Customer journey maps. Why, what, how and when.

February 21, 2017

Doing “customer journey mapping” is the new, cool thing to do. Companies are tweeting and Facebook posting pictures of groups of people working with post-its by a whiteboard. Or, if they’re technically inclined, doing the same thing with virtual post-its on a digital “tool”. Either way, a lot of meetings have started to focus on the customer journey as means to become customer centric. So the big question is, does it work? Is it time well spent? Or is it just a fashionable trend that will blow over in year?

The fact is that done right, customer journey mapping can illuminate the interaction opportunities and problems along all touchpoints between customer and brand. However, done carelessly or with alternative facts, all the map is, is a gigantic presumption of customer behaviour based on nothing more, than wishful thinking.

So the question is, how do you do customer journey mapping so that it actually helps the company to understand the customer’s point-of-view, to become empathetic to the customer’s plight and to finally, really, become customer centric?

Two prerequisites exist:
– you have to be ready to challenge the most fundamental presumptions of your business and willing to redefine the the problem that needs to be solved. This means, that going in to the process you cannot have decided what the problem is that you are going solve and just look for confirmation of prior beliefs;
– real customers are involved in both informing the map as well as validating / rejecting hypotheses that the map raises.

Start with existing research

Most companies have a decent idea of their customer at a statistical level. Dig out whatever research you have on customers from website tracking to in-store questionnaires. Use this information to create a journey template pre-filled with verifiable facts (make sure you don’t include wishful thinking and “alternative facts”). Doing this will also help you to define the timeframe for the customer journey that you are mapping. Depending on the product or service it can be anything from 5 minutes to several years long. However, determining the timeframe is crucial for the next steps.

Once you have the facts and timefram in place, you can brainstorm with a dedicated non-biased team to flesh out the “hypothetical” map. Talk to front-line customer-facing staff to get feedback on your guesses. When these are in place and you have a feeling for how the customer journey may look, it is time to talk to real customers. (not a hundred. Talk to 5 to begin with). They can validate or reject your hypotheses.

Keep in mind, however, that you are looking to map their customer journey from need to satisfaction, not how they view your brand. You are trying to find out what role, if any, your brand plays in their life, how they use what you sell, what influences them and what else is going on.

Pay especially close attention to “what else is going on”. This can be the greatest source of information for innovation, because it shows you the context in which the customer is interacting / using your brand, and why he or she actually bought it. Expand on that, and you may automatically increase your business.

Once the customer’s point-of-view is firmly in place, map out the company’s touchpoints and the underlying systems that influence them. Correlate the information from the customer with internal processes and note, that for every customer comment “this is just stupid” there usually is a very good company reason, why “stupid” is actually really “good”. The job then is to dig deep into these isolated instances to understand if “stupid” for the customer actually also means, that it is stupid for the company too, or not. But important note, is that there are many reasons why customers stick around, but eventually there will be a competitor that takes care of “stupid” and also your customers.

These stumbling blocks on the customer journey, which can be anything from slow load times on the internet to irrelevant questions being asked on a form, all make the customer ask him or herself, “is there an alternative?” If the irritation is big enough and the quitting your service or product has a low cost, then next day you’ll have one less customer.

Journey mapping provides a very tangible picture of how the customer experience is influenced by the companies processes as well as what the value of the purchase is for the customer. Gaining this understanding allows you to re-evaluate what the core value of your product or service actually is, and gives you insight into how to increase this value over time, both for the customer and your company.

The most important lesson of well executed customer journey mapping, however, is not the short term improvement in value for the customer and the company, but the long-term organisational change that it brings on. By really understanding and spreading the customers’ point-of-view throughout the company, allows everyone to become more responsive to customer needs. This increases both speed and flexibility while improving service quality, without increasing (and often decreasing) bureaucracy.

What you gain from journey mapping

Empathy – learn to see what your customers see
Business leaders are too often focused on raising operational efficiency from the point of view of the budget. Instead, by walking in the customer’s shoes, leaders can learn to empathise with customers and understand where they could add more value instead saving costs.

Identify operational inefficiencies
Mapping all the internal and external touchpoints often identifies operational inefficiencies that cost time and money for the company without adding any meaningful value to either the company or customers. Fixing these problems immediately adds value to everyone.

Bust some silos
Gathering all relevant departments around the customer journey, and discussing remedies to problem touchpoints allows everyone to understand and agree on the solutions and see, that departments need to work together to achieve better results.

Finally, create a truly differentiated experience
Simplify. Simplify. According to Siegel & Gale, 82% of customers would recommend a simpler experience. Removing customer pain points along the customer journey (and internal pain points for staff), increases both customer and employee satisfaction while improving ROI of the business as a whole.

Journey maps are circular, not linear

Think about it: you want repeat business, not new business. Whatever your product or service, you want customers to return to you after a day or year or even 10 years. You want to build a relationship with your customers, where loyalty is beneficial to both parties. So whenever you are mapping a customer journey, it is important that when you consider the five stages of the journey:
– Attract
– Choose
– Use
– Support
– Retain
then retain is a means to attract the customer again. In fact, you could think about the lifetime customer journey as a decreasing radius spiral, where the customer gets closer and closer to centre. At the same time the customer is becoming more and more valuable to the brand, because as his / her loyalty grows so too does the purchase value and his / her recommendation value. Someone who knows why he / she loves your brand is the best ambassador you can have, and in terms of marketing, far more cost efficient than paid for communication.

By considering Attract and Support as flip-sides of one coin, you will learn to focus on long term value to your company and greater added value for your customer. This should be obvious, but in all customer journey mapping workshops that we’ve done with customers, the companies involvement with the customer drops sharply after the transaction is completed. Support and retain are at best afterthoughts, not areas of competitive advantage. It’s as if companies say, “you bought it. Now you’re on your own.”

By viewing the customer journey as a circle, you can avoid this trap.

One more thing

Sometimes, it is best to test real new ideas instead of doing lots of research. Customer journey mapping works very well when you can’t be sure of the problem that needs to be solved. But if you have a concrete possible solution (or just an idea), it pays to prototype it and test to get real-life feedback immediately instead of researching and still not be sure, if what you want to do would work or not. Because you cannot ask people if they would buy / use something if you made it.

Whatever you choose to do, do it fast. You don’t need three weeks or two months to do user research. You can do it in a week, if you organise the work well. QED