Columns November/December 2021

Meet the Change Agents: Mapping Technical Communication Content Delivery to The Customer Journey

By Scott Abel | STC Fellow

In this installment of “Meet the Change Agents,” I introduce you to award-winning digital content strategy guru Kevin Nichols. We explore the need for technical documentation teams to map the customer journey to deliver personalized content experiences at scale. He shares best practices and insights from content teams with scalable content personalization capabilities by building a firm understanding of the entire customer journey.

Scott Abel (SA): What do you mean by the customer journey?

Kevin Nichols (KN): 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 different 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 consume as they do so, such as creating an online profile, buying a product in a store, or downloading a white paper.

SA: Why is it essential for professional technical communicators to understand this?

KN: 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 is critical to successfully doing so. For business-to-business (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.

SA: What are the benefits of understanding the customer journey?

KN: There are several benefits:

  • If you can anticipate the customer needs, you can meet them more effectively and efficiently.
  • You can improve the customer content experience, making it more customer focused.
  • You can improve content performance in a quantifiable way, and you can assign actual key performance indicators (KPI) to your content (i.e., does this content push them from one step of the journey to the next, did they achieve their goal?), which shows how well it performs.
  • Analyzing the content that your competitors serve to prospects and customers — and taking note of when they deliver it (at what stage in the customer journey) — can identify opportunities to provide customers with a more holistic content experience than they receive elsewhere.
  • When you focus on delivering the right content at the right time (when the customer needs it) by mapping product and support content to the customer journey, you can expect to see increases in customer loyalty and satisfaction.
SA: How do we map technical communication content to the customer journey?

KN: The steps remain the same regardless of the type of content you are producing:

  • Form a collaborative team that includes customer experience, user experience, customer insight, sales and marketing folks, customer satisfaction, training, customer support (anyone that can give you knowledge of 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 their 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.
SA: What data do we need to map content to the customer journey?

KN: Quantitative (or hard data) tells you what is happening, but qualitative data is equally important, which provides clues about why something is happening. 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
  • Quantitative data: web analytics, (or including any platform analytics data), social media analytics, data from customer support, sales, CRM data, enterprise search data
SA: How do we know mapping the customer journey is beneficial to the organizations we serve?

KN: We know from all the research out there where others have successfully done it. The key is in rolling it out, and that is where task-based journeys are essential. You can quantify them and measure them.

SA: What should we be doing differently today that we have not been doing in the past?

KN: 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 will show 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 they aren’t concerned about who creates the content or what team is responsible for its upkeep.

Generally speaking, consumers want information to help them complete tasks or answer specific questions. Sloppy content experiences reflect poorly on their perception of the brand, not a particular team or individual department inside the organization. There is a lot of technical communication content that impacts the customer experience, so it’s vital to be an active and influential part of this process.

SA: What tools are available to help us do journey mapping?

KN: I recently wrote a white paper about journey mapping. It’s free to download from my website www.avenuecx.com. 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,1 the textbook version of customer journey maps. Nielsen Norman Group1 has some terrific introductory tutorials available online. 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.

SA: Can you provide some advice for our readers. How can they use customer journey mapping to help them showcase their value to the organization?

KN: 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 content you need, 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, for example.

SA: You’ve done a great job of helping us understand the role of customer journey mapping in technical communication content experiences. It’s such a big topic we can’t cover everything I’d like in this issue of Intercom. Maybe someone should write a book about it (wink, wink). Thanks, Kevin, for sharing your knowledge and experience with our readers. I appreciate you making time to do so.

KN: 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.

Reference
  1. Kalbach, Jim. 2016. Mapping Experiences: A Complete Guide to Creating Value Through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams. Newton, MA: O’Reilly Media Inc.

 


In the digital age, change happens quickly. This column features interviews with the movers and shakers — the folks behind new ideas, standards, methods, products, and amazing technologies that are changing the way we live and interact in our modern world. Got questions, suggestions, or feedback? Email them to scottabel@mac.com.

 

 


 

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