Getting ahead of the market using customer journey mapping

By Tim Dimond-Brown

Without an in-depth understanding of their customers, American businesses will struggle to achieve long-term success.

Take bookstore chain Borders, for example. Borders filed for bankruptcy in 2011, after a slow approach to ecommerce, and its reluctance to adapt to the demands of the consumers, who were starting to purchase e-books instead of the physical ‘hard copies’. This contrasted greatly with the approach taken by another organisation, Amazon, which understood what the customer wanted. Borders paid the price and was forced to close its doors.

Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes makes it possible to understand how to give people more of what they like, and address pain points. As industry analyst Forrester recently observed, if you want to create a great customer experience you need to have the right strategy and agility to keep pace with customer demand. By just standing still, businesses can start to veer off course – failing to listen to customers sets businesses up for a fall.

It sounds simple, but this is a mistake many are making. One recent anecdote about a literal customer journey illustrates this rather effectively. I was told about a bus scheme specifically designed for disabled members of the community. However, by failing to speak with the very people it was supposed to be helping, the project failed and buses drove around the district almost empty. The reason? The bus stops were not in locations people had a need to travel to or from. Such a fundamental flaw – and waste of time and money – could have been avoided by taking the time to better understand the customer journey.

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Customers are becoming more powerful than ever before, so it is crucial to make an effort to understand them. Businesses can get a firm grip on this by visualising customer behaviour, which is where customer journey mapping can prove critical. It’s a route many are already considering, with recent Ovum research finding more than half of enterprises will invest in customer journey mapping in 2017. Over the course of the year, we will see a footrace to get a full understanding of the paths customers take, and what this means.

Four key steps to success

Customer journey mapping could be a daunting prospect for organisations that have not carried out the process before.

Ploughing a lonely furrow could lead to mistakes, and wasted time and investment. So, working with a consulting expert to ensure the customer journey map fits well with the rest of the organisational ecosystem, is helpful to many organisations and will help them to fully understand their customers. But what does successful customer journey mapping implementation look like? Here are four key steps to follow:

1) Gather metrics and identify data sources

Data has been referred to as ‘the new oil’ for some years now, and it’s certainly true that customer journey mapping couldn’t run without it.

To make it work, as many credible data sources as possible need to be identified so they can be used to paint a full picture. In the bus service example outlined earlier, the organisation would need to identify the target users and speak with them about what their requirements were. In addition to the obvious direct points of customer interaction, back-office data sources such as CRM and ERP systems can also provide rich data sources.

2) Use data to create a comprehensive map

Different streams of data can prove weak on their own, but drawing them together can create a much stronger river of information.

When multiple data sources are amalgamated, they can reveal what each customer is doing. Returning to the bus example; by drawing together pieces of information about customers you can sketch out a journey map, which will allow you to pinpoint specifics around where key interactions with them will take place.

This could be the first-time separate departments have thought about what happens to the customer once they no longer need to interact with their part of the business – something which could prove pivotal in terms of changing mind-sets. If everybody in the organisation is thinking about the entire journey, they will be increasingly likely to behave in a manner that is more beneficial in the longer-term.

3) Identify pain points

The next part is to pick out where problems occur on the journey. Seek to highlight the ‘moment of truth’ – are there any specific points on the customer journey where things go wrong? How can these be addressed? For example, is there a customer communications issue that relates to one specific communications channel?

On this step, our bus operators should have looked at the problems, such as buses heading to destinations passengers hadn’t requested and routes that became congested and even customers trying to give cash to a driver that only accepts card payments. Once these pain points have been recognised, recurring problems can also be identified, making it clear exactly what the big issues are with the current customer journey.

4) Take action

The final step is to improve the customer journey by acting on the insights that have been gathered. For example, this could mean addressing one specific area that regularly poses problems for customers – such as a mobile app that crashes when the chat function is launched.

The bus scheme should have taken action as soon as it found out its buses weren’t being used, amending the routes to ensure they met the needs of the target customers. Changes can be made relating to any area of the business; from the more obvious CRM and marketing teams to IT, and even the legal and billing departments. 

Long-term benefits

As well as plugging short-term customer communications systems holes, customer journey mapping can also bring longer-term strategic benefits. A deep understanding of customer behaviour is a great way to identify gaps and segments, and find inefficiencies across the customer journey.

American businesses will then be in a much better position to know which customer service initiatives to prioritise – ensuring the customer gets the right message, through the right channel, at the right time. This invaluable exercise will spot problems and opportunities, which will ultimately allow businesses to differentiate experience and increase revenues.


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