The customer journey map: A new playbook CIOs must master

CIOs driving digital business strategy must master customer experience. That means working with marketing on a critical initiative: the customer journey map.

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The digital era has altered C-suite dynamics. Once unlikely collaborators, IT and marketing are partnering closely on new customer-facing technologies, an acknowledgment that both parties must work together to help their companies — and careers — thrive.

CIOs are also huddling with CMOs and other business line leaders on “customer journey maps,” critical documents that outline key customer touchpoints. Here’s what CIOs should know about customer journey maps and how to ensure you’re making effective use of them.

What is a customer journey map?

The customer journey map includes a chart that helps employees visualize the process by which companies attract customers and inspire loyalty. Journey mapping enables companies to identify touchpoints, find previously unknown problems and their root causes, quantify the value of improving customer experience (CX) through KPIs or other metrics, and measure improvements.

“Journey maps can also help organizations build empathy for customers by walking participants through how touchpoints influence customers’ attitudes and actions,” according to a guide to journey mapping Forrester Research published in August. This enforces customer-centric thinking and encourages good CX behaviors.

10 steps for crafting an effective journey map

The map is created in a collaborative process that relies on qualitative and quantitative data to determine and understand customer journeys, including customers’ goals, needs and expectations, Gartner analyst Jane-Anne Mennella tells CIO.com. The map also helps executives identify gaps between customers’ expectations and their experience during their journey.

Form a cross-functional team. Assemble key stakeholders from business lines, including sales, marketing, IT, operations and human resources. This team will inform and shape the map to ensure it provides a 360-degree view of customers’ desires, Mennella says. “Customer experience is a cross-functional mandate” requiring stakeholders from every business line, but especially the CIO, she says. Ideally, the CEO will govern this group, but Mennella says the CMO or CIO could lead it as well. Regardless, the leader must be “empowered to break any ties,” Mennella says.

Build personas. Craft a “persona,” or an image of the ideal customer, Mennella says. Using this outside-in view of molding digital experiences around the customer, the team should be able to build maps that detail touchpoints, interests and feelings for each persona. Different customer demographics may require different personas.

Pick your methodology. Familiarize yourself with the framing of a journey map and choose a methodology that matches project objectives, says Forrester.

Conduct research. “Listen” to social media to see what people are saying about your brand and tailor services accordingly, Mennella says. Peruse your company’s digital channels, as well as forums and online communities. Operational and transactional data are also key. “We’re seeing this increased focus on customer insights and user research,” Mennella says. The CIO is crucial here, providing customer analytics to help keep the business on a straight path to the customer. Conducting customer research helps identify and eliminate gaps in customer misunderstandings, Forrester says.

Tool up. Use a journey atlas to help visualize and organize the map. Prioritize based on customer and business value. The atlas can show how journeys interrelate, overlap and influence each other, Forrester says.

Workshop for empathy. Co-creation with stakeholders and customers ensures buy-in and validation, Forrester says. Engage in storytelling activities to get to the root of customer behavior and identify moments of truth and areas of improvement.

Correct errors. Journey mapping efforts often fail due to lack of executive buy-in or even mapping the wrong things, Forrester observes. Avoid these pitfalls by including customers as well as the right stakeholders needed to ensure the journey maps are valid.

Select KPIs. Pick metrics that matter most for customer obsession. Start by inventorying existing metrics, having your cross-functional team agree on metrics to eliminate, gaps to fill, and a data collection strategy to implement, Forrester says.

Mine data for richer insights. Journey analytics mines quantitative and qualitative data, such as customer feedback surveys, marketing data and language patterns, Forrester says. This data, ideally collected at every step of the journey, can be combined with web analytics and call center data to hypothesize how changes will improve experiences overall, thereby predicting and optimizing next best actions.

In the absence of such data, Mennella says that hypothetical journey maps are acceptable. Here, an organization outlines the steps, thoughts, feelings and actions they think their customers would take, for example, with a new mobile ordering app.

CIOs shared their customer journey map successes with CIO.com.

Customer journey map examples: Suez North America

Homeowners expect water to simply flow when they turn on a faucet. But in an era defined by Amazon.com’s frictionless and often white-glove service, utility companies realize that many consumers expect more compelling services — even from a utility.

Suez North America’s customer journey maps notes the channels, including smart and analog meters, phone, social media, Web and mobile device channels, that connect the company to consumers, says Michael Salas, CIO and CDO for the water utility, which services 7.2 million residents in New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Rhode Island.

Suez took customer “pulse” surveys, conducted on-site observations and convened workshops in which business and IT conceptualized an ideal utility experience complete with gap analysis, personas and considerations for emerging technologies such as IoT and ML.

Salas says Suez built a customer experience portal for which thousands of customers signed up to make direct debit subscriptions online, automating bill payments and reducing employee hours by the thousands. It also augmented its contact center solution with natural language processing speech recognition, resulting in a self-service rate of 40 percent.

Suez also crafted an Amazon.com Alexa skill to enable consumers to “ask” questions about bill payment and other services without waiting to speak to a human representative. “A voice assistant is a natural interface for our services,” Salas says.

Feedback mechanisms built into this journey map helped Suez further improve service, says Salas, who leveraged agile development with daily standup meetings and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), complete with a comprehensive change management program. “We try to put ourselves in the shoes of the customer,” says Salas, who appointed a dedicated director of customer experience, Douwe Busschops, to lead these efforts.

One of the hallmarks of the improved service is pairing better customer services and empathy. For example, smart meters, acoustic sensors and machine learning software generate actionable alerts about water waste, such as water leaks in residents’ homes. These efforts are critical for providing “cradle to grave” service to customers, Salas says.

Customer journey map examples: Adobe

Charting the customer journey proved pivotal for Adobe, which has spent the past several years pivoting from licensed software to SaaS (software-as-a-service) sales models.

To better understand customer behavior, Adobe tracks product downloads, display ad impressions, click-through rates for Adobe.com and various other signals consumers initiate online as they try, buy, use and renew software, says Mark Picone, vice president of information and data services. Tracking revenue and product consumption, including cancellations, by geography is also a key task for Adobe, which uses the information to determine whether to increase promotions and perks in certain regions, he adds.

This approach to examining customer behavior makes it easier to personalize email campaigns for consumers, a key marketing practice for Adobe. “We look at all of those events and petabytes of click-level instrumentation of how consumers are using products,” Picone tells CIO.com, adding that Adobe also created key performance indicators to monitor progress.

Information about how people consume Adobe software is also critical, Picone says, because it informs product teams how to refine software for customers.

To build a unified data architecture that enables these capabilities Adobe “normalized,” or consistently defined, and labeled each data type. The challenge? The same data types are often called different things by finance, sales, marketing and other business lines — a common challenge most enterprise face as they seek to streamline data governance.

Customer journey map mistakes to avoid

Building a customer journey map is one thing; leveraging it to bolster the customer experience is another. While 77 percent of 244 marketing leaders Gartner surveyed said they have a journey map, 30 percent struggle to use them effectively in support of their customer experience efforts, Mennella says. Here are some common pitfalls CIOs and their colleagues should avoid:

You have to start somewhere. Journey maps often fall down because organizations don’t know where to start, typically because they don’t know the customers they are targeting. Mennella says enterprises sometimes rely too much on third-party data, which puts distance between them and their customers. Here, Mennella says analytics and usage metrics can help hone your personas and goals.

Beware the product management pitfall. Sometimes enterprises are too focused on their own goals rather than what their customers need, Mennella says. Start with the outside-in approach, rather than simply building a product you think people want and trying to sell it to them.

Some customers are more valuable than others. Sometimes organizations focus on the easy, low-hanging fruit personas. Go for the big whales that are going to be loyal advocates who bring fellow customers on board to keep the flywheel spinning.

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