There was a big push several years ago to imbue marketing with more storytelling, given how central storytelling is to the way that humans communicate and understand their world. At the same time, there was a recognition that, thanks to technology that allowed an unprecedented level of data analysis and personalization, power had shifted –permanently — from organizations to purchasers. One of the legacies of this push was the technique called customer journey mapping.
Customer journey mapping allows organizations to better understand what the process of interacting with a brand is like:
- from the customer’s perspective
- over time
- across multiple types of interactions
- in a visual format
The technique seems strange to traditional marketers but I’ve worked with some amazing teams who did an amazing job of quickly understanding the process and then owning the implementation enough that I, their in-house consultant felt unnecessary (in a good way). As a result, they improved not just their marketing but all their entire client-facing teams. I literally made them poster children to other teams to show how easy and useful this was.
These early adopters realized that, once they understand the customer’s typical journey, the brand team can improve the process to better meet the buyer’s needs and wants while also achieving the goal the organization has in mind. They improve the process by identifying and filling gaps, removing obstacles, preventing problems by addressing a situation earlier in the process, re-orienting the brand’s thinking around the interaction or process, and other, similar ways.
The goal of the client journey mapping process is to generate a mutually satisfactory business relationship between the buyer (whose needs are met) and the organization (which gets revenue). Because of the improved business results organizations have had with this technique in key metrics, many organizations use this technique and its related elements (such as using personas) as part of a marketing transformation towards customer-centricity. In fact, 86% of senior-level marketers agree that it’s critical to create a cohesive customer journey, according to a report from Salesforce and LinkedIn. This may have something to do with the plethora of numbers citing how much client journey mapping improves key business goals, such as increasing retention and likelihood to recommend while reducing cost to serve and so on.
You can journey map any portion of the buyer’s interaction with a brand. For example:
- The support team can map how a support ticket gets resolved and increase customer satisfaction with the process – or even proactively post content about the issue in product packaging so a support ticket is never created.
- The product development team can map out how the user interacts with their product so they know what features are most valuable and determine what else might be of value to the user.
- The marketing team can map the process that leads to a purchase so that they can make the process move more quickly and efficiently for the buyer, hopefully building loyalty and repeat business from the customer. This is the type of customer journey map I’ll be talking about going forward.
The best way to create a journey map is to pull together representatives of all client-facing teams and those who create client-facing materials. Start with marketing people who have or will be working on the campaign for this target buyer. Add sales people who have or will receive marketing leads for campaigns to this target buyer. Locate experts in the product/service you are pitching, support team members, external relations (i.e., media relations, analyst relations, community relations, etc.), any customer success or customer references team members, and any other client-facing roles you may have.
Too often, though, marketing team members in large organizations don’t know their counterparts in those other teams. Take the time to find them. You want a wide cross-section of other teams because everyone has a piece of the picture that change the overall image of the buyer when they’re put together. At the same time, other parts of the organizations have to have the same understanding of the buyer and the journey she is undertaking so that the organization’s response can be consistent at the very least and, ideally, well-coordinated.
When I do journey mapping sessions, I like to gather the combined group in live journey mapping workshops. However, I’ve also done virtual journey mapping sessions for teams who can’t travel and just tackled one or two steps in the process at a time, in 2-hour chunks, until we were done. In either case, the key elements are the same.
I ask on member of the group to study the target buyer persona in advance so that, if we diverge from what the research says about the buyer, he can bring us back to reality. I could easily do this myself but I feel that it’s always better to give participants ownership and develop expertise within the group so they can catch the fish for themselves in future.
However, be sure that everyone is clear on the demographics of your target person. For example, is this a repeat buyer (a.k.a., part of the installed base) or a prospective buyer (a.k.a., a prospect or in the “white space”)? Does the persona have industry segmentation to it, such as Chief Financial Officer for the medical industry), or does the role not vary significantly by industry? Is there any geographical specificity to the persona, given journeys vary based on regional differences, such as greater use of mobile devices in some parts of the world?
Once all that is set, I walk the group through the stages of the buying cycle to ensure common understanding of the section(s) of the consideration process we’re reviewing. I make sure to call out any implications of that stage (i.e., at the awareness stage, it’s inappropriate to push features of your product/service). Often, I’ll also have requested that a person in the group to have read up on the stages of the buying cycle so he can chime in if the group gets off track.
One of the key elements that needs to be addressed in the process is finding “moments of truth.” Moments of truth can be positive or negative. On the positive side, the buyer might realize that your service will help them address future issues they had not even considered, putting you far ahead of your competitors in their eyes. On the negative side, they are places in the journey where things slow down or grind to a halt because of an unpleasant experience.
In one journey mapping session, the sale reps highlighted the client’s need for material early in the process to prove the product’s compliance with legal requirements. They identified this as a negative moment of truth in that the buyer was not going to move forward with consideration of the brand’s product without this information.
The sales team could provide documentation to prove compliance but many potential purchasers never completed the process to the point where they spoke to a sales rep. They removed the brand from consideration at an earlier step in the process and the organization lost a potential sale because marketing didn’t realize that this was a make-or-break moment for the buyer. Obviously, part of the action plan after the journey mapping session was to integrate the compliance information widely in earlier stages of the journey.
This is an example of how moments of truth, whether positive or negative, represent opportunities for the organization to build upon success or correct potential disasters. Hunting for these moments of truth is also an excellent way to note the emotional highs and lows along the journey.
The emotional component of journey mapping – and the related psychographic elements of creating a persona – harkens back to the origins of the customer-centricity movement. As you might have guessed, though, the shift towards hard data has caused many organizations to downplay the emotional component in modern iterations of the journey mapping process.
However, reducing the number of negative emotions a buyer experiences with your brand – such as frustration and confusion when looking for compliance information – will go a long way towards building a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with your customer so don’t skip it.
One way to extrapolate emotions along the journey is actually to look at the data. For example, website data that shows lots of clicks in a short period of time might indicate an inability to find what the customer was searching for. That’s why it really helps if at least one person in the group has a solid understanding of the performance metrics for your content and tactics.
One thing to note across the journey is the role that influencers play in the process. While you may have chosen your target buyer based on ownership of the decision-making and implementation process, there are other roles in the organization who have a say. For example, the primary persona may have to get the CFO’s approval to secure the needed funds or get IT approval for new technology.
You need to address the concerns of these other roles and how they want to receive their information and provide the primary persona with whatever is required to secure agreement from these influencers. Think of it as a sort of a mini-journey all on its own. The only difference is that you are weaving this mini-journey into the journey of the primary persona.
I don’t recommend a group try customer journey mapping on their own the first time they do it. It’s too easy to take shortcuts and not understand the ramifications of doing so. Find a facilitator who has trained in this area. You can do so by searching for members of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA) or asking consulting firms that specialize in journey mapping. If you have a lot of products and marketing campaigns, it makes sense to actually develop this expertise in-house, as we did at my current employer (now you know why I do so many workshops and trainings!).
Comments welcome, especially if you have some examples of your organization’s experiences with customer journey mapping.