Customer journey maps have become a key asset in every marketer’s arsenal, but I’m here to tell you that, from a customer experience perspective, most of these maps are directions down a blind alley.

With alarming frequency, I see examples of customer journey maps that codify buying stages, but say absolutely nothing about what the customer is trying to achieve. Against this model, marketers layer in programs and tactics to move prospects through a prescribed journey by the equivalent of brute force.

Why? Because many marketers conflate customer needs with their own, creating journey maps that are impressively articulate expressions of their own sales and marketing goals, but utterly tone-deaf when it comes to the customer.

A slightly better variant is when marketers at least make an effort to channel the customer need state, designing customer journey maps from the perspective of their best guess of customer needs. They may be shooting in the dark, but at least the intention is there. I guess that should count for something.

This isn’t meant to be a scathing indictment. I recognize that making sense of the customer journey can feel like solving the riddle of the sphinx. How do you design a customer journey when the data is incomplete, the signals are weak and the patterns are unclear? This stuff is hardly easy.

But too often, marketers give up before they’ve even started. They allow this absence of clarity to be overtaken by the presence of their own urgency. And, in doing so, they end up designing journeys, not from the outside-in to fulfill customers’ changing need state, but from the inside-out to fulfill their own commercial interests. Thus, the customer journey becomes the customer gauntlet.

What’s important to remember is that customer journeys aren’t created; they’re discovered. When we try to create journeys, we fall into one of these two traps: we either hallucinate customer needs or throw away the customer experience playbook altogether and focus on the needs we know intimately: our own.

Discovery comes from listening and learning, which requires an open mind, an open heart, a genuine respect for customers and a desire to serve. This requires a certain degree of humility and patience.

It also requires data. Discovering the customer journey begins with research and continues with an ongoing process of measurement and optimization. This is hardly a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor.

Your customers now have the luxury of abundant choice and they have little patience for your tone-deaf solicitations and overzealous interruptions that fail to respect their motivations, needs and goals.

So, as marketers, the onus is on you to faithfully serve customers by first understanding them—not as a snapshot in time, but as a fully developed continuum over time.

The onus is on you to discover the real customer journey.

4 Comments
  1. 11 May 2016 at 11:56 pm
    Daniel Ruyter says:

    Great points, Jake. But how does the modern marketer balance what they “should” be doing with what they actually can do? Multiple projects, time constraints, lack of resources and changing priories are just a few of the factors we face. We’d love to get to know our customers better, but where is that on our priority list if we already have 287 things to do? I realize customer-centric is more than just a marketing team’s slogan, but how do we convince the higher up’s that we should be dedicating time (and therefore money) to this effort?

  2. 13 May 2016 at 6:42 pm
    Nick says:

    Yes, agree with Daniel. Are there some broad categories that act as a starting point to get to know customers? Design thinking is a great way to convince higher up’s. It’s a proven methodology.

  3. 16 May 2016 at 5:33 am
    Udi Granot says:

    I agree customer journeys are (mostly) discovered, but discoveries usually happen when you leave your comfort zone. Not many professionals (marketers, analysts, vendors) seem to leave the comfort of the digital and dive into the *physical* experience customers have when visiting points of sale or service. That’s a shame because you can give your customers a perfect digital experience but if they have a bad – or even sub par – experience in the store, you’re done.

  4. 17 May 2016 at 4:28 pm
    Marjukka Rantala says:

    As design thinker and doer I am so happy that you raised this issue front. Customer experience can be ultimate competitive advance if it is done from right perspective. As you said customer journeys are first discovered not created. But why we see journeys that are not mapped from customer perspective? Maybe because discovering is hard work: you need to take your own shoes away and go out of the building to walk with your customer shoes, observe, listen, engage, ask and combine your findings with data from different channel sources. Additionally what I think only empathic persons can really do this right and companies which first goal is to help customers to get their jobs done. They have genuine interest for they customers and employees. At least this kind of outside-in perspective is really difficult to those that think their own business interest first.

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