Lately, I've been thinking a lot about customer journeys. Understanding customer journeys is pivotal for brand success. As digital channels continue to play a larger role in our daily lives, customer journeys have also gotten more complex. Brands must now think about how their in-person and online services seamlessly co-exist. How does any single customer interaction with a brand influence and improve the next one? What is the role of content in delivering a superior digital experience? How much marketing budget should the brand allocate across various customer touchpoints to create a unified experience? These are important considerations, but a critical component is missing \u2013 THE CUSTOMER. What does the CUSTOMER want?\nWhen it comes to customer journeys, the reality is that it is truly an individual\u2019s path. They not only determine when, where and how they interact with a brand, they decide if they want to engage with a brand at all. Brands that can anticipate this and build meaningful interactions with customers that are additive to their overall relationship versus just chasing the next transaction will win in the long run. When customers feel connected to brands, 57% will increase their spending and 76% will buy from them over a competitor.\nBrands that excel at delivering the best customer experience have something special, an x-factor. The Oxford English Dictionary defines x-factor as \u201ca variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.\u201d So how can a brand find its secret to customer experience success?\nListen to your customers \u00a0\nStart by listening. Listen to what customers are actually telling you \u2013 either explicitly (purchase history, surveys, comments, social feedback) or implicitly (behavior on your website or in your app). Every interaction is just a single facet of the customer\u2019s story, the more pieces you have, the better a brand can serve its customers.\nDuncan Wardle, Head of Creativity and Innovation at Disney once said, \u201cinsights that are useful for customer-oriented innovation tend to only appear after four or five consecutive why\u2019s.\u201d This quote really speaks to understanding customer intent. Surface data like demographics or transaction data don\u2019t give you a complete picture of your customers. Multiple data points across various channels \u00a0offer a better understanding of a customer. Someone who purchases a single baby product may not be expecting a child; however, a customer who compares and purchases several baby products over a longer period likely might be. Pulling together data across multiple transactions (online or off), and behavior data like website or mobile app searches helps determine how best to next engage with this customer.\nReal-time doesn\u2019t imply right-time \u2013 how to avoid the \u201ccreepy factor\u201d\nAccess to real\u2013time data is essential to creating personalized customer experiences. It gives brands the ability to understand what customers need versus focusing on advancing a prospect on the path to purchase or making a sale. Real-time customer data provides the brand with the context that is critically important in determining the next best action. However, access to real-time data doesn\u2019t mean the action a brand takes has to be instantaneous. As a consumer, there is nothing more disconcerting than seeing an ad for a product show up in my Instagram feed, minutes after I browsed a brand\u2019s website.\nThe next-best action must occur at the right time for the customer, whether seconds, minutes, days, weeks, or even months later. The context of the current interaction will tell the brand when it is appropriate to use the real-time signals vs when it\u2019s not. A hotel sending a push notification with check-in details and a mobile key via the hotel\u2019s mobile app when a customer arrives at the hotel makes sense as an instantaneous interaction. Sending an email reminding a customer to purchase a household product like vitamins 25 days after the last vitamin purchase can be helpful. Sending that email two days after a recent vitamin purchase is frustrating.\nThink beyond the purchase \nI recently had some issues with an airline\u2019s website while trying to confirm a trip booking. Frustrated, I gave up and figured I\u2019d deal with the problem later. When I called the airline\u2019s customer service line, the interactive voice response identified my phone number, linked it to my account and asked if I was calling about an issue related to my website experience. Although I wasn\u2019t calling about that issue, this experience caught me off guard in a positive way. It made me feel seen. The customer journey shouldn\u2019t just be focused on purchases. Brands have opportunities to really be empathetic and add value to their overall experience with the customer. For example, Chewy.com is known to send customers flowers and a thoughtful note when customers cancel subscriptions for recently deceased pets. While that seems like a small gesture, showing compassion for the customer can go a long way in building brand affinity and repeat business if and when a customer has a new pet join the family.\nBuild consent-driven connected experiences\nIt\u2019s important to remember that the brand experience is not defined by a single action or moment but rather the sum of all the interactions. To provide consistent, customer-driven experiences at scale requires that brands have the means to get the full history or at least the insights from all the previous customer interactions. Data is crucial to the customer experience, only when used in the right ways. Consumers are more acutely aware than ever of how their data is being used. Brands need to build customer consent, security and governance into business processes. Remember, the customer journey is about the customer and their willingness (or not) to use their information to personalize their experience.\nConsumer expectations are higher than ever. Brands that create and deliver customer-first strategies are the ones that will stay top of mind, increasing loyalty and grabbing a larger share of the customers\u2019 wallet.