Whose clock are you on?

Customer journey designs ignore the customer clock at their peril

Unless you’re afflicted by a particular neurosis you probably don’t spend every minute of the day counting down the time to your demise and wondering how you’re going to spend it. Yet time-efficiency and utilisation are beloved of management consultants, personal growth coaches, line managers and productivity experts the world over.

But often we’re using the wrong clock.

In the last week I’ve had two very personal examples of whose clock I’m on. Regular readers will know I’ve been a customer of St George’s Hospital in south-west London for more times than I would prefer to have been this year. Most of the time I’ve had some great experiences – under the circumstances – but my most recent visit caused me to reflect, not on mortality as much as time-efficiency.

Oh doctor, I’m in trouble

Following a routine day surgery procedure to correct a cardiac arrhythmia problem, I awoke in the middle of the night a few days later with a severe pain in my chest. Not, I was glad to notice, anywhere near my heart, but causing me some breathing difficulties. Following a few hours snatched sleep I embarked on a customer journey that went something like this:

08:00 Book same-day GP appointment online

09:15 GP appointment

10:00 Ambulance to hospital

10:20 Accident and emergency department – blood tests and electrocardiograms

11:50 Chest x-ray

12:05 moved to acute medicine unit

14:00 First meeting with doctor

15:30 Meeting with doctor and consultant – diagnosis and treatment

16:00 More tests

17:15 Medication delivered by pharmacist

18:00 Travel home

18:45 In my sick-bed!

A journey that lasted over 10 hours to diagnose and commence treatment of what appears to be a lung infection, most likely picked up on my first visit.

Every touch point in the journey was excellent – there were many others not documented that were also very good – but there was a lot of time in between them.

Always crashing in the same car?

Experience number two: I’m lying in bed the following afternoon when my wife phones to tell me she’s damaged the car – and two others – in a car park about two miles from our house and it can’t be driven. Another – longer – customer journey kicks off:


14:30 My wife calls our insurers and speaks to a very helpful and reassuring person on the other end of the phone at Admiral

15:15 My wife returns home – a lift from one of the other drivers, proving that the world is full of kind people, even if you scrape their cars

16:15 Call from recovery firm to confirm details for picking up the car

16:40 Call from recovery driver to ask where the car key is

16:50 Taxi to car with key


08:30 I call the repair workshop – would it be possible to pick up a courtesy car? Apparently, the car hadn’t yet been delivered by the recovery firm and would most likely be on Monday and a courtesy car couldn’t be made available until the damage had been assessed.


14:00 I call the workshop again.

“Yes, the car was delivered about 40 minutes ago so they’re doing the assessment”

“So, can I come over and pick up a courtesy car?”

“It takes about 48 hours to submit the assessment and have it approved, then we can let you have a courtesy car.”

14:15 I call the insurers to make the point that this is stretching the definition of courtesy a little bit but also, since I’m an accommodating sort of person, to say that we can manage without a car until Wednesday morning so if they could compress the 48 hours that would help. They call the garage who agree to provide the estimate by Tuesday p.m. All happy(ish) – for now.

Clocking off

There are two clocks in operation in my examples: a customer clock, representing my preferred time for the journey and a supplier clock representing when I’m not in control of the time the journey takes. In my healthcare journey, once I had made my booking and arrived at the doctor’s surgery I had pretty much ceded control to the various suppliers. In my car insurance example, we were in control of some elements (getting the key back to the car) but the overall – and rather unsatisfactory – timing of at least 4 days to become mobile again is predominantly dictated by the other actors in the process.

Any customer of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is accustomed to delays: in my case I had written off the day (and a few following it as it turned out) so although the waiting was tedious, I was aware that there were other higher priority cases using the resources. (This, incidentally, is one of the characteristics of a service owned by the public: you feel a bit of “we’re all in this together” and make allowances.)

Customers of insurance companies could, however, get a much better service. I have made a note of the difference between a hire care (provided by the insurer and available immediately on some policies) and a courtesy car (provided by the repairer and only after establishing that the car isn’t a write-off). Next time around I will pay more attention to this fine detail when selecting an insurer.

Takt and discretion

The idea of a customer clock isn’t a new one. In Lean manufacturing approaches the idea of “takt time” – literally the “beat” of the customers’ demands for products – is a key one in establishing how a manufacturer’s production line should be optimised. This works if you have customers with reasonably predictable patterns of behaviour like, say, an insurance company, less so if you’re a busy general hospital with a vast range of customers and conditions to service as well as specialised resources responding to multiple demands.

The key thing for suppliers is that, whilst they may have their own timings for the stages in their customer journeys, optimising these may end up sub-optimal for the customer. The tendency is to optimise the delivery of a service, but customers want the delivery of outcomes. In my hospital journey my desired outcome was wellness, or at least a signpost towards it, and whilst the time spent was longer than it could have been (in a world with less demand) it was delivered.

In my insurance example the outcome is “get me mobile again!” and the time taken to deliver it is at least 4 days longer than it could have been. I’ll be making a mental note to check out Direct Line when renewal comes around as their positioning shows them as problem solvers not just insurers.

The closer you can get to understanding the customer’s clock as well as your own, the more likely you are to attract and retain customers.


Six days after the ambulance episode I headed back to the hospital for a check up and was delighted to get through initial checks, x-ray and consultation with the doctor in less than 45 minutes. I barely had time to draw breath – now much easier – between appointments, so proof that when all goes according to plan, the NHS can approach customer time.

Why bother with customer journey mapping?

It’s a powerful technique, but only under certain conditions

Be honest now: if I were to ask you where your customer journey maps are kept, could you – hand on heart – tell me exactly where they are on your company’s intranet?

You can? Great! Now, can you tell me the last time they were used, in anger, to design or improve something that had a direct impact on your business’s bottom line?

If your answer is sometime within the last three months or so, then you can probably skip this article (or go to the comments and let everyone know what a bang-up job you’re doing). If you’re hesitating a little, then read on: I’m going to tell you how this powerful technique can really add value, not just to the customer experience but to the bottom line.

Travelling hopefully

Customer journey mapping is one of those things that you immediately associate with the work of the customer experience (CX) function, along with customer satisfaction/NPS reports, focus groups and surveys and all the competences such a department should possess.

In summary, a customer journey map lays out the elements of the customer journey which, as survey firm SurveyMonkey reminds us, is:

“the complete sum of experiences that customers go through when interacting with your company and brand. Instead of looking at just a part of a transaction or experience, the customer journey documents the full experience of being a customer.”

And this, to me, encapsulates the problem with journey mapping: it’s an all-encompassing approach, but the positioning of customer experience within a lot of businesses doesn’t always enable such an approach to be taken.

When CX is relegated to a department then customer journey mapping will be the technique used by that department. Problem is, other departments with their own commendable desire to improve what they do will adopt a different technique – lean six sigma or process re-engineering for example – and the goal of a comprehensive approach becomes that much harder to achieve.

The problem is that customer journeys are seen as existing only on the customer-facing parts of the organisation, with all the process/back-office elements being someone else’s problem.

This is a big mistake.

When you think about it, the things that go wrong in a customer’s experience are a result of disconnects between front and back office. Simple example: if you order something in a restaurant and it turns up as a cold, congealed mess then chances are there’s a problem in the kitchen’s order handling and communication process, not with the front-of-house staff and the visible parts of the journey. Your “end-to-end customer journey” is definitely affected though.

On a road to nowhere?

But where is this journey heading? The definition quoted above is wider than many organisations use in practice: it’s easier to bite off a more transactional journey. In my restaurant example the transactional journey – where my desired customer outcome might “feed me satisfactorily” is OK in a fast food outlet, but in a more up-market establishment it is more likely to be “provide me with a great evening out/relaxed lunch with friends” or something similar.

In the latter example, the journey requires many elements to be combined, some of which may be out of the restaurant’s direct control e.g. travel to and from the restaurant but will still have an impact on the customer outcome.

The key thing in understanding the journey – whether it’s the delivery of a five-star meal or a four-wheel drive car – is that all the elements in the journey need to be represented when any improvement work is done.

The route to better mapping

This cross-functional view is one of the key elements of any customer-centric change endeavour and therefore is needed to make journey mapping a success. There are some other success factors that you also need to adopt to avoid it becoming a redundant exercise in creating wallpaper for the customer experience department’s offices.

1. Get meaningful input

It follows from the above point that most important thing that you can do in starting a journey mapping exercise is to get input from all elements in the journey – front and back office – but for that to be meaningful there has to be a shared understanding and commitment that the way the current journey works is sub-optimal and that in redesigning it, some of the unnecessary elements, process bottlenecks and so on, will become redundant.

2. Drive from customer outcomes

One of the main dangers in journey mapping is that it links customer touch points and then improves those touch points in the hope that they turn into “magic moments”. This is like putting lipstick on a pig – it may be more attractive but it’s still a pig – if the underlying processes don’t get improved as well. The best way to focus the cross-functional effort required to drive this improvement is to have a clear sense of customer outcomes. It’s essential to do this work first, otherwise you will be designing the journey based on assumptions rather than real insight into customer needs.

Once you have a clear view of customer outcomes, the journey design question should be “what’s the best way we can deliver the customer’s desired outcome” which produces a much more radical approach to processes. (One good example of this is the UK car insurance firm Direct Line who design their customer’s journeys around their outcome of getting to their destination if the customer’s car is involved in an accident, not around having an efficient claims handling process.)

Outcomes also drive the digitisation of the customer journey, not by assuming that digital technology will be the cost-saving panacea (usually by the lazy option of pushing effort out to the customer under the guise of self-service) but by looking for the opportunities to rethink the journey with digital as an enabler.

3. Recognise that journeys and processes are the same thing

If the customer journey is seen as something that exists on the surface of a process, it won’t be designed in an all-encompassing way.

One way of thinking about it is to consider the underlying back-office process as having customers – this way of thinking has been around in quality improvement thinking for many years – and, yes, those customers have feelings too, so the emotional aspect of journey design is important here as well.

4. Use a common technique

This is so obvious it shouldn’t need saying but I witnessed one large organisation that managed to have two different approaches to journey mapping running in the same division – a classic symptom of an organisation where customer experience is relegated to a function rather than being part of a common culture.

I don’t have a favourite technique – whether you use brown paper and post-it notes or the latest process mapping tools the key thing is that everyone should have a common language for describing the journey.

5. Make sure you link mapping to the drivers of RoI

I’ve described how customer experience can overcome the perception that it’s a nice-to-have by linking improvements to the benefits that drive a real return on investment (RoI). I’d go even further to say that if your journey maps don’t flush out real opportunities to eliminate wasted cost and drive up revenue you’re doing them wrong and they’re in danger of becoming an overhead your organisation doesn’t need.

6. Embed in a culture of continuous improvement

“Continuous improvement” is one of those dull, unsexy terms for what is the core competence of all successful businesses. You can term it “cultivating a relentless discomfort with the status quo” or “waging war on mediocrity” if you like but the fact is that once you’ve redesigned your customer journey that’s the start not the beginning. Making sure you capture metrics on performance goes hand in hand with this and enabling people in the organisation to make improvements is essential – and brings the added benefit of greater employee engagement.

So, answering my question at the beginning, if your maps are gathering dust somewhere (OK that doesn’t literally apply if they’re on the intranet) checking back against the above conditions might help you make them relevant and a major factor in your journey towards customer-centricity.


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Photo by Christoffer Engström on Unsplash

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