Customer journey mapping: The opportunities and obstacles

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Once upon a time the customer journey was a linear progression from identification of the need, through consideration, information gathering, trial/review and decision-making to purchase. But this has changed. Now, the traditional purchase funnel is a complex cobweb across multiple channels, making it extremely difficult to identify when and where a customer was won or lost, or to understand the influence of touchpoints along the way.

This presents many problems for brands.

“The baseline activity that should be bread and butter to proper customer-centric marketers becomes a guessing game,” says Matt Oakley, group account director at Bray Leino. “Communications won’t be timely or possibly even relevant; retention activity is hit-and-miss without a proper understanding of a customer’s purchasing behaviour; and ultimately you’re looking at disengaged customers and ineffectually applied marketing budgets.”

In order to counter this complexity, businesses need a way to achieve accurate visibility and understanding of the path to purchase that their customers are taking. Efforts to visualise the customer journey have traditionally involved the mapping of customer touchpoints.

Bruce Temkin, managing partner at Temkin Group and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, explains: “Touchpoint maps have been around for decades. They look at where you’re touching the customer with a particular touchpoint and examine how you’re doing in the eyes of the customer. That is valuable, but it misses the fact that the customer has a whole bunch of interactions on the journey that don’t include that particular touchpoint and sometimes don’t include your business at all.”

Touchpoint mapping

To demonstrate this, Temkin provides the example of a business traveller. If a travel firm examines how the traveller is when he books a flight with them, what it might miss without looking at his entire journey is that often he likes to coordinate his travel with some colleagues. There would be a whole set of interactions with colleagues that have nothing to do with the travel firm, but if these are not understood then the company would never understand how to serve the traveller in a more broad sense.

With channels such as social media playing an increasingly important part in the customer journey, it is becoming vital that businesses understand the wider pathway to purchase outside of just the consumer’s touchpoints with the company.

Therefore, with touchpoint maps only being able to provide an internal focus of understanding customers, it is unsurprising that an alternative discipline has emerged that provides companies with more of an external view of how customers view the company. This is customer journey mapping.

“The customer journey mapping process engages stakeholders and leaders to create a clear, cross-functional understanding of what happens to customers across the organisation and encourage consideration of processes from the customers’ point of view,” says Andy Green, director of The Customer Framework.

“It starts from the customer's start point, motivations and desired outcomes rather than the organisations and recognises that what the organisation offers is not always the entire customer journey. It addresses emotion in the design, rather than only focussing on the functional elements of the steps – what you want the customer the think, feel and say as they progress through the journey as well as what you want them to do.

“It provides a framework and set of guiding principles to apply to customer interactions as they evolve, rather than a rigid and inflexible set of processes that fail when the customer need does not conform to the design. The output, the customer journey map itself, is a practical and visual document.” 

Temkin adds: “Customer journey mapping is the process of looking at the goals, objectives and pathways that customers take to achieve those goals and objectives. It then looks at how interactions with a company sit inside of their particular journey.”

Customer journey mapping

Continuing the example of the travel company, customer journey mapping would view the business traveller’s journey as being how he gets to a business meeting, feel comfortable at the meeting and return in time to see his children play football at the weekend. The travel firm would therefore need the customer journey map to cover what it is he wants, how does he feel, what are his objectives, and then examine in what ways the company helps him reach his goal throughout the journey, and how they interact with him across that journey.

“It starts with what it is the customer is trying to do, and how the customer wants to do it, and then looks at how the company fits into that,” says Temkin. “That is the notion of a journey map. It looks at the emotional states, goals and objectives throughout the journey.”

With all of this taken into account, organisations can potentially resolve some of the challenges presented by the rising complexity of the modern customer journey. With many organisations treating each customer interaction as if it is an isolated event, customer journey mapping helps businesses to understand and cater to their customer’s entire journey and ultimately improve the overall customer experience.

Dea Kacorri, senior user experience consultant at Realise, summarises some of the benefits of customer journey mapping:

  • Delivers a seamless streamlined experience that allows you to see the bigger picture during small company wide projects.
  • See and approach things from a customer’s point of view.
  • Identify what customers are being confused by/ are having trouble with.
  • Identifies gaps and opportunities within the current offering
  • Brings teams together with a shared vision.
  • Provides relevant, timely and accurate information.
  • Develop a consistent roadmap and experience strategy.
  • Helps you anticipate what needs to be considered so better business decisions are made.

“Ultimately, it helps to paint a holistic picture of each interaction and then ensures negative experiences are mitigated, while positive ones contribute to greater customer satisfaction and therefore their lifetime value to the brand,” explains Oakley. “The energy sector is a great example of this, where a customer has to be managed through their change of supply to their first bill and onwards.

“The devil is also in the detail here – take buying a night in a hotel through an affiliate (e.g. Expedia). The customer journey is for all intents and purposes with Expedia, but the customer experience sits with the hotel. Repeat purchase will be driven by check-in experience, room comfort, food, etc. Expedia own the customer in a sense, but it cannot influence the customer experience.

“It’s also worthwhile noting the length of the customer journey – in B2B, the purchase process can take up to four years, then post-purchase will last the lifetime of a product (e.g. 25 years). It’s therefore essential to ensure a consistent narrative is maintained and customer knowledge is continuously demonstrated throughout that time.”

Challenges and opportunities

And this approach is striking a chord with a growing number of organisations.

“More and more companies understand that each customer interaction is part of a bigger experience and are working to engage with them in a relevant way,” notes Susan Binda, head of loyalty marketing and insight, at The Logic Group. “Brands with great trigger strategies are examples of this: abandoned basket emails, welcome back campaigns, lapse prevention campaigns and know-me campaigns are just a few examples. What customer journey mapping can do is predict likely future behaviours and needs, and set up journeys ready for consumers to follow.”

However, customer journey mapping isn’t a panacea in and of itself, and organisations that are keen to embrace CJM need to be aware of a number of complications:

  • Investment is required (time and cost if external partners are used) to capture the current customer journey/experience.
  • The complexity of the journey and not knowing where to start can create confusion.
  • Businesses may not have the appropriate skillset to capture the required data.
  • It needs to be updated and validated to keep up with constantly changing user needs, behaviours, technologies and developments in an organisation’s proposition.
  • There may be pressures on the business to deliver customer initiatives that can be more readily measured in terms of impact on bottom line.

A more fundamental barrier to customer journey mapping adoption is the mindset of the business itself.

Majid Shabir, founder and CEO of Instinct Studios, explains: “It is difficult to say exactly how prevalent customer mapping is but it’s safe to say it’s not happening as much as it should be. It’s clear that when organisations develop a customer-centric model and respond to the needs of their customers, they experience higher levels of customer satisfaction, which is leading to improved sales and retention rates.

“Customer mapping activities can only add value in an organisation where the management and leadership recognise the benefits of placing the customer at the heart of their business. This has to be embedded in an organisation’s culture and not just in specific departments in charge of customer experience and satisfaction.

“Some organisations are reluctant to embrace customer-mapping activities because an activity of this type will expose serious weaknesses in their business, which for whatever reason they are reluctant to address. Uncovering weaknesses doesn’t mean they all have to be rectified at once, on the contrary, a strategy needs to be adopted which gains some initial quick-wins, followed by a roadmap of incremental improvements, with a long-term view to improving the customer experience as a whole.”

Driving adoption

Yet despite these obstacles, the signs are that customer journey mapping is gathering momentum. Oakley has identified several factors that he believes will drive CJM adoption.

  • Challenges to demonstrate ROI and proliferation of marketing channels mean understanding the customer journey has never been so important. This links to the necessity to ensure that there is a positive total customer experience encompassing elements such as usability of digital channels - i.e. there has to be consistency cross channel experience.
  • The rise of dedicated customer experience professionals and their place in the c-suite is becoming more prevalent.
  • One size doesn’t fit all in terms of communication tactics.
  • Repeat purchase/loyalty correlation with firms demonstrating high Customer Experience Index, leading to the loyalty-based revenue benefit for firms going from below- to above-industry-average CXi scores ranged from $88 million for consumer electronics manufacturers to $3.1 billion for wireless providers.
  • Likelihood to recommend companies higher amongst those firms with higher CXi.

Andy Walker, UK MD of Innometrics, adds: “Customer journey mapping will continue to grow in popularity as the customer touch points multiply and the data becomes more disparate. Companies will look for ways to integrate the different data silos they have in order to provide a seamless and personalised customer journey throughout the different channels. Some brands may also realise that by mapping the journey, they can find ways to improve in the areas where they lack control.”

And Binda even believes that 2015 could be a defining year for the discipline of CJM: “Customers will continue to set the pace in ecommerce, mobile shopping and new methods of payment.  Brands who do not have adequate customer journey mapping in place will be left behind, fail to engender loyalty amongst their customers and miss out on significant revenues.”

So, big things are being expected of customer journey mapping. But a final word of warning comes from Jane Linton, business director-Imano, at Ness SES – the customer journey is now a matrix of cross- and multichannel interactions, and the mapping process is not for the faint hearted.

“Since the business and customer journey is always changing, the challenge to create a CJM has become more complex due to the changing landscape of digital, particularly how customers absorb advertising and the number of touchpoints which influence the decision making process,” she notes.

“This goes one step further when looking at the total customer experience as to how customers are using your product, as we all gravitate towards mobile. The more touchpoints the more complicated yet necessary the exercise of creating a CJM becomes. The rise of social media creates even more complexity. Whereas 30 years ago marketers would have only considered a few channels, with a focus on advertising, the list of how the customer researches a brand message has now increased 10 fold.

“Another significant change is what influences customers. The behaviour is still broadly the same and word of mouth recommendation remains influential, but with social networks now reaching much further than was ever possible before, a new dynamic has formed with the customer journey. Consumers are now listening to and being influenced by peers and people they don’t even know; take TripAdvisor in the travel industry as a prime example. Addressing these developments of how consumers research and learn about brands is fundamental within a CJM and is essential for achieving success within the new digital economy.”

With this in mind, the next article in this series will examine how to create a customer journey map, with advice from the experts. 

About Neil Davey


Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.


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