The customer journey map (CJM) is a useful and crucial tool to help businesses uncover and visualize the experience their customers have when interacting with the brand from the customer’s point of view. That last underlined phrase underscores the criticality and validity of the customer journey. It must be derived from the customer’s perspective otherwise it’s made up of assumptions and speculation versus hardcore evidence. This map is also critical because it forces organizations to look at how their customers experience their brand versus how the organization thinks customers are experiencing it.

Before getting into some of the details around the mapping process, I’d like to focus on when and where this mapping process originates within the organization—in other words, who and what are the key drivers of wanting to better understand customers to deliver value, meet or exceed their expectations, and achieve business goals and outcomes. Ideally, this concept should originate at the senior leadership level. In some cases that might be the very origin, especially when one of those senior leaders holds the title of Chief Customer Officer or Vice President of Customer Experience. In organizations where that role and position exists, there can be no doubt that Customer Experience (CX) is part of that organization’s business strategy.

Strategy is a key element of CX here because, unless it is part of, and integral with, the overall organizational strategy, it can reduce in significance to what many organizations are calling a program. Whereas strategies and initiatives are transformative and typically lead to positive changes within organizations, programs can be temporary endeavors designed to reach a unique goal or objective after which the program often ends. For example, I worked with an organization that developed a voice-of-the-customer (VoC) program with the primary objective of achieving a high Net Promoter Score (NPS). A program with a goal such as that can only last so long until the question of return on investment (ROI) arises and it can be proven that a higher NPS score has a direct correlation to improved business outcomes. Where score-chasing becomes the primary objective of CX, programs like those tend to end abruptly or slowly disappear.

To establish and solidify that customer experience is indeed part of an organization’s strategy, senior-leadership engagement is critical, even if there is no C-level role assigned to CX. This is enabled by having a “big-picture” orientation which is called systems thinking. Systems thinking is a mindset that everything is interrelated and interdependent. The concept of Systems thinking originated in 1956 by Professor Jay W. Forrester at the Sloan School of Management at MIT. When it comes to managing organizations, many find systems thinking an effective approach, as it sees how different complex entities interact and influence each other and make up the complete system. Different divisions or teams within an organization connect with and affect each other. Ideally, they work together toward a goal. Business leaders who are systems thinkers see “the big picture,” and that is what they focus on to maximize performance within the organization.

The systems thinking concept can also help us manage the customer journey mapping process differently and more effectively. Often, the customer journey mapping process arises after a senior leader attends a conference or an online seminar on the topic and becomes enamored with it, and subsequently assigns a project team within their organization to create a map. That’s another challenging task to consider but for the moment let’s assume the assigned team can acquire the knowledge and skills to create such a map. If they are like many organizations, they will take the internal perspective first—referred to as a hypothesis map meaning “this is what we believe our customers experience when doing business with us.” That’s a reasonable starting point but that’s not what a customer journey map intends to reveal. It must then be taken to the customer for validation such that it represents exactly what the customers are experiencing from their external perspective. While it’s possible that the internal hypothesis and the customer perspectives are in close alignment, it’s not that likely they are, and this is where reality takes center stage.

Customer journey maps encompass all the possible touchpoints customers have with a business such as websites, social channels, contact centers, sales, service, billing, and support. And, for each stage of the journey, it should document, what the customer is attempting to do, how the organization is enabling them to do it, what difficulties or pain points the customer is experiencing at each stage along the way and their emotional level at each of the journey touchpoints. Once that is mapped out and validated with actual customer feedback, the task then becomes a matter of selecting and prioritizing improvement projects around those journey stages that present the most difficulty for the customer to keep doing business with you and to become an advocate. That is often the most challenging part of the mapping process.

Often, with the added talent of a graphical designer, the map is finalized as a stunning piece of artwork. And, more often, that artwork is displayed internally for all employees to see and enjoy but minus the prioritized projects, actions, and changes that the map was intended to initiate. This is where having a systems lens and taking a systems approach at the very outset of the mapping process comes into play. What if, instead of aiming for having an accurate, finalized, validated, and graphically pleasing map to display, you started out with an implementation plan already drafted as to what process changes the map would potentially drive? In fact, after drafting a hypothesis map internally, you should have some idea, based on internal evidence, as to what processes might be causing customer frustration that once validated by your customers, would at least serve as a means of pre-planning and budgeting those process improvement projects.

Think about mapping the customer’s journey as you might think when you’re planning a vacation. Before you do anything, you first consider your budget—its limitations and how you might get the most enjoyment for your money that sufficiently satisfies you and your family. You are committed financially to the trip, and you may even have some initial ideas around destinations, how you choose to get there, and the activities in which you might engage. Then, by systemically planning each stage of the trip, details would emerge to help you identify ideas, options, difficulties, and pain points and allow you to develop opportunities and alternatives to avoid them. You get to understand how you might make this a more enjoyable overall experience and potentially reduce your costs in the process. That’s big-picture thinking. Unless you were committed up front to the vacation and had the financial means to make it a reality, you would simply be engaging in a planning exercise with no tangible outcome.

Likewise, with your customer journey mapping initiative, you must consider up front that the result will undoubtedly involve both change management projects and financial investment toward CX improvement. Unless you’re committed to that, the mapping would merely be an exercise with no tangible business outcome. Knowing at least approximately what you are aiming to achieve helps you drive toward that vision as well as establish the goals and objectives to get there. You also have the advantage of thinking through the scenario of potential improvement projects to see which of them might render the largest impact on the customer as well as the impact on the organization—helping to avoid any unintended consequences, since a decision made in one part of the organization could have a negative impact on another aspect of the business.

A more impactful way to approach any customer journey mapping initiative is to see the big picture first. More than likely you already know that some aspects of the customer experience in your business are either broken or need some improvement. The mapping process allows you to focus on and assess just where exactly those opportunities for improvement exist. More importantly, thinking systemically allows you to predict in advance how any decisions made based on the map are likely to affect other aspects of the business. After that, it’s a matter of projects, assignments, actions, and implementation to fully realize the benefit of the customer journey mapping process. Approaching CJM from a systems perspective will help you reach your goals sooner, avoid pitfalls, and reach your goals with increased chances for a successful outcome.

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Karl Sharicz – Founder, CEO – HorizonCX, LLC. | June 2022

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