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The Power of Customer Experience Mapping

A customer experience map - or journey map - is a high-level picture of all the steps a customer takes to engage with a brand, purchase an item, or request a service. These maps usually start with what we inside the company already know:

  • what should the process to engage with us look like?

  • who from our side should be involved and where in that process?

  • what's the ideal outcome for us at the end of this journey?

Lots of companies have these maps - some are massive, printed out, tacked up where everyone can see them; others are digital, in handbooks or wikis, or handed down like oral history from one person who thinks they've got the whole picture.

But the above example of what we know from inside the company is incomplete - it's only half a map. And in my opinion, it's the less important half.

A valuable customer experience map doesn't just outline how things should go - it highlights how things are going and where the two maps deviate. I've seen too many companies shy away from the customer half of the map and stick to their ideal map because looking at things that are going wrong is uncomfortable. Or they only talk to a few customers and assume that experience is true for all.

The missing work is squarely in a researcher's wheelhouse - the secret to a useful journey map lies in all the missed communications, disappointed expectations, confounding steps, handoffs, and emotional let-downs that customers experience.

A Commercial Real Estate Example

At Berkadia, we had five product lines serving five different real estate personas. Each product line had close contact with their customers - they were Berkadia agents and brokers - and each had a pretty decent customer experience map. But what we found was lacking was a complete map of all five product lines together and how a customer might interact with Berkadia as a whole.

My UX teammates and I started piecing together this 30,000 foot view from our respective product lines and were astonished to find overlaps, duplications, and redundancies. While each product was churning away happily in its own environment, we were actually creating a messy, convoluted path for customers who thought they were interacting with Berkadia - a whole, unified company.

A Manufacturing Example

When we started working with ORE Design, the client had a good grasp of how their sales, design, production, and installation processes went. So we mapped it out and started sharing it around the shop. As we shared it with different departments, we learned more and more details that hadn't been clear in the first explanation. We also spoke with customers, vendors, people whose jobs were on the line if something didn't go smoothly... and the map morphed into a much more convoluted process than the simple verbal we'd originally heard.

When we pinned up the new, complex map to review with the client, they could immediately see areas for improvement around sales, communication efficiencies, even things like introductory emails at key handoff points. We barely said a word that session while the client pored over the accurate map and described insight after insight.

Flex Your Customer-Pleasing Power

An in-depth, customer-centric mapping exercise has always done several things for companies that they seem to struggle to accomplish without it:

  • a 30k foot view of the entire ecosystem a customer will encounter, including less sexy things like returns, customer support, legal, and complaints

  • a plethora of aha! moments as the client realizes what is functioning as expected and what has slid off the original strategy

  • a to-do list out of those aha! moments that rejuvenates the backlog and helps teams feel their ability to directly impact customers

But the most important piece of this exercise is that as those customer-focused changes are implemented, customers feel them and their perceptions of the brand or company change immediately.

Entropy is natural - the ideal processes we put in place at inception slowly slide into whatever is easiest for daily use and whatever best accounts for errors or workarounds. It's also natural to stick to what we know, to the perfect picture in our heads of how things should be. But customer experience mapping is a great way to find opportunities to improve, giving the internal teams new energy and meaning around their work, and demonstrating to the customer that your company really does hear them and care.

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