Peter Drucker once wrote “there is only one valid definition of business purpose: to create a customer. The customer is the foundation of a business and keeps it in existence.” A profoundly simple statement that rings true today, even though Drucker wrote it in 1954.
Yet, if we reviewed the agenda from your last business planning meeting, would the conversation about the customer be near the bottom of the page, if it were even there at all? Why do product, production, costs, and even shareholder value conversations seem to get the center stage much earlier than how to create and retain customers?
Why isn’t the first agenda item in each and every business planning meeting, “What do we know about our customers”?
Forrester senior analyst Jonathan Browne reminds us, “Most of us would like to think that we’re more customer-centric than that individual. However, unless we check the self-centered tendencies of our organization, we run the risk of being every bit as difficult to deal with–expecting customers to adapt to our language, practice and policies. Companies that want to thrive today had better understand how to meet or exceed their customer’s expectations throughout their journey.”

The video below does great job illustrating just what we can uncover when we think about something as simple as buying a cup of coffee from the customer’s perspective.

You can’t create–and then keep–customers without knowing who they are and the actions they will take on their journey with your brand. Actions you can guide to achieve your business objectives.

Understanding the Journey

For years, businesses understood how consumers buy through the metaphor of a funnel —consumers start with a number of potential brands in mind (the wide end of the funnel), marketing is then directed at them as they methodically reduce that number and move through the funnel, and at the end they emerge with the one brand they chose to purchase. But the funnel concept doesn’t fit today’s consumer who is embracing not only the explosion of product choices and the number of digital channels in which to find them, but also a desire to stay connected to the brand well beyond the purchase. Today’s consumer is more knowledgeable and discerning, so a more sophisticated and less linear approach is required to help businesses navigate this new environment. This is the customer journey model.

Think of the customer journey as a roadmap detailing how a customer becomes aware of your brand, how they learn more about your brand and competing brands, their decision to buy, and then how they stay connected to your brand and influence others.

Your customer’s journey with your brand is the complete sum of their experiences they go through when interacting with your brand and beyond. Annette Franz, director VOC consulting at Confirmit recommends focusing on the entire journey, not solely on individual touchpoints, to yield greater results. “When you consider touchpoints and single moments of truth, you’re focusing on transactional relationships, not on trusted, long-lasting relationships.” 

Franz cites the example of only listening at the customer service touchpoint, “because the customer experience isn’t about just one touchpoint, its about all the touchpoints. Customers don’t think about you in touchpoints, they think about the whole you, the whole experience, so you need to manage the entire experience for better results.”
Transportation services firm Penske evaluates improvement initiatives for customer experience, human resources, IT, marketing, and other groups based on how well they align to customer journeys. Projects get one point if they align to a moment of truth, two points if they align to a pain point, and three points if both. This approach ensures resources, funding, and priority go to efforts that directly affect the customer experience.
Office Depot’s and Wells Fargo’s customer experience teams share customer journey maps with Lean and Six Sigma teams as a way to expand their view of process mapping and bring in some of the emotional attributes that often go overlooked in traditional process mapping efforts.

Make a Map

A customer journey map is a framework that enables you to improve your customer experience. It documents the customer experience through their perspective, helping you better understand how customers are interacting with your brand now and helps you identify areas for improvement in your business moving forward.
Great customer journey maps are routed in data-driven research. It provides the freedom to explore the brutal truths about customers. Rather than relying on business intuition, leadership gut instincts, or the sales driven view of the customer from your people in the field, customer journey mapping helps you navigate tough business decisions with real customer data, testimonials, feedback, etc.
Start with the stages of the customer journey to keep it manageable: awareness, evaluation, consideration, purchase, experience, loyalty, and advocacy. Remember, it isn’t about your goals; it’s about helping your customer achieve his/her goal at each stage.

Awareness – What steps do you need to take to make your customer aware of a need you may be able to fulfill?
Consideration – What key influences and influencers will your customers want to reach out to when considering your product/service against similar products or services?
Evaluation – How user-friendly are the tools you provide your customer as they evaluate your product/service and how aligned are they to ease their decision making process?
Purchase – Is the purchase easy for the customer or easy for you?
Experience – Is their experience with your product or service aligning with the customers expected experience prior to purchase?
Loyalty – Does your customer feel rewarded for their loyalty?
Advocacy – Are you creating opportunities for your raving fans to assist in the consideration of your product or service with new customers?

Five actions to incorporate while customer journey mapping

1. Identify consumer actions, emotions, motivations, behaviors, and questions at each stage along with any barriers beyond your control that may prevent them from moving to the next stage.

2. Identify touchpoints and time frames at each stage–does your customer move through a particular stage quickly. Are you prepared to provide them what they need just as quickly?

3. Think about your teams–who’s involved at what step and who should be talking to whom (and at what stage) to meet the customer’s goals. Customer journey maps break down silos and brings different teams together for a common goal–a happy customer.

4. See it as a living, breathing thing, not set in stone, so don’t get worked up if it changes. Focus less on how pretty it is and more on how valuable it is.

5. Use the language of the customer throughout the map–not marketing, not operations, not leadership. Don’t allow politics to enter the conversations or the process. Your customer journey map is a political-free zone.
A customer journey map benefits nearly every department in your organization by providing insights from the customer perspective to a better brand experience. And the number one benefit for the entire company is it visualizes how to convert end-of customer events into next-path customers (keeping or bringing back customers who would have otherwise departed).

Align Employees and Culture

According to Tony Costa, in Forrester’s Journey Mapping Best Practices (disclaimer: reader must purchase report to read), “As journey maps become embedded in a company’s culture, employee’s attitudes toward organizational design and management will change. Journey maps function as a lens through which employees view their company from the perspective of the customer, cutting through organizational silos and structures. As a result, they force employees to remake organizations in terms of the experiences delivered and not how they are managed or executed. This shift in worldview will raise fundamental questions on how to manage companies, organize people, and define their roles.”
How is this put into practice?
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan exposed thousands of employees to its customers’ experiences by incorporating journey maps into persona rooms.
  • Consumers Energy trained more than 150 new interns on customer journey mapping techniques during its onboarding process and challenged them to put what they learned into action.
  • Capital One puts its journey maps up in conference rooms dedicated to customer experience improvement initiatives, keeping the customer top of mind as teams work to resolve issues.
  • United Healthcare gives poster-sized journey maps to all managers along with cards describing customer goals and issues and instructions on how to use the journey map for improvement projects.
“In the age of the customer, CEOs need to recognize that the design of their organization is not agnostic to the services and products it delivers to customers. They are intricately tied to one another. As such, the CEO will be the chief experience officer in the age of the customer.”
Tony Costa, Forrester

Leap and the Net Will Appear

68% of companies do not consider impact on customer experience for business decisions.

In a recent survey of customer experience professionals, only 32 percent said that their company consistently considers the impact to customer experience as a criterion for making business decisions. So what is the other 68 percent doing? My guess is they are standing so close to the tree evaluating the bark, they haven’t yet considered the tree itself, nor the forest around them.

If you’re part of that 68 percent, today’s the day to step back and consider everything you do to create a customer from the customer’s perspective. Get the hard data (voice of customer, web analytics, voice of employee). Then ask yourself the hard question–the only question that matters: “How long are we going to be around or how long will our customers stick around with this kind of experience?”

Then make things happen, starting with the customer journey and your road map to making customers a priority in your business.