Choreography: Why You’re Thinking About Customer Journeys the Wrong Way

"Think for a moment about the great customer experiences that you’ve had. What made them great?"

“We need to define the ideal set of journeys we want our customers to take.” How many times have you heard that cry come from your [insert name of executive or trusted consultant here]? While there are often good intentions behind this statement, the road to hell is paved with rigid, pre-defined customer journeys, if you'll allow me the turn of a phrase.

Think for a moment about the great customer experiences that you’ve had. What made them great? Was it because they followed the “happy path”? Was it because they stayed within the narrow confines of one channel, one product, one technology, or one single time period? Let’s consider for a moment some of the great customer experiences that I’ve seen recently:

  • AmazonGo: Amazon’s new “touchless” supermarket automatically knows a customer has entered the store, allows the shopper to pick (or put back) any product from the shelf, and walk out without paying an in-store cashier. (The transaction is charged to the shopper's Amazon account.)
  • Uber: Everyone knows the standard Uber story, but I took a trip recently where before I was picked up, Uber sent me a message to notify me that my driver was deaf or hard of hearing but not to worry, she had turn-by-turn directions and would get me to my destination safe and sound.
  • TalkTalk: Imagine this scenario: you experience a service fault or a problem with your new internet, you can’t find any help online, and you have to call multiple times to get the problem fixed, or the "earliest available install date" for your new service differs online versus calling in to schedule. How would you rate your experience? How soon do you consider other options? This is the issue that UK quad play provider TalkTalk had to tackle — to improve its reputation for poor service and get its customers back on the “happy path.” TalkTalk overhauled its customer service solution and added visibility, personalization, and intelligence to its processes. By effectively taking control of its biggest customer satisfaction pain points, TalkTalk now provides a consistent experience across all channels and has seen a 40 percent reduction in early life complaints and a 15 percent reduction in calls.

Each of these examples relies on choreography to succeed, they're not rigid and they don't dictate one single journey to the customer. Instead, I would argue that these experiences share four characteristics:

  • Coordinate: They span multiple channels, technologies, and products, knitting them together to provide a seamless experience. AmazonGo is a perfect example of bringing together multiple technologies (mobile, sensors, payments, etc.) to provide a single, unified experience to the customer.
  • Flex: Very real-world constraints often make customer journeys rigid. The inability to recognize variation — geographic, product, channel, or otherwise — often results in journeys that don’t feel quite right. How often have you had a mobile experience that you felt was really designed for your laptop?
  • React: They recognize that not every customer will take the “happy path.” When a customer doesn’t do so, this isn’t the end of the world; rather there's a quick sidestep and readjustment to get the customer back on track without the customer even realizing it.
  • Anticipate: When the system anticipates that things aren’t going to go exactly as planned, it proactively sets the customer’s expectations while alleviating any concerns. My experience with Uber is a great example of this. If I had gotten into the car and had difficulty communicating with my driver, I might have felt some anxiety. Instead, before she arrived, the company anticipated my possible concerns and relieved them through a proactive outreach.

Okay, I get it — talk is cheap. Pulling up a bunch of examples and asserting some common characteristics is easy. How do you make it real, especially in a world of legacy technology, processes, and organizational capabilities that may not be comprised of the Silicon Valley elite? Let’s talk about the real capabilities and the technology that drives them to enable you to choreograph customer journeys:

  1. Define outcomes: Use case management to define a business outcome and manage all the actions along the customer journey to achieve this outcome. Use the case to carry actions and context across channels, both yours and even those of third parties. Increasingly, analysts like Gartner are recognizing the centrality of case management to choreographing customer journeys.
  2. Take control of variations: Place variations (geography, channel, product) in a separate layer that maps down to the data and up to the customer using a “layer cake.” What's a layer cake? Simply put, it’s a map that reflects the way your business is structured (e.g., business units, product categories, regions, and channels). This map then underpins every process that you define, enabling you to manage variations in one place.
  3. Present the next best action: Along each customers' journey, they encounter an almost unlimited number of twists and turns, most of which are opportunities for them to make the wrong decision. Just to make things more complicated, these turns may occur across multiple channels. The solution? A centralized brain that leverages both machine learning and business rules to suggest the next best action, reacting in real-time to new inputs — website clicks, interactions with customer care, new products purchased, etc.
  4. Abstract and encapsulate data: Base your journeys and processes on your go-forward data model. Grab just the data you need to drive a specific business outcome by determining which pieces you need in real-time and which you don’t. This way, you’re working as efficiently as possible, delivering faster outcomes and smoother journeys.
  5. Automate tasks: Eliminate manual tasks that require people to do a system’s work. Your people are still an essential part of the customer journey; they should just be focused on developing a relationship with the customer, not manually processing tasks. I was recently at major operator that's still managing customer moves through manila folders! Robotic desktop and process automation can eliminate many of these tasks and keep your people focused on the “relationship” part of CRM.
  6. Embed the journey Embed the journey into your existing front-end systems. This lets you choreograph the presentation of the customer experience across multiple systems without having to replace them with a rigid, single experience.

Choreographing the customer journey is at first glance a combination of paradoxes. You must create a customer path that's clear, with direct calls to action across channels that will exceed customer expectations, yet be agile enough to evolve over time. The choreography of these many journeys needs to be developed using a flexible, responsive, and insightful CRM — one that simplifies the journey that underneath the hood is growing more complex, while freeing agents from tedious tasks and guesswork. You’ll find however that choreographing components of your customer journeys is key to yielding better business outcomes and to providing a greater customer experience.