Personalizing the Customer Journey for Greater Engagement

The following was transcribed from a recent interview on The Agile Brand with Greg Kihlström podcast. Listen to the original episode here:

Today we’re going to talk about Customer Journey Orchestration with a focus on SMS and messaging to help brands drive greater customer engagement and personalize the customer experience for consumers that quickly grow impatient by being saturated with impersonal messages from the brands they support. In fact, according to a recent report by Twilio, two-thirds of consumers say they’ll quit a brand if their experience isn’t personalized.

I’ve seen in my own work with leading brands that customer journey orchestration can help this, and to help me discuss this topic, I’d like to welcome Trent Rossini, Managing Director at inQuba.

[Greg Kihlstrom] So today we’re going to talk a bit about the power of executive leadership branding. And so, first, to start, can you define what it means to you?

Yeah, for me, I think the thing that I’m seeing is that people always, kind of, associate brand with a company. And that’s not so much anymore. I think a brand can be anybody’s brand. And to me it’s the way a product, a company, or even an individual is perceived by those who experience it. So it crosses all the lines, in 2022, especially after the pandemic.

Why is it so important that executives pay attention to their branding? 

If you look 20, 30 years back, the only channels we really had to speak to our customers or our clients were maybe through direct mail and television. That has changed. Think about all the channels that are out there today, some of them more appropriate than others from a business perspective. But the influx of social media and, I would say as well, post-pandemic, how things have become heightened with respect to communicating via social media, audio, wearables, things of that sort, that you almost are not taking advantage of being able to help support your business if you’re not out there personally showcasing your brand. People trust you; they trust your brand, and I think we have so many leaders nationally and internationally who have taken advantage of that and now their brand is the company. And I think you’re going to see more of that.

I think there’s definitely a few out there who have really taken that sometimes maybe even too far, but they’ve definitely taken that and and run with it. And I think we’re also seeing trends like CMOs being promoted to CEO. That’s happening a lot more than it used to, right?

I know. I find that really interesting. I would say that, you know, in the last five, ten years, you don’t see CMO tenures lasting that long because I think everything has changed so quickly and people want that quick something. And if you’re not producing it, you could sometimes be, I would say, you know, the person that maybe is right in the line of fire because things aren’t being produced quickly enough, or times are changing and you’re not beating the competition, but there’s so much involved, I think, in the elements of trying to stay competitive. And there’s just so much you could dive into to say, what is that all about? 

But, yeah, I think you’re seeing a lot of that change in the industry. And it’s funny, when you talk about those leaders who have done it really, really well, I think all of us can think of five or six at the top of our head who have really gone out and personally used their brand to help their company. And I think those people are, kind of, tied to that brand so much now that that’s a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing, I imagine, if things don’t go great. But to me, there’s definitely more benefits of building a brand than not.

in a sense, it’s job security and, I mean, even CEO tenure is not what it necessarily used to be, either, let alone CMO, I think, is shorter even, but, yeah, it’s a double-edged sword, right? It’s like, you get that charismatic leader that really takes the brand forward, but then, if a scandal befalls them, or whatever, it’s time for a quick pivot. So how about the leaders that, you know, it doesn’t take a CMO to be one of those charismatic CEOs. But what about the leaders for which none of this comes naturally, but they’re a solid leader and maybe they’re a little more of an operational or finance or legal or some other area that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to being a branding expert? How can a leader get more comfortable with this idea? And what are, maybe, some potential first steps for them?

That’s really challenging. And I’ve worked with a lot of CEOs during my career, and some are very open to it; some really want to be more of a defensive sort of role. And so you see different personalities. And as a CMO, sometimes I see attributes that I think could really, really work well, but if you’re not comfortable with it, you have to work around it. So I would say that, yeah, there are definitely CEOs out there that may want to just be a little bit quieter and aren’t comfortable, because it’s hard going out on a channel of thousands of people and feeling authentic. You have to feel comfortable with what you’re saying, what you’re doing. And so I get that. 

I think there are some small steps you can take. I think you can certainly make sure that any of your business assets, whether it’s LinkedIn, whether it’s some thought leadership, always positions you in the best light, that it is content and topics that you’re comfortable with, because that will definitely resonate more; if you feel comfortable, you’ll feel more comfortable sharing it, speaking about it. But I also think, you know, when you talk about personal brand, you can do things that may not be forward-looking to the media and to industry organizations, but you can do it for your employees. So if you are out there perhaps commenting socially or commenting about things that your company did, that is a way that you can really communicate with your employees and get tremendous brand worth from that. It can be natural. It can be motivating. Because CEOs these days just don’t have a ton of time. But if they’re able to go out there and express a little of the strategy, express how proud they are of their employees, express the appreciation, it just has a huge ripple effect. So in turn it will absolutely support business revenue because you’re going to have great employees who are happy and who stay. But it’s a step forward and it’s a baby step.

Yeah, and I think that may feel natural to someone who at least is a good leader. I mean, we could call that internal branding or internal communications, almost, of, yeah, if they’re not quite ready to be out there as a public figure, or don’t want to be a public figure, I think they do have to have some kind of brand, even if it is mainly with their internal teams, right?

And I think, you know, in that situation, and I’ve been in many situations where you may want to put a product out there with a product head or a product leader, but if that’s not possible, you work around it. Maybe you can use the company and all of the great achievements to help brand that under the leadership. Maybe it’s a once-a-year letter. Maybe it is a once-a-year thought leadership piece. You know, taking those little baby steps and trying to figure out ways and understanding what is comfortable for a business leader is very important. But I do think it’s a nice tool to have in the toolbox of being able to speak on behalf of the brand, a little bit, to help it grow. But I do also know that things have accelerated in the last couple of years. Maybe three or four years ago we weren’t having this conversation as much. But post-pandemic, you’ve seen the winners and the losers in this situation of being able to leverage social media and the press and things of that sort to help heighten the brand, or those that may have lost a little competitive edge because they were not as tech-savvy or not as focused on how to stay engaged with their clients.

Yeah, so we’ve talked a bit about, let’s call it “What to do.” How about what to avoid? So, you know, even for those that consider themselves savvy or those that wouldn’t consider themselves savvy, what are some things that leaders should avoid when they’re thinking about their own branding?

I think the biggest thing is really try, where you can, to avoid unauthentic communication. You know, I think they need to avoid thinking that their brand doesn’t matter and that their branding doesn’t matter. It does. And they need to be deliberate about building it. But I think you need to really try and work within the parameters of authenticity, where it is a personal brand. And if it’s someone like a CEO, if they’re not comfortable – I personally, as a CMO, wouldn’t push it. I think you work around it, or you get them more comfortable with it. I know I’m one that will come in and be like, “Let’s do this! Let’s do that!” You know, I have a whole strategy and a plan. And more than once I’ve learned that maybe my speed or my thoughts aren’t aligned 100 percent with, you know, that of a personal feeling of someone that they’re comfortable-level with it. And I think you have to take all of those factors into consideration.

But to me the number one thing is to be authentic. So if, you know, you want to write a response and you, kind of, teeter on, “Well, is that professional enough,” I think you always go on the premise of you want to be professional, but you also want to be like you’re talking to someone in a room. You don’t necessarily resonate if it’s very, very rote, very, very robotic. And I struggle with that myself every day, making sure that you want to put things out there that are of value, but then you also have to put things out there that are a little bit salesy, and that’s a hard line, you know, to follow.

Yeah. So as you’re thinking about the months ahead, or even just things that you’re seeing and hearing now, are there any trends or even platforms or methods or anything like that, that leaders should be paying attention to and at least get on their radar as they’re thinking about all this stuff?

I think there are a few things. I think approaching things, or marketing, or business, as an integrated strategy across all the various channels and access points that you have to your clients, is most important. It’s constantly changing. You need to be aware of where your folks are really hanging out, where your consumers, clients, businesses are getting their information. And you need to understand what their pain points are. If you can do those two things and move that along the way, you’ll always have a measure of success. 

For instance, one of the items that I see really just blowing up in a big way is audio. People are consuming audio so much more, for many, many reasons. And I think that has to be a part of your plan. You have to start going places where LinkedIn, Twitter, you know, Instagram, can’t get you. And audio does bridge that gap a bit. So I think you have to look at it holistically.

Yeah, definitely, and I wanted to talk with you a little bit about that in particular. I mean, we’re on a podcast right now, obviously, so I believe in the power of audio, and you obviously do, too, because you’re here talking with me. So, you know, what are you seeing in the space of audio marketing? And you just mentioned that it’s something to pay attention to. What are you seeing and how have you seen it be used successfully?

Well, I like to research a lot. I’m constantly looking at futuristic trends. And I had no idea that it’s gotten to the point of people, on the average, listen to some sort of audio for about an hour and a half a day. And that’s definitely increased over the last five, ten years. And it continues to go on an upward trajectory. That being said, audio presents a lot of things that other mediums don’t. Now, if we had this conversation five years ago, I would have said, “Yeah, right. I don’t see that. You know, that was radio; that’s here and gone.” It’s rejuvenating. And it’s rejuvenating for a lot of reasons. You have people that are very digitally savvy, who like to multitask. And you can do that with audio. So I know, if I have to watch something, a presentation online, at times it frustrates me because I have no problem listening to it. Because I can do ten other things at once, plus I find, when I’m receiving communication via audio, I retain it better, as opposed to sitting and reading. And I don’t know why that is; maybe it’s our sensory neurons; I don’t know, but for me, personally, and I see that a lot of other folks are, kind of, finding that as well. I mean, nearly 200 million Americans stream music, radio, news, podcasts.

And think about how that’s growing. It’s not only now on radio. You have wearables, your Apple watch, things of that sort that you can constantly use. So the resources and the channels continue to grow. So I think audio is definitely a segment that people have to look into and integrate. I’m even seeing it to the point of you may have an article sent out, and, you know, content is king, but a lot of these articles have text transcriptions now that go right to audio. And there are services out there that provide it, that are like computer-generated voices. So you don’t even need to have voiceovers anymore. So I just see that continuing, audiobooks, all of those mediums, because it’s so convenient and it is just on so many different channels and different applications.

Yeah, definitely. I mean, I’ve been doing this show for – I’m in my fourth year, about to start the fifth, but I feel like I was a little late to the party, so to speak. But at the same time, I’m a big audiobook listener, and I do listen to some podcasts as well. But, you know, it took me a little while. So I would say I had a harder time retaining things audio versus reading it, or watching, things like that, but doing it a bit, over time, I retain a lot more, and it’s kind of changed the way I think about audio. But I go on other podcasts as a guest as well, and often it’s recorded on video, and so, you know, I’m looking at the host and we’re kind of keying off of each other with eye contact and stuff – and so we’re recording this right now; it’s audio only. I actually intentionally don’t do that, for the reason that, you know, the end audience listening, I don’t want us to have an advantage over them, like I want them to hear it how we’re communicating, and we’ve got to communicate through auditory signals. So I think it helps make a better audio experience for the end user. I have no scientific data to back that up whatsoever. Call it a hunch, but I feel like it does help.

Yeah, I think it’s exciting. And I agree with you. I was probably a little late to the podcast game, which, you know, I was one of the naysayers, not thinking that this would grow at the time, at the rate it has. I didn’t realize how many wannabe broadcasters would come out. And I think it’s pretty cool because one day I’d love to have my own podcast, you know, when you have the time. And I think the beauty of being able to have that as an option is amazing. It’s amazing. And there is just expertise out on every topic you can imagine, and you can consume it at your leisure. And that’s what I think is just the beauty of audio.[Greg Kihlstrom] So why don’t we get started by you giving a little background on yourself and, maybe for those less familiar with the product, can you explain a little bit about what inQuba does?

Yeah, my background really started in insurance, and specifically health insurance. I was quite actively involved with a company called Vitality, and that company has an alternative view on how you deal with health insurance, and they specifically drive a wellness program, driving customers to engage with that program. Another key feature of the work that we did was it was very much orientated to offshore servicing. And the reason that’s really relevant is at the time I was the chief operating officer running the operations. And we were servicing into the U.K. from an alternative market. And it was quite difficult to actually get a sense of what service was being delivered. And I think that was a lot of the impetus to actually set up inQuba, to understand that, to deliver great experience, you really need a means to be able to listen and plug in to an organization. And after a number of years within that group, which really was an amazing experience, I thought it was time to move on and actually do something a little bit more innovative, a little bit more startup-orientated. And that led us to set up inQuba.

So we have, with inQuba being quite active in the custom experience space, and I think, like many vendors in the space, that’s really where we started off. But I think we quickly realized that traditional CX is really limited and it doesn’t give you the whole picture. It fulfills a need in terms of giving you a sense of what customers are thinking and how they’re feeling, but it doesn’t really show you the correlation with what they’re doing. And that’s really where customer journey orchestration comes into play. With organizations, you’re trying to actively engage with your customer base; you’re trying to deliver great service. You’re trying to make sure that the customer can reach their goal. And what we do with customer journey orchestration is that we take traditional CX, where you’re just getting feedback, and we start to understand the behavior of the customer. And understanding behavior of the customer, we feel, is really a key differentiator, start to understand whether in fact they’re progressing along the journey, whether they’re getting stuck on the journey, whether they’re reaching their goals or in some cases, in unfortunate cases, they’re actually dropping off.

So the whole principle of customer journey orchestration is to both understand what customers are doing, obviously across multiple channels, be that the call center, be that the web environment. That could be in instant messaging, which we’re going to talk a little bit more about later, and then to overlay that with the perspective of the customer, how they’re feeling, how they’re perceiving value and how that interplay between how they’re feeling and what they’re receiving, in terms of engagements, is driving them forward along the journey. So a very exciting space. We are seeing amazing results. We’re seeing much better results than we ever saw in CX. And I think one of the things that we maybe could talk about a little bit down the line is the importance of linking it to profitability. So very much focused on outcomes, rather than simply focused on the emotion of the experience, which clearly is important, but the outcomes are really what businesses are looking for.

Yeah, completely agree on all fronts, definitely, with the focus on outcomes and things like customer lifetime value and all that. And I also agree;  I think it’s a very exciting space right now. I’ve been working in it, like yourself have been working in it for a while, but I feel like we’re starting to make some progress as an industry here, and get a little more of the mindshare here, which leads me to get started here, in talking about customer journey orchestration, and, although, as I mentioned, I think it’s getting a lot more traction out there, for those that are a little less familiar with it, I want to provide a little bit of context. So, in your intro, you define it a little bit, but how would you define customer journey orchestration to those that are less familiar with it?

I think probably one of the better ways to describe it is actually centered around the methodology that we use. So we’ve got a five-step process that we use, and it starts off with understanding the customer journey. And we do that by ingesting data from multiple sources. And we actually discover the journey, which is quite different and quite a departure from traditional journey mapping. So we’re taking in data from a variety of systems, multiple channels. And what that allows us to do is to figure out what the timing and sequence is of interactions across an entire customer journey, or for that matter multiple journeys. And the key difference with that is there are no assumptions. We’re using real data flowing into the platform, and we’re getting an in-depth view of what the real customer journey is. 

The second part of our methodology is then to actively engage with the customer, to start understanding how they’re feeling on their customer journey, if they stalling, if they’re getting stuck, if they’re not progressing, if they’re indicating, for instance, in the acquisition journey, that they’re falling off, if for the reasons of of servicing, they’re not getting to actually meet their servicing objective, you want to understand a little bit of the “why.” And that’s where we actually engage with the customers and we reach out to them, using a variety of chat mechanisms across multiple channels, to actually solicit that feedback. And that can be anything from transcription of voice into text. It could be chat on a Facebook messenger or a Twitter channel. It could be an interaction through a dialogue. 

So what happens then is that data is overlaid on the discover journey. And that takes us on to step number three in our process, which is really to understand this whole relationship between what the customer has done and how they’re feeling. And we’ve really borrowed a lot of the work that Maxie Schmidt from Forrester has done to understand the whole notion of value. And as Maxie says, value is not delivered; it’s really a joint mechanism of participation from the customer and the brand. But the fact remains that, if the customer is not receiving value, they’re not progressing forward on the journey. 

All of our journeys are defined by a start point and a goal point. And what we do in step number four is we start to understand the inhibitors to progress. So what’s preventing the customer from moving forward? Why are they not progressing and what interventions can you put in place? And the last step, step number five of the methodology, then looks at the customer journey and it starts to optimize and put interventions in play. Now, those interventions can take many forms. In traditional CX, they’re often centered around change management. They are focused on understanding what are the systemic changes necessary in the organization? It might be people changes. There might be training changes. Or, what we’re finding is that often nudges are very, very powerful, so the whole idea of sending, just-in-time, highly personalized messages to the client, to actually nudge them forward. And that whole combination has led to some incredible results, where customers truly are getting a different kind of outcome than they would without customer journey orchestration.

And so, for those listening, you know, there are some things that have been done for, you mentioned journey mapping, or there is marketing automation that will automatically trigger an email or a text or something in a, I would say, not quite as intelligent way, but it still does the trick, right? So what are some of the benefits of this customer journey orchestration approach that those previous methods weren’t really able to address as effectively?

So I think often the best way to understand this is just think about a conversation between two individuals. To have a successful conversation between two individuals, you need one party to be speaking and another party to be listening. And the party that’s listening then needs to interpret what they’re receiving and needs to act accordingly. So if we take that one step further and we think about a sales interaction, for argument’s sake, there has to be very active listening, and then there has to be very active engagement. And time and sequence is really important. You have to know when to pause, when to progress, when to push harder, when to slow down. And journey orchestration is very similar in its nature. It considers factors such as time. It considers factors such as sequence. And it considers the interplay between what the customer is feeling and what we know about them, to engage in a highly personalized way.

In many respects, it’s quite different to, for instance, customer journey mapping, which mostly, not always, but often is an assumption based on the organization’s interpretation of the customer journey. And it’s also contrasted to more traditional marketing automation, which is often characterized by a cascade of rules and the sending of communications that are uni-directional in nature. I think, with customer journey orchestration, what we’ve seen is the whole ability to almost maintain states along the customer journey, understand context, and then have an objective, have a very clear objective of what you’re driving towards. And that objective typically needs to align between what the customer’s trying to achieve, that might be for argument’s sake taking out an insurance policy; it might be taking out a new mobile data plan; it might be buying a car. And once you’ve understood what the objective is, it’s really your responsibility as an organization to move the customer forward. And customers move forward when the interaction with the customer is salient and relevant and when they perceive value along the customer journey. 

So I guess, if we have to summarize, it’s a far more sophisticated solution for marketing. It brings together behavioral science and it brings together all of the new developments in data. And we also are starting to do some really interesting work with generative AI so that all of this information that we’re collecting along the customer journey gives rise to even more personalized interactions with the customer and makes the customer feel like they truly are interacting with a brand that gets them.

Yeah, that’s great. And so what are some of the results that you’ve seen from your customers who have adopted this type of journey orchestration approach?

We’ve been recently doing some work with a health insurer, and really, what they were looking to do is to get people to engage in their wellness program. So one of the things that they knew, from our point of view, is that if the customer base, the policy base, engaged with the brand and actually started to use the benefits, that it fundamentally changed their retention rates. So with that in mind, we put together a whole series of interactions and engagements. 

This particular project was really centered around the WhatsApp channel, which has different levels of penetration in different markets. But for the markets where there is a strong presence, it’s very powerful, because of the fact that it is multimedia, because of the fact that it is low in cost and it’s highly personalized. And further, you actually get to verify the sender. So that particular project, the results were truly staggering. We had an 85 percent redirect. We had a 40 percent engagement rate. And just to be clear, that engagement rate means that, of the messages that we sent out, 40 percent of those individuals interacted with some of the content and either went to a website, or went through to the app, or gave some level of feedback. And then most importantly, that particular project achieved a 17.5 percent sign-up rate for the benefit. But the client is absolutely delighted.

Another metric that we put together, the cost of running the program, coupled with the communication costs, and the communication costs on this particular project were very high, was 3.6 percent of annual policy. So, just to be clear, that’s obviously policies where engagement did happen. So, for the price of 3 percent of the annual policy, they had clients engaging in the benefits, and they know that their profitability and customer lifetime value will go up dramatically. So it really is a case study that the client is delighted with and obviously one that we’re equally delighted with, because we are such strong advocates for this approach and methodology, and it’s just so great to actually see it being realized in real life. I think one of the other key benefits of the project is the whole notion of nudging. So we keep track of how customers are progressing on the customer journey, and whenever they’re stalling, we nudge them along. And we’ve seen that to be incredibly powerful.

So for those listening, this sounds great, and certainly the benefits and the lift you’re able to get, the engagement rates, all of that sounds like a true benefit. What are some of the challenges in starting down this path? I mean, I just know from my own experience working with organizations, there are certain things that are easy, like it’s easy to understand the potential benefits. It’s easier to understand how it could benefit the customer. But then there’s the challenge of getting it off the ground and stuff. So what would you say are either one or some of the biggest challenges to organizations starting down this path with customer journey orchestration?

As it turns out, I think the history of IT projects is the biggest impediment we have. And unfortunately, typically, when you’re looking at digital engagement projects, you’re looking at IT projects, the typical response is “This is going to take longer than anticipated; it’s going to be more difficult than I ever thought; and we’re just not going to realize the benefits.” So I think that’s a default departure point for many of the clients that we interact with. So I’d say the first key point is trying to convince clients that we actually can deliver something that actually has true benefits in a faster time frame, that isn’t actually technically as complex as many other projects. It’s not quite as complex as doing a workflow or developing a website or doing an ERP system implementation. 

So I think the first point, really, is one of belief. The second point after that is just the change in the way you look at the customer journey. So often organizations are quite organized and centered around functions, like trying to bring together, for instance, the marketing function with the IT function, together with the process function. And they don’t have a customer-journey-centric mentality. And we have to go through quite a lot of education to try and educate clients in the difference between process automation and managing the interaction with the client, as opposed to the customer journey and the customer’s lens on the world. So I think that’s the second point, is just the mindset change in support of a project of this nature. The thing that we’ve seen is that it takes quite some time, because it’s a new methodology, because it’s a new approach, because it’s a new technology. It takes a long time to convince organizations of the merits of this approach. And obviously there’s always going to be some level of skepticism. But we’ve seen, time and time again, if organizations can just get going, if they can identify a narrow use case – and we’re very big advocates of narrow use cases, not because that’s the endpoint but because it gives real-life experience. And we’ve seen time and time again that, if you can just get a client over the hurdle, have a little bit of faith to take a chance and try a new methodology, that you get the results and then you get the momentum, and you start to build that across the business. 

So my biggest piece of advice to organizations that are operating in this space is spend your time to understand what you’re trying to do, but don’t try and boil the ocean. Choose a use case that will make a difference, and get going. That’s the most important thing, get going. And make sure that you’ve got, obviously, an organization, either a consulting organization or a vendor, that’s done this work before, that’s going to be able to deliver results really quickly. These projects don’t have to be big and complex. They’re not large-enterprise transformations. They are overlay projects, and they can produce amazing results in very quick time frames.

I think the best way to get more buy-in is to show some quick wins and show the results of the effort, and everything, so definitely agree there. So I wanted to switch gears a little bit and focus on the SMS and messaging component of customer journey orchestration, which is certainly a very important part of this. So to give a little context here, WhatsApp, which you mentioned previously, it’s the most popular messaging app, with over 2 billion users. And it also serves customers well where SMS can be prohibitively expensive. So, between those methods of SMS and other types of messaging, as well as other messaging apps, it’s safe to say a brand can reach a significant number of consumers. So first, can you talk a little bit about what does it look like when WhatsApp is integrated into journey orchestration?

So I think maybe I’ll just spend a little bit of time talking about the comparison between SMS and WhatsApp. The truth is that WhatsApp, to be honest, is becoming a very expensive channel because of the fact that Meta has realized how powerful it is. So I’m not sure that you’re going to necessarily benefit from cost savings. What you will benefit from is a far superior outcome. So SMS obviously is text-based. The sender is not known, so there’s no way to actually verify who’s sending you the particular message. It’s not multimedia. And it’s not very good at keeping track of state, and it doesn’t feel like you’re having a chat. The beautiful thing about something like WhatsApp, and it’s partly applicable to MMS, which is basically a multimedia extension of SMS, is that, first of all, you’ve got a far richer set of conversations that you can have with people. You can start to structure your responses. You can introduce multimedia, video, personalized documents. You can share multimedia like audio files and images. And you also get to verify who the sender is. So the way we use WhatsApp specifically in customer journey orchestration is that we use it as a mechanism to match having highly relevant and pertinent conversations at different points in the customer journey and then using all of the context that we’ve collected against a particular individual to then personalize the interaction, making sure that the multimedia, the text and the entire interaction is highly personalized, and also giving the opportunity, through that particular channel, to swap channels. 

Sometimes it’s pertinent actually to get some feedback from a customer to say, “Look, the situation I find myself in is one where I can’t resolve this issue. Can you get someone to call me?” And you can then initiate that directly from the WhatsApp channel. It is a little bit market-dependent. So some markets have higher penetration than others. But for the markets that have good penetration, and certainly, as you said, on a worldwide basis, the penetration is absolutely massive, it offers a far superior channel that really produces fundamentally different outcomes. So I think it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out. There are – it’s not easy to use WhatsApp, just so far as the fact that Meta rightly managed the content very strictly. You can’t just send any message. You need to actually have approvals for every single interaction. It needs to fit into their guidelines, which makes projects quite difficult, but it produces an amazing result because it means that you’re not sending spam; the quality increases; and overall the experience for the end customer is so much better.

So, hurdles aside, as far as approvals and and staying within guidelines and everything, based on the results that you get from WhatsApp, does this mean SMS is less important now, or does it really just depend on the audience you’re trying to reach?

I think it’s a function of many things. I do think the audience is important, and even in the higher penetration markets, there are obviously always going to be people that aren’t on the channel. We see, in the projects that we’re doing, that certainly there’s a massive shift, and that there’s a revenue shift and there’s a channels shift. I think, in many respects, SMS isn’t all technology. It’s a very old technology, been around for a number of years. And just as we’ve moved on from plain text emails into HTML-rich emails. I think that the same shift is going to happen. It won’t disappear in its entirety, but I do think there’s conclusive proof of the fact that the SMS usage is going to decrease and then multimedia channels, not just WhatsApp, but whether it’s Telegram or LINE or, for that matter, Facebook Messenger, those messaging channels are going to become a lot more prolific and used, depending on the particular market you’re part of.

So where do you see the biggest potential, down the road? You know, there’s already the ability to get great results using messaging with journey orchestration. But, having your purview, where do you see the biggest potential for brands to really maximize this channel and this method?

I think, in this day and age, you can’t go into new business media, or for that matter any media, without mentioning something about Generative AI, and AI generally. So I think that’s a really big topic. The second big topic that I think is going to be highly relevant to this space is profitability management. Let me chat about both of those. And starting off with the Generative AI, is as we’re collecting data, that data fortunately is well-organized. And one of the prerequisites for really good AI is a well-managed dataset. So we can feed that dataset into the algorithms of the AI capabilities and use that in very intelligent ways to actually determine what is causing customers to drop off and not reach their goal, or, for that matter, what combinations are leading to fantastic outcomes? And that means that there’s less analysis. It also means that there’s more automation. In many respects, it’s a dangerous weapon that needs to be used very responsibly. 

The second element, and I think that’s very relevant to my earlier comments around traditional customer experience management, everyone talks about and aspires to have a situation of truly understanding the relationship between the investment in CX and the financial outcomes. And there has been a lot of skepticism and a fair amount of failure in the industry generally, in terms of showing that link. The beautiful thing about doing customer journey orchestration and understanding customer pause is that you have a mechanism to actually cost those pause. When you start looking at goals, you have a mechanism to determine the revenue that’s generated. And if you combine these two together, you land up in a space of truly understanding the relationship between the customer journey and customer profitability. And that is at an incredibly granular level. And it allows you then to do multiple kinds of analyses. It allows you to look at customer profitability. It allows you to look at product profitability. It allows you to look at journey profitability and engagement profitability. So I think this is the first time, in the space, where we start to bring together engagement, customer feedback, and couple that in a very tangible, in a complete, or relatively accurate way, to actually determine how the customer journey has an interplay with profitability.

And it’s a very exciting time to be in this space because where, I think, in the past, whether it was consulting companies or vendors, they were dodging the CFO because they really were a little bit nervous that he might ask too many questions and that might lead to the termination of a project. I think what this is going to do is going to do exactly the opposite. We can in fact start with the CFO, or start with the COO, and talk about the business benefits and work back from there. And it will start to connect different parts of the business. And I think we’re going to actually see a resurgence in this whole space as a result. And all of those skeptics that fundamentally didn’t believe in CX, and I think there still are many in the market, will actually start to see the relevance and start to see a tangible reason why customer journey orchestration, with customer experience management as a subset within that, actually is so valuable to a business.

Yeah, I mean, it’s interesting because I was talking with another pretty large marketing technology vendor a few months back, and they were commenting to me about the number of conversations that they were having with CFOs early on in the process, as opposed to it being, sort of, later on in the process. And it was one of those things where, when you mention that, it’s interesting to see how CFOs are getting involved earlier, because this is not just an expenditure that we’re talking about; it’s actually something that is an investment in growing the business and growing revenue and recurring revenue and all of those kinds of things. It’s interesting you mention that as well. It seems to me to be a trend here, and I think a good trend, because I think everybody wins when these kinds of investments are made.

A hundred percent, we agree. And that’s why we’re so excited about this space. In some sense, maybe overdramatizing it slightly, but it’s almost like tracking the atom. I think we’ve got to the nub of what’s really important in this space.

About the Guest

As a co-founder of inQuba, he has spent the last 11 years directing and growing inQuba – a leading customer journey orchestration platform. His work has brought together many aspects, including behavioral economics, marketing, systems and big data, AI and machine learning, operational management, and a strong focus on ROI to deliver a unique set of integrated capabilities to guide customers of large corporates towards their goals.

Prior to inQuba, he spent 10 exciting years playing various roles at Discovery Group. This included spearheading their online channel, taking responsibility for Discovery Health’s systems, and launching Pru Health in a record 9 months into the UK market, then helping to grow the customer base to 200,000 customers.

About the Host, Greg Kihlström

Greg Kihlstrom is a best selling author, speaker, and entrepreneur and host of The Agile Brand podcast. He has worked with some of the world’s leading organizations on customer experience, employee experience, and digital transformation initiatives, both before and after selling his award-winning digital experience agency, Carousel30, in 2017.  Currently, he is Principal and Chief Strategist at GK5A. He has worked with some of the world’s top brands, including AOL, Choice Hotels, Coca-Cola, Dell, FedEx, GEICO, Marriott, MTV, Starbucks, Toyota and VMware. He currently serves on the University of Richmond’s Customer Experience Advisory Board, was the founding Chair of the American Advertising Federation’s National Innovation Committee, and served on the Virginia Tech Pamplin College of Business Marketing Mentorship Advisory Board.  Greg is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certified, and holds a certification in Business Agility from ICP-BAF. 

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House of the Customer by Greg Kihlström is now available.
House of the Customer by Greg Kihlström