A while ago, a member of my client’s head office asked me to walk her through the process of creating a customer journey to use internally with her team.
During the past few months, we have created a new customer journey for this client, a global car manufacturer. She was involved in some meetings to validate and fine-tune the customer journey and wanted to leverage its potential with her team. After walking her through what we had done, the logic behind it, and how people can use it depending on the stakeholder, she asked if I could provide a customer journey template. I gave her a few examples; however, I mentioned I don’t usually use templates, and I take a hybrid approach when I do.
What is my starting point, my must-haves, my rules of thumb? I want to explore good practices in building a robust customer journey in this blog.
Journeys and customer experience
With the ubiquity of digital technologies where customers are empowered to (and actively do) respond to brands, companies are working hard to understand and anticipate their next move and “provide what they need when they need it as they navigate the decision journey from consideration to purchase.” However, customer journeys are not limited to a purchase process. Organizations from all sectors are leveraging its potential: big corporations, startups, government institutions, NGOs, and many others are adopting this tool to better understand their customer (or patient or internal client) in an appetite for innovation as a source for increasing revenue and brand equity, and to provide customers with newer and better products, services, processes or experiences.
According to a Walker study, by 2020, customer experience would’ve overtaken price and product as the key brand differentiator, which has been enhanced by the possibility of customers to express their feelings and concerns about brands globally. Along with these needs came an army of consultants with various backgrounds selling expertise in design and innovation. Soon, almost every consultancy firm, design-related or not, started selling an innovation toolkit that included a form of customer journey mapping. Countless firms and agencies provide this service for others, and many have developed a “proven” system or methodology that they replicate everywhere.The problem with some of these systems or methodologies is that they have become a one-size-fits-all approach. With that approach, many relevant aspects of your situation will likely be missing.
The use of templates
If you Google “customer journey templates,” you can find hundreds of examples together with step-by-step guides and how-to’s that try to build a standard or a “right way” to create a customer journey. These templates often oversimplify the variables and fail to represent all the elements that compose a real-life customer journey.
Frequently, these templates and the resulting journeys only take into account the company’s perspective and the aspects that affect them directly, leaving out a significant part of how the journey looks for the customer. For example, a car manufacturer can map a customer journey that begins when the customer first engages with the brand and ends with the last maintenance service provided throughout the product life cycle.
In this case, the car manufacturer is leaving out why the client is looking for a new car: a baby is on the way, they are moving to a rural area, they are starting a home business, or their current car is too old, etc. The car manufacturer can consider such factors to provide more personalized services.
Their starting point will depend on their awareness of brands and perception of product portfolio, quality, and price range. Also, the customer journey doesn’t end once the customer buys the car. Connected vehicles represent new business opportunities that automotive companies can leverage, opening new channels to create more powerful and personalized customer journeys.
It is common to see templates and examples of journeys that look alike, with linear events that happen seamlessly between different touchpoints. They often overlook emotions and thought that customers might be experiencing in each moment of the journey. The journey is a projection of how companies want to look rather than how the customer experiences them. In short, templates are an idealistic version of the customer experience instead of representing their reality.
A hybrid approach
Even though using a template can leave out critical aspects of your target audience, there is a structure that you can re-use on most journeys. Using templates wisely can speed up specific processes where you have consistent input and expected outputs. Templates might be a good starting point, but they are not an ultimate formula. Make sure you add the necessary layers to anticipate and meet your customer’s demands.
Every company has specific questions they want to answer and difficulties they need to tackle. The length of the end-to-end journey, the details on each step, the stages, and the design in general, should work towards answering those requirements. Journeys are not a magic formula for understanding your customer; it is instead a tool for mapping and organizing that information. Organizations need to analyze and identify issues and opportunities for growth according to what they have (or lack) as a company.
Understanding a customer journey
Building a customer journey that aligns with the specific needs of your target audience while meeting your business goals requires understanding its anatomy. Here, we examine the components of a customer journey:
- Stages: Also called phases, stages divide the journey. Each stage has a particular goal necessary to complete the journey. They should contain several steps or actions that help achieve that goal. For example, if a customer is on the journey to buying a house, a stage can be “comparing and choosing” whose ultimate goal is to select a property.
- Customer Actions: Customer jobs, steps, moments, etc. A customer must complete these actions to progress in their path and complete a stage. In most cases, actions are non-linear, meaning customers can repeatedly return to a previous step. In the buying a house example journey, steps or actions to reach the stage “comparing and choosing” could be “going online to search for houses,” “visiting preferred neighborhoods,” “talking to a realtor,” “looking for properties in the newspaper,” “pre-select properties within my budget,” etc.
- Emotional route: The roller coaster of emotions customers feel when experiencing any journey. This piece of information is frequently overlooked, and it is perhaps the most relevant for customers. Emotions are “complex reaction patterns, involving experiential, behavioral, and physiological elements” which are crucial in our recollection of an experience. They influence decisions and prevent us from repeating unpleasant events. Assigning a single emotion to each action in a customer journey is not recommended as different emotions can coexist. We can feel excited about the possibility of buying a dream home but worried about being able to afford it and pressured by the realtor to close the deal.
- Needs: What the customer is looking for when performing a particular action. It is essential to mention that needs and wants are different things. Needs are vital for you as a person and critical for making decisions. Wants are closer to the realm of “nice to have,” but they also significantly influence decision-making. Each action exists to meet a particular need or set of needs. If we think about the “making appointments for viewing properties” action, the needs behind it can be “to be reassured about the state of the house and neighborhood,” “to feel confident about the offer being real and not a scam,” “to validate size and measurements first hand,” etc.
- Pain points: Those moments in the journey where the customer’s needs are unmet and emotions are predominantly negative. Some of these pain points are the responsibility of the company providing the product or service (difficulty in booking appointments for viewing houses, pushy realtors, etc.), while others are out of their control (the amount of legal paperwork and documentation needed to buy a house). Whether the company is directly responsible for negative experiences, all of them are crucial in the decision-making process. Mapping these pain points can help companies improve stages along the customer journey they are in control of, mitigate negative experiences that might be out of their reach, and facilitate the overall process.
Optional parts of a Customer Journey
- Drivers. Drivers are related to the customers’ wants and the aspects and motivations influencing a decision. Drivers go beyond the need and more into the “falling in love” category. I need a flat, but I would love it if it were on a high floor with a nice view. I need a kitchen, but I would love an open kitchen with an island. I need a living room, but I would love one with a fireplace. Understanding drivers is a powerful tool to tilt the scale.
- Barriers: Complementary to pain points but to a less ‘painful extent,’ barriers are those moments or actions that impede customers from moving forward in their journey. For instance, barriers to buying a house are a lack of experience with real estate, not understanding the legal language, or a bad credit record to get a mortgage.
- Personas: Human beings don’t make the same choices or act the same way. Our personalities, drivers, needs, and wants affect how we make decisions, what we prioritize, and what we consider redundant or irrelevant. Adding a layer of personas or archetypes to our journey can give you a nuanced view of the differences and similarities between different groups of end-users. Personas help you define your target audience. Understanding how personas react in other journey steps helps us prioritize and make better design decisions.
- Intersections: More an analysis tool than a part of a journey per se, intersections allow you to make connections along the customer journey and, as a result, improve the experience.
For instance, you want to focus on solving a specific pain point: a “mortgage application process that is slow, difficult, and full of jargon.” A feeling of confusion and stress accompanies the pain point. In this case, the drive is to buy a house with as little paperwork as possible. The need is to find the right finance package for their new property. All these details are unchained by the customer action “applying for a mortgage.” Until that action is sorted out, there is no moving forward. Intersections can help you detect what prevents the customer from advancing. In this case, simplifying the pre-approval of the finance package would speed up the purchase and improve the overall experience.
While there is a general structure you can use as a starting point, building an experience for your customer requires a deep understanding of your audience and the elements that compose the customer journey. Customer experiences are not static; technology sets the pace for new user experiences in all industries.
At Globant, we combine different user experiences and visual and service design to help companies build long-lasting customer relationships. Find out more about our Design Studio!