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Today’s post was originally written for Brand Quarterly. It appeared in their November 28, 2017, issue. It has been slightly modified.

Customers are yearning for better experiences. But what are you doing to design a better experience?

How do you know what your customers’ expectations are? What are they trying to achieve? And how well is that going for them? Are you listening to customers? Are you mapping their experiences? How are you driving the necessary change within your company?

What is Journey Mapping?

Let me start with explaining what journey maps are not: they are not lifecycle maps, sales funnels, buyer funnels, buyer lifecycles, etc. Those are marketing tools and are too high level for customer experience design. Customer experience professionals require a lot more detail at a micro level in order to understand the pain points and to, ultimately, fix them. As such, journey maps are an illustration made by walking in your customers’ shoes to capture their steps, needs, and perceptions for some interaction they had with your company, some journey they were taking to achieve some outcome.

Journey mapping is a creative process that allows you to understand – and then redesign – the customer experience. The output is not just a “pretty picture;” once the map is developed, it is meant to be a catalyst for change.

Why Map Journeys

Mapping isn’t just a lame exercise; it’s a learning exercise. Companies learn about their customers and about the experience they put them through to interact with the business.

Done right, maps help companies in many ways, including to…

  • Understand experiences. You can’t transform something you don’t understand, is what I like to say. Maps bring understanding. They highlight and diagnose existing issues and opportunities; at the same time, they capture what’s going well, too.
  • Design experiences. Once you understand the current experience and moments of truth, maps help you prioritize and rethink existing processes and/or create new ones.
  • Implement and activate new experiences. The maps become blueprints or statements of direction for the work to be done to improve and to redesign the experience.
  • Communicate and share experiences. Maps are great communication and teaching tools. They can be used during onboarding, training, and other ongoing education opportunities to unite the organization around the customer, to teach employees about the current and the future experience, and to further ingrain the customer-focused culture of the business.
  • Align the organization. Use the maps to get executive commitment for the CX strategy, get organizational adoption of the customer-centric focus, provide a line of sight to the customer for employees, and help employees understand how they impact the experience.

One thing to note is that journey mapping is not just for customers but for all constituents, including employees, vendors, partners, franchisees, licensees, etc. It’s a tool – and a process – to design a better experience for anyone who interacts with your company.

The Benefits of Mapping Journeys

There are a ton of benefits of mapping customer journeys. They can probably best be summed up in the following five categories, which clearly overlap with the reasons you should map.

  1. Align the organization
  • Executive and employees, as well: get everyone on the same page about the importance of delivering a better experience
  • Break down silos: get people collaborating and sharing data for the benefit of the customer
  1. Understand the customer and his experience
  • Build empathy for the customer: when executives see the steps they put customers through to do business with the company, it’s an eye-opener!
  • Improve the experience: understand the customer, what she’s trying to do, and how well the company is performing against that so that you can redesign a better experience
  1. Identify experience and process efficiencies
  • Identify and remove ineffective touchpoints
  • Kill inefficient rules, policies, processes
  1. Optimize channels
  • Learn about the different steps customers take to purchase or use the channel that they use so that you can be prepared to deliver the expected experience at the right channel at the right time for the right persona
  1. Shift the culture and the organization’s mindset
  • From inside-out to outside-in: maps are created from the customer viewpoint and are validated with customers; bringing their voice into the organization is the first step toward shifting that mindset
  • From touchpoints to journeys: think about the entire customer journey, the entire relationship with the organization; realize that journey thinking means to consider both what happened prior to this interaction that you’re mapping and what the customer will do next

A Catalyst for Change

Based on those benefits, you can really start to see how maps are a catalyst for change. There are so many different ways to use them as part of your overall people-focused culture transformation.

As you can imagine, this is a good spot to jump in and write about how to go from journey maps to a great customer experience. Let me start with some of the things you need to do before you even begin mapping:

  • Make sure you have the right people involved in creating the map. First and foremost, your customers must be involved; this can happen either during the initial mapping session or later, when you ask them to validate what we call an assumptive map that was built internally based on what we know and have heard from customers about the experience. Second, make sure you’ve got the appropriate stakeholders in the room, as well. No excuses; they must be there. Include folks from various departments in the room because you need to take into account what’s happening upstream and downstream from the interaction you’re mapping. And they need to have a reasonable level of influence on what actions need to be taken as a result of the workshop.
  • Similarly, ensure that they are committed to act on what they learn. I don’t really need to explain this one much more than that. If there’s no commitment to act, change, or improve, you’ll be wasting everyone’s time.
  • Select the personas for which you’ll be mapping the experience. Personas are research-based representations of the customer type for whom you’ll be mapping; customer experience personas differ from marketing personas as they include details around problems to solve, pain points, jobs to be done, tasks they are trying to achieve, etc.
  • Select the journeys to map. You’ll be mapping a lot of journeys over time, but select the most impactful ones to begin with. Where’s the low-hanging fruit? What journeys cause the most pain for your customers today? Where can you make the greatest impact?
  • Hold a prep meeting with stakeholders. Get everyone in the room before the session to ensure that everyone understands what you’re doing and what their role is/will be.
  • Outline the scope, objectives, and desired outcomes. Make sure attendees know what they’ll be mapping and why. And, most importantly, what they’ll be doing with the output.
  • Give attendees homework. Have them start thinking about the journey and what the potential steps are. Have them “mystery shop” the journey themselves, if they don’t yet have a full picture of it. Ask them to get feedback, comments, and insights from their employees about the journey. They can also gather any customer feedback, insights, behavioral data, and emotional data about the journey. And have them bring to the session any artifacts (documents, audio files, videos, images, etc.) that support the journey and bring it to life.
  • Begin to formulate a plan for next steps. Go into the session prepared. What happens when you leave the room? How will you operationalize the findings? How will you assign ownership? Who is responsible and accountable? How will you manage the improvements going forward? Etc.
  • Line up process mapping or value stream mapping sessions. Process mapping should be done in conjunction with journey mapping. You can’t fix the front-stage/on-stage experience if the backstage processes aren’t efficiently and effectively supporting it.

Taking Action

I could write another full article on where to go after the mapping session is over, but I’ll give you a couple high-level bullets to get you thinking of where to go next.Meet after the workshop internally to debrief on how it went, what people heard, action item brainstorm, ownership, action plan, etc.

  • Gather on a weekly basis to discuss quick wins, action plans for longer-term fixes, next steps, success metrics, etc. This is important to keep the momentum going, to lend oversight, and to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
  • Identify the key moments of truth, those make or break moments during the journey that must be executed well in order to satisfy – and to keep – the customer.
  • Take the break points and prioritize in a systematic way; factors considered include: time to fix, cost to fix, impact on the customer, and impact on the business.
  • Assign ownership and teams for the improvement items. Develop project plans for each improvement initiative.
  • Get commitment from executives to assign resources.
  • Develop a service blueprint and a process map relevant to the journey you’ve mapped. Journey mapping can’t be done in a vacuum; in order to fix what’s happening onstage, you must understand and improve backstage and behind-the-scenes at the same time.
  • Map the future state to design the new experience – with customers.
  • Design the new processes to support the experience from behind the scenes.
  • Implement changes.
  • Pilot. Test. Fix. Roll out.

As you can see, there’s a lot to mapping and redesigning the experience. Don’t let that be daunting. It’s actually a fun process that has very tangible outputs and outcomes. When done right.

Never confuse movement with action. -Ernest Hemingway