"Customer journey" is the new "persona." Marketers seeking to understand whether their marketing is working need to develop a thorough understanding of what their audience experiences at every touchpoint, from the top of the funnel all the way through to post-purchase. 

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Kitewheel, a customer journey automation company, analyzes millions of customer interactions every year and shares key insights in an annual research report. By comparing the latest report to previous years, the company calls out what’s changed in "journey management" and how brands can thoughtfully design their customer journeys to give customers the best possible experience at every stage.

I invited Mark Smith, president of Kitewheel, to Marketing Smarts to share this year's research on customer journey and offer insight into the opportunities this year's data identifies in journey management, especially in B2B.

Here are some highlights from my conversation with Mark:

You need to manage the customer journey, because it's only getting more important (06:40): "This whole customer journey approach is definitely here to stay. We've now got five years of, essentially, 100% growth in journey interactions, and it continues to grow and accelerate. This was no flash in the pan when, for a couple of years, businesses were interested in this and then they moved on to the next thing. The interest is growing and strengthening. And so there's definitely something long-term and permanent in this customer journey management space."

The more mature your business, the more channels you use to manage your customer journey (08:20): "One of the interesting patterns we see in our data is, if you look at businesses at different stages of maturity, there's a rapid increase in the number of channels that they use to interact with customers. Those businesses in the early stage average under two channels. Some of them are just working a single channel, others are just using maybe two channels. I think the average is 1.8, 1.9, whereas with mature businesses, the average number of channels is over 4.

"In the retail sector in particular, that's where we see the broadest channel use. Essentially all 8 primary customer channels are in use in that retail sector: the Web, the physical channel (the store), social channels, phone channels, mobile or app-based interactions, email, chat, and advertising/paid media."

With powerful data comes the responsibility to avoid creeping people out with it (13:30): "One of the interesting things about this technology is it's very powerful. You can do a lot of things with a decision engine connected to all of your channels. The key thing is to not go crazy with that. You've got to balance the power of the science of the technology with the art of the human side of customer interactions.... Don't go terrifying the customer by creeping them out [because] everything they do is being tracked."

Watch for tools that don't play well together (17:02) "Outside of marketing, in customer service, [companies] spend a lot of money selecting great customer interaction technology like call centers, websites...and they've made typically great choices on that technology. Their constant frustration is that it doesn't work together. That those great tools do a great job in their piece of the puzzle, but are really terrible at working together and sharing information that helps deliver a consistent experience to the customer.

"If you've got different rules set up in each [channel,] the experience starts to become very disjointed and [people] become very frustrated.... Those kinds of things drive customers crazy.... Our whole focus is: You've got great technology, you don't need to change it. You just need to empower it with the right intelligence so that it can do a consistent job for a customer."

To learn more, visit Kitewheel.com, or follow the company on Twitter. And be sure to download your copy of the research report: State of the Customer Journey 2019.

Mark and I talked about much more, so listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.