Today’s post is a modified version of a post I originally published on Touchpoint Dashboard’s blog on February 4, 2015.

One of the arguments against journey mapping I often hear is that it’s an exercise in futility: You map. You put it on the wall. And nothing changes. To that I answer: “You’re doing it all wrong.”

You map because you need to understand the customer experience; you know that you cannot transform something you don’t understand. But understanding only gets you so far. You need to act on what you now know. It’s time to operationalize your maps. How?

I’m assuming that you’ve started with what we call an assumptive map, which is created by internal stakeholders, without customer input. It’s what stakeholders assume to be the steps customers go through to complete some task; it’s based on what they know as customers themselves and on customer feedback and other customer data. This is a common starting point for maps. And it’s a common place for mappers to stumble and spiral into futile territory. Keep going.

The map must include more than just what the customer is doing, thinking, and feeling. In order for it to be actionable, you’ll want to include various artifacts, e.g., pictures, invoices, packing slips, receipts, emails, call recordings, etc., as well as touchpoint data, customer data, and customer feedback. These items bring the map to life and really help those who will be using it analyze and prioritize improvement opportunities.

The immediate next step for this type of map is to do some customer research. You absolutely have to validate the map with your customers to make sure that the customer voice is heard and visualized as part of the mapping process. At this point, you’ll likely also uncover a desired future state, according to the customer. Hold that thought, though. Let’s focus on current state first.

Once you’ve got customer input – and not before – you’re ready to ask, “What do I do now?”

With the maps, you’ve identified things that are going well and those that aren’t. Coach and train employees on these areas: keep doing the things you’re doing well, but make improvements where you’re falling down. Set up surveys and other listening posts to get feedback on those key moments of truth, especially those areas where you need more data for a clearer understanding of what’s going well and what isn’t. This feedback will amp up your coaching and training, making it much clearer for employees on what needs to change.

Probably the most important thing to do next is to socialize the maps. This is key to avoiding that “exercise in futility” mentality or outcome. Help the entire organization – executives, frontline, back office – understand what the current customer experience is today. Share the maps with the personas attached to drive awareness and to bring the customer to life. Incorporate maps into meetings, presentations, onboarding, and training. And talk about recommendations for change as a result of the maps. Get the entire organization onboard and on the same page. Use the maps to provide a clear line of sight for employees to the customer experience, how their contributions matter and how they impact the customer experience, good or bad.

Those key moments of truth are the areas you’ll want to begin to focus on. What’s happening to break down the journey at those moments? What processes – both for the customer and behind the scenes – do you need to fix, update, or remove in order to simplify the journey and reduce customer effort and pain? You’ll have to prioritize based on what’s most important to your customers and, ultimately, to the business. And determine among those what is most doable, i.e., assess ROI of pain points and of modifications.

Once you’ve agreed on those areas on which to focus improvement efforts, create a roadmap and make sure you have identified owners for each area. (You should have assigned owners during the mapping process; if not, do it now.) Who is responsible for that particular touchpoint or interaction? At this point, you may need to map micro-journeys to delve deeper into the steps customers take to complete the task: better understanding leads to a more effective transformation. And you’ll also likely create some process maps to get a better understanding of what’s supporting that experience from behind the scenes.

Last but not least, take action! Fix those things you’ve uncovered that are causing your customers pain and excessive effort.

Hopefully this post gets you pointed in the right direction and helps you see how maps are actionable and are an important tool in your customer experience transformation efforts. Once you start making improvements, be sure to update the maps so that they always reflect the current state.

A few closing thoughts…

As we know, improving the customer experience happens in baby steps; you’ll need to build your business case and show some quick wins. Maps can help with that. Pick a task and design the future state based on what customers have told you. Begin your redesign efforts with some of the low-hanging fruit, especially that with the greatest impact, for both customers and the business. Be sure to establish metrics to track performance of – and against – improvements. Keep updating your maps to reflect the new/latest current state. And continue to validate with customers as changes are made.

The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat. -Confucius