Editors Note: This is an abridged excerpt from chapter two of Orchestrating Experiences: Collaborative Design for Complexity by Chris Risdon and Patrick QuattlebaumIt is available from Rosenfeld Media in paperback and ebook. 

The term touchpoint, along with channel, has slowly made its way into the lexicon of organizations primarily via the marketing function. Marketing traditionally creates a demand for products and services through campaigns targeted at customer segments. Campaigns often include several tactics—from commercials, to direct mail, to banner ads, and so on—which, in concert, increase brand awareness and offerings. Each customer interaction with a marketing communication is called a touch; the communication itself is a touchpoint.

Marketing organizations have become increasingly scientific in the creation, deployment, and measurement of . Approaches such as customer relationship management (CRM) have enabled marketers to define strategies for how often they touch customers through which channels and to what end. New tools now exist for customer experience managers to monitor and measure the performance of . Thus, the term touchpoint has become more prevalent in branding and customer experience to quantify and delineate the different ways that customers interact with a brand.

Other disciplines—such as service design—also focus on defining and connecting touchpoints. Interactions such as the attention and detail of a restaurant staff, the way your ride service driver opens the door or drops you off at the airport, or the literal quality of the touch by a massage therapist create the service moments in real time. Many touchpoints are intangible; for example, conversations can leave a lasting impression but are not objects manufactured beforehand. Services also create tangible evidence to reinforce brand or invisible actions. For example, a hotel may put a card and mint on your pillow to bring focus to and amplify the service of a nicely made bed.

The digitization of products and services (as well as growing interest in customer-centered approaches) has led to the language of marketing, customer experience, and service design mixing with digital and physical product design. The term touchpoint has become more prevalent, but also less precise. Much of this ambiguity exists because practitioners within various disciplines use the same terms with slightly (or dramatically) different meanings. When one of your colleagues says touchpoint, she may be referring to a digital product (e.g., mobile app), feature (password retrieval), channel (email), or even a role (call center agent).

requires coordination across different disciplines. Touchpoints represent fundamental building blocks of support for customer journeys that cut across time, space, and channels. Therefore, a common definition and approach to touchpoints can lead to improved coordination and ultimately better customer .

A Unifying Approach

Here’s where things get tricky. To orchestrate experiences, you should think about touchpoints in two different but related ways.

First, customers encounter an organization, service, or product in a specific context. This encounter may be planned or unplanned; it may be designed or not designed. But they happen. You can observe the encounter, describe what is happening, and determine its effect. These encounters are touchpoints, and as branding folks will tell you, they will impact the customer’s perception of a brand, product, or service positively or negatively.

Second, organizations can design proactively for specific customer moments. They can determine the value that they want to provide, choose channels to interact with customers, and use design craft to meet customer needs optimally. These series of choices result in a family of touchpoints that are produced in advance or cocreated with customers in the moment. For example, a greeter at a retailer’s front entrance can be trained on how to greet customers while handing out a weekly specials coupon. The online store can welcome the customer with copy at the top and display the weekly specials below. The same touchpoint types—greeting customers and informing them about weekly specials—are delivered in different ways in different channels.

Touchpoints represent an important architectural concept in experiences that can span channels, space, and time. An organization can holistically craft an interconnecting system with a better chance of consistently and predictably meeting customer needs in many contexts. This system should be adaptable and extensible as new channels and interaction types emerge over time.

Such a systematic approach to end-to-end experiences requires creating more consistency in how touchpoints are defined within an organization. In the previous example, your colleagues may ask: “Isn’t the greeter a touchpoint?” or “Aren’t the weekly specials on the website a feature?” Yes, in the language of the separate domains of store operations and product management, respectively. But to orchestrate experiences, these differences in language must be reconciled. To this end, touchpoints can be defined as having the following dimensions:

  •    Have a clear intent based on identified needs.
  •    Create customer moments individually or in combinations.
  •    Play varying but specific roles.
  •    Can be evaluated and measured for appropriateness and efficacy.
Drawings showing in person, online, and phone interactions.

The touchpoint of asking a librarian is available in many channels with the same intent.

What’s Your Intent?

Touchpoints take different forms based on the channel, context, and interaction. An order status conversation with a call agent could be supported via phone, online chat, video, text message, or email. These touchpoints should share a common and clear intent behind their role in the end-to-end experience. They also should share a common set of principles that guide their definition, creation, and measurement. Illustrated below, product and service ecosystems typically have multiple channels—designed in silos—delivering similar touchpoints. Defining the underlying intent makes it possible to identify the same touchpoint types in different channels. This then enables cross-functional teams to compare, connect, and increase the consistency of the superset of channel experiences.

Making the Moment

The intent behind any individual touchpoint should not be determined in isolation. A touchpoint’s efficacy depends not only upon how it plays its unique role, but also how well the touchpoint connects with and conforms to the overarching experience. Because touchpoints can appear in different combinations in different contexts, it’s helpful to view them as role players in the customer moments you hope to create.

This conceptual framework is illustrated below. As customers move from moment to moment in their product or service experiences, different touchpoints support their journey. A few of these touchpoints truly serve as features, helping to create signature customer moments. Some touchpoints support specific customer actions. Others may play a more ambient role, while still others are called upon to serve a subset of customers.

Graphic representation of different moments in a user journey and the touchpoints for each.

Touchpoints appear in one or more customer moments, playing specific roles in each.

Different Moments, Different Roles

As you begin to rationalize the various definitions of touchpoints, it becomes easier to articulate the role and characteristics for each touchpoint. A few examples of touchpoint roles include featured, bridge, and repair/recovery.

Featured: Not all aspects of a product or service uniquely deliver value to customers. Featured touchpoints play the role of helping create signature customer moments. Examples of featured touchpoints include USAA’s first-to-market mobile checking deposit touchpoint, Zappos’s easy returns, and Amazon Dash’s physical reorder button.

Bridge: When you want to help a customer move from one moment to the next or one channel to the next bridge, touchpoints are important. Some bridge touchpoints serve as handoffs, such as when one customer service agent dials in a second agent and gracefully transitions the conversation. Other bridges require two or more coordinating touchpoints. For example, a PDF concert ticket attached to an email, the ticket printed from your printer (another touchpoint), the door person asking for and recognizing your ticket, and the scanning of your ticket’s barcode are all touchpoints that bridge the moments from buying a ticket to seeing the show.

Repair/Recovery: When customers fall off the happy path, repair and recovery touchpoints come to the rescue. If you can’t recall your password, you interact with “Forgot your password?” touchpoints. Or if you receive damaged merchandise, a series of touchpoints aid you in getting a replacement via your channel of choice.

These are just three of the most common roles that touchpoints may play. You’ll want to review your own moments and their respective touchpoints to determine what roles they play in your product or service experience. This becomes very helpful when you look at key moments through experience maps and service blueprints.

Making Sure That Touchpoints Do Their Job

When you approach touchpoints as a coordinated system of featured and supporting players on the stage of experience, you naturally segue to the thought: “Is everyone playing his or her part, and well?” From a measurement standpoint, some touchpoints—especially digital ones—can be tracked and reported on. Examples include the following: shopping cart abandonment rates, email offer click-throughs, usage rates for mobile versus paper boarding passes, and how many customers upgrade a service following a conversation with a call center agent.

Other touchpoints can be evaluated by asking customers questions in person or via surveys. Was the entertaining airline safety video not so entertaining? How satisfied were you with the call agent’s problem resolution conversation? How would you rate your experience with our new packaging? This feedback can be used to improve specific touchpoints or flow among them.

Touchpoints by Moment

It’s a given that touchpoints play an important role in creating customer moments. They facilitate interactions, deliver information, trigger emotions, and bridge one moment to the next. The diagram below illustrates a simple but powerful framework for placing touchpoints in the context of the overarching customer journeys they support.

Journeys: Customers experience product and services over time, often in the context of achieving an explicit goal or meeting an implicit need. A journey, in this context, is a conceptual frame to refer to the beginning, middle, and end of the customer’s experience. Example journeys include going to the movies, saving for college, adopting a child, and a trip to the emergency room.

Stages: A journey is not monolithic; it unfolds in a series of moments that tend to cluster around specific needs or goals. When mapping experiences, these clusters are known as stages. Stages are essentially chapters of the customer’s journey, which use a level of granularity for creating strategies that the common customer needs.

Moments: Whether linear or nonlinear, moments occur throughout a journey as the customers make their way forward in time. Not all moments are created equal, and the most important ones are often referred to as key moments or moments of truth. Regardless, all moments matter.

Touchpoints: Touchpoints enable interactions within and across moments. Defining a vision for each customer moment provides the right inputs for ensuring that each touchpoint plays its unique role while harmonizing with others.

Graphic representation of different moments in a user journey and the touchpoints for each with the addition of stages.

Touchpoints represent fundamental building blocks in the journeys of customers as they interact with a product or service in multiple channels over time.

Cataloging and Communicating Your Touchpoints

As you identify your touchpoints, you will need to document your findings. How detailed you get depends on the breadth and depth of your product or service, your goals, and the amount of effort you can (or should) commit to the inventory. You have lots of options, but your inventory should give people a complete picture of your touchpoints. Here are two approaches representing the two extremes on a spectrum from lean to finely detailed.

Keep It Lean

When you have little time, or just want to get a first iteration complete, your focus should be on nailing down the basics: stages, channels, and touchpoints. The stages should have clear labels in customer-centric language. It should reflect your primary channels, while less used channels can be summarized or combined. Touchpoints should then be organized at the intersection of stages and channels.

The figure below illustrates another approach on the leaner side of the spectrum. This inventory reflects a future-state vision of how to combine new and existing touchpoints into a better end-to-end experience. It includes specifications for each moment—required screens, content, and communications—to support design process for different channels’ teams.

If you need to be even leaner and you have the wall space, build your inventory in sticky notes or take a picture of your workshop outputs and put up a large printout of it. Just make sure that your work stays visible to others so they can refer to it to inform strategy and design activities. Keep socializing the framework to unite others on its holistic view of where and when customers will interact with your product or service.

Graphic representation of touchpoint inventory.

An example of a touchpoint inventory.

No Detail Left Behind

Beyond the basics, you can go much deeper into cataloging your touchpoints and describing their roles (and how well they play it) in the customer experience. This finely detailed approach is valuable in transformative work that involves reimagining customer journeys or creating sophisticated service experience architectures. While this takes time, the return on investment can be great in terms of better customer experiences and more easily managed operations.

A detailed inventory uses the same methods as outlined here, but with more information to collect and document. Like a content inventory, a spreadsheet tool provides the right functionality and flexibility to capture and analyze your work. You can then create different visual documentation with varying levels of information as needed. Your touchpoint inventory should be a living document for planning, creating, changing, and retiring touchpoints.

Below are common attributes helpful to capture and track your touchpoints throughout the design process.

  • Channel stage: What stage(s) does the touchpoint support?
  • Moment: What moment(s) does the touchpoint support?
  • Touchpoint name: Make this clear and unique. If the touchpoint takes on different forms in different channels, keep the name consistent. For example, an Uber “ride confirmation” can be delivered via push notification or text message.
  • Needs: What needs does the touchpoint meet? If none, do you need it?
  • Roles: What roles—such as featured or repair/recovery—does the touchpoint play?
  • Connections: If the touchpoint lives in a sequence or bridges to another touchpoint and channel, list those touchpoints here.
  • Quality: Is the touchpoint good? Does it fail to adhere to basic heuristics or specific experience principles?
  • Measurement: Do you have any performance metrics associated with the touchpoint?
  • Owner: Who owns the touchpoint from the organization’s viewpoint?
  • Status: Is there a plan to change or replace the touchpoint in the future?

Nailing down all these details can be a collaborative effort by leveraging shared spreadsheets to have people contribute across the enterprise. Together, you can create a living document of the architecture that makes your customer experiences possible. This foundation will then pay off as you collectively research, imagine, and conceptualize the moments and touchpoints of the future.

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