Article of the week 14 – 2023

Horizontal vs. vertical view of the service journey

The times when customers made a purchase through a single touchpoint, such as in-store shopping, are over – today, customers switch from one touchpoint to the next to meet a need or solve an issue. While switching between touchpoints during a purchase may be the customer’s choice in order to gather more information or compare offers, forced switching between touchpoints during a service journey (a service journey describes the process a customer goes through to receive a service or solve a problem) can be very frustrating. 

Examples of service journeys include registering as a new customer, upgrading a mobile phone contract, applying for a loan, changing personal data, or making a product complaint.

Numerous studies show that customers now require an average of five to six touchpoints with a company to resolve an issue. There are a number of reasons why customers switch channels or have to contact customer support again through the same channel to resolve their issues. Some of these reasons are listed below:

  1. Insufficient self-service options: If a customer tries to resolve an issue independently using FAQs, online forms, or other self-service options, but can’t find a conclusive answer, they may be forced to contact a customer support representative.
  2. Distorted problem-solving: If the customer describes his issue via email and does not receive a response after a few days, he might feel urged to contact customer support by phone to get a faster solution.
  3. Complex issues: Some issues may be so complex that they can only be resolved by phone or video chat, as they require the possibility of direct communication.
  4. Process limitations: Process limitations may require a channel switch for certain requests such as returns, if the company requires that these requests can only be processed through a specific channel, in this case an online form.

The goal of every company should be to reduce process complexity and eliminate unnecessary contacts, for example, by optimizing the self-service section. In this context, many companies focus on a vertical approach to optimize service journeys. This means that the focus is on improving the customer experience within a specific platform or through a certain channel. Examples of vertical journey approaches are the user experience in live chat, on the website, or in the app.

In reality, however, customers often switch channels or are forced to switch channels. Therefore, this approach often only considers a part of the entire service journey.

In contrast, a horizontal journey includes all the process steps a customer goes through to resolve an issue, regardless of the type of issue or the chosen channel. This includes all touchpoints that are necessary, for example, to open an account, order a product, change contact details, or submit a complaint.

An example of a service journey where the customer may need a number of touchpoints and channels to resolve his issue could look as follows: The customer wants to take a loan and first visits a bank’s website to find out about the different loan offers and starts the application process online. Meanwhile, the customer realizes that he has further questions and decides to contact customer support via email to seek advice. The customer quickly receives a response and continues the application process. In the next step, however, the application is rejected by the bank. The customer then contacts customer support via phone to get advice on the requirements for the loan approval. The customer service representative helps the customer with this request and the chosen loan is eventually approved after a reapplication. In this example, the customer had a total of more than five touchpoints with the company and used three different support channels (self-service, email, phone) to apply for the loan.

A solely vertical optimization of the service journey can often lead to customer frustration compared to a horizontal optimization if the channels are not synchronized. For example, having to explain the same issue again every time the customer contacts customer support can lead to a poorer customer experience.

Therefore, companies should focus on optimizing the horizontal journey to make the entire service journey as pleasant as possible for the customer and consider all touchpoints in the journey that the customer goes through to resolve his issue. Companies that focus on improving the horizontal journey aim to optimize the entire application process for the customer, rather than just improving the performance of a siloed channel or optimizing a specific platform.

For companies, it is crucial to optimize the service journey across all touchpoints to provide their customers with a positive customer experience. The horizontal optimization approach offers numerous benefits, including higher customer satisfaction, increased customer loyalty, more efficient handling of customer requests, and the avoidance of escalations and customer churn. This means that companies need a central view of the customer and his interactions throughout the entire journey with the company in order to best satisfy their customers long-term.

Sonja Wimmelbücker – Consultant


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