winding road
So many customer journeys are designed to the benefit of the company, not the customer PHOTO: Raul Taciu

The journey the organization would prefer the customer to go on is not usually the journey the customer wants to go on.

When you get through security, the airport sends you on a ‘customer journey’ through duty free shopping whether you want to go shopping or not. The airport forces you to spend more time getting to your gate. The airport feels that it has delivered a great customer experience if you have wasted time and money on things you didn’t really need to buy. 

That’s because the customer of the airport is not you. The ‘customer’ of the airport is the shop trying to sell you stuff.

Imagine if Google Maps approached customer journey design the same way. A few months ago, I needed to get from San Jose to Sacramento. Being used to driving on the left, I was a bit nervous as I set off in my rental car. I was depending on Google Maps.

Imagine if as I typed in “Sacramento” Google said: “How about going to San Francisco, instead? We’ve got great deals in San Francisco!”

“No, thanks, Google!” 

Or, imagine if halfway through the journey, Google maps told me to take the next exit. Then it gave me a series of directions and I ended up queuing at a McDonald’s drive-thru. Would I be having a great customer experience?

Instead, Google regularly informed me that I was on the “fastest route.” At home, I have a very expensive navigation system in my car. I don’t use it. Through experience, I have found that Google has the fastest route. The fastest route is nearly always the best customer journey, the best customer experience.

You can’t design a great customer experience if your business model is to exploit your customers. And that is the business model for a great many organizations: to sell their customers things they don’t really need at the highest possible prices.

Customer experience is the experience the customer wants to have, not the experience the organization wants the customer to have. There are still lots of foolish customers, but there’s not as many of them as there used to be.

The reason customer experience is now such a big issue is not because organizations have suddenly seen the light. It’s because customers have become much more powerful, much more informed and much less brand-loyal.

The new digital competitors who are looking to challenge traditional banks, retailers, universities, etc. are all offering the following benefits over the old way of doing business: simplicity, convenience and value. Your complexity and high margins are your digital competitor’s opportunity.

For a lot of traditional organizations, their profit lies in their complexity. The more complex they make things for the customer, the bigger the profit. Complexity creates dependence. Complexity feeds ignorance, which allows an opening for emotional manipulation.

Governments and commercial organizations have thrived by creating ever more complex customer journeys. Profit for a government is measured based on its size and its control over its citizens. This is not necessarily a deliberate strategy, as it’s the most natural thing in the world to want to be bigger and more in control.

Great customer journey design always begins with knowing the journey the customer wants to go on. That requires extensive research and a deep understanding of your customers. The best customer journey is the shortest route, the fastest time.