Touchpoints Bring CX To Life – Adam Richardson on HBR

It’s great to see serious business forums, such as the Harvard Business Review blog, picking up on topics like customer experience. I’m following Adam Richardson’s series on customer journey mapping (CJM) with enthusiasm. I recently pointed to one of his artciles that introduced CJMs. Yesterday (Dec 2) Richardson added another installment, this time focusing on touchpoints.

In “Touchpoints Bring the Customer Exerience to Life,” Richardson proposes four categories of touchpoints that appear quite useful. He describes them in the article:

  • Products: Using the term “product” loosely here, this includes the hardware, software, and services themselves. In the case of Progressive, this includes its vans and website. (I’m classifying the website as a product as it’s central to every aspect of Progressive’s business, from acquiring to servicing customers. Frei examines how the website’s feature of quoting competitive prices, for example, also has positive business benefits for Progressive. But for company’s where the website is a straightforward marketing tool, it may be better to classify it in Messages, which we’ll see below.)
  • Interactions: Two-way interactions that can be in-person (such as in a store), on the phone, or virtual (web sites, blogs, social network and user forum presences, and so on). Progressive minimizes in-person interactions to reduce costs and tries to have customers self-serve on the website, but when an accident does occur, the interaction with the agent in the white van is crucial. An interesting contrast is online shoe retailer Zappos, which wants customers to call, as the company sees that as a loyalty-builder for the brand, even if it’s relatively expensive. CEO Tony Hsieh says, “We believe that forming personal, emotional connections with our customers is the best way to provide great service.”
  • Messages: One-way communications that include brand, collateral, manuals, advertising, packaging, and the like. Progressive advertises heavily, with its minor-celebrity spokesperson Flo who works in the Progressive “store” in the TV commercials. In the previous article I mentioned the importance of the out-of-box-experience stage of the customer journey, and that typically falls into the Messages category as it focuses on establishing the brand voice and explaining a complex product to first-time users.
  • Settings: Anywhere that the product is seen or used: a retail store, a friend’s house, TV product placement, events, or shows. Especially in Big Box retail, we have seen that manufacturers and vendors have less and less influence over how their products are presented, making this a tricky touchpoint to manage.

Richardson does not introduce these as presciptive elements of a CJM, and he encourages readers to try out others, as needed. For sure, it’s more about the way of breaking down the customer journey and the touchpoints in a visual representation that’s the important thing.

The example diagram in the article, for instance, uses a “swimlane” arrangement to visually align these categories with other facets of information on the CJM. In the end, it’s about exposing the potential value creation–both for customers and for the business–through alignment of interests and activities that’s the ultimate goal. (See my presentation on Alignment Diagrams from the Euro IA Conference  2010 for more on that).

In this sense CJMs are a diagnostic tool: they expose relationships within the customer’s experience and within an organizations activities that were perhaps previously unknown. Not surprisingly, I quite liked Richardson’s diagnostic questions for each touchpoint shown in a CJM. He suggests you investigate touchpoints around these areas:

  • What specific things are we doing at each touchpoint?
  • Are the touchpoints addressing customers’ motivations, and answering their questions or allaying concerns? Are they working for your target customers, and for novices and experts alike?
  • Are the touchpoints addressing your customers’ unmet/underlying/latent needs? Are there needs going unstated that neither you nor competitors are solving?
  • Are all the touchpoints speaking with the same tone, the same message, even the same words? Is your brand being communicated effectively and clearly?
  • Are there hiccups in the flow from one stage to the next that may cause potential customers to drop off, or cause dissatisfaction for current customers (and perhaps costly product returns or help-line calls)?
  • Are the touchpoints differentiating you from competitors and helping retain the customer?

Certainly, there are more such questions. But this is a good basis.

I imagine using these types of questions in workshops and brainstorming sessions. For instance, you could have breakout groups first review the details on the CJM and then respond to a given set of questions, similar to the ones above. If you get people from different areas of an organization, that would make for great conversations–conversations that may not happen otherwise.

What I usually do, BTW, is a simple SWOT analysis of the company’s total offering at each stage of a CJM. This is usually insightful, and to “Opportunities” lead directly to solution ideas. But Richardson’s questions are a little more specific and focused. I think I’ll try them in the future.

Richardson summarizes the value of CJM and touchpoint analysis nicely in this sentence:

Taking the time and effort to look at your touchpoints not just as isolated mini-experiences, but as a collective whole, will help you shape them for a better customer experience, and perhaps even point to opportunities to invent new types of touchpoints…

“Customer experience” is a slippery term to define and grasp. For one, only the customer can have an experience: it’s not something you sell or even control directly. You can design for a positive customer experience, but you really can’t design the experience itself. Second, an experience is hollistic. It’s all of the actions, thoughts and feelings a customer has about a product, service, or brand over time. It’s no wonder many companies struggle understanding customer experience.

CJMs and touchpoint analysis shine a spotlight on what’s otherwise invisible to many people in organizations. They make fuzzy concepts like CX more tangible. In doing so, you stand a much better chance at actually improving your customers’ actual experiences.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL

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