Has customer journey mapping lost the plot?

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We all get the concept of ‘customer journey’ now – the broad steps that people take in finding, choosing, buying and living with a product or service. It might be a new television you’re looking for, or a restaurant for a special occasion. It might be to decide where to find a new dentist, or even how and where to give birth to a child. These are patient journeys, diner journeys, shopper journeys – and as researchers and marketers, we’re busy working on the detail for how to improve them.

But aren’t we getting lost in our silo thinking here? Do customers really act out these journey steps in such a single-minded and linear way? In the real world, people are swapping between multiple tasks all the time (see footnote) – a mash-up of domestic chores, and work life, of family moments and unwanted interruptions, of nice surprises, triumphs and tragedies. Why do we do this?  Because it reflects the context of our lives – a patchwork of activities, where parts of it are regimented like clockwork (the commute, brushing teeth, tea/coffee rituals) and others exposed to the unpredictability of life.

I think the reason why most customer journey maps look so insular is because they tend to only reflect the steps that our own organisations have some interest or control over. In healthcare, I’ve seen documents like this one entitled “patient pathway” that describe the clinical treatment steps a patient will encounter. Yet, there is no reference to how patients experience these steps. In fact the only reference to “patient” at all is in the title. The sole context of this map is the internal process. The truth is that it’s not a patient pathway at all, but rather a treatment process. This example certainly tells a story for how easy it is to view any issue in splendid isolation, even something as feared in the human psyche as cancer. To see the disease, not the person.

This inward-looking mindset is more embedded than one might think. As internet and mobile devices flourished, marketers recognised that customers have more choices now, for how they access products, services and information. This led to the creation of multichannel journey maps, showing how people shift between physical environments (shops, offices, gyms, newspapers) and their digital, mobile or virtual counterparts (click image below to enlarge)

But even these multi-faceted maps that combine journey data into a so-called ‘single customer view’ are still doing so for our products, our stores, our partners.

In contrast to this approach, consider how one might analyse groups of people in social media, treating them as a ‘tribe’ as well as individuals – exploring what they say on Twitter, the links they reference, the issues and frustrations and distractions they record there. This is the beginning of a wholly different kind of customer journey map – one that shows how time of day and day of week impacts the connections they make with others. It might highlight how TV shows and news stories are grabbing their attention, and sparking their interest. And amongst these customer narratives, one might see them ‘drop in’ to shopper mode, including a desire to publicly discredit companies and brands that they feel have disappointed them or let them down.

This is where we believe customer journey thinking is going. Alongside a generic view of how customers find, choose, buy and use, will be the creation of customer landscapes rather than maps – customer-defined environments, that show landmarks in peoples’ lives rather than pain-points in company processes. The information will be less of a celebration of Big Data and more of a nuanced interpretation of where and how organisations & brands play a role in peoples’ lives.

If this prediction seems a little theoretical, consider this industry example. For decades, car hire firms have been using customer journey maps to improve their processes. Some have become pretty slick, from easy ordering on-line to a seamless handover of the vehicle. Yet, the silo-mentality remained. Meanwhile, a new (typically younger and urban) generation of customers was reassessing their need for cars and transportation altogether. Many felt that they barely needed or could afford to own a car. Instead, they only actually needed a vehicle for an hour or so at a time– not a whole day or a week.

And so Zipcar arrived, to fill this need, scaling up a US-based offer, based on European models that had been around a decade earlier. Whilst the global car hire firms were looking at themselves, Zipcar was grabbing a new market by focusing on the way younger customers were living their lives. Ten years on, Avis ended up buying Zipcar in Jan 2013 for $500m – quite a price to pay for sleeping at the wheel.

The new generation of customer journey maps may require a fresh name too. At Customer Faithful, we call them Lifelines. Instead of a 2-dimensional, static visual map, it’s closer to an interactive landscape. It includes the customers’ voice (literally) and shows not just a purchase path, but also a far richer landscape of emotion and attitude. They are as colourful and controversial as the people they represent.  And for those who interpret them, they deliver competitive advantage….

For a more visual look at this topic, see our slideshow

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Footnote: For the record, we don’t believe in “multi-tasking”. Try driving a car and reading a book at the same time – it doesn’t work. Instead, our research suggests people ‘flick’ from task to task, giving the impression of multi-tasking, but they are only actually working on one thing at a time.

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