Originally Published on Wired
Driving down Highway 1 on the Big Sur coastline in Northern California, it’s easy to miss the signs that dot the roadside. After all, the stunning views of the Pacific crashing against the rocks can be a major distraction. The signage along this windy, treacherous stretch of road, however, is pretty important — neglecting to slow down to 15 MPH for that upcoming hairpin turn could spell trouble.
Careful planning and even science goes into figuring out where to place signs, whether they are for safety, navigation, or convenience. It takes a detailed understanding of the conditions and the driving experience to determine this. To help drivers plan, manage, and correct their journey trajectories, interstate highway signs follow a strict pattern in shape, color, size, location, and height, depending on the type of information being displayed.
Like the traffic engineers and transportation departments that navigate this process, enterprises face a similar challenge when mapping, building, and optimizing digital customer journeys. To create innovative and information-rich digital experiences that provide customers with a satisfying journey, a business must understand the stages and channels that consumers travel through to reach their destination. Customer journeys are multi-stage and multi-channel, and users require information at each stage to make the right decisions as they move toward their destination.
Signposts on the Customer Journey
To understand what kind of information must be provided — and when it must be supplied — it’s important to understand the stages users travel through as they form decisions to purchase or consume products or services.
- Search: The user starts on a path toward a transaction by searching for products or services that can deliver on his or her use case
- Discover: The user narrows down the search results to a set of products or services that meet the use case requirements
- Consider: The user evaluates the short-listed set of products and services
- Decide: The user makes a decision on the product or service
- Sign up/set up: The user completes the setup or sign up required to begin using the chosen product or service
- Configure: The user configures and personalizes the product or service, to the extent possible, to best deliver on the user’s requirements
- Act: The user uses the product or service regularly
- Engage: The user’s usage peaks, collecting significant levels of activity, transaction value, time spent on the product, and the willingness to recommend the product or service to their professional or personal networks
- Abandon: The user displays diminishing usage of the product or service compared to the configuring, active, and engaged levels
- Exit: The user ceases use of the product or service entirely
Analyzing how a customer uses information as they navigate their journey is key to unlocking more transactions and higher usage, and also to understanding and delivering on the needs of the customer at each stage of their journey.
At the same time, it’s critical to instrument products and services to capture data about usage and behavior surrounding a product or service, and to build the processes to analyze the data to classify and detect where the user is on their journey. Finally, it’s important to figure out the information required by the user at each stage. This analysis determines the shape, form, channel, and content of the information that will be made available to users at each point of their transactional journey.
The highway system offers inspiration for designing an information architecture that guides the customer on a successful journey. In fact, there are close parallels between the various types of highway signs and the kind of information users need when moving along the transaction path.
- Warning: Information that offers “guardrails” to customers to ensure that they do not go off track and use the product in an unintended, unexpected way; examples in a digital world include notifications to inform users on how to protect themselves from spammers
- Guide: Information that enables customers to make decisions and move ahead efficiently; examples include first-run wizards to get the user up and running and productive with the product or service
- Services: Information that enhances the customer experience, including FAQs, knowledge bases, product training, references, and documentation
- Construction: Information about missing, incomplete, or work-in-progress experiences in a product that enable the user to adjust their expectations; this includes time-sensitive information designed to proactively notify the user of possible breakdowns or upcoming changes in their experience, including maintenance outages and new releases
Information analytics is the class of analytics designed to derive insights from data produced by end users during their customer journey. Information analytics provides two key insights into the data and the value it creates.
First, it enables the identification of the subsets of data that drive maximum value to the business. Certain data sets in the enterprise’s data store are more valuable than others and, within a data set, certain records are more valuable than others. Value in this case is defined by how users employ the information to make decisions that eventually and consistently drive value to the business.
For example, Yelp can track the correlation between a certain subset of all restaurant reviews on their site and the likelihood of users reading them and going to the reviewed restaurants. Such reviews can then be automatically promoted and ranked higher to ensure that all users get the information that has a higher probability of driving a transaction—a restaurant visit, in this case.
Secondly, information analytics enables businesses to identify customer segments that use information to make decisions that drive the most business transactions. Understanding and identifying such segments is extremely important, as it enables the enterprise to not only adapt the information delivery for the specific needs of the customer segment but also price and package the information for maximum business value.
For example, information in a weather provider’s database in its raw form is usable by different consumers for different use cases. However, the usage of this information by someone planning a casual trip is very different than a commodities trader who is betting on future commodity prices. Understanding the value derived by a user from the enterprise’ information is key to appropriate pricing and value generation for the enterprise.
Mining and analyzing how users access information is critical to identifying, tracking, and improving key performance indicators (KPIs) around user engagement and user retention. If the enterprise does not augment the product experience with accurate, timely, and relevant information (according to the user’s location, channel and time of usage), users will be left dissatisfied, disoriented, and disengaged.
At the same time, a user’s information access should be mined to determine the combination of information, channel, and journey stage that drives value to the enterprise. Enterprises need to identify such combinations and promote them to all users of the product and service and subsequently enable a larger portion of the user base to derive similar value.
Mining the information access patterns of users can enable enterprises to build a map of the various touch points on their customer’s journey, along with a guide to the right information required for each touchpoint (by the user or by the enterprise) in the appropriate form delivered through the optimal channel. Such a map, when built and actively managed, ends up capturing the use of information by customers in their journey and correlates this with their continued engagement with — or eventual abandonment of — the product.
Enabling successful journeys for customers as they find and use products and services is critical to both business success and continued customer satisfaction. Contextual information, provided at the right time through the right channel to enable user decisions, is almost always the difference between an engaged user and an unsatisfied one — and a transaction that drives business value.