When Ken Fine worked for Medallia, he was focused on the qualitative understanding of customer journeys, but qualitative data is only one piece of a very important puzzle. There’s also the matter of having a quantitive understanding of that journey.
Data is pretty cool if you are actually using it to understand and improve the customer journey. Fine argues that his work with high-growth, venture-backed SaaS businesses has given him opportunities to work with massive datasets and figure out how to get value out of them:
I spent hours and hours with engineers manually combing data trying to dissect and understand journeys.
At the same time, he's been focused on user experience. So it makes perfect sense to combine these two things because if data can tell you anything, it's how good is your digital customer journey?
For the last three years, Fine's been at the helm of Heap.io, a digital insights platform that pitched to help brands understand their customers' digital journey, whether it's how their SaaS application is used or how the buyer's journey progresses across their digital experiences.
There is an approach that companies typically go through when trying to understand how customers are using their applications or progressing through a digital experience, such as an e-commerce experience, he says, citing how Heap's founder, Matin Movassate, did it during his time at Facebook.
As a product manager, Movassate wanted to know how a customer goes from point A to point B in an experience. So he would write down a list of requirements about that journey and pass them off to an engineer to code and capture data against. The engineer would then go away, gather the data and provide a report which the product manager then reads. But, of course, this is only the beginning. What happens when something in the report raises a flag or brings up more questions? The entire process starts again.
Movassate saw a better way than this manual requirements target loop and that’s how Heap.io was founded. Essentially, users put a tag on their application or website (similar to how they would with an analytics platform), and Heap starts tracking every single click a customer performs. Fine refers to it as a "digital vacuum cleaner."
It's not enough to track activity, though; you need to understand what that activity means. That's what Fine has helped bring to the Heap platform - machine learning capabilities that analyze the data captured, looking for hotspots, places people struggle or are successful, and what they are.
It's about constantly monitoring the entire experience and proactively updating and alerting product managers, marketers, or customer success teams. He cites a possible case-in-point:
Point A is the homepage or product page, and point B is checkout complete. So if you're using Heap, you just tell it to look at point A to point B, and then Heap will look at every journey of every person who's ever tried to go from A to B successfully or unsuccessfully and over some interval. It's not just one journey; it can be over a minute, a week, or a year. We'll look at all of that and then go back to the marketer and say, ‘OK, here you are your hotspots. Here's where people are getting stuck; people are doubling back here. Here's a cohort of people who are flying through the experience’. And then you can start to understand better.
Improving the digital journey
Heap isn't the only platform that captures and analyzes digital journeys. Pendo, Userpilot, and Gainsight, among others, provide the ability to track the usage of applications. It's a market that has matured over the last three years, especially since the pandemic forced a digital-first experience and drove companies to understand their customers better and optimize experiences for low-friction. He describes two categories of users for these platforms.
The first is the digital builder. These are people responsible for building or improving digital experiences. Product managers would be the primary buyer, but marketing is also showing up, especially for e-commerce or financial services companies or B2B SaaS companies that want to understand the pre and post-login experience.
The second user is the digital analyst or data scientist who works with all a company’s data. In this case, customer usage data is combined with other company data to perform a more in-depth analysis for the business.
Fine offers some advice for companies wanting to better understand their customers' digital journeys.
- Ensure you are organizing for each digital opportunity organically. That will look different depending on the company size, but there needs to be a digital experience owner - someone who is accountable to ensure those experiences are as good as they can be. Typically that's been the product manager, Fine suggests, but marketing plays a role here as well.
- Find a way to get better and capture the whole digital experience dataset as a source of truth. To do that, you need some technology toolkit to capture the data and analyze it to find friction points and places of struggle.
- Combine qualitative feedback with quantitive feedback to get a complete understanding. Once you find places where people struggle, you need to get a qualitative understanding of what's happening in their minds at those points (e.g., NPS, VOC, user testing).
- Do all of that in a fast-paced, test and iterate fashion.
It's critical to build the best experiences for customers. It only takes one bad experience for a customer to leave. But it's more than that. How many companies offer a subscription-based application and see retention rates drop without understanding why?
So many companies think they know their customers or know the best experience to create without ever talking to the customers. There's too much guesswork happening. Combining qualitative feedback like VOC (Voice of Customer) or user testing data with actual usage data ensures the complete picture is available. And not after the fact.
Too often, companies are reactive in improving the customer experience. For all the talk of agility in product development, marketing campaigns, and customer support, there's still that delay in creating and improving digital journeys.