Let me start with a basic reality of life: people are self-centered. We all are.

Everyone has their own frame of reference, which heavily influences what they do and how they do it. Customers, for instance, care intensely about their own needs and desires but they don't generally know or care as much about how companies are organized.

Employees also have their individual frames of reference; which often includes a deeper understanding of products, company organization, and subject matter than do customers. The perspective of employees is also shaped by the culture of an organization, the structure and silos created within the organization, their peers and bosses, and the non-stop politics that affect every organization in some way. Given all those influences on the human psyche, it’s hard for any individual to break out from their own perspective.

If this self-centered bias is left unchecked, decisions made inside of companies will often reflect the frame of reference of employees, not customers. This problem is sometimes called self-referential design. We make decisions that satisfy our needs. That’s the problem that companies need to avoid. Customers very often have substantially different needs than the employees who are making decisions about how to satisfy them.

Seeing the Whole Picture

Customers have their own needs and perspectives. Once we recognize this situation, we can overcome the natural tendency of self-centeredness. We will also find out that our organizations are not the center of our customers’ universe.Often times, when they interact with us, it’s part of a larger objective that they are trying to achieve. When a traveler reaches out to book a flight on Expedia or Travelocity, they are not just trying to get a plane ticket. They are on a journey that includes a trip, which might be for a business meeting, family vacation or to enjoy a Cold Play concert with friends.

As customers go on their journeys, they may interact with us several times. For them, it’s part of one journey, while most companies deal with these as individual touchpoints.If a business traveler looks online for a flight and then calls an agent, the company treats those interactions separately, not recognizing that the customer may have already done some research online. The traveler may have a good interaction with a phone agent, but be upset based on a price that he saw earlier on the website.

In addition to not recognizing that we may be interacting with customers many times along a single journey, we also miss opportunities to satisfy customers in other areas along their journey. If a lot of customers are using our website to book Cold Play concerts, why don’t we offer a tour package that includes flights, hotels, rides to and from the airport, and maybe even tickets to the event? We would never recognize this as a valuable offering if we just focused on the single interaction of buying a plane ticket.

This is why customer journey maps (CJMs) can be so valuable.

Let’s start with the basics, what is a CJM? It’s a representation of the steps and emotional states that a customer goes through during a period of time that may include some interactions with your organization. CJMs are valuable because they help identify how a customer views an organization by putting the interactions with a company in the context of the customer’s broader activities, goals and objectives. Probably the best way to understand CJMs is to see one, so here’s an example of a CJM that we created for a fictitious online travel company.


Learning Opportunities

Key Points of Customer Journey Maps

Here are some key things to note about CJMs:

It’s about the insights, not the picture

If you Bing “customer journey maps,” then you will find a lot of different physical representations for CJMs. The layout of the CJM is much less important than the things that you learn from the process. So you need to understand how the CJMs will be used to drive decisions about fixing problems, creating unexpectedly positive experiences, or developing entirely new offerings.

They're not touchpoint maps

Often times, companies mistake a CJM for a touchpoint map, which is looking at individual interactions or “touches” with customers. The problem with this approach is that it often loses the broader context of how that touchpoint fits within the overall goal and objectives of the customer.

Qualitative trumps quantitative research

Even the best data warehouses can’t tell you about the intent of customers or about steps that they go through that don't include your company. You will need to go out and speak to customers. This can include ethnographic techniques like journaling and contextual inquiry. After you have the journey defined, you can use some quantitative methods to identify how often some activities occur.

Segments really matter

Different customers go through different journeys. So the most effective CJMs look at the paths of individual customer segments. Sometimes there are even different CJMs for customers in a single segment.

Editor's Note: Bruce's article is kicking off our month long focus on customer journeys. Be sure to check back for more insights, but in the mean time see what a recent Forrester report had to say about Customer Journeys