Why Customer Journey Mapping is a Vital Element of the Design Process

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Today’s consumers face an overwhelming array of choices for products and services. With so much similarity and overlap in the market, delivering a high-quality customer experience is more important than ever. Those experiences encompass far more than simply making a purchase; they include every interaction with a brand, from visiting the company’s website to using a product to paying the bill after a purchase.

Designing these experiences in ways that delight and engage people can often separate a successful brand from a failing one. In order to design better experiences, however, it’s vital that companies understand the journey their customers go through while interacting with their brand. Customer journey mapping is one of the most valuable ways designers can gain these insights, helping to shape design initiatives throughout the decision process.

Remember the Perspective of the Customer

Many companies make the mistake of conflating their own perspective with the customer’s. Take, for instance, a guitar manufacturer. The company is in the business of making and selling guitars, and it may offer a wide range of product options for people to choose from. But in most cases, the consumer doesn’t want to simply buy a guitar—they want to play music. In this situation, the guitar is just a means to an end. It facilitates an outcome that the user wants. Anything that strays from that outcome presents an obstacle to potential consumers. This is why companies that become overly focused on delivering outputs rather than facilitating outcomes so often run into problems.

This example isn’t just a hypothetical one. Over the last decade, iconic guitar maker Gibson pursued a diversification strategy to position itself as a “music lifestyle” brand, marketing home electronics, fashion apparel, dishware, and boutique collectables. At the same time, they offered a wider array of instrument options that made it impossible to distinguish one guitar from another without extensive research. In effect, Gibson envisioned a customer journey that began not with a desire to play music, but rather with the decision to buy a Gibson product.

The result? Flagging sales and mounting debt caused the company to file for bankruptcy in May of 2018.

Fundamentally, Gibson lost sight of what people actually wanted from the brand. While it might have made sense from the company’s perspective to sell a wide range of products and branded merchandise, their consumers wanted a different kind of experience. When a company doesn’t understand those needs, it can’t effectively design a customer experience that addresses them across a variety of touchpoints. No amount of strategic pivoting can fix this problem because the company doesn’t have a foundation to optimize around.

A fully developed customer journey map shows every step of a customer’s experience with a brand, encompassing all actions and touchpoint from pre-purchase to post-purchase

Not Every Journey is the Same

A fully developed customer journey map shows every step of a customer’s experience with a brand, encompassing all actions and touchpoint from pre-purchase to post-purchase. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that not everyone will go through this entire experience. A customer journey map is not a sales or marketing funnel; it can vary significantly from person to person. Some customers may skip over steps or begin the journey in the middle of the process. They may even oscillate between stages over time. But just because not every journey is the same doesn’t mean the map itself isn’t important for designers. Careful thought needs to be given to each stage to ensure that every channel, touchpoint, and interaction is catered to the specific needs of the customer at that specific point in the journey. They are the moments that matter in the experience, and each one presents an opportunity for a company to make an impression and facilitate the outcomes the customer is looking for. Regardless of where the customer initiates their journey, a major goal of the design process is to create a link between the company’s vision of its brand and the customer’s perception of that brand. By catering to the wants and needs of the customer throughout the journey, designers can make this link as strong as possible.

Holistic Viewpoints Inform Cohesive Design

Since customer journey maps provide a holistic view of experiences across all touchpoints, they are tremendously valuable for designers. They allow everyone within an organization, regardless of rank or division, to see the vital information that informs customer experiences and behavior. For designers at all levels, journey maps provide a common set of tangible action points, which helps to ensure a level of consistency across all aspects of design. Cohesiveness is a key element of any successful UX strategy. Without journey mapping, it can be difficult to shape an experience that integrates all the moving parts of the overall customer experience. Having a better sense of the ways in which users interact with a brand at different stages of the journey makes it possible to create bridges between those steps.

In some cases, it may even be possible to strengthen one stage by addressing pain points in another. Without a map of how the user experience unfolds, however, it would be difficult to take this cohesive approach to design. With customer journey mapping, organizations can bet a better sense of what their customers actually want and understand the full scope of the consumer experience. Armed with that comprehensive view, designers can construct more effective UX strategies that merge the concepts of service design, lean UX, and disruptive design to create more compelling and satisfactory experiences for users.

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