The Origin of Customer Journey Mapping

INSIDER VIEW Have you ever wondered why customer journey mapping became an integral element of business strategies?

It started with a large contact center receiving way more of its share of hostile calls from customers than usual. The year was 1985, and the late Ron Zemke and I were summoned to help a giant telephone company figure out the reason for the customer ire and find solutions. The issue was related to customers’ experiences following a residential telephone outage. This was during the time when all telephones either sat on a table or were mounted on a wall.

We interviewed countless customers in focus groups to learn their expectations and experiences with residential telephone outages and repairs. We asked customers to talk us through their end-to-end experiences to learn the intricate details of their encounters and evaluation. The query with customers sounded somewhat like this:

Us: “Start at the beginning when you discovered your telephone had no dial tone.”

Customers: “I first had to figure out how to contact the telephone company.”

Us: “And, then what happened.”

Customers: “I reached the telephone repair center.”

Us: “After that, what happened?”

Customers: “I waited for someone to answer.”

We took it to senior management after outlining the details of customers’ actual journeys in sequence on giant poster paper. The sheets were plastered all over the boardroom wall. We walked them through their customers’ detailed descriptions. They were stunned.  

The CEO commented, “No wonder our customers are furious by the time they finally reach someone at the call center for a resolution. Look what we put them through.” It was the birth of customer journey mapping. And it served as a powerful springboard to a deep understanding of customers’ experiences from their point of view. The last five words are the most critical—”from their point of view.”

Customer journey mapping aims to “get inside the customer’s head” to “see” and, therefore, understand what customers go through moment to moment. Armed with that perspective, organizations can better craft or recraft processes and encounters to become more customer-centric. It is an evergreen effort since the needs and expectations of customers are constantly changing.  

The Basics of the Customer’s Journey

A customer journey map identifies the sequence of experiences a customer has with your organization from the time the customer identifies a need until that need has (or has not) been met. This cycle is a single event in the customer’s mind, even though there may well be “sub-events” and smaller encounters along their way. Think of it as the customer’s mental diary of their journey through your organization – around a particular need. 

In any journey map, there are various forms of customer contact. Sometimes the contact is repetitive and institutional, but it may also be episodic. Sometimes the contact is intense, other times more indirect and casual. Some maps contain the customers’ expressions of their emotions around an encounter. Some contain a clear definition of their expectations. The key is to remember this is not your journey; it is your customer’s journey. Your assumptions, preconceived notions, or deep expertise is not only irrelevant it can be a liability since it can bias what you hear from customers. 

One More Step—A Moment of Truth Impact Assessment

Think of the steps in the customer’s journey map as moments of truth—i.e. any encounter of any form in which a customer has an opportunity to give that experience a thumbs up, thumbs down, or a neutral rating. Conducting a Moment of Truth Impact Assessment involves putting a microscope on key moments of truth (not all moments are created equal) to learn what aspects of that experience leave the customer satisfied, thrilled, or disappointed—we call them; satisfiers, enhancers and detractors. 

Most hotels can tell you that the front desk experience, for example, occupies top importance in the memory a guest has of their overall hotel experience. That means no matter how good the room service, housekeeping, bell stand, or concierge, check-in stands are the most significant memory maker. 

When we did the deep dive on the telephone repair center experience for customers, we took each moment of truth and asked customers four questions:

  • What should happen at this single encounter? 
  • What factors detract from this encounter?
  • What factors enhance this encounter?
  • If the telephone company wanted to be the “best of the best,” how could they make this encounter one you would rave about to others?

“A guest sees in one hour what a host sees in a year,” goes an ancient Polish proverb. It is a reminder that, as service providers, you know too much, harbor too many biases, and make too many assumptions to see your organization as your customers experience it. Customers experience your organization in their own unique and highly personal way. It is not always about reality but perception. Getting them to tell you their journey is a step toward insightful understanding and informed improvement. 

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