SaaS Customer Success Blog

4 Reasons Customer Experience Managers Need Lifecycle Timeline Charts

Big fan of customer lifecycle charts here. I first learned about them formally from Josh Porter, head of UX at HubSpot. I like them because they're really, really easy and useful for creating engaging, smooth customer engagements for software and service development teams.

What is a lifecycle chart?

It's a timeline of events that a customer does (or that happen to a customer, depending on who triggers the event). Literally, a horizontal line with some tick marks and labels that comprise every customer and vendor action and interaction over time. Pretty simple, actually.

Here's a visual:

lifecycle timeline chart example


It's a timeline with a bunch of events on it, desired timeframes, orderings, and some details as to what each event is. It should express everything in terms of the customer's language, value prop, and disposition (the one above doesn't do this very well, for careful readers).

Simple, right? So why is it so useful and why would I take the time to gush about it? 4 unexpected benefits reasons, below.

1. Avoid Overloading Customers with Information

When you have a single timeline, a single structure, an "everything goes on this line or it doesn't exist" picture, you're forced to work within constraints to developing new processes, communications, actions, etc. By doing so, it becomes very obvious when you need to stop adding and start subtracting, because you're suddenly unable to add more to the line without writing in a so-small-it-can't-be-read font size.

This is a warning that a lot of companies and customer-experience managers don't heed without use of the lifecycle timeline.

2. Know When & How to Overhaul Your Customer Experience

When on the precipice of a big customer experience overhaul, lifecycle timelines can help you know when to overhaul your methodology entirely, and indicate when something new and important can't fit into the current model, requiring a larger rewrite.

Have something so important it must be done, but it does't fit on the chart? Time for a rewrite. Break the timeline apart into its composite pieces, and start rearranging around the new must-have element. Without the chart, it's easy to say "oh we'll just give users the option" - and in the same breath, you probably confuse your average, non-power user.

3. Create Smoother Handoffs in Complex Experiences

When you have a complex process with multiple touchpoints, eras, people, or anything else that could be aptly described as a "phase", a lifecycle timeline is useful. It forces you to think hard about transitions and dovetail together your otherwise separate phases of customer engagement. As an example in software products, customers may go through an ititial "setup" phase, then "adoption", then "continued usage".

These are 3 distinct phases that require different approaches from the vendor as well as the user, therefore necessitating different resources and flavor of relationship between the two parties - and it's very easy for the phases to disjoint. Using a single timeline for the customer experience can help prevent too fractious a customer experience as the customer moves from phase to phase.

4. Enable Consistent Measurement for All Customers

If you have One True Path for each customer to travel down (n.b. this is not be a single path for all customers, but instead a single path per customer), you can measure how well a customer is doing just by placing them on the lifecycle timeline and adding some time-limited gates to your phases. A "time-limited gate" means that if a customer is still in Phase I of the lifecycle chart but is older than, say, 6 months, that customer is not progressing well because 90% of customers are beyond Phase I by the time they are 6 months old.

If you've designed the lifecycle to have mutual benefit to the customer and the vendor, then movement down the chart should result in increased recognized customer value and increased recognized revenue for the vendor. A win-win, and you can measure this by adding some time-limited gates to the lifecycle timeline chart.

Wrapping Up

Personally, I'm the biggest propoent of #3 as the number one reason to use lifecycle charts, but there are loads of good reasons to use this tool as a mental model for building customer/user experiences. Smoothing out your customer experience across a complex lifecycle is quite hard, and any tool that assists in doing so is worth using and re-using and advocating.

Topics: customer success user experience analytics