Why You Shouldn’t Skip Journey Mapping

It is still the most reliable place to start if you really want to improve your customer’s experience

Journey mapping might seem a bit cliché now that everyone is talking about it, but it is still the most reliable place to start if you really want to improve your customer’s experience.

I recently spoke to a group of leaders who serve at Chicago cultural institutions. I planned to use my time to introduce some core CX Design practices that I have seen transform organizations. As I prepared, I made the decision to leave the practice of Journey Mapping out in the interest of time and because I assumed most of these organizations had already engaged in some type of mapping exercise.

In hindsight, my intentional omission was a mistake. I found that out when I asked the crowd how many of them had done journey mapping for their members and almost none of them raised their hands. I shouldn’t have skipped Journey Mapping. And neither should you. Here’s why:

Reason One: Journey Mapping is the most reliable way to gain a true Outside-In perspective of your customer.

The relentless quest for efficiency that has dominated business practice in our time has yielded tremendous results in many organizations. Unfortunately, this focus has also resulted in the proliferation of organizations that are highly adept at the continuous improvement of internal processes but largely ignorant about how their customers experience those processes. Customer Journey Mapping addresses this unintended consequence by redirecting the collective attention of an organization from internal processes to the experience of the customer.

How does the mapping exercise accomplish this? The Customer Journey Mapping process begins with interviews of customers from one customer segment that is selected in advance. Surprisingly, five to ten interviews are usually a sufficient sample size to get started. Interviewers listen carefully to each customer tell the story of their interaction with the organization.

In the interviews, we find a technique from the design world called guided storytelling to be a reliable method for dialing in to the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the customer. Interviewers listen closely to the parts of the story where the customer journey breaks down while also paying attention to the complex of motivations that move customers from one stage of the journey to the next.

An example of a rough Customer Journey Map highlighting customer thoughts, feelings, actions, touchpoints, channels, and opportunities.

After the interviews are finished, they are carefully analyzed for repeating themes and those themes are captured on a large wall with stickies. When the thoughts, feelings, actions, touchpoints, and channels for each stage of the customer journey are placed on the wall it becomes possible (for the first time) for leaders to visualize the customer journey and hold it still long enough to see where they need to focus their attention.

It is difficult to overstate how significant it is for groups to be able to see an accurate visualization of their customer journey. The experience is often a magnification of that feeling leaders get when they do a “brain dump” and get every task they need to do for every project they are working on out of their brain and onto a piece of paper.

Researchers call this practice “distributed cognition” because it facilitates the retrieval of all the relevant understanding about the customer journey from everyone’s mind and distributes it into the physical environment (a wall with stickies on it) so that everyone in the room can interact with it at the same time.

Reason Two: Journey Mapping creates the possibilty for alignment in silo-ed organizations

When organizations commit to mapping their customer journey, leaders of departments who have become silo-ed through hyper-focus on improving the processes within their purview are suddenly able to see how their part of the journey impact all of the other parts. We often find that breakdowns in the latter part of the customer journey can only be solved by addressing an issue that is created in an earlier part of the journey.

Without engaging in the process of mapping, silo-ed leaders aren’t able to really see how what they do impacts all of the other parts of the journey. Throughout the mapping exercise, the true experience of your customer becomes the organizing principle upon which valuable customer experience improvement strategies can be built.

Reason Three: Journey Mapping redirects the organization’s attention to what really matters

Before we begin the mapping exercise with our clients, we have several conversations with them about their most pressing customer experience issues. Clients normally come to us when they begin to perceive breakdowns in their customer’s experience that are producing frustration and impacting the bottom line. For most of our clients, there is a pressing “presenting issue” they want to address.

When we begin the mapping process, our team is particularly focused on listening for how customer’s are experiencing the part of the journey that prompted our clients to come to us in the first place, but we are always surprised by how often the “big customer experience issue” that our clients are focused on is actually a non-issue to the customers. More often than not, customers are frustrated about a part of the journey that has never occurred to the organization.

We were recently brought in to an organization that was very concerned about a heavy amount of paperwork that needed to be completed by applicants to their program. They were worried that their customers were frustrated by the paperwork and they were totally convinced that this was the area of the customer journey that they needed to focus on improving.

Detail from our map

After a robust set of interviews with their customers, we were able to come back to them with the word that there wasn’t a single mention of burdensome paperwork in any interview. Customers didn’t seem to care about the paperwork at all. They saw it as a necessary step to getting where they needed to go.

Armed with this new understanding, the organization was able to redirect the resources they might have directed to digitizing the paperwork (a substantial investment!) to other more pressing issues. If they had gone with their collective intuition, they would have missed the mark and spent a lot of time and effort on something their customers didn’t care about at all.

These are the kinds of powerful, strategy-creating insights that we observe every time we do a mapping exercise. That’s why I won’t ever skip over mapping again. That’s why you shouldn’t skip over it either.

If you’d like to talk about exploring what it would look like to start the practice of Customer Journey Mapping in your organization, we lead introductory workshops in Chicago and Indianapolis every month. You can find information about those workshops here. We also help organizations all over the U.S. and you can find information about how to get started on our website.