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.