2016 Forrester research says 63% of marketing professionals rely on customer journey maps – graphs that help businesses visualise the whole journey of a user and the different touchpoints they can use to interact with them – to guide their customer experience efforts.
Yet a recent study from Millward Brown Digital found that 55% of senior marketers were not confident in their company’s “understanding of the customer journey”. Why does such a dichotomy exist? Are businesses failing to conduct mapping exercises effectively, or are their customers simply moving too quickly for them to keep up?
Brian Manusama, a research director for Gartner, says it’s a combination of both.
“Ten years ago there weren’t as many engagement channels, whereas now we have so many channels we’ve basically lost the customer. We don’t know where they are, how they work with us. I’m not even sure the customer knows this.
“We need mechanics to understand these points and how we can help the customer best, because it has become very difficult to establish how all our different points of contact are perceived.
"The problem is, journey mapping is an ongoing process, whereas many businesses turn to it expecting a solution to their experience problems.”
No longer linear
Pre-internet, customer journeys were often linear, with very little channel hopping.
However, now, with the number of channels having exploded, and consumers becoming increasingly channel-agnostic, customer journeys can take many forms, with even single interactions taking place across numerous touchpoints.
Even organisations such as IKEA, famed for physically guiding people through their in-store experience, have to cope with an array of often complex journeys, as this diagram from retail consultancy, FITCH, highlights:
[Click to enlarge]
Depending on their B2B or B2C status, the average number of touchpoints before a sale is made by a business can exceed 13+. According to Google, shoppers now use an average of 10.4 sources of information to make a purchase decision. 4 out of 5 local searches on mobile devices end in a purchase and 73% of these purchases are in bricks-and-mortar stores.
Ciceron data also adds that 90% of consumers’ buying decisions are now influenced by online reviews. For some organisations, customer journey mapping can act simply as an exercise in establishing where their customers are interacting with them without their knowing.
“I think larger organisations, especially, struggle to get to a point where they’re able to see everything through one lens,” says Matthew Fairweather, director of self-titled customer experience design consultancy, Matthew Fairweather Ltd, a company that has worked on building journey maps for clients such as M&S and Eurostar.
“If you have one lens which shows all of the different channels and how people interact with them then that’s a useful tool that offers instantaneous value as they wouldn’t normally have that level of transparency. Smaller organisations see journey mapping as a helpful, logical exercise that allows them to compartmentalise customer experience and be able to look at touchpoints and pain points in the service they offer.”
Art and insight
Indeed, the Forrester report Use Customer Journey Mapping To Make Your Culture Customer-Obsessed states the core benefits of customer journey mapping include:
- Building empathy for customers. Getting into the customers shoes, understanding how employees are affected by their work. Experiencing the business as a customer might.
- Turning a CX vision into a memorable picture that everyone can understand. Whether digitally or via the age-old method of post-it notes on the wall, a visual representation of customer journeys is central to learning and developing.
- Helping to uphold customer-centric thinking. Establishing where pain points exist in a journey, and where improvements can be made.
- Embedding good CX behaviours. Identifying existing and desirable customer behaviours, and establishing the internal processes required in order for employees to be able to act on these behaviours.
However, pitfalls lie in wait for anyone who thinks that customer journey mapping is a process that involves booking out a meeting room at the office and inviting a few stakeholders to pin some post-it notes to the wall.
67% of any buyer’s journey is now done digitally, and this means an increasing reliance on data to drive decisions. “We are all individuals and every individual takes a different journey through an organisation’s channels,” adds Manusama. “There are so many variables in trying to learn these different journeys, to the point where most businesses start segmenting their customer databases.
“They then start profiling their different customers in an attempt to give them personas, but each needs a different approach and a different experience applied to them. Therefore the process of mapping this out becomes critical as well as thinking about what the most desirable state for each journey might be. So thinking about what the current state is vs. what each different profile or demographic might actually want.
“The best experience on the customer site must also be married up with the most cost-effective option on the organisational side, that’s a crucial point. There always has to be a balance. You can ask customers what the perfect experience and journey looks like but there might always be a more cost-effective way.”
Such is the increasing requirements of journey mapping from a data perspective that by 2018, Gartner predict that 60% of large organisations will have in-house customer journey mapping capabilities, up from no more than 20% in 2015. 73% of a recent Econsultancy survey of digital marketers said data was critical to underpinning their journey mapping exercises.
“Customer journey mapping is really a mixture of art and insight,” says Fairweather. “The art is in being able to display a visual representation of your customers’ journey on one sensible diagram. But that’s just a visual aid. The real work in journey mapping is using all of the customer information and data available to you from across the business and delivering a process and structure to their experience.”
Econsultancy: How important are the following areas for understanding the customer journey?
Of course, how a business approaches the ‘art’ in its customer journey mapping can be as crucial to its successful interpretation by employees as the data that drives its assumptions.
Airbnb, for instance, has been well documented for taking the knowledge it had built up about its customer journeys, and bringing them to life through storyboards designed by Pixar animators and hung in the company’s headquarters for all to see. The storyboarding process has helped the company identify a number of crucial ‘moments of truth’, such as the need to become more mobile-centric. In January, the company released its first Android App and updated its mobile site to include an instant chat between guests and hosts of properties listed through the site. In September, Airbnb announced that 26% of its traffic was coming from mobile devices.
“Doing this [type of exercise] gets you to the fundamentals of customer experience, so to have a well-defined, real-time monitoring of the customer journey is a priority for organisations looking to improve,” adds Manusama. “As we know, customer experience is now the key differentiator as companies don’t often compete on price or product anymore, so you can easily say that the journeys are now also fundamental to the success of an organisation as a whole.”
An example of Airbnb’s Disney-inspired storyboards:
The process of how to conduct customer journey maps, the tools required and the pitfalls to avoid will be further examined over the coming weeks, as part of our ongoing guide to customer journey mapping.
Chris was an Editor at MyCustomer from 2014 to 2022. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News.