By Frank Spillers

Brown skinned Sales rep having a discussion with white couple shopping while leaning on the table with a catalog in the store

Summary: Customer service, customer experience, and user experience efforts come together around touchpoints. Touchpoints are significant interactions between customers and companies, occurring across channels. Figuring out where your journeys break down and how to better improve the interactions that occur there is a big deal for UX ROI. 

What is the significance of a touchpoint?

Products and service systems (think mobile app orders food delivery) rely on touchpoints. Touchpoints are value-rich exchanges between customers and your business. Common examples of touchpoints include information, help, advice, or consultation. Touchpoints occur when and where the customer wants them to occur. Likewise, user behavior is “choose your own channel” (omnichannel) by default. It is for this reason that touchpoints need to be observed, optimized, and made consistently available across channels.

Channels are not touchpoints.

Channels are just how a customer approaches your company (mobile, Chat, Web, call center, etc). Omnichannel interactions have become the default, whether your company is noticing or not.

The average customer says they use 10 different channels to communicate with companies — ranging from telephone calls to voice-activated personal assistants.

(State of Service report Salesforce 2019)

And there’s the rub. Without a full inventory of customer interactions (via touchpoints) and an understanding of these touchpoints over time (a Customer Journey), you can be wasting money. For example, a mobile app that does not offer the same tooltip on a form field (eg a user hint with a business or regulatory requirement) as the Web version (because hover is not supported on mobile and designers used hover) can cause users to enter the wrong information. This serious error might require a call to the call center call (expensive to the company).

Note: Channel transaction costs in banking for example, are estimated per query at $0.17 (Web) vs $3.75 (Call center). Source: Towergroup and Fiserv study; also see Bećirović et. al 2017.

Had the two digital channels in the above example offered consistent hints to users, errors could be prevented. Costs could be saved and well studied downstream customer satisfaction, loyalty, and word of mouth problems mititaged. 

This data from another Salesforce study (State of the Connected Customer, Salesforce 2018) illustrates the fact that disconnects in channels are also sadly prevalent:

**51% of customer service teams use mobile apps, compared to 82% of customers who use mobile apps for communicating with a company.


**20% of customer service teams use voice-activated personal assistants, compared to 54% of customers who use voice assistants to communicate with a company.

However, the significant thing is not where disconnects are happening (where= channels), but what support of a good customer or user experience was missing (what= touchpoints). Channels can be full of distortion. For example, a user uses Chat then the call center (sometimes not because they want to) but because they have to (see example below):

chat notice on a website shows 'we're busy helping others'

Sometimes a user's channel of preference offers a roadblock (hidden Contact link, or buried under a series of "try this first" screens). Worse, there can be a dead-end (eg "Contact the Seller"-- who doesn't have to respond). The support ticket is left in limbo while the user searches around for a channel the company will respond to (sometimes never to find one). Twitter is an infamous "last resort" channel used to shame a company regarding bad customer service/ customer experience. Note: Many companies know this so they prioritize social media complaints with speedy service. 

Touchpoints first, channels second.

When a customer reaches out to a channel, this does not help you identify the root cause of their problem. It does not offer forensics of which touchpoints failed. Therefore, your channel optimization effort becomes reactive. Instead, important work should be prioritized to identify all touchpoints, touchpoint breakdowns, and a plan to heal broken touchpoints. Once touchpoints are streamlined (with good UX), then channels can be optimized to help customers solve their problems. 

Remember, channels are a given: users will use them based on their experience with competitors, prior expectations and experience, preference, context, and mood. That they are in a channel may be a sign of an issue in another channel or worse upstream with a missing, inaccurate, or poorly designed touchpoint. One of my favorite touchpoints comes from a banking study whereby a customer had a conversation about loan rates. The agent provided advice and drew the options on a piece of paper (a very crude touchpoint artifact). The customer took it home to his wife and they reviewed it and added their own comments-- and decision (to look elsewhere!):

image of notes written by a bank agent showing options for paying off a loan- customer added their notes saying "rates too high"

Optimize touchpoints, tackle improvements with an omnichannel focus.

To improve the bottom line, organizations need to understand customer journeys and the touchpoints that they are made of. Journeys and touchpoints can provide a starting point to align internal stakeholders and channel managers around customer priorities. By understanding the root causes of where customers are falling down, an appropriate channel strategy can then be created.

Learn more? Head over to Frank Spillers' UX Inner Circle for:

  • Touchpoints Masterclass will cover touchpoint mapping, an inventorying technique to uncover breaks in customer touchpoints. We will unpack actual customer data touchpoints and develop recommendations for optimizing touchpoints unique to that channel. This will offer attendees a mini-workshop experience or “learning by doing”.
  • Artifacts Miniclass covers artifacts (like the banking one mentioned above) are objects or phenomena of significance that tell the context story surrounding a user’s experience.