In their fascinating book, The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, co-authors Chip and Dan Heath point out that companies have 9x more to gain by elevating positive customers, than by eliminating negative ones. The idea is that focusing on improving the experiences of happy customers is more cost-effective, even if less intuitive, than focusing on the squeaky wheels. This powerful insight aligns with other research in this area, which has found companies with superior customer experience (CX) generate 5.7x times more revenue than their less-capable competitors, and companies that lead in customer experience outperform laggards overall by nearly 80%.

While every organization should be focused on the CX imperative, even those who strive to deliver exceptional CX often fail to do so. Yes, many are doing an “adequate” job. But adequate isn’t enough in a business landscape where competition is relentless, uncertainty is raging, and today’s leaders can become tomorrow’s “hey, whatever happened to … ?”

Today’s CX must be exceptional and memorable — for the right reasons. Indeed, 73% of customers say a positive experience is key in influencing their brand loyalties; 84% of customers say being treated like a person — not a number — is very important to winning their business; and the No. 1 reason customers switch brands? Because they feel unappreciated.

Why companies struggle to deliver exceptional CX

If delivering exceptional CX is vital, why are some organizations struggling in this area? Surprisingly, in many cases it’s not necessarily due to a lack of focus or restrictive budgets. Rather, it’s because the concept of end-to-end customer experience management has evolved over time. Strategies, tactics, and technologies that worked in the past are no longer applicable. To remedy this, organizations need to refresh and re-imagine end-to-end CX — and the simplest way to do this is by unpacking the core components, highlighting not only what they are but also how they work in 2021. We will start with “end-to-end,” then move on to “customer,” “experience,” and wrap-up with “management.”

Today's end-to-end customer journey

The classic depiction of the customer journey is a linear funnel. However, this is one case where the classics do go out of style — because the customer journey today is not a predictable, progressive path that starts with lead generation and ends with conversion.

Instead, today’s end-to-end journey is holistic, with customers exiting and re-entering at various touchpoints — not because they’re frustrated or disengaged (which would be the diagnosis if the funnel was linear), but because that is the nature of their reality. Forbes’ CMO Network senior contributor Kimberly A. Whitler explains this dynamic:

Rather than being linear, which suggests a rational, pre-ordained set of knowable steps, the reality is that most buyers are not clear about how to get from problem to solution. The customer’s journey is more of a maze than linear path. What this buying maze suggests is that customers are searching for information. What they need and when they need it is context specific. But importantly, they are agnostic as to the source of the information—whether from a salesperson, a website, a brochure, or a referral.

In light of this reality, organizations must focus on mapping the journey of their various customer segments (we will discuss customer segmentation more in the next section). One effective way to do this is by isolating each segment, and detailing the following elements:

  • Steps in the customer journey
  • Definitions of each step in the journey
  • Customer touchpoints for each stage
  • Key customer activities for each stage

These details can then be used to create a Digital Relevancy Map (DRM): A planning framework that captures the optimal content and functionality for each segment at every stage in their respective journey. A DRM helps ensure that organizations have the right content in the right channels, in order to engage and nurture customers toward desired conversion activities — ultimately culminating in a transaction, and laying the foundation for additional sales and advocacy (i.e. cultivating customers into fans and brand evangelists).

Your customer isn't a persona – but the right persona can help

There is not a marketer alive worth her or his copy of Made to Stick who has not read, written, watched, and spoken abundantly — or more likely excessively — about persona development. Indeed, when the concept of persona development started to take root on the business landscape about a decade ago, it was heralded as the master key to opening the floodgates of sales-qualified leads.

Paradoxically, however, in some cases, persona development has hindered rather than helped companies truly understand who their customers are. In an article for, executive and investor Merci Victoria Grace describes this paradox — i.e. that personas can be liabilities instead of assets — as follows:

I think personas are garbage. I can’t think of a more common offender than personas in creating a shield between companies and their customers. Personas are facsimiles of your real customers — ones that fit in tidy, psychographic boxes. Each step that you take away from the harsh, messy reality of your customer is dangerous.

What is behind this persona development backlash? According to a survey by the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA), the biggest reason why 88% of marketing, sales, and operational professionals believe their company’s persona development is only “slightly or somewhat effective” —  which is another way of saying “largely or significantly ineffective” — is that they tend to be little more than a demographic profile (which translates to Merci Victoria Grace’s more straightforward “garbage”).

Takeaway: But rather than abandon persona development, which still has a role to play, organizations need to take a different approach — enhancing persona development by adding an element that is critical in 2021: empathy mapping.

Empathy mapping shifts the focus from content to customers: not just who and where they are (which is covered by conventional persona development), but how they feel, what they care about, what influences their attitudes and mindsets, what motivates them to make a purchase, and what inspires them to remain loyal and, eventually, serve as an enthusiastic brand ambassador. Which brings to mind the towering statistic from Bain & Company that has probably appeared on more marketing and sales presentations than any other in history: increasing customer retention rates by 5% can boost profits by 25%-95%.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for laying the groundwork for empathy mapping. Organizations face different pressures, challenges, and opportunities. Generally, however, the process usually involves conducting research with customers and internal stakeholders to craft a detailed picture of the themes and stories that are going to establish a connection, build loyalty, and drive experiences (more on this in the next section). Empathy mapping should be informed by data gathered through auto-personalization efforts, which significantly reduces the marketer’s workload in this area while significantly increasing insight.

Turning engagements into experiences

What turns an ordinary and forgettable encounter into an extraordinary and unforgettable experience? As Dan Heath highlighted during his Keynote at Sitecore Symposium 2020, the most memorable moments in life are those that check four boxes:

  • Elevation: moments that rise above the ordinary by not just making us feel good, but by going deeper to create memorable delight.
  • Insight: moments that reshape how we perceive ourselves and the world around us, causing us to “trip over the truth” and realize we’ve been missing something critical all along.
  • Pride: moments that highlight our achievements; both those we know about and appreciate being reminded of and those we didn’t know existed.
  • Connection: moments that tap into the power of shared experience, thus linking us with others.

Does this mean every piece of content that marketers create must be profound and life-changing? Of course not. But it does mean that the overall content vision must aim toward making a positive impact and influencing customer attitude, since this is what drives behavior and ultimately achieves results. In other words: there must be a link between customer attitude and customer experience. If this link doesn’t exist — or if the link is not optimized — then results will fall short of potential.

Indeed, in research Sitecore co-sponsored with the Content Marketing Institute, half of marketers said the top factor contributing to the success of their content strategy was the ability to understand and connect with their customers’ values, interests, and pain points. The same research found that 88% of top-performing marketers frequently or always prioritized their customers’ practical, psychological, and emotional needs over their organization’s sales and promotional messages. Other research by Gallup supports this, finding that companies that provide an emotional connection with customers outperform the sales growth of their competitors by 85%.

Dynamic management is key

Companies need to support the delivery and continuous improvement of end-to-end customer experience with an empowered CX team and advanced technology:

  • An empowered CX team has the resources and autonomy to ensure CX is a priority, and that the program is constantly evolving with optimized workflows. The approach must be dynamic rather than static.
  • Advanced technology is used to accurately and comprehensively identify customer segments (as discussed above), as well as capture data for various touchpoints to understand how they are influencing the holistic customer journey; these data include engagement, time-on-site, asset downloads, sharing metrics, bounce rates, increased frequency, recency, etc.

The takeaway from all of this? It’s not enough to map the customer journey, identify customer segments, and create memorable content. Without the right vision and resources — and of course, buy-in from internal stakeholders outside of marketing and sales — the program will underperform and, eventually, break down from a lack of clear, strong management.

Defining CX for 2021

After an incredibly tumultuous 2020, the only thing we can be certain about in 2021 is it will be characterized by an enormous amount of uncertainty and change. Many of the prognosticators typically making bold predictions about trends and truths at this time of year are eerily silent — because predicting the next quarter, or even the next month, is difficult to do with any degree of confidence.

However, one thing can be said without fear of having to walk anything back down the road: in 2021, organizations that embrace the updated definition of end-to-end customer experience management as described above will lead the way. Alternatively, organizations that continue clinging to an outdated, obsolete definition will find themselves crowded out.

Next steps

You can learn more about how your organization can reap the full rewards of end-to-end customer experience management in 2021 — and in the years ahead — by consulting the Sitecore Insights blog, which offers a growing library of thought leadership articles, addressing various audiences on numerous aspects of end-to-end customer experience management.

Jill Grozalsky is a Product Marketing Director at Sitecore. Find her on LinkedIn and Twitter