A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and don't forget your map!

I was wishing for a map recently when I made an online purchase. It started with an email offer from the company, followed by some online comparison shopping, then I clicked on a Facebook ad that contained an even better offer, chatted with a customer service agent to get more details about the product I was interested in, checked out using PayPal, and then called customer service a couple of days later when my shipment arrived damaged.

My twisty, multichannel journey would confuse even Magellan. And it's an example of why businesses need to undertake customer journey mapping.

What is a customer journey?

A customer journey is the path a customer takes to accomplish a goal with a company. Paths and goals can vary by customer. For example, goals can include making a purchase, getting answers to questions, and finding post-purchase support.

Similarly, there are many paths customers take in attempting to accomplish their goals. Another person who purchased the same item I did might have seen a TV ad and visited a store to make the purchase. Or they might have accessed a coupon on the retailer’s mobile app and purchased the item using the app.

The proliferation of so many communication channels has been a boon for companies and consumers, but it's also added great complexity to customer journeys. Every new channel and touchpoint within the customer journey represent an opportunity to introduce friction.

One source of friction is inconsistency. Ninety percent of consumers expect consistent experiences from a company in every communication channel they use.[1] This means, for example, that all channels provide the same answers and resolution outcomes.

In this business environment where customer experience (CX) is a competitive differentiator, businesses need to closely manage customer journeys to ensure people can smoothly and easily accomplish their goals. That's where customer journey mapping comes in.

What is customer journey mapping?

A customer journey map is an essential tool for managing increasingly complex journeys. It provides a visual representation of the paths different customer personas follow when trying to accomplish a goal with a company. Customer journey mapping is simply the process of creating these maps.

Journey maps provide information about the journey from the customer's perspective and allow businesses to walk in their customers' shoes to gain a better understanding of their experiences. The insights gained through customer journey mapping enable companies to optimize how they interact with customers and prospects.

Why organizations need to map journeys

Before the world became digital, customer journeys were pretty simple. Customers made purchases at stores or through mail order catalogs, and their only options for interacting with customer service were to make a phone call or write a letter. Managing the journey was straightforward. Businesses didn't need to worry if their online chatbot was creating friction or if their website's checkout process was clunky.

Businesses can no longer assume they know all the paths their customers follow or what delights or frustrates them along the way. To get a handle on the many and circuitous routes customers take requires a disciplined approach. Customer journey mapping is an essential tool for documenting journeys, identifying pain points, getting everyone in the organization on the same page, and, ultimately, designing journeys that enable customers to complete their tasks with little or no friction.

What does a customer journey map look like?

There's no "right" format for a journey map. Maps can be documented as flow charts, swim lanes, and even as a bunch of post-it notes on a white board. There's also software that facilitates customer journey mapping. The important thing is that the format of the map makes it easy for end-users to easily understand the important information about the journey. It's also helpful if the maps are easily accessible to those who need to use it, such as on a shared drive or shareable document.

There are different types of journey maps and the format might depend on the purpose of the map. For example:

  • Current state maps depict the way things are now, including all the positives and negatives. These often focus on the purchase journey.
  • Future state maps are aspirational because they show what the business wants the journey to become.
  • Service-specific customer journey maps focus on what path customers take when they need help and what they experience along the way.

Below is an example of a current state customer journey map.

Figure 1 Source: NICE CXone Mini Guide: Journey Mapping the Digital Experience and Journey Mapping Template

The following is an example of a service-specific journey map template.

Figure 2 Source: Hubspot: Customer Journey Map Template

What to include on customer journey maps

A critical first step in customer journey mapping is identifying all the touchpoints that will need to be included on the map. A touchpoint is any moment when a customer or prospect receives an impression of a business. In my purchasing example, the touchpoints that might be included on the map include the promotional email, the Facebook ad, the website, the online chat experience, and the interaction with the live agent.

It's also critical to include data about the journey in order to identify touchpoints that need improvement. Include data from the following three categories.

1. Customer empathy

Because journey maps should be designed from the customer's perspective, they should include information about customers' perceptions of their experiences. Document what customers are trying to achieve, what they're thinking and feeling at each touchpoint, and their actions.

2. Customer feedback metrics

The map should also include direct feedback from customers about the different phases and touchpoints of the journey. This data could include customer satisfaction scores, Net Promoter Scores, customer effort scores, and a summary of top survey comments. If possible, document these scores and feedback by channel.

3. Operational metrics

For service-specific journey maps, contact center data can paint a clear picture of what customers are experiencing at this critical touchpoint. Maps might include the following metrics:

  • Average speed to answer
  • Abandon rates
  • Transfer rates
  • First contact resolution rates
  • Top contact drivers
  • Self-service success rates
  • Customer sentiment scores
  • And more

Your customer journey mapping template will guide you when determining what data to include. The information on the map should be limited to that which provides the greatest insights about what customers are experiencing during the journey.

Pro Tip: To avoid analysis paralysis, focus on mapping the most common journeys for your top customer personas.

Sources of data for customer journey mapping

Collecting data to include on maps can be the most time-consuming activity for customer journey mapping, but it's important to collect and analyze as much data as possible. Even if the information doesn't ultimately get included on maps, the exercise is well worth the effort.

For journey maps specific to customer service, the following are top sources of data for better understanding customer journeys.

1. Customer survey results

Survey results provide direct input from customers, so they should absolutely be analyzed during mapping exercises. Ideally, customer survey scores should be segmented by channel to identify if there are any inconsistencies with experiences. Additionally, survey results should be available for different phases or aspects of service interactions. For example, it's helpful to know how customers feel about queue times, agent competence, the self-service experience, etc. Without this level of level of detail, it can be difficult to fully understand what customers are experiencing and pinpoint specific areas that might be causing friction.

And don't forget to include responses to open ended questions in your analysis. These tell the "why" behind the scores. As valuable as they are, they can be difficult to mine and summarize, so consider using artificial intelligence analytics tools to do the heavy lifting.

2. Interaction analytics

Interaction analytics software is another AI-powered tool that provides valuable information for customer journey mapping. Interaction analytics tools analyze every contact center interaction from every channel to produce valuable insights such as customer sentiment scores and contact drivers. How a customer is feeling during their resolution journey is a sure thing to include on maps, and top contact drivers help identify touchpoints that need to be improved.

3. Agent input

Contact center agents are a great source of journey information and can provide insights not available from other sources. They should also be recruited to verify information from these other sources. Use surveys or structured focus groups to tap into this valuable source of knowledge.

4. Contact center reports

Contact center reports provide empirical data about operational performance as well as customer behavior that can shed a great deal of light on customer journeys. For example, if customers are abandoning IVR self-service at high rates, that's a clear source of friction. But if wait times are ultra-low, that's likely delighting your customers.

These top data sources will shine a bright light on what customers are experiencing along their journey to receive support. But, of course, contact centers should consider using data from other sources that are relevant to their business.

Pro Tip: When mapping a service journey, don't forget most issue resolution journeys begin before customers reach out to contact centers. Include these pre-contact center touchpoints and related data on your maps. For example, what do customers experience on your website when they need help? What are the most used search terms and most viewed FAQs?

Acting on the results of customer journey mapping

The main point of customer journey mapping is to identify ways to make journeys more effective and efficient for customers which should, in turn, result in higher revenue and customer loyalty. It's not enough to document pain points; businesses need to eliminate them.

One approach for improving customer journeys is to create both current and future state maps and focus on closing the gaps. Another method is to target points of friction on the current state maps.

For contact centers that are charged with improving their portion of the customer journey, here some effective solutions to common pain points.

1. Omnichannel capabilities

We found that 96% of consumers expect companies to make it easy to move across channels without the need to repeat information, yet two-thirds of consumers think businesses are doing a poor job fulfilling this expectation.[2] This is clearly a source of friction.

Contact centers can greatly reduce this pain by implementing omnichannel capabilities. With omnichannel routing, all incoming interactions are managed in a universal queue and can be routed to multi-skilled agents who use a unified desktop. This enables agents to have access to everything that happened in other channels, so customers don't need to repeat themselves when they switch channels and / or agents.

2. Effective digital self-service

Eighty one percent of consumers try to solve their own problems before reaching out to a businesses for help[3], yet only 31% are satisfied with the self-service options businesses provide.[4] Even worse, businesses estimate customer satisfaction with self-service at 44%[5] - that's a large thirteen point gap!

This example highlights another benefit of customer journey mapping - the process exposes blind spots. To eliminate self-service dissatisfaction, contact centers should implement modern, AI-infused self-service solutions. As an example, conversational IVRs empower customers to help themselves by naturally speaking their needs rather than navigating long menus and pushing buttons on their phones. Additionally, smart virtual agents can satisfy digital DIY-ers.

3. AI routing

If sources of friction include low FCR, high transfer rates, and customers who don't quite click with their agents, AI routing could be the right solution. AI routing matches customers to the most qualified agents the first time, which can increase FCR and reduce transfers. Additionally, it looks at customer characteristics such as sentiment and communication preferences and routes customers to agents who are most likely to connect with them personally.

Pro Tip: Update the maps every few months or when you have significant product or technology changes. For example, update journey maps after you implement your new, amazing digital self-service solutions. Additionally, the pandemic taught us that consumer behavior (and journeys) can change drastically in a very short time frame, which is another event that creates the need to update maps.

Ready to start your customer journey mapping exercise?

Mapping customer journeys takes time and effort, but the results are worth it. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources available to help get you started. For example, download "Mini Guide: Journey Mapping the Digital Experience and Journey Mapping Template" for more tips for journey mapping and a sample template.

[1] SDL Ninety Percent of Holiday Shoppers Expect Consistent Brand Experiences Across Channels and Devices According to SDL Survey (2014)

[2] NICE CXone: 2020 Customer Experience (CX) Benchmark, Consumer Wave (2020)

[3] Harvard Business Review: Kick-Ass Customer Service (2017)

[4] NICE CXone: 2020 Customer Experience (CX) Benchmark, Consumer Wave (2020)

[5] NICE CXone: 2020 Customer Experience (CX) Benchmark, Consumer Wave (2020)

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