A client and I recently found ourselves at the end of a large multi-year project, reflecting on all that we had done. From new product launches, to defining the customer experience, to changing employee mindsets and ways of working, there was a lot to be proud of. After almost a decade of working with this global product manufacturer, it was clear that so much of our success and learning boiled down to one small, but powerful idea: an actionable customer journey.
If you just flinched or rolled your eyes, you’re not alone. ‘Customer journey’ as a term, an application, and a tool, has lost much of its power in recent years. It has become synonymous with one or two-day workshops promising overnight results with little effort; reminiscent of a late-night infomercial that touts 4 easy payments of $29.99, along with some buyer’s remorse.
Here’s the secret: If the customer journey is fully embraced, it leads to subtle changes that over time can seismically shift any business.
We’ve been using the customer journey to fundamentally transform the way businesses operate for over a decade. Back then, we used to refer to it as a ‘Customer Bill of Rights.’ It was a way to help businesses transform by aligning executives and employees on the experience they wanted to deliver to customers … and how to do it. The concept may have evolved, but its ability to transform organizations is the same.
If you’re not convinced, let’s look at the customer journey through the eyes of our client, starting with their challenge:
As their products became more commoditized and customers became more demanding, our client was struggling. How could they create new products and experiences – and explain them through stories instead of ads? How could they connect to customers on an emotional and rational level, with a product that had become increasingly utilitarian in customers’ minds? How could they keep up with customer preferences when customers called the shots, and their attitudes and behaviors were changing so quickly? How could they become relevant to the younger generation? And how could they do all this while they were stuck working in silos and making decisions every day without the customer POV in mind?
It quickly became evident that there was no anchoring point for the business to align itself with customer needs, attitudes and behaviors. There was no consistent framework to rally employees, and no way to link their decisions and actions to those of the customer.
Enter the customer journey – an organizational catalyst for change
Working closely with key functional leaders, we aligned the organization around a vision and framework of the customer experience and journey that brought it to life for employees at all levels. The customer journey acts as an anchoring point. It is a way to organize insights and encourage a collaborative and empathetic customer orientation that guides and aligns the day-to-day decisions and actions of employees to deliver a markedly improved customer experience. It was a simple concept: get everyone in the organization to think about how each decision they make impacts the customer experience and whether they’re making that experience better or worse.
Aligning on a vision and customer experience is one thing, but making it stick is another. Change is not easy. To realize the full benefits of a customer journey, organizations must fully embrace and operationalize it. But, all too often, organizations revert back to old ways of thinking and working, and this is usually where it falls apart.
So, to prevent this from happening, we’ve put together 10 tips to help your organization embrace a customer journey orientation and make it stick:
1. Co-create and communicate a clear purpose and vision for the customer experience you want to deliver – one that your employees feel invested in, motivated by, and proud of. Give it a name – like a customer bill of rights – and a visual identity that employees connect with.
2. Design, validate and align on a customer journey framework that strikes a balance between providing a proprietary, in-depth understanding of the customer, while also being simple, flexible and easy enough for any employee on any team to use. Make the stages of the journey customized to your business.
3. Consider the emotional side of a customer’s journey. Many organizations fail to consider the emotional component of a customer’s journey and how emotions can heavily influence their perceptions and decisions throughout their experience. Don’t just express what a customer should do along the journey – consider how they will feel (versus how you want them to feel!).
4. Define the current and desired state of your customer journey clearly and visually, and make sure you are able to highlight all the gaps, issues and opportunities in between. That’s where the rich opportunity for innovation and improved customer experience lives.
5. Build momentum and show impact by making small practical changes to improve gaps in the customer journey and communicate successes broadly. Sometimes this means being scrappy and finding quick, practical initiatives to demonstrate results. It could be as simple as giving customers streamlined comparative product info to help them make a faster purchase decision.
6. Find the champions, the believers, thought leaders, influencers and those that understand the business, and provide them with the tools and knowledge to drive early adoption and advocacy of the customer journey.
7. Bring the customer journey to life. Develop tools and stimuli that help employees relate and be empathetic to customers’ needs, emotions, behaviors, and attitudes. The more real it is, the more likely employees will feel connected to it and live it; give personas names, put journey posters up in meeting rooms, and keep the customer experience front and center in the lives of employees.
8. Reorganize to better align with the customer journey. Break down silos and structures that may be contributing to disjointed management of the customer journey and where no one is responsible for the optimal end-to-end experience. Often, this means small, subtle changes to reporting lines and structures or creating customer journey roles.
9. Measure what you can. Figure out what is having the greatest impact on your customers and what is successfully supporting the change towards a stronger customer journey orientation. One of the common pitfalls of customer journeys is trying to measure everything. Choose what matters the most and what you can readily measure now, and fill in the gaps later.
10. Make it consistent and make it stick. Have one and only one journey framework – don’t let individual departments design their own. Integrate the use of the customer journey into the competency model for key roles and make improving customer experience part of how employees are evaluated. Give employees the tools, training, and leadership so everyone knows making the customer journey experience better is the business of your business.
The customer journey is not a get rich quick scheme, it’s an organizing principle – one that requires consistency and dedication – setting the stage for how your organization is structured, how it operates, and how it collectively thinks to meet the needs of its business and customers. If fully embraced and sustained, the customer journey is a powerful tool that will have long lasting benefits for the organization, its employees, and its customers.