Your algorithms lack soul: empathy is the key to better customer experiences

We’ve all seen the headlines. Marketing is now a technology-led discipline and data is its currency. Every CMO I work with now has a mandate to build data and digital capability into their teams.

But in the rush to keep up with changing technology, embrace new disciplines and build digital and data competencies into the business model, it can be easy to miss what is driving change.

Simon Russell, national retail director of the UK’s most trusted retailer, John Lewis, put it well recently, summing up in one sentence how customers have driven technology transformation at John Lewis: “Our customers decided to shop differently.”

Customers have gone from being that abstract goal at the end of a long production chain to the fundamental organising principle of a successful business. Businesses are reactively reorganising their focus in response to customers who are driving change.

In our haste to adapt we’re using technology and data to tell us what our customers want, and manage our interactions with these customers, without using that human quality that sets us apart from the ‘smart’ algorithms – empathy, or the ability to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes.

That’s why leading companies are applying customer journey mapping before they invest in new data and systems. The aim? Understanding how customers are interacting with the brand, how they think, act, feel and how they want to connect along the way.

Mapping customer journeys is only one step on the road to better customer experience. But I now believe it’s the most fundamental step a business can take if it’s serious about effective investments in data, tech and digital.

Initially, journey maps were used to identify pain points and breakdowns. They were used to fix issues. But a well-designed journey map can help you:

  1. Identify opportunities for growth
  2. Simplify the customer journey
  3. Discover where customers need the most help
  4. Create a framework for product development and digital and data strategy
  5. Put the customer at the heart of your organisation

The best journey maps I’ve worked with are informed by first-hand customer experience and are designed from the customer’s perspective. Put to good use, they can become a bible for your business – nothing breaks down silos in an organisation faster than the voice of the customer expressed powerfully.

I believe it’s because of (not despite) the data and tech imperatives facing business today, that it pays to focus on human behaviour first. Before technology, before channels and even before data.  

Customer journey mapping can help you to do that in a way that makes for better decisions about where to invest, where to simplify and where to add value.

  • Robert Limb is the managing director of Track.

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