Updated: Sep 22
I'd like to introduce you to Kevin Nichols, an award-winning digital content strategy expert and executive director of experience at AvenueCX, an omnichannel content strategy consultancy specializing in personalized customer experiences supported by content.
In this interview, Nichols shares best practices and insights from his work with content teams looking to build scalable content personalization capabilities.
Scott: What do you mean by the customer journey?
Kevin: When I talk about a customer journey, I mean any model representing a customer's relationship with a brand that captures either the stages of their relationship with that brand or a task the customer is attempting to complete. Some folks find this term confusing because there are several customer journey types. The most widely used are customer journey maps which present the various stages of a customer's relationship with a brand at a high level. Also, you probably know the sales funnel or buyer's journey. But you can also create more specific task-based customer journeys for specific, important tasks. Doing so can help you identify the paths your customers take across various touch points and the content they require as they do so, such as creating an online profile, buying a product in a store, or downloading a white paper.
Scott: Why is it essential for professional technical communicators to understand this?
Kevin: Because much of what customers need to understand how to do involves technical communication content. Increasingly, organizations in nearly every industry sector focus on improving content experiences to build customer loyalty. Self-service content (especially technical product information) is critical to successfully doing so.
For B2B relationships, technical content can make or break the deal. Bad content experiences can negatively impact B2B sales revenue. Technical content experiences often affect whether a prospect will purchase a product or an existing customer will continue subscribing to a service.
For the B2B buyer, if there is a distinction between marketing and technical content, it is the technical content they often need the most or consider the most valuable.
Scott: What are the benefits of understanding the customer journey?
Kevin: When you improve content performance in a quantifiable way, and you assign actual KPI's to your content (does this content push them from one step of the journey to the next, did they achieve their goal?), you can tell how well your content is performing
Analyzing the content that your competitors serve to prospects and customers — and taking note of how, where, and when they deliver it (at what stage in the customer journey) — you can spot opportunities to provide customers with a more holistic content experience than they receive elsewhere. Focusing on delivering the right content at the right time (when the customer needs it) by mapping technical product information and support content to the customer journey, you can expect to see increases in customer loyalty and satisfaction
Scott: How do we map technical communication content to the customer journey?
Kevin: Regardless of the type of content you are producing, the steps are:
Form a collaborative team including representation from customer experience, user experience, customer insight, customer satisfaction, sales and marketing, customer training, customer support (and anyone else that is knowledgable about the customer)
Analyze customer data to determine the priority of tasks they need to achieve; validate these against business objectives (but do not let business objectives override them)
Break each task into a series of steps the customer needs to perform to complete the job, including the touch points (channels she goes through) on her path to achieving the task
Identify which content may be necessary to achieve it; note that you want to look at existing metrics here, and competitive audits can also help.
Establish key performance indicators and metrics to measure and use that knowledge to make actionable business decisions
Scott: What data do we need to map content to the customer journey?
Kevin: Quantitative (or hard data) tells you what is happening, but qualitative data is equally important, which provides clues about why something is happening. So I suggest collecting and analyzing both:
Qualitative data (user or customer insights, user research, existing journey maps, existing persona or customer profile work, marketing research, user testing results)
Quantitative data (web analytics, (or including any platform analytics data), social media analytics, data from customer support, sales, customer relationship management and enterprise search data)
Scott: How do we know mapping the customer journey benefits the organizations we serve?
Kevin: Research indicates that thoughtfully mapping content and delivering it to consumers when, where, and how they need it leads to increased satisfaction. The key is in rolling it out successfully. That is where task-based journeys are essential. You can quantify them and measure them.
Scott: What should we be doing differently today that we have not done in the past?
Kevin: Ensuring technical communication teams participate in any customer journey work involving content mapping or content decisions — any content that impacts the customer experience. Doing so shows the value of including the technical communication team because customer journey exercises expose the content experience — both bad and good — from the customer's point of view.
Consumers do not differentiate between different types of content. They have content needs but aren't concerned about who creates the content or what team is responsible for its upkeep. Generally speaking, consumers want the information we serve up to help them complete tasks or answer specific questions. Sloppy content experiences damage brand perception, not a particular team or individual department inside the organization. Most technical communication content impacts the customer experience, so it's vital to be an active and influential part of this process.
Scott: What tools are available to help us do journey mapping?
Kevin: I wrote a white paper about journey mapping. It's free and available for download from my website. It includes step-by-step instructions your readers may find helpful.
Additionally, Jim Kalbach just released a new version of his seminal work, "Mapping Experiences," the textbook version of customer journey maps. Nielsen Norman Group has some terrific introductory tutorials available online.
Customer Journey Mapping 101 (video)
Journey Mapping 101 (article)
There are journey orchestration tools, but for these types of software to be helpful, you must first produce preliminary journeys and develop adequate customer journey expertise on your team.
Scott: Can you provide some advice for our readers. How can they use customer journey mapping to help them showcase their value to the organization?
Kevin: The key is choosing a few high-priority tasks where you feel you could better deliver content overall. Build out journeys around those tasks and then identify the content you need to support it. You will likely discover that you do not have all the needed content, which will require you to create the missing content. To ensure that you can measure success, you'll need to collect metrics that matter. Use data to prove how your efforts impact critical organizational goals, such as increases in sales, customer satisfaction, or customer retention.
Scott: I'm afraid we've run out of time. You've done a great job of helping us understand the role of customer journey mapping in technical communication content experiences. Thanks, Kevin, for sharing your knowledge and experience with our readers. I appreciate you making time to do so.
Kevin: Technical communication professionals can — and should — work to influence and implement innovative information development approaches that the rest of the enterprise can mimic. I hope this interview helps technical writers better understand the customer journey's role in delivering exceptional content experiences. Thanks for inviting me to share what I've learned with your readers, Scott.
Interviewing Users: How To Uncover Compelling Insights — Steve Portigal