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How the Smithsonian built a customer journey map from scratch - and what it teaches us


In this extract from Jeanne Bliss's book Chief Customer Officer 2.0, Samir Bitar, former director of the office of visitor services at the Smithsonian Institute, shares how he built the organisation’s first customer journey map to create a unified understanding of the visitor experience.

28th Apr 2021
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Samir Bitar was the director of the office of visitor services at the Smithsonian Institution during the development of its inaugural visitor experience strategy several years ago. Samir was responsible for overseeing the implementation of this strategy, which addressed all visitor touchpoints across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, galleries, and a national zoo.

In this interview, taken from Chief Customer Officer 2.0, he shares how he and his team built the organisation’s first customer journey map in order to create a unified understanding of the visitor experience across its many museums and affiliates around the world.

In addition to illuminating the visitor experience, the process of creating the journey map through a workshop allowed leaders and staff across the Smithsonian Institution to understand the importance of Samir’s role, and why focusing on the individual visitor’s experience is key to growth and improvement. As you read, think about what journey mapping might look like in your organisation.

Build a customer journey map to make CX tangible to leadership and staff

Samir: "The Smithsonian is the world’s largest museum and research complex, with 19 museums, nine research centers, and affiliates around the world. Each year we welcome over 30 million visits across our museums. To grasp the totality of the experiences as well as catch important nuances, and begin to build a case for support, I needed to visually depict the experiences of our visitors at our museums. I needed a visitor journey map.

"We got started by having a two-day journey-mapping workshop wherein we recorded the end-to-end experiences of Smithsonian visitors. Through the workshop we produced a deceptively simple map that illustrates the before, during, and after visit to the Smithsonian campus and unites us in delivering a “one Smithsonian” experience.

"As part of this work we established four personas so we could story-tell how the experience of visiting would be different for different types of visitors. These stories make the work we are doing real and personal. The four personas we created are a Spanish-speaking family, a European empty nester couple, a millennial male visiting from New York City, and 12-year-old Elaine on a school trip."

Use your customer journey map to clarify the CCO role and drive improvement

Samir: "Out of this workshop we created a first draft of our visitor journey. It was the first time many of my colleagues had ever seen anything like it. It was mind opening. Journey mapping has organically defined and helped people see what my job is, the role and relevance of my office across the Smithsonian, and offers a punch list of specific tasks that need to be addressed in order to improve the visitor’s experience.

"With the journey map I now have a powerful tool that helps visualise the visitor experience. With the visitor perspective in hand my next step was to understand the perspectives of internal stakeholders, including museum executives, department directors, and front-line staff, including volunteers. Over the course of four months I worked to understand what is unique about the visitor experience at each of the 19 museums and the National Zoo. Out of this, we began building a list of what works and what does not at each location and are now putting into place our fist batch of improvements."

My take

With Samir’s experience in mind, think about the relevance and need for a customer journey map at your organisation. Many of the experts I speak with share that developing or improving the customer journey became a large bulk of their CX work. Ultimately, it becomes one of their main tools for understanding how everyone’s work affects one another, what the customer pain points are, and how that can be assuaged. Maybe it’s time to reassess your current customer journey; there’s always improvements to be made.

So, let’s tie journey mapping back to the heart of the 2nd competency in my 5 Core Competency framework, ‘Align Around Experience.’ By putting the customer’s experience at the center of all decision-making, we earn the right to continue serving our customers and to grow our businesses in turn.

When you’re ready to start journey mapping, here are some tips for success:

  • Keep it simple. I recommend starting by mapping a single customer journey, naming the stages of the journey in simple language from the customer’s point of view, and building consensus on the stages across your company’s leadership.
  • Use your journey map as your go-to diagnostic tool; issues as diverse as customer growth and employee needs should be addressed from the perspective of the customer journey stage.
  • Revisit your journey map frequently; it will be your ultimate guide to continually making customer-centric decisions that lead to growth.

When it’s done well, journey mapping is an enlightening, game-changing process. Tell me about your journey mapping experience in the comments! What kinds of changes has journey mapping sparked in your company?

Replies (3)

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By morimaz
13th Mar 2018 04:36

I understood that the first journey map should be simple.
How do we detailed the Journey map?
When we draw the first journey map, it describes "as-is" experience. After assessment of the current situation we develop "to-be" journey map.
When the recommended timing to detail the experience?

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Replying to morimaz:
By Neil Davey
13th Mar 2018 11:21

You can find further advice on building a customer journey map in this series:


Thanks (1)
By morimaz
13th Mar 2018 14:55

I'll check it and try to understand in details.

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