Psychology customer experience

Six ideation methods to improve customer journey mapping


Too many customer journey mapping projects make the mistake of prioritising Post-It notes and box drawing over listening to the customer. Here are a series of multimethod approaches you can apply to fill out the journey map with ideas based on open listening.

5th Mar 2021

The following is an abridged extract from Steven Walden’s book Customer Experience Management Rebooted – Are You An Experience Brand Or An Efficiency Brand?

I often read articles on how to do journey mapping and however good they are at showing pretty pictures and process maps they don’t cut the mustard with me.

Firstly, journey maps are a design framework. Their intent is to come up with the ideas that move the dial in terms of ‘the experience the customer has.’ So no budget to trial and test these ideas, no journey map.

But beyond that, a rush to process, a desire to draw boxes and get our internal stakeholders only into a room with Post-it notes feels not just wrong but extremely myopic and biased. Why? Because what I find is that firms frequently use maps as a schematic to think about physical processes and how they can industrialise and scale them for firm efficiency. When in fact they should be used to consider the experience the customers has (think, feel, do) and how we can improve it! At least, that is, from a CX perspective.

The best way to do a journey map then is not to box and constrain it, but in my opinion simply use a blank sheet of paper and listen. In that way we leave ourselves open, unconstrained and with the capability not to impose an internal process logic.

After all, if experience is about ‘seeing the world as the customer does’ rather than an objective series of boxes, then point 1 must be to realise that customers are not calculating machines:

  • They do not ‘sum all touchpoints.’
  • They do not have a linear journey through your experience.
  • They do not notice all the granular details that are important to you.
  • They do notice things that are personal and intangible and not part of a physical map.
  • And … most of the time, they just couldn’t care less.

This is the challenge then. To listen to the customer’s journey with you requires a system that is open and nonlinear, one that prevents us rushing to internal process first without considering customer benefit. And lets the customer journey emerge!

I also believe that a focus on ‘analytical equity’ – a process map, a statistical chart – uses a different part of the brain than that required for ‘creative equity’, which is unconstrained, inventive, nonlinear and requires a space to operate. And I would argue that it’s creative equity that is important for good customer experience.

So with a blank sheet of paper and a budget, how should we listen? Here are a series of multimethod approaches I would apply to fill out the journey map with ideas based on open listening:

Ideation method 1: Mine the creative equity

Don’t just focus on ‘as is’ analytical equity: look to use social communities, research and engagement to collect ideas for continuous improvement from your suppliers, employees, customers, noncustomers (inside and out- side your industry) and experts. You need to ‘mine’ your creative equity!

To do this build cross-silo innovation platforms, develop an innovation culture and critically a proper governance structure to turn ideas into action (a skunkworks). One company that does this well is LVE.. Here ideas generation is considered part of daily work and culture, taken seriously and invested in. Likewise, use social media for ideation; look at how Starbucks and Giff Gaff mine their creative equity. In a word, co-create.

Ideation method 2: Gain stakeholder engagement and ideas

Because journey mapping is a design framework we should first of all always work with a cross-silo stakeholder group involving senior decision makers. Otherwise we risk coming up with some great ideas and no budget or traction. In addition, stakeholder involvement should involve other departments, suppliers, customers and where relevant other companies. After all, an alternative view is always ideal to define the future.

For instance, one critical stakeholder is the CIO. I mean they might know how we can use developing technologies such as AI to augment our journeys, or a single view of the customer.

Then once we have our stakeholder group, immerse them in the data, get them to critically observe and engage the experience: get muddled in order to find a way to drive the customer through simplification, efficiency and engagement. I see this as utilising sources of ‘experience’ value defined over the following quality dimensions:

ExQ (Experience Quality) = f(Price Quality (PQ), Service and Product Quality (SPQ),Customer Journey Quality (CJQ)).

Ideation method 3: Use immersion

Immersion here means observation and walking the experience, both the one under investigation and stellar comparator experiences.

The benefit of this is twofold:

Firstly, it uncovers granular, in the moment but driving moments that customers might have forgotten; particularly important because customers cannot remember everything even if it is important to their bigger ‘sense’ of the experience.

Immersion means creative thinking, seeing how you could engage new ways of doing things, creating new drives ‘big’ and ‘small’.

One form of immersion I have seen for instance is to hot-house respondents, uncovering in the process the hidden experience. This is something researchers Mesh Experience are expert at: across multiple studies, Mesh has found that peer observation, seeing someone drinking a soft drink, eating chocolate or using their mobile phone, significantly affects brand consideration. These experiences largely go unmeasured by marketers yet they can have a big influence on people’s perceptions of brands and, ultimately, sale.

Another form is how behavioural psychology experts walk the experience, using their psychology frame of reference to observe and understand the deeper drives inherent in consumer behaviour. One interesting angle is how they look for those conscious and nonconscious goal states that lie behind memory.

Secondly, immersion means creative thinking, seeing how you could engage new ways of doing things, creating new drives ‘big’ and ‘small’.

The implication of immersion is that mapping does not require everything to be empirically grounded from a survey. The expert judgment of, say, an Alex Polizzi is just that, but it still has the power to absolutely change the experience.

Ideation method 4: Engage research especially narrative

Apart from engaging expertise and using immersion, we also need to use data. So our mapping uses sources such as business intelligence, complaints, existing surveys, social media conversations and narrative research. The latter is particularly importance since narratives or stories are how customers and employees interpret and share their experience. It also surfaces, emerging new trends that maybe only a few people are talking about. A great examples of this is  TTEC’s CX Vector (I worked on this with Peter Dorrington) and Cognitive Edge’s work in culture using SenseMaker.

To make ‘research and engagement live’ we should also create dialogue with our customers. Finding points on the journey where we can develop a strong relationship by asking Next Best Questions. 

And remember that the journey map is a living not a static document. In addition, ‘do’ analytics is critical. Understanding the physical actions customers perform with the why they perform it is a very powerful method that enables us to uncover CX opportunity: sometimes we don’t need to survey everyone!

Ideation method 5: Uncover deeper and hidden drives

And now we go deeper still.

Another key method is to uncover deeper drives through depth interviewing. Here we use techniques such as rep grid which asks several ‘And what does this mean for you’ questions; the idea, to uncover the hidden drives in an experience that can set the design theme, such as we saw with Zappos (we care) and Starbucks (the Third Place).

This is, for instance, how Cranfield School of Management working with the London Symphony Orchestra uncovered new ways to differentiate the experience. Here customers tended to say on the surface, ‘We want to see a stellar performance,’ but in reality their additional deeper but hidden drives were ‘to support their performers.’ This sense of social identity led the orchestra to get the performers to socialise with the audience after the concert.

The aim is to reach out to define differentiating experiences based on the customer’s deeper drives beyond price and service.

This is also how with a ferry line the in-port not just the ship experience was found to be important; here the ferry line could have created an ‘emirates’ of the ferry industry with an end-to-end experience that made money, for instance with great port facilities where people spent their money, if only they had thought beyond the immediate ROI.

Or how about Emirates themselves: they use small touches to change the look and feel of the experience. Here the food looks like food, the entertainment system is best practice and the employees are friendly. Human design, looking at what issues might drive a sense of overall care, at least compared to other airlines, is useful in such a commoditised industry as flying.

And once again in flying there is Delta Airlines. Hence we find an airline producing wonderful safety videos, normally a boring experience, and a focus on the fine details of turnaround time. To date they are also experimenting with preloading of hand luggage to save boarding time.

In all cases, the aim is to reach out to define differentiating experiences based on the customer’s deeper drives beyond price and service. And one simple way to do this is to put in a separate drives layer on your journey map: one that identifies the compelling goal and sub goal states (conscious, nonconscious and affect-driven) that lead to and impact upon a behavioural response; whether that relates to a decision moment in the experience or outside the experience.

For myself, a key add-on approach is therefore to map a goal hierarchy, one that encompasses not just the main customer goals and sub goals but the sufficiency, necessary, facilitative and inhibitory links between goals. Surely an improvement on SERVQUAL which does not consider customer drives at all! (Reference: Clore, Ortony and Collins, 'The Cognitive Structure of Emotions’).

Ideation method 6: Uncover nonconscious response

To some this may sound a little strange, but it’s not. In the decision moment, a lot of our decisions are made in this way. For example the classic moment when we find that we have arrived home after a car journey but our mind has been elsewhere: somehow all those difficult mechanical decisions have been made if not on autopilot then certainly without engaging our conscious self too much.

But nonconscious response is also apparent in things we think we can give a logical answer. How we can put lots of parameters on a purchasing decision so it appears logical, but in fact we have decided to go with one supplier already because they seem more trustworthy.

Or how what drives us emotionally is frequently derived from nonconscious influences that are not expressed or under-weighted in a survey. So I might tell you I am going to Caribou Coffee for a drink, but I really like the ambience and the fact that it’s different from Starbucks!

Even in B2B we see this in the example of how CTOs buy on the basis of a nice-looking IT architecture diagram. Of course post hoc they will 100% pick up on the rational information that supports their case and ignore the rest.

This is why I like the approach of psychologists such as the team at Innovation Bubble. Using observation, immersion and data to uncover what customers are not so keen to express or cannot express. In this way we gain a deeper insight into the emotional nonconscious takeaway, and it allows us to re- emphasise the importance of some ideas over others, such as the impact of packaging and brand logos.

For instance, consider how we may say one thing but not only do another (observed behaviour) but have hidden unexpressed feelings. So ‘Luton Airport’ is convenient but it feels a ‘grey experience’, one I would not engage with. Or how employees feel customers are like this (elite) but customers themselves express themselves differently: an interpersonal gap in emotional understanding.

Customer Experience Management Rebooted – Are You An Experience Brand Or An Efficiency Brand? is available now.

A sample customer review:

“We are at a moment in time when technologies are at last enabling businesses to make the profound shift from doing things ‘at customers’ to doing them ‘with customers’. This doesn’t just impact Marketing and Sales but, rather, every function, real and virtual, in the demand chain. All of which makes Steven Walden’s book timely and important. Important because it breathes new life into the CX argument at a time when it was becoming fossilized. Important because it clearly identifies and explains the subjective nature of CX: “Customer experience is the experience the customer has”. Important because it clarifies and articulates the intimate connection between Customer Experience and Customer Value, and the management of both of those domains. It's densely written in places, but I think this book is terrific.” David Pinder


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