Mapping the Customer Journey

January 1, 2014

Embracing customer experience management is the way to move forward

By David Ward

While marketing executives have always kept a sharp eye on new technology and the way it impacts business, they're now shifting some of their focus, stepping back, and asking one fundamental question: What's it like to be one of our customers? Because without a strong grasp of the brand experience from the customer's perspective, there's no chance of connecting, no hope for providing superlative service, and no way of knowing how well you are fulfilling your brand promise.

Becoming more customer-centric and embracing customer experience management is the way to move forward in an increasingly complex business landscape. So how are forward-thinking marketers jump-starting such a strategy? This is where a critical tool comes into play: the customer journey map.

"A customer journey map provides a holistic view of the customer experience you're trying to create at each touch point the customer has with your company, from initial brand awareness all the way through purchase and beyond," explains Randall Stone, director of experience innovation at global strategy and design firm Lippincott.

In effect, by forcing you to walk in your customers' shoes as they interact step by step with your company, customer journey mapping lets you see how well you meet customer desires and expectations, and where there is opportunity for improvement.

"We've found that mapping out our customers' experience helps us gain greater insight into their needs, objectives, perceptions, and motivations," explains John Dillon, vice president of marketing for Denny's. "[This] enables us to highlight opportunities for product differentiation, identify any issues during the purchase process, and ensure that all our marketing efforts incorporate tactics that influence customers during their decision making. Ultimately, the better we understand the customer experience, the more we please guests in our restaurants and increase sales and profits for our brand."

In journey mapping, beginning with the end in mind will define the path for getting there.

Every Touch Point Is An Opportunity

The "ah-ha" moment for many marketers in assembling the customer journey map is when they see — in blueprint form — that every touch point is an opportunity to provide a positive brand impression and gain further insight into the desires and needs of their customers.

"We call [our map] the travel ribbon," says Tim Mapes, Delta's senior vice president of marketing. "It essentially tracks every touch point with Delta customers around the world."

Carrying 165 million passengers annually, Delta has billions of customer touch points, beginning from the time the traveler books his or her flight, through check in at the airport, through onboard travel to follow-up communications via Delta SkyMiles loyalty program. Mapes says, "Given Delta's deep focus on customers, and our knowledge of what drives their choices, we focus on 'moments of truth' during their interactions and experience with Delta. We've deployed research to do just about everything, including monitoring people's heart rates to determine where they face the most stress in the travel experience, so we can develop products and services designed to address those moments of truth.

"It's using data and it's using customer input and an enormous amount of advanced analytics to determine what customers value most so Delta can better meet those elements of the customer experience."

One result of the airline's customer journey map is the development of the Delta Sky Priority boarding system, designed so that the highest value and more frequent travelers are whisked on board first. That focus on the high value traveler is also seen at the conclusion of travel.

Branding has truly become a collaborative effort between companies and their customers, and as Lippincott's Stone notes, the customer journey map helps companies better understand how their brand image is not nearly as static as they may have thought.

"A customer journey map can really help companies create a vision of the whole experience to find unique moments to accentuate," he says.

A Consumer-Centric Focus

One of the major advantages of designing a customer journey map is that it helps keep every department and every employee laser-focused on the customer and on how their own contributions are impacting the consumer experience, no matter what else is going on organizationally at the company.

Delta Air Lines is a great example. Following its emergence from bankruptcy protection in the middle of the last decade, the Atlanta-based airline created a customer journey map that drove it to boost its brand reputation, even as it executed one of the largest mergers in aviation history by joining forces with smaller rival Northwest.

When the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland created its first customer journey map, it was part of an organization-wide effort to improve the patient experience that included the establishment of its first Office of Patient Experience and the appointment of a physician, Dr. James Merlino, as chief patient experience officer.

Merlino now oversees an ongoing effort to ensure that the hospital's more than 40,000 employees — from janitors and cafeteria cooks to nurses and surgeons — view their work from a patient perspective. "We try to focus on things that impact the journey of all patients, because foundationally if you build those things appropriately, whatever touch point the patient hits you at, they're going to receive consistent experience and care," he says.

Not only does the world-renowned medical center now post charts on a variety of patient experience metrics on every floor for every employee to see, but a "patients first" focus has led to actual policy changes, including, for example, a heightened emphasis on keeping every emergency room patient fully informed while they wait for treatment. "That simple, single change led to a significant improvement in how patients viewed their experience," Merlino says.

Delta's Mapes suggests that a customer journey map ensures that measuring and improving the customer experience becomes more than just a one-off or short-term project.

"We actually have a group called the customer experience team that meets about every week or so and includes the senior vice presidents of every area that touches the customer, so flight attendants, reservation/sales, marketing, and a host of other areas across the company," he says. "That way we're constantly aligned and mutually focused to keep the customer at the forefront."

A well-executed customer journey map can also take a lot of the guesswork out of understanding both the customer and the holistic experience. When AMA Insurance, a subsidiary of the American Medical Association that provides insurance for doctors, designed its customer journey map, it discovered a few misconceptions it had about its highly educated target audience.

"Back in 2010, we undertook a major rebranding initiative and as part of that we did a lot of research and focus groups to try to tease out the customer perspective of interacting with our brand," explains Chris Burke, president of AMA Insurance. "What we found out mapping our customer journey was that these physicians wanted vetted information and products from companies that understood physicians a great deal — and they also wanted products and services customized for them."

Following these physicians along their path to purchase, notes Burke, helped shed light on the fact that many of these doctors were not as financially sophisticated or as inherently business smart as we may have thought. "They're brilliant people and the amount of knowledge they have to keep up on in their practice of medicine and the business of medicine is just tremendous," he says. "But business and financial matters are not their deal, so we learned that we have to speak with them pretty plainly. We also learned to play to our key truth points, which is that AMA Insurance leverages that we market to a group that includes a million doctors, that we're strictly focused on physicians and that we have a national reach. And those three words — leverage, focus, reach — are what you now see emphasized in our brand advertising."

Mapping the Qualitative and the Quantitative

Given the sheer volume of big data now available to most marketers and C-suite executives, some companies may automatically assume that quantitative data alone can provide all they need to accurately map their customer's journey and measure their experience.

Forrester analyst Megan Burns, who focuses on customer experience, stresses, however, that the customer experience cannot strictly be gauged with just data and analytics.

"The truth of the matter is customer service quality is always subjective and any measure of customer service quality, whether that's offline or online, comes from the customer's perception of their interaction with a company," she explains. "That means you need to ask the customer with surveys how they perceived the interaction with the brand."

"One of the most important things we learned is how to better pay attention to the customer," Cleveland Clinic's Merlino says. "As health-care providers, especially physicians and nurses, we're very good at standing at the edge of the bed and telling patients exactly what they need. But we don't often listen to the patients to find out what they need — so something we've taken from the business world is to have much more specialized deep dive surveys to understand that patient's perspective."

That deep dive includes not just surveys but focus groups and other tools, Merlino points out, adding, "Achieving a patient-centered organization is not only talking about it, it's about investing in ways to develop the strategies and tactics to deliver on it."

Mapping the customer experience — and his or her perception of that journey to purchase — gets more challenging if the bulk of that experience is offline, such as in a store or restaurant.

But, Burns notes, "There are now tools and technologies that companies are using to measure that offline experience in a more systematic way — everything from loyalty cards that track what people actually purchased to self-scanning tools to see what people were scanning and then taking off of their shopping list. There are also ways to design surveys to get the customer's real perception of their experience."

There is no one-size-fits-all format for creating a customer journey map, and Lippincott's Stone suggests organizations need to be flexible and creative in figuring out the best combination of insights, data, and visuals that accurately portray the customer experience.

"For some clients, we've created a Flip Book, which is an interactive digital version of the customer journey so people can more easily take in what their customers are experiencing," he adds. "Remember everyone has their day jobs, but the experience is the sum of individual tasks and visions. So you want the map to allow everyone to step back and look at things from the customer's point of view."

Jeofrey Bean, principal at Southern California–based Del Mar Research and Consulting as well as co-author, along with Sean Van Tyne, of The Customer Experience Revolution: How Companies like Apple, Amazon, and Starbucks Have Changed Business Forever, also warns companies against turning customer journey mapping into some sort of organizational exercise.

"People experience your company much differently than how your company is structured," he explains. "So not only do you have to include both the qualitative and quantitative metrics that directly related to customer experience, you have to make sure that individual departments stay focused not on what they're making individually but how their work fits in with all the other pieces that make up the customer experience."

Marketing's Role: Delivering on a Promise

Marketers may assume that the customer journey map is all about customer service and has little to do with the marketer's primary role of generating brand awareness and driving demand.

But as Forrester's Burns explains, "We often talk about customer experience as a combination of making promises and keeping promises — and it's the marketing and advertising departments that are defining what promises the companies are making. That way the rest of the organization can use those promises as guiding points to know what they need to be delivering as part of the customer experience."

Delta's Mapes agrees, adding, "What we try to do is capture the truth and then tell that well. And we do that by using marketing to provide an authentic, accurate depiction of Delta's true intent in terms of always having the customer's back by providing a level of service that they will find different, special, and better than any other airline."

In addition to establishing expectations about a brand journey, Paul Matsten, chief marketing officer at the Cleveland Clinic, also suggests that marketing and communications should play an active role in shaping the customer experience.

"We've learned through this process the importance of engaging with our community and our patients and so we're adding new tools, such as live chat functionality, into our website," he explains. "We're also doing the same thing with social media, engaging with customers on a daily basis with information on how to be well and responding to customers' specific needs."

Lippincott's Stone also notes that the right marketing and messaging at the right touch points along the customer journey can serve to reinforce the positive aspects of the brand, while marketing after the customer journey reassures the customer that they've made the right choice after purchase, which can play a role in driving subsequent repurchases.

Stone emphasizes that great brands and great customer experiences are really two sides of the same coin.

"If you think of a great brand, some sort of fundamental customer experience is an important part of that," he says. "I can't think of a great brand that has a lousy customer experience."


"Mapping the Customer Journey." David Ward. ANA Magazine Spotlight. January 2014.

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