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Digital Journey or Customer Journey?

A central facet of digital marketing is the customer journey. This journey takes an anonymous visitor (either online or in a physical location) to becoming an identified prospect to the purchase transaction, and then onto becoming a happy customer (who might buy more) or an unhappy one (who needs some kind of special treatment to become happy again).

Simple enough – but for all you marketers out there who’ve been at this for a while, you’ll notice that there’s nothing particularly new about the notion of a customer journey. In fact, customer journeys actually date back to the dawn of commerce, thousands of years ago.

The Dawn of CommerceThe central notion of a customer journey is essentially that the purchase transaction is only a part of a merchant’s hopefully lifelong relationship with their customer – and furthermore, that relationship is important to the performance of the merchant’s business overall.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling fish at an open air market, running a general store in the Old West, or hawking your wares online. Building relationships with customers that begin before they buy anything and extend well after their first purchase are the key to maximizing the value of each customer to your business, and thus the key to profitability overall.

Why, then, is there so much talk about customer journeys now, as though the rise of digital was somehow responsible for the entire notion? It seems that digital discussions have co-opted the customer journey entirely – leading to the concept of a digital journey. Does a digital journey even make sense?

Clearing Up the ‘Customer Digital Journey’

There’s no question that there’s substantial confusion over the notion of a ‘customer digital journey.’ This notion is problematic, because there is really only the customer journey, which includes some digital touchpoints and some person-to-person touchpoints.

Furthermore, if you use the phrase ‘digital journey’ then you open yourself up to the question as to whether there’s a ‘non-digital journey’ and whether customers are now on two separate journeys.

This notion of two separate journeys is as silly as a mid-twentieth century department store asking whether customers ordering from a catalog vs. coming into the store to make a purchase were on separate journeys. Perish the thought!

True, catalog vs. in-store were separate channels, but merchants realized that one customer might use the catalog one day and come into the store another – and yet, there would still only be one relationship between merchant and customer regardless.

Adding Digital to the Customer Journey

Today’s customers have a profound variety of choices regarding the various touchpoints they might use to interact with a merchant (or any company, for that matter) – and yet, each interaction is nevertheless but a single ‘moment’ on that customer’s unique journey with the company.

For every step in this journey, each customer requires interactions specific to that step. However, in many cases, the merchant in question either has no idea where particular individuals are in their journey, or even worse, does know where they are but disregards that information in its interactions.

Take retargeting, for example. Here’s how retargeting is supposed to work: let’s say you visit a web site for shoes because you’re shopping for shoes, but you remain undecided at the end of your visit. Thereafter, the retargeter wants to feed you ads for shoes similar to the ones you were looking at in hopes of moving you along your journey to the purchase transaction.

Alternatively, let’s say you completed the purchase. Now, serving you ads for shoes similar to the ones you purchased is not only pointless, but annoying. Instead, retargeting should recognize that you made the purchase and feed you ads for appropriate accessories instead.

Here’s another example. Let’s say there was a defect in your shoes, and you tweet your dissatisfaction. In this case the merchant should leverage sentiment analysis (say, on social media) to identify your dissatisfaction, and take some kind of action like offering a free exchange to address the problem – maybe via a Twitter direct message, or perhaps an email or a text, depending on your preference. But feeding you more ads will only make you more frustrated with the merchant.

Rising to the Challenge of the Customer Journey

From the perspective of the merchant, the greatest challenges with customer journeys are knowing where in their journey each customer is, and what is the best interaction for that customer at that particular moment.

Separating digital interactions from non-digital ones and then only paying attention to the digital ones clearly doesn’t meet the customer’s needs – but unfortunately, this antipattern is all too common, and is at the core of the confusion over ‘digital journeys.’

The challenge merchants face, however, is how to keep track of customers across those non-digital moments. For example, how should a merchant keep track of when a customer walks into a store, or pays cash for something?

If the journey were entirely digital, then a digital performance management (DPM) tool like Dynatrace’s would be the obvious answer, as Dynatrace can track each customer’s digital interactions as they progress through their journey.

But what about the non-digital interactions? Are they simply not monitorable by a tool like Dynatrace and thus events that digital technologies cannot address?

On the contrary. Merchants who are tackling this problem are looking for better ways to keep track of these non-digital moments – and whatever they come up with, DPM can monitor.

For example, merchants are increasingly integrating qualitative customer feedback with the quantitative performance management metrics Dynatrace has always delivered. Sometimes the merchant is able to divert offline customers to digital channels, but in the more general case, merchants are able to supplement customers’ non-digital experiences with creative forms of tracking like survey feedback, collecting data from customer support interactions, proximity beacons in retail locations, and even sentiment analysis on social media.

The Intellyx Take: Digitizing the Customer Journey

Sometimes customers simply want to be anonymous. They walk into stores unannounced, pay cash, and would never consider downloading the merchant’s app or joining its loyalty program. Merchants have no choice but to allow for such customer preferences.

But that doesn’t mean that merchants don’t have many digital tools at their disposal to bring such customers around – or gather information about them regardless. The more valuable to a merchant monitoring and then leveraging the entire customer journey becomes, the better able the merchant will be to incentivize customers to participate.

One final note: while retail is the most obvious example of this trend toward the digitization of the customer journey, any industry with human-to-human touchpoints has the same opportunities. From interactions between patients and healthcare providers to relationships between financial services firms and their customers, minding the customer journey is critical for maximizing customer value and hence overall profitability.

Dynatrace is an Intellyx client. At the time of writing, No other organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this article. Image credit: Robert Couse-Baker.