Customer journey analysis and optimization is among the top investment priorities for customer experience practitioners, according to the CMSWire State of Digital Customer Experience 2021 report. It trailed the top area: analytics, insights and dashboarding.

Customer journey mapping combines a lot of those two investment areas. It is a discipline that involves interdepartmental collaboration, research, technology and customer data management. The goal? Determine how customers interact with brands from marketing to acquisition to onboarding to loyalty programs and lifetime customer value efforts and improve customer experience along those journeys. Ultimately, create the ideal "customer journey map."

Organizations approach customer journey mapping in many ways. Here, we’ll explore some of the foundational elements, the initial steps in crafting a customer journey mapping program.

Is Customer Journey Mapping Worth It?

CX professionals shouldn’t just assume there actually even is a linear customer journey capable of being mapped, according to Matt Nolan, senior director of product marketing for marketing, AI and decision sciences at Pega.

“Consumers don’t move in straight lines,” Nolan said. “Instead they try to do 15 things at once, constantly changing goals and directions as they consume new info. Those ‘journeys’ intersect each other and double back and streak off down dead-ends while the company is, hopefully, at the center of that hurricane of data, adding value any way they can.”

The traditional concept of journey mapping often includes companies trying to figure it all out themselves: "This is what the customer is trying to do, and when they do it and where, and here are the steps and stages and triggers as they advance from A to B to C.”

That’s become “way too simplistic, and narrow and fragile,” Nolan said. “The path isn’t linear anymore,” he added. “To add any value, brands have to look across all the different journeys a customer might be on, and make sub-second decisions about which message to prioritize over another, based on what probably matters most to that individual, right now. That’s incredibly hard. But if they do it well, they can help that customer solve tough, real-world problems — and earn the right to expand that relationship.”

Still, some find traditional journey mapping a worthwhile venture, as evidenced by the CMSWire report.

Related Article: The Secret to Actionable VoC and Customer Journey Mapping Programs

Build an Organizational Journey Mapping Competency

So what are some initial steps? Hank Brigman, chief experience officer at Customer Experience Strategies and of the Touchpoint Guru, said that in building a foundation of customer journey mapping, organizations must decide which route they will take. “One of the things that you want to do is build the competency of mapping within the organization,” Brigman said. “You don't kind of want to be with a single individual who can leave and take that with them and now somebody else comes, and they want to do it differently.”

Will this effort be within one department? Who will own it? Will it be with a team that floats? How are we going to capture the output? Will you use the classic approach of the sticky notes and what Brigman uses for clients — butcher paper — and just hash it all out in a day-long session? Will you buy a customer journey mapping tool?

Brigman said he’s seen significant technological gains within the journey orchestration platform space. Customer journey orchestration engine software is designed to help organizations analyze customer interactions across multiple touchpoints, execute the best communications and predict future customer interaction. “It’s gotten to a maturity level now where you know it is there, it's working, and it will tell you what your customer journey maps are and give you incredible data in real time," Brigman said.

Software like this can help organizations capture the “real touches your customers have, as they go omnichannel across your organization.” This cuts out an organization's desire to plan its customer journey mapping program based on what employees think customers are doing, Brigman said.

Related Article: What You Need to Know About Customer Journey Orchestration Software

Don’t Start With the Biggest or Worst Problems

Organizations typically want to start with their biggest, baddest, nastiest problem. They want to solve the “big, hairy” problem so they start there, according to Brigman. But building a foundation of mapping competency and striving to gain a positive word of mouth will eventually get you to that big, nasty problem and help solve it with mapping, according to Brigman. Build journeys that will lead to success at the outset because word-of-mouth will grow among employees and customers alike.

Further, pick something that's linear, and it has a beginning and end. You don’t want to try to map the entire customer journey across all customer segments and customer experience programs at the beginning, he added.

Learning Opportunities

“One of the things I really like to start with is onboarding,” Brigman said. “If you're thinking of B2B onboarding, it has a beginning, when we close the sale, and kind of a natural end. And it's relatively linear: we're going to do this, then we do this, then we do this. There isn't a lot of going in a bunch of different directions, as opposed to a call coming into a call center and how many different topics that can be, and how many different directions that could that go.”

Define Your Key Customer Journey Mapping Terms

Onboarding would be an example of customer experience mapping, since it’s not about the entire journey but rather a subset experience of the wholesome customer journey.

Speaking of terms, customer experience itself is relatively a new discipline, according to Brigman. Organizations should clearly define what they are talking about before diving into a full customer journey mapping exercise. Define the scope of all the terms you’ll use. What does journey mean? What does experience mean? What does touchpoint mean?

“I define all those, and I have kind of a hierarchy of those terms that I use,” Brigman said. “I use the term journey to mean the holistic end-to-end journey. Each journey has steps, and each step has experiences. Journey mapping is mapping the holistic customer journey from first touch through the final touch, if you will, so for instance from marketing to payment or renewal. It depends on the business model. Experience mapping is taking a subset of journey mapping.”

Related Article: Where to Invest in Your Customer Journeys: Define, Design and Implement

Taking Inventory of CX

Scott Draeger, CXPA, vice president of customer transformation at Quadient, said a lot of organizations experience frustration with journey mapping because they don’t start at the beginning. You can’t develop a strategy until you know where you are in the journey, he added.

“The most successful organizations start out by taking inventory of as many customer experiences as possible,” Draeger said. “This does not require any software, consultants or methodologies. Simply get representatives from as many teams as possible to quickly share all known customer experiences.”

These include support, service, accounts receivable, installers, IT, legal and compliance, marketing, finance, product and line of business experts. Don’t overlook happy or unhappy journeys and don’t let “compliance requirements” escape inventory. Simply inventory every experience you have so you have something to sort into customer journeys.

Sorting Into Mini Journeys

What are other undeniable first steps to customer journey mapping? Once you have an inventory of all of the communications and experiences you provide, the next step is to sort them into journeys (or what Brigman calls experiences). According to Draeger, typical starting journeys include the following:

  • Onboarding, which follows prospects as they develop into customers
  • Renewals, which supports all experiences associated with renewals (even when renewal is automatic)
  • Service, which includes delivery and fulfillment of a product/service
  • Support, which includes when something isn’t going quite right
  • Oddball, which includes situations that are unusual (first COVID-19 messages, news responses, etc.)
  • Emotional, which includes serious events like account closure due to death or illness

Inventory, Then Prioritize

Inventory gives you the ability to put likely journeys in order. Where Brigman suggests linear experiences as starting points, Draeger suggests starting on journeys with the most immediate financial impact to share success in a way that has a common metric, like added customers, lowered churn or reduced costs. Then, you move to the most common journeys.

“Somewhere along the line, you will start to see that your IT systems are supporting experiences in a way that is saving IT costs while hurting another metric,” Draeger said. “Discussions about the intersection between your systems and the experience they deliver will become the source of your customer experience power. Once you start having these conversations, you are on your way to being a journey-centric organization.”