Stages of the Client Journey

When I was in college, my best friend was an English Lit major.  I often asked him what he expected to do with a degree like that and his answer was simply, "Tell stories."

He did eventually publish a book (I have two copies on my bookshelf), but held many other jobs before that happened. No matter if he was working as a call center representative, marketing copywriter, or account manager, he was still writing.  It was only recently that I saw how his job and mine are similar.  Being a storyteller requires understanding his audience, structuring the presentation of knowledge and delivering a desirable experience.  He was analyzing and writing "The Hero's Journey" while I analyze the Client Journey.

The Hero’s Journey is a common story structure for modeling both plot points and character development. A protagonist embarks on an adventure into the unknown. They learn lessons, overcome adversity, defeat evil, and return home transformed.  Think of all of your favorite stories and you can see how the structure is used.  Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Matrix, Spider-Man, The Lion King, Lord of the Rings - they all follow common themes.

Likewise, the Client (or Customer) Journey follows similar themes, regardless of your industry.  The points can be expanded and detailed filled in, but you will nearly always see overarching stage of the client experience.

  • Awareness occurs when the client first hears about your market offering and becomes interested.  Much of this research is done through brokers or word of mouth, but our web and marketing efforts are a critical part of the client experience.  
  • Consideration allows us to deepen our relationship with the client through an experience that feels like a conversation.  We have to create a compelling story for our clients, lay out the benefits and overcome resistance, and provide calls to action all while letting our clients get to know us, our values and principles.
  • Acquisition is when the client commits to taking action. This step can include purchase, options, configuration and installation.  We have to ensure the client understands what they've purchased and reinforce the wisdom of that decision.
  • Service, in my industry, is delivering on the promise for the duration of the contract.  Providing status updates, ability to submit claims or administer the policy are all important day-to-day activities and must be handled properly to encourage renewal.  During service is also a good time to describe additional features or services for increasing customer entanglement.
  • Finally, Loyalty happens when the service contract is complete, or the client is back in the market. A lot of retention and loyalty comes down to your customer’s experience, and it is much less expensive/more lucrative to keep a current customer than to try to find new ones.

In client experience, we have to find ways to really understand what our clients' needs and concerns are.  We map the client journey to identify what key moments are working, which ones are causing pain and which ones could be even better, leading to more client satisfaction.  By anticipating and overcoming objections, and making the administration of the tool as smooth as possible, we can keep the client happy and engaged for years to come.  And that gives us time to tell more stories.

 

If you ask ten people where user experience belongs in an organization, you will likely get eleven answers, but first, you might get asked what you mean by user experience (UX).

  • Client (or Customer) Experience (CX), refers to the impression you leave with your client, resulting in how they think of your brand, across every stage of the customer journey. This involves every step from advertising, brochures and public websites to forms, call centers and correspondence.
  • User Experience, the way I am defining it, is focussed on the time the client is interacting with the website or web application to accomplish a task.

I work in Information Technology (IT), and our team is integrally involved in the requirements and design of systems.  We focus on information architecture, interaction design, visual design, accessibility and usability testing.  When our organization needs user research, personas, client journeys, concept testing, content strategy, brand guidelines, etc. we have marketing partners who collaborate with us.  It's not a clean division, and we run into issues doing pure research that can't be charged back to a specific IT project.  On the other hand, the collaboration we have with Marketing rarely gets to the level of detail needed to integrate legacy back-end systems and databases.  The concept testing gives high level direction, but does not reflect the complexity of our existing systems.

I wish we had more time and resources for user research.  Given the right budget support, that would be easier to accomplish on a team within Marketing. 

I am also proud of the team's ability to partner with development and quality assurance to make systems that benefit our users on tight timeframes, that would be more difficult if we weren't part of the IT organization.

I don't have a good answer for where UX belongs in an organization.  This is a question that will probably not have an answer, or many answers depending on your specific circumstances.

Stuck in a rutSometimes we can be comfortable, applying familiar patterns to familiar problems. Whether it's layouts, frameworks or tools, we can get "into the groove" where we feel we are accomplishing things quickly and efficiently, leaning on our experience and proven solutions. At some point, this groove can become a rut, where we no longer challenge our assumptions or look for better options.

Often we believe the "sunk cost fallacy" - concentrating on what we already invested in the current solution, such as time, money, and effort, and it may keep us stuck. Sure, the team knows the current tools, and the design patterns are well documented and understood, but do they really push the boundaries of what modern web applications can be? Browsers, platforms and tools change so quickly, you may be designing for yesterday's constraints.

User experience will happen. Whether it's designed up front, or a product of users interacting with your product after the fact, the human and product will interact. Good UX happens when we make decisions in a way that understands and fulfills the needs of both our users and our business.

It's important in this definition to recognize both sides of the equation; the user and the business. UX design strives to produce positive emotions in the user, whether it's through delight or just satisfaction in getting the task performed efficiently. On the other hand, anyone working for an organization has to ensure the organization goals are met as well. Sometimes negotiating between the two stakeholders can be tricky, when the needs are in conflict.

So why do we need UX? To ensure someone is looking out for both sides equally.

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