The Achilles Heel of Customer Journey Mapping
Achilles was that guy in Greek mythology whose mother, when he was born, wanted to protect him soooo much that she held him by the heel and dipped him in the power-giving waters of the River Styx — making him bullet proof (and much more; no bullets then), except at the heel, because for some reason she didn’t think about just dunking him a few inches deeper. Maybe she didn’t want to get her hand wet? Who knows. (In the research literature this is called perverse unintended consequences — it happens in business too. You try to make an improvement or protect against a particular hazard and oops, you made it worse.)
I’ve been reading a lot about the Customer Journey Maps (CJM) technique used in marketing (see Folstad & Kvale (2018) for a fantastic and comprehensive review). It formalizes the very good suggestion that when you’re trying to figure out how to engage with prospects, you should put yourself in their shoes. Empathize with them. Figure out what they need, and when they need it, and then identify how your company can not only meet them there — but connect with them in a compelling way. CJM also goes well beyond conceptual modeling (e.g. Harbich et al (2017) uses Markov models to predict the most likely path and timing of a customer’s journey; Bernard & Andritsos (2018) mine actual customer journeys from sales force automation systems and use them in a Monte Carlo like way to uncover patterns) and there’s even a patent on one method for mining journey data.
Annette Franz says that “done right, maps help companies in many ways, including to…
- Understand experiences.
- Design [new] experiences.
- Implement and activate new experiences.
- Communicate and share experiences.
- Align the organization… get executive commitment for the customer experience (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.”
But like Achilles, Customer Journey Mapping has a vulnerable spot that can wipe out all its potential benefits. (Fortunately, success lies in the way your organization wields the tool… so there’s a remedy.)
Here’s the problem: creating a journey map does indeed ensure that you focus on the customer, but does not ensure that you’re focusing on that customer’s experience. Diagnosing Voice of the Customer (VoC) is hard [long explanation; shorter explanation], and there are tons of ways to do it! Through journey mapping, you may accidentally be focusing on your company’s experience of that customer throughout the stages of the journey.
How can you tell? Here’s a non-exhaustive list of ways to diagnose the symptoms, based on recent research and observing companies who do this since about 2009 (please add in the comments if you’ve observed any other ones):
- Do you ever hear “How can we move the customer from [this stage] to [the next stage]?”
- Do you ever hear “How do we get more customers to join us [at this stage of the journey]?”
- Do you ever hear “How can we get customers to [take this action] [at this stage of the journey]?”
- Does your customer journey address differences in customer personas, or do you have a one-size-fits-all map? Rosenbaum et al (2016) says “We contend that most customer journey maps are critically flawed. They assume all customers of a particular organization experience the same organizational touchpoints and view these touchpoints as equally important.”
- Do you systematically gather, analyze, and interpret data about what your current customers are experiencing, or do you just kind of guess or rely on your “experience”? (Hint: subconscious biases are always in play, and you’ll never know they’re there because they are subconscious).
- Do you systematically gather, analyze, and interpret data about what your prospects would benefit from experiencing with/through you, or do you just kind of guess or rely on your “experience”?
- Do you focus on making your product or service easier to use, without checking first to make sure it’s helping your customers effectively meet their goals? (Just like perfect is the enemy of perfectly OK, easy can be the enemy of possible if you’re not careful and this often shows up in the journey mapping process.)
Like I mentioned earlier, this is definitely not a comprehensive list.
What’s the solution? ASK. Ask your customer what they need. Ask your customer about pain points. Ask your customer what would make it easier for them to do their job. Ask your customer if you’re getting it right! And even though I said “customer” — I do mean more than one, because needs and interests vary from person to person and industry to industry. Just asking one customer isn’t going to cut it. Ask early, ask often (as people learn and evolve, their needs change).
How can we improve the quality of customer journey mapping? Share your insights and lessons learned! CJM is a promising technique for helping organizations align around empathetic value propositions, but just like agile methods, it’s got to be applied strategically and deliberately… and then checked on a continuous basis to make sure the map is in tune with reality.