Organizations today face the challenge of keeping up with rapidly evolving customer expectations. Customers expect businesses to do three things:

  1. Know them, and what they need, want and care about
  2. Provide them with an experience of value
  3. Inspire them with continuously curated and refreshed offers

Consistently meeting or exceeding these expectations does not happen by accident. It requires dedication of brainpower and resources. An increasing number of our clients are seeking to establish customer experience practices to anticipate and address their customer desires, with customer journey mapping as one of the key tools for experience design. Therefore, many clients also request that we not only create journey maps for them during our engagements, but also to help transfer journey mapping capabilities into their organization.

Forrester states that the top 5 reasons journey mapping efforts fail are a lack of executive buy-in, mapping the wrong things, assuming knowledge of customer’s experience, not understanding one’s own organization, and failing to tie insights to action.

We’ve witnessed most of these failures in our practice, but one critical issue not addressed by that list is that setting up the organizational capability to create and maintain journey maps, collectively combined into a “journey atlas”, is the key to the ongoing success of journey mapping and where the true value lies. The dexterity to continuously update journeys with findings from contextual research programs allows you to steer your organization’s target customer experience to meet the ever changing expectations of customers.

To address those five stumbling blocks, we have come up with a synthesis of our team’s latest thinking, based on both our research as well as our global, real-world experience creating journey maps on client engagements. We have developed a step-by-step guide to creating journeys for our clients that describes in detail how to design customer journeys, identify the capabilities required to bring those journeys to life and how to develop a roadmap for ongoing implementation based on concrete insights. In this post, we will walk through a few of our best practices for journey map development and maintenance. 

Context First Design is the Foundation of Good Journey Mapping

Journey maps are a proven and cost-effective way to analyze the current state and design the future state customer experience. Organizations that focus on customer experience prioritize their projects better, reduce costly risks, and grow smarter. In some industries, revenue of the customer experience leaders grows five times more than customer experience laggards.  The process of developing journey maps can unlock these promising benefits in three ways:

1. Promote a better, more empathetic understanding of your customers

When seeking to create new patterns in your customer journeys, we recommend beginning with contextual observation: observing how customers behave in context, e.g. in their homes, workplace, retail environments, to see what they actually do versus what they might describe is how you can get beyond expressed needs to identify latent opportunities. Combining and contrasting those fresh insights with quantitative analysis of customer activity data, e.g. from mobile devices and other touchpoints, enables you to better understand customer needs, attitudes, behaviors, and motivations.

Imagine you want to launch a service that allows aspiring chefs to sell their home-cooked meals. To make that experience successful, you need to understand your customers, their environment and why they engage with your brand. You should think of your customers in terms of personas. Are you designing for young urban entrepreneurs who manage their life through smartphones and are always on the go, or are you designing for suburban foodies who are driven by the prospect of discovering exotic new dishes? Both personas have the same goal (i.e. to get food), but their environment, drivers, and expectations may be vastly different.

2. Provide a powerful tool for detailed experience design

Journey maps that are well rooted in contextual observation uncover pain points and corresponding opportunities. For example, we might observe hungry customers ordering food in the middle of the night to learn what determines their selection of a specific restaurant type and a specific brand… Seeing how they decide, what tools they might use, and who and what influences their choices helps us to design a new, compelling experience that will delight customers in a range of different contexts, e.g., sitting in an apartment alone, with friends in a dorm room, or in a bar whose kitchen has closed.

Understanding every relevant touchpoint between brands and customers in a journey provides insight into what companies are doing right today (“wow moments”), and what they might do better (“pain points”) to win more customers – and perhaps even attract a more diverse or more profitable set of customers.

3. Deliver a holistic view of your evolving experience goals

One of the larger undertakings in customer experience design is keeping the journey atlas up-to-date. As customer expectations and markets evolve, so should your journeys. Customer experience teams need to develop a process that enables them to update journeys every 6-12 months or earlier if external triggers or opportunities are identified from research or industry trends.

Taking the Time to Develop Journey Maps That Matter

Over the years, we have worked with many professionals who found it challenging to develop a journey mapping capability. Dedicating resources, making time for the necessary research, and navigating company politics often hinder or delay the process. As a result, we’ve seen many firms take shortcuts and develop aspirational future state journey maps based not on research, but on the conjecture of a few colleagues about what customers might enjoy. Because they failed to take the time to develop a strong fact base, those journeys simply could not provide real insights into the most compelling opportunities for improvement.

We like to think of journey mapping as a part of a macro-process that starts with research and persona development, and ends with the deployment and implementation of an improved customer experience.

In our engagements we focus on the macro-process, best practices for journey design, and the capability (gap) analysis, covering inputs and outputs at every stage, and how to prepare/execute each activity. Let’s look at a few basic tips and tricks:

  • Start with creating a “meta-map”, the high-level complete customer lifecycle that serves as the backbone of any customer journey. A meta map offers an end-to-end view of all of the stages of a customer’s interaction with a brand; for instance, the stage when customers become aware of a product, when they consume, and ideally, the stage when the most passionate customers advocate for a brand. Individual journeys underneath that meta-map will offer detailed insight in how customers might accomplish specific objectives within each stage
  • Prioritize journeys and target your limited time and resources on the journeys that address the most critical customer needs, and your business objectives. You can theoretically describe all customer interactions in hundreds if not thousands of journeys; however, we would recommend to initially prioritize between 7 and 15
  • Develop an easily understandable journey map template that is also easy to print and display. Organizations typically create a unique template that helps to standardize and represent the journeys in a familiar way. But not enough organizations take the time (or engage the right expertise) to organize the information in their templates in an easily consumable format. This is a worthwhile endeavor or you may produce what we call “confuse-a-grams” that make your colleagues’ eyes glaze over
  • Collaboratively design journey maps with cross-functional teams. Mapping customer journeys is best done on a whiteboard or brown paper with sticky notes and sharpies. These very low-tech but high touch materials allow participants to share their ideas, as well as change, add and update journeys easily. Openly sharing ideas can often lead to earlier hypotheses about the business problem becoming more complex. For example, opportunities for improvements may affect not only store employees but also the app design team and the back office. Cross-functional representatives can use these building blocks to co-create an ideal customer experience in a future state journey map
  • Convert pain points and opportunities into building blocks for the future state journeys. Every pain point and opportunity is given a customer importance rating. The highest rated opportunities serve as a skeleton for the ideal future state journey map. Creating these skeletons in advance of journey mapping workshops serves as a launching pad for organizations that are less familiar with the practice
  • Define Specific Customer Experience KPIs to measure the impact of your newly designed experience and/or performance at each touchpoint. Journey maps can become dashboards to measure customer experience on the level of touchpoints, but it requires harmonization of existing data with the KPIs of the newly designed journey maps
  • Analyze the capability gap. Every journey connects touchpoints with the capabilities that are needed to make them come to life. We offer a methodology to assess the gaps and ensure that corresponding development activities find their way to the backlog of your organization

Customer experience architects may create beautiful journeys according to the rules of the art and science, with many levels of detail and colorful insights. However, the success of customer journeys over time stands or falls with the organizational capability to run the required research, identify the insights, design journeys, track experience KPIs and to maintain the journey atlas on an ongoing basis.

Executives with sights set on customer experience stardom should come to expect both the short-term delivery of customer journeys as well as the mechanism to keep the journeys valuable over time.

This blog was co-authored by:

Tony Fross

Tony is a Vice President and NA Lead for Digital Customer Experience. He helps clients advance their business through the application of digital strategies and technologies, creating entirely new go-to-market strategies and even businesses which were not possible before the advent of Digital.