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Best practices for Customer Journey Mapping

This article is the third in a series about Customer Journey Mapping (CJM), originally published in 2017 and now revised. Below is the full list of articles. You can also download our white paper on Customer Journey Mapping here.

  1. What is Customer Journey Mapping? [Published on July 10, 2018]
  2. Seven Benefits of Customer Journey Mapping  [Published on August 13, 2018]
  3. Best practices for Customer Journey Mapping [below]
  4. Is NOW the right time for Customer Journey Mapping? [coming soon]

The content of this article is based on an interview with Michael Dolenko, co-head of Phase 5's Innovation practice and Customer Journey Mapping expert.

  1. Focus on the category, not your company
  2. Divide, but don't forget to conquer
  3. Enlist multiple champions (failure warning!)
  4. Refresh every 3-7 years
  5. Focus on pain points and gaps of real customers
  6. Emotions, not just actions; workshops, not just reports

1. Focus on the category, not your company

Q: The customer journey map (CJM) is the answer to the question: How do my customers experience their relationship with my company? BTW, when does that relationship start?

Michael: It's important for companies working on a customer journey map to understand that CJM starts before there is an actual relationship with your company. That has traditionally been a problem with all sorts of analytic approaches. Companies have been focused on the point at which money changes hands, or on brand awareness. Those are important moments, to be sure, but they're hardly the start of the journey, and if you start there you're missing most of the picture.

We typically start mapping a journey from the time that a prospective customer becomes aware of the category. They've got an unsolved problem, and eventually they become aware that Acme Company has a solution -- or more importantly, they become aware that there is some type of solution, and that Acme is one of the companies that provides it. That's the beginning of the map, the discussion of what sources of information they consult.

Your want to start influencing purchasers at least at the category level. In other words you care deeply about the information they come across regarding your category, because that information will directly affect whether they select your company for a solution.

2. Divide, but don't forget to conquer

Q: A customer journey map is a big undertaking.  Can we break it down into sections, say, after-sales service this year and pre-sales research next year?

Michael: Dividing can be a good thing, and sometimes it's politically or financially necessary. A full-blown customer journey in a large corporation -- especially a B2B enterprise where the customer journey involves a half-dozen individual roles -- can stretch over many months. It can be helpful to select part of the journey as a starting point, maybe to split budgets across years or maybe to rally the team around a big change and a big win.

Let's take an example of warranty returns. The company might decide at the outset that warranty returns is likely to be an area that needs work. To use the language of our last CJM article: they've got a hunch that things are not right. The SVP in charge is gung-ho about hearing a customer-centered viewpoint and making changes. So that's great. Start your customer journey map with the warranty returns component in mind. Recruit respondents who have gone through an after-sales service experience.

In fact, dividing the task is often the best approach, because it allows you to focus on a few moments of truth while still getting the whole picture. So we could, for example, recruit half the respondents to have some kind of warranty return issue, and the other half to have made a customer service call only. We could then dive deep in both these areas.

BUT -- and this is a big caveat because it's easy to stay narrowly focused -- don't forget about the bigger picture. While you’re going through the trouble of doing research about part of the customer journey map, don't forget to look at the journey end-to-end. When you're talking to your warranty returns respondents, ask them as well about the very beginning of their journey, about the original problem they were experiencing, about encountering the solution category, and then about how they discovered your company.

This way, at the end of your warranty returns mapping, you'll not only have a great view of how customers go through that experience, you'll also have the broader view of the emotions, thoughts, encounters, and decisions that brought them to the point of a warranty return in the first place. That not only makes your understanding of the warranty return much more complete, it lays the foundation for the rest of the customer journey.

3. Enlist multiple champions (failure warning!)

Question: Let's say I work in an organization that desperately needs the outside-in viewpoint of customer journey mapping. If I'm a functional head, or say the director of the insights group, does it make sense for me to lead the charge to get CJM done?

Michael: I'm going to state what I see as an organizational reality. If your customer journey map does not have a C-level or business-unit-level champion, someone who can oversee the implementation of changes that will be suggested by the customer journey map, then the mapping exercise will be a boondoggle.

This sounds harsh to a functional head who wants to make big things happen in a coordinated way and knows that CJM is the way to do it. And of course such an enthusiastic functional leader is often the kind of person who actually makes things happen! What I say to them is that they should take the lead first in selling the idea to the business leader. Once bought in, that business leader can then delegate the other functional heads to do the heavy lifting of implementing changes.

Inevitably your customer journey map is going to uncover areas in need of change that cross functional boundaries. That is simply the nature of the work. Functional boundaries are what we create to run our businesses. A single company is what the customer needs to experience.

At the end of the day, a successful customer journey map implementation is the work of multiple champions. Even if it starts with the business leader, it has to be carried out enthusiastically by multiple functional heads. The head of customer service, of sales, of marketing -- each of them has to see the whole picture and believe in the process that was used to create that picture.

4. Refresh every 3-7 years

Question: The customer journey is going to have a shelf life. How often does it need to be redone?

Michael: It's interesting that the reason for updating a customer journey is often as much internal as it is external. Externally, of course customers and markets change. The pace of change depends on the industry but even in relatively stable industries you wouldn't want to rely on a customer journey map that's over seven years old. Too much can happen. There's business model disruption, technical disruption, and even without disruption there are new channels and new sources of information that have dramatic effects on customer thinking and behavior.

The internal reasons for revamping a customer journey map are powerful too. If your company has gone through a reorg or a lot of turnover, you may need a new customer journey just to get that gut-level buy-in from the business stakeholders.

At the other extreme are the companies that want to update their customer journey to account for every little change in the marketplace. The risk here is fatigue. Remember that the customer journey is an abstraction and, like any map, an idealized view of reality. If you change it to match every aspect of reality, it no longer serves its purpose. Create a good map and give it 3 years. That's enough time for the organization to get comfortable with it, but not complacent.

5. Focus on pain points and gaps of real customers

Question: As mentioned in a previous post, Customer Journey Mapping isn't focused on making a single decision. How do we ensure it is useful?

Michael: The journey mapping I've seen that was most in danger of not being useful was one that was missing input from one very important source -- its customers. Some organizations will bring us in and say ‘Well we’ve already done a journey for, say, someone who wants to buy XYZ product.’ And I’ll say “OK, great, what customers did you talk to?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well I didn’t talk to any, we created the journey internally.’

If you don’t talk to any customers you’re going to miss at least two thirds of the picture.

Now, from a process perspective, starting internally makes a lot of sense. It will get stakeholders focused on their customer interactions and can help structure the conversation with actual customers. From within the organization you can ask: What are the touch points? What do you think the information needs are? Or what do you think the considerations are, what are the potential customer issues? – But you’re not going to know these things unless you’ve gone out and talked to real live customers.

It’s important, too, to make sure that you do not structure the entire interview with customers around internal hypotheses. The internal hypotheses are great probes to make sure you’ve covered off on everything, but the danger is when you assume what’s important inside the building is important to customers. So if for example you have a follow-up email program for customer service calls. You don’t ask the customer, ‘Tell me about the email follow-up” – instead ask it more open-ended ‘Did someone follow up with you?’ or even ‘Did you get the follow-up you needed and expected?’ Because it might turn out that the email follow-up is simply not important to that person – but they’ll tell you about it if you focus on it.

So you want to make sure you don't lead them there. You want to understand from real customers, top-of-mind as they recount their experiences, where the pain is, where the confusion is, where companies are dropping the ball. If you get that, you're always going to have useful, actionable results.

6. Emotions, not just actions; workshops, not just reports

Question: So how do you get functional leads, or executives, to buy in to journey maps at a practical level, where they're thinking along the lines of the customer journey every day, and leading changes based on it?

Michael: That's the $50 million question. Truly taking action on the findings of a customer journey -- closing the gaps and ironing out the wrinkles so that your customers experience your company as a natural extension of their thoughts and needs -- that's what you want. But anything transformative is hard. And one of the things that's hard about customer journey maps is making sure that leaders feel it in their gut, not just see it on paper. You want them to feel the same way that customer does as they're juggling options and spending split seconds on how to proceed. How do you do that? I'd say there are two overlooked factors.

The first is emotion. You have to make sure your interviews and your note-taking and your reporting capture the emotion of purchasing. It sounds crazy, but emotion applies to B2B journeys as much as to consumer. Some of the angriest interviews I've ever done have been with clients' customers who felt misled during the course of researching, purchasing or using the client's product.

You have to communicate that emotion prominently in your discussions and your reporting. It's very easy for it to get lost. We focus on what actions the customer took, where they looked for more information, who they talked to. But it's easy to forget the emotion, and that's a huge mistake. Emotion leads decisions, and emotional empathy is what connects your business to your customers and allows you to create better solutions.

The other way to get executives bought in is to rethink reporting. One of the most effective techniques is to skip the old-fashioned report meeting, where the research team presents a 200 page powerpoint to various stakeholders.

Instead, run a workshop. Bring all the functional representatives into one room. Present findings section-by-section and do it form the customer's point of view, so that it seems she's in the room with you. Well-edited video from actual customers is a powerful way to convey this. Having the researchers present can also inject the emotion and context necessary to make the journeys come to life. Then after each section, you brainstorm implications and possible actions to take, as well as discussing how the action would affect each function.

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Written by Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen, MBA, is the President of Phase 5 US and the leader of the firm's Data Analytics practice. With almost 2 decades of experience in client-side marketing strategy, market research, and product management, Steve brings a client’s mindset and drive for actionable results to each project. He has extensive experience in capturing the view “from the outside” with a special focus on product and service innovation. Steve is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.