Why design thinking is the perfect platform for customer journey mapping

31st Oct 2016
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If you’re serious about business management, it’s very likely that you’re familiar with the phrase ‘design thinking’. But familiarity with the term doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re familiar with the discipline itself – or its potential benefits to customer journey mapping.

So for the uninitiated first of all, what is design thinking? While there is no definitive definition, design thinking is a problem-solving framework that is rooted in empathy and understanding of the person (i.e. the customer) that you are solving the problem for.

Brands that have embraced design thinking to put customers at the heart of product and service design include the likes of Disney, Uber and Tesla, all of which have subsequently gained a reputation for disrupting markets, delivering superior customer experiences and achieving strong business results.

Elsewhere, IBM is now also betting heavily on design thinking as a way of driving innovation at its own organisation.

“Design thinking is a mindset,” explains Arne van Oosterom, ‎senior partner and founder of DesignThinkers Group. “It allows you to first find the right question and then fit the process to it. Design thinkers are people with an open mind, curious to learn new things with a bias towards learning by doing and experimenting. Design thinking gives you the freedom and tools to question everything and break away from constrictions, biases and blind spots.”

Critically, it also represents a useful framework with which to tackle customer journey mapping.

van Oosterom continues: “Design thinking is an essential mindset to build empathy with users, really listen and walk in their shoes. It is also the mindset that will allow multidisciplinary teams to truly collaborate, create a common language of innovation and a shared understanding of how to interpret data. Without this a customer journey map will just be a tool without a process to make a real change to your organisation.”

The great danger of the journey mapping process is that all the time and effort invested in will merely result in a pretty poster on the wall, rather than the beginning of an ongoing process to understand stakeholders, deliver real value and create the tools for change in the organisation. Design thinking necessitates the outside-in thinking that characterises good customer journey mapping.

“Design thinking's emphasis is on understanding consumer needs across the customer journey (or through the sales funnel) and it allows marketers to plan how to continuously deliver positive experiences from a deep understanding of customers,” says Simon Spyer, cofounder and insight partner at Conduit Data Services

“Customer journey mapping should be more than just a representation of the steps that a customer could take over the course of their interaction with you. It should build on this to include measurement, contact strategy and enablers. Design thinking really helps you to make this a reality.”

Spyer adds that design thinking represents a great approach for customer journey mapping because:

  • It is feasible, because the data (and technology) invariably already exists and only require light integration to support design thinking.
  • It is viable - it works commercially because marketers should be investing in activities that maximise customer value.
  • It is desirable, because it reflects consumer needs by recognising what matters to people and that relationships build loyalty and customer satisfaction.

And don’t worry if design thinking sounds elusive and complex: you may already be on the right path. As Spyer adds: “It’s worth noting that personas are a key component of design thinking so if you are already thinking about or using personas then you are adopting some of the principles of design thinking.”

So how can you fully embrace design thinking to inform customer journey mapping?

Spyer proposes a five-step design thinking process, that simultaneously makes design thinking a reality within the business, while also ensuring that the customer journey mapping exercise can deliver real change. Indeed, according to Spyer, customer journey mapping represents the central step on the pathway to design thinking.

The five steps are as follows:

  1. Persona development. Think about who you are enhancing the experience for. Segmentation is a powerful tool for planning and targeting campaigns but it isn’t a perfect tool for understanding the needs and attitudes of customers and finding commonality. Instead build personas and use these. 
  2. Value proposition. Think about what your customers want to achieve. This is a key innovation step as it is where you focus on the needs, pains and gains of your customers or future customers and build your value proposition - the products and services that you could offer, the pain relievers and gain creators.
  3. The customer journey. Think about where the experience starts and ends. Map the customer journey and identify the moments of truth - these are the interactions with your products and services that will create or destroy most value for your customers and allow you to sort true innovations from incremental service improvements.  
  4. Business requirements. Think about how you will deliver the experience. At this point you can start to define the data, technical and measurement requirements and estimate the cost:benefit of your innovation.
  5. Make it happen! Think about what you will do and when. Prioritise and quantify the benefits, test, measure and optimise your innovation. 

Spyer elaborates on the process:

“We start with the personas to really specify the needs, pains and goals of the customers that we are interested in. We then look at the value propositions that could be delivered to meet the needs and goals of customers and to solve their pains. These are the solutions that a business could offer.

“These solutions will play different roles across the customer journey so we need to define where the solution plays a role and where the journey starts and ends. This helps us to agree the touchpoints that are most important and what we need to provide at these points.”

He continues: “Now we can focus on what we will need to have in place to make this a reality and this means data, people, process and technology. The aim of this step is to build the specific requirements so that we can get on with making it happen, our final step.

“The opportunity, tools and insights to deliver customer-centric innovation exist like never before. The brands that leverage these assets through this simple process to combine customer needs with marketing nous and technical delivery will deliver true and lasting innovation.”

What this model ensures is that customer journey mapping is in no danger of becoming an isolated exercise. Instead, it places customer journey mapping as a key process within a much wider push towards customer-centricity, whereby the journey mapping itself is better informed by the processes that precede it while, at the other end of the process, can also drive greater change thanks to the subsequent processes in place.  

Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO, once described design thinking as a ‘human-centred’ approach to innovation. With customer journey mapping – and indeed, customer-centric strategies as a whole – necessitating this kind of thinking, perhaps the likes of Disney and Uber are really on to something. 

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