Designing customer journeys you can operationalise

by Abhik Sengupta


 

Customer journey mapping is certainly the flavour of the month. However, while the point of journey maps is for them to be intuitive and clear, organisations often get next to no commercial value out of them. The mere act of understanding and mapping an aspirational customer journey can give the illusion of action, but the real value comes from being able to drive operational change. We interviewed Abhik Sengupta, Executive Director of Client Solutions, to understand how organisations can get the most out of this process.

Abhik, you have seen many organisations struggle to fully understand their customers. In your experience, what typically goes wrong in the customer journey mapping process?

Journey maps are good for bringing customers to life, and a great change management tool, but the real power of them is when you ask ‘so what?’. The reason that most organisations rarely translate their beautiful journey maps into reality is because it’s incredibly hard to do! By its very nature a customer journey is aspirational and ambitious, which is at odds with the messiness of the real world.  

The purpose of a customer journey map is to shift an organisation’s thinking – to move beyond strategy and bring the customer to life. But in many cases, this remains purely theoretical, because it doesn’t go deep enough to communicate what needs to change within the organisation to bring that aspirational customer experience to life. What we have typically seen is a failure to focus on the crucial question “what do we need to do differently to make this real ?”
 
Would you recommend mapping the current state journey and then comparing it to your aspirational future journey, or is it better just to design the future state?

Journey maps can be useful to understand current customer experience and sentiment.  However, I see limited value in doing ‘current state’ or ‘here’s how it currently looks’ journey mapping.  You have to start with your customers’ expectations and map out what ‘great’ looks like. Capturing that aspirational future experience gives you a vision for the whole organisation to rally around.  You can then map your internal capabilities and get a view of where there are capability gaps  that need to be bridged.
 
There are a wide range of approaches to customer journey mapping. What is one common customer journey myth that you want to dispel?

That you can get value from focusing on a single interaction, product or touchpoint, rather than the whole journey end to end. The journey starts the moment the customer has the need, not the moment they fill out your web form. This myth is particularly pernicious because it immediately narrows the scope and makes the thinking “inside out” and product-centric rather than “outside in” and customer-centric.

Could you provide one particular example of where you’ve seen this happen?

All the banks are really getting into customer journeys.  One organisation I can think of spent a mini-fortune designing detailed product journeys starting at the point when the customer has applied for the product.  These journeys were useful in sorting out some low-level operational issues and customer pain points, but provided no insight on customer engagement and acquisition and didn’t challenge the end-to-end experience in any way.  Most importantly it didn’t encourage the organisation to think deeply from the perspective of the customer and reimagine how they might engage with the bank in a fundamentally different way.

Instead of starting inside-out, it would have been better to go outside-in. That’s what allows you to spend your limited investment dollars, management focus and change capacity on moments that truly matter to customers.

What do you believe organisations can learn from this example?

Firstly, that customer journeys are great, but they are often built in a vacuum with limited connection to the commercial problem they are trying to solve. They also often go too narrow, being built from an “inside-out” view rather than by understanding the customer. Without interacting with and understanding the customer, people struggle to think of a different approach or challenge themselves to operate differently. Part of validating a journey with your customer is really getting to the bottom of what they value and actually understanding what matters to them. There are things you simply have to do because of the nature of the market or the product, but then there are others that customers really value. Understanding the difference will help you to decide which elements of internal capability you need to prioritise, in order to create engaging experiences at those “moments that matter”.

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