface enables marketers to design customer journeys with ease. Autopilot natively integrates with several platforms, while also offering an API for managing contacts and triggering journeys from third-party apps. The platform provides additional integration with Zapier, facilitating data exchange between numerous messaging, content management system (CMS) and customer relationship management (CRM) platforms.
As such, Autopilot is well suited to the typical lifecycles adopted by small- to medium-sized enterprises.
Building a Customer Journey in Autopilot
Salesforce Marketing Cloud (formerly ExactTarget), on the other hand, has extended the capabilities of its enterprise digital marketing platform throughJourney Builder, which features an elegant framework for automating customer lifecycle management and has clearly been designed with extensibility in mind. In addition to providing a familiar drag-and-drop interface for building and managing customer journeys in real-time, it has a unique ability to create custom activities and interactions through its extensive API, enabling customer journey workflows to be created, published and managed programmatically.
Building a Customer Journey in Journey Builder
Integration and adaptability are fundamental characteristics for a real customer journey, which needs to effectively integrate with every interaction in a customer lifecycle while also adapting to support the behavior of customers moving through it. Without these features — a journey’s two supporting ‘legs’ — you won’t be able to effectively interact with your customer and adapt to their behavior. Instead, you’ll be left watching helplessly as your customers, like lemmings, all wander directionless down the same trail.
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