Following Journey Mapping's Future Path

Journey mapping has evolved from the 'war-room,' Post-it covered walls days into essential, visionary tools that organizations are centering in the middle of their customer experience strategies.
Customer Experience

Most brands now recognize that the average consumer bounces from channel to channel like they're reading an intricate "choose your own adventure" novel. Therefore, as companies grapple with how to revamp the old and usher in the new, many are reacquainting themselves with customer journey mapping in an effort to understand behavior in modern contexts.

While customer journey mapping was once seen as an ideal tool for pinpointing customer experience problems, more and more companies are putting journey mapping at the center of their ongoing development strategies. Rather than trying to fix processes that aren't customer-centric, businesses now put the customer at the center of the planning process at the onset to increase engagement internally and externally, as such methods impact both employee and customer perceptions.

Nancy Porte, vice president of customer experience for Verint, says, "Initially, customer journey mapping was used to 'find and fix' issues in delivering high-quality customer experiences. As the program matures, customer journey maps can often be used instead to develop and plan new service and experience programs and strategies. There are two ways to design the process. Organizations can document their current state, develop the vision for existing processes, and perform a gap analysis to determine next steps, or they can start with the vision state and develop programs from the very beginning with the customer in mind. The second approach is more proactive as it begins with customer needs."

By overlaying existing journeys with today's vast wealth of data, companies can also provide statistically prioritized views of where improvement efforts should be focused, says Lee Mostari, director of customer transformation at NICE Systems. Journey maps allow teams to make the case for change, for they can demonstrate how experience can be improved upon and predict the subsequent impact of such changes in order to obtain business approval, budget, and resources. Yet, while so many companies are in a race to advance their customer strategies and create new pathways for engagement, most remain at the starting line when it comes to customer journey mapping.

"While the days of customer journey mapping in 'war rooms' with Post-It covered walls has evolved, customer journey mapping is still a relatively novel concept for most companies," says Jeff Thompson, senior vice president of product management at LiveOps. "Today, it has evolved past the Post-It stage to become a little more scientific, especially for larger organizations that are able to incorporate analytics technologies to help provide process insight from the great swathes of recorded data that they hold. That being said, many are still only beginning to dip their toes into going through the formal, comprehensive exercise of mapping all the steps, stages, and various touchpoints that their customers encounter."

Over the years, the concept of customer journey mapping has slowly gained more acceptance, as businesses are beginning to recognize the value such strategies bring when trying to develop more holistic, consistent customer experiences. In fact, Thompson notes that journey mapping may be the most crucial step in realizing that vision, as such guides enable everyone across the company to work from the same playbook on how to approach customer service by examining an array of fundamental questions:

  • How are our customers reaching us?
  • How do they feel at various touchpoints?
  • Why are they choosing one point of contact over another?
  • How are we responding during these interactions?

Doing so helps the given brand identify gaps within their current processes, whether departmental or channel, and ways in which these holes may be negatively impacting experience. Ultimately, companies can no longer wait to analyze issues after the event, as customer journeys are not fixed and based solely on historical behavior. Today, more than ever, experiences are based on real-time events, making it increasingly critical to spot behavioral patterns that indicate potential problems, such as impending cart abandonment, so marketers and service agents can proactively intervene and preempt these decisions in their pursuit of the ideal outcome. One recent Forrester Research report notes that companies must implement the correct governance model according to their efforts, as leaders must maintain accountability, prioritization, and sustainability across all departments involved.

Customers seek brands that understand their journeys and offer improved experiences, as anticipating expectations and aligning business processes and technologies across departments to meet consumer needs serves as the prime differentiator in any industry. Therefore, companies must address every stage of consumer behavior-awareness, consideration, purchase, service, and loyalty-to break down silos and determine which elements truly need work.

The Importance of Employee Input

While customer journey mapping enables the entire enterprise to bring improved, consistent experiences to the customer, such tools also offer employees a shared language and reference point that enables them to better align with consumer expectations, thereby bringing overall customer experience to the next level.

"Virtually every employee understands that, without customers, the company will cease to exist, but most employees don't interact with those customers, so their role in recruiting and retaining those customers is unclear," explains Johann Wrede, SAP customer engagement solutions, global senior director, solution marketing. "When done right, a customer journey map can be tied back to every job in the business, helping employees understand how their actions impact the customer's experience. This makes customer service tangible for each employee, which facilitates better brand relationships and more personalized interactions."

Journey mapping stands to become both an educational and collaborative tool, for employee involvement allows everyone across the organization to gain better understanding of the customer experience and add to this wealth of knowledge, as well. By incorporating employee input into every step throughout the mapping process, all roles within the enterprise become more effective. Marketers become more informative, salespeople become more influential, and service representatives become more proactive. Even IT can better identify the gaps in their brand's technology strategy in order to formulate the rationale for investment in innovation that'll drive overall revenue.

"By involving employees in the mapping process, or turning maps into training tools, companies can foster greater understanding about how their roles impact customers, and what they can do to deliver better customer experiences," says Sam Stern, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "That creates the basis for companies to empower employees to start to deliver more customized, even personalized, experiences that meet customers' needs more specifically. Understanding from the mapping or sharing of maps, and the empowerment to customize experiences, contributes to more engaged employees."

Nancy Porte, vice president of customer experience for Verint, emphasizes that employee engagement emerges as the byproduct of asking individuals across an organization to be involved in mapping the current customer journey, for developing the desired or future state of customer experience empowers both customer-facing and customer-impacting employees to take responsibility for their actions. Employees bring value to every phase of the process, and having their ideas weaved into the final product causes each to experience more ownership in the results. Thus, the process becomes better because of their involvement, as employees will likely become advocates for the new process because they were part of its creation and can now see how the brand promise comes to life through customer experience.

The Future of Technology's Influence

As technology continues to generate twists and turns throughout the customer journey, companies may need to alter their engagement strategies in an effort to reach customers where they work and play. From mobile devices, to the Internet of Things, emerging technologies will play an integral role in how companies map the increasingly erratic customer journey and approach customer engagement strategy.

"Mobile devices and the Internet of Things are adding another level of complexity to customer journey mapping, requiring organizations to determine: When and where do our customers like to consume what information, and in what channels?" Bob Egner, vice president of product management and marketing at EPiServer, highlights. "These new devices also offer new sources of behavioral information that are key to marketers, such as new ways to signal purchase intent. If I'm wearing a Nike Fuel Band, for example, when I walk past an exciting display, and my heart rate rises, might that signal an advertiser to send me an attractive offer to induce me to move forward with a purchase? Sounds a little like 'Minority Report', but the technology is available to offer those types of experiences today."

Overall, two particular elements will have the greatest impact on technology's influence over journey mapping:

Big Data Insights: Customer data remains one of most important assets of any company, yet most don't have mechanisms in place to obtain full value. Brands struggle to analyze and extract actionable insights and trends. However, as time progresses, more and more companies will begin to build experiences around conclusive data and evidence rather than assumptions, so they may optimize and personalize experiences through meaningful and relevant interactions. Ultimately, companies must cater to the demographic of one by offering every customer personalized experiences based on their individual needs and preferences, for no two journeys are alike. Big Data will enable brands to gather granular information that facilitates these individualized efforts.

Location-Based Services: Consumers have come to expect personalization. Thus, customers expect companies to know them and meet their specific needs with personalized service. Yet, while an accurate profile can pinpoint preferences, history, and recent activity, brands must move to the next level of insight and embrace context to understand how the customer's physical location and device may impact their propensity to purchase. Companies will actively explore how to incorporate location-based services into their customer service efforts to differentiate themselves with superior customer experience. Location can indicate very different service needs, so offering the right type of customer support as it pertains to their exact location at the exact moment needed will boost their competitive advantage.

However, no matter what route companies choose to take to interact with a brand, leaders must ensure that technology investments don't create the very organizational silos they're trying to eliminate. Such missteps can open the brand to a world of discontinuity in customer experience, as varied messages within different channels lead to distrust and confusion. Companies must make sure all departments and all technologies work together as force multipliers for seamless multichannel experiences and consistency throughout the customer journey.