The customer journey is one of my professional obsessions. It always has been: because early on in my career, I saw that a design isn’t just about what you see. For me, design came to mean something something much larger and more complex. It meant the construction of an experience for another person, whether by visual elements, sound, touch, taste, or even time and atmosphere - senses that we’ve only begun to discover that we possess. In business settings, I’ve found that many companies simply don’t realize how others experience what they produce. Or, they might assume all kinds of things about their customers’ experience, but haven’t really made any effort to find out the truth.
But why is the customer journey so important? And why is it often so difficult to get right?
If you take a moment to remember your last really awful customer journey, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. For example: You ordered the wrong thing online by accident, possibly because of a confusing visual design on a website, and now the company won’t give you a refund. You ordered a flight that you thought was going to be affordable and then you found out it doesn’t include any baggage at all. Or: you entered the clinic with a sick child and you got sent from department to department until they found the right physician for you, and it took 2 whole hours while your kid was crying. The list, of course, is endless. As customers or visitors, we are the victim of pretty awful journeys all the time. As professionals, we create these frustrating journeys - each one an opportunity for competitors to step in and do a better job of making people happy.
In contrast, a fantastic customer journey is where everything comes together: It creates satisfaction, delight, and ultimately also loyalty. Well-designed experiences like these are a lot harder to come by.
Creating a great journey is difficult because it requires so much cross-team cooperation within an organization, as well as incredible attention to detail. Ideal journeys are often the result of cooperation across sales, branding, product, tech teams, and customer support. As if this wasn’t enough, creating a great journey also requires people inside the company to develop the capability to empathize with those people on the outside of the company - the customers - who they are bringing on the journey. Anyone who has ever tried to make improvements to customer journeys from within an organization knows that not everyone is willing to invest the energy to empathize: It’s too much emotional work, it seems too weird, or it just isn’t “what they signed up for” when they took the job. So, if you’re a founder, marketer, or anyone else who is interested in improving a customer journey, what can you do?
The best course of action is, of course, storyboarding, which sounds deceptively simple. But believe me - if you start now, you won’t be sorry. Let me explain:
Storyboarding is your friend because it makes clear to everyone involved what the problems are that need solving, and how to solve them. It also is a non-fruity way to raise empathy levels in people who have difficulty empathizing or would otherwise be a roadblock. Aaandd…. it’s dirt cheap as a method. What more could you want? So grab some blank paper, a few close team members and put on your creative thinking hats. Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Choose the right point of view and stick to it
Many of us lack the basic capability to even begin to storyboard because we aren’t telling the right story. Here’s an example. When I ask business owners to tell me about their customer journey, they may say something like this:
“We work with software companies, and we provide them with tailor-made advertising campaigns that are run on facebook and instagram to get leads or engagement.”
Well, nope. THAT’S NOT YOUR CUSTOMER’S JOURNEY - IT’S YOUR JOURNEY! You’re telling the story from the wrong point of view, and that’s why it will be hard for you to make real improvements to the bottom line. Compare that to:
“Usually a startup reaches a point where they realize they need to start getting the word out. They will probably hear about us from their friends, and call us up to begin planning how to market themselves. Usually, they’ll want to start with performance advertising on facebook.” NOW, YOU’RE TALKING, RIGHT?
Notice the use of the individual point of view vs. the many. Usually, when you are using the point of view of the many, it means you aren’t taking the proper effort to see things clearly, you’re making generalisations about other people. That’s lazy!
Ok, so now that you’ve put yourself in their shoes (phew, that was actually the hard part!), make sure you’re always telling the story from that point of view as you move to steps 2 and 3.
The most famous storyboard
….is Airbnb’s, which, back when they were still beginning to grow, was used as a way to make the company vision more tangible for everyone working on executing it. The founders’ storyboards revealed a lack of connection between what the user was able to accomplish online via their desktop site, and aaalll of the activities the user had to go through offline. The discovery led them to focus more heavily on a mobile app, and the rest is history.
Step 2: Map it out
I’m sure you’ve heard of journey mapping, but did you know that a map is simply a story in disguise? Many people who have trouble telling a gripping, action-packed story in a professional setting, will succeed at doing just that using a map.
First, draw yourself some bubbles - on paper, in Slides or Google Drawings or Powerpoint - whatever you prefer. Like this:
Inside each bubble you will put a single touchpoint. A touchpoint is a single action or single point in time when something happens to the customer. Try not to overload each bubble - only one thing in each. Really break it down into the details. Get very thorough. Here’s an example showing the beginning of a journey:
A note about verbs
Notice that the use of verbs is central to the creation of good journeys. Ideally each bubble should have one verb in it. Underline your verb in each bubble to make it easier. Those verbs are what move the journey along. E.g. going, learning, giving, paying, receiving, searching. etc. The reason each bubble only has one verb in it is to highlight an important truth about life, and human cognitive abilities: People can only do one thing or learn one new thing at a time. Often, people are overloaded with tasks or information all at once, causing them to abandon ship and drop off your journey. The problem seems evern more severe when you consider that most of our day is spent being bombarded with unimportant pieces of information. It’s even been said that good experience design plays out in verbs, bad design plays out in nouns. Consider these as evidence: Ride sharing vs taxi (Lyft/Uber). Home sharing vs hotel (Airbnb). Insurance chat vs agent (Lemonade) and co-working space vs office (Wework).
Most touchpoints today are consumer driven, not company driven. This means that you need to pay more attention to what consumers are doing before they interact with your company or your product. There might be decisions made or actions taken both before and after what you thought was the complete journey. Add those touchpoints to the map too!
Don’t leave your map open ended. What are the missing touchpoints that can turn the map into a circular path, so that people who finish the journey are compelled to go on it again?
People judge experiences by the cumulative memory of them, with an inordinate amount of association attached to the memories of the end. (Read about this phenomenon in Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.) When you take extra care to make sure people end your journey on a high note, they are more likely to remember the whole journey in a positive light, and the investment will pay off.
Step 3: Layer data into your map
OK. Now’s the time to get down to business: Investigate each bubble in the map and find the data by which you will judge success for that individual touchpoint. Add those metrics beneath each bubble: conversion rates, signups, satisfaction metrics, anything goes:
If you have current metrics that are detailed enough, it’s always fun to place them under the bubbles and see which of the touchpoints are succeeding and which are failing. You might find some surprises, or even a few easy wins - things you can immediately fix to keep people from falling out of the journey. Now that you have everything mapped out, you will have noticed where the most glaring gaps are, your team can define which take priority right now. And just like that - you’re well on your way to closing them. Brainstorm and list each initiative you will take to improve the metrics (in the pink bubbles above), and meet again to look at your improved customer journey once they are deployed.
By taking the time to consider carefully each point on the journey, you’re taking the steps needed to create the most enjoyable, memorable, and even magical one possible. Remember that “magic” is simply an experience that results from exceeding expectations: To people going through your well-thought out journey, it will seem downright magical that you’ve been able to predict what’s going on their minds, and you’ve understood their expectations so keenly. Delight results, and loyalty follows.