What’s Missing from Your Customer Journey Map?
John Mitchell is President & Managing Principal of AMS, a Boston-based market research and consulting firm that helps clients develop new products and distinctive customer experiences. He serves clients in medical devices and healthcare, technology, and consumer services. He is a CXPA Certified Customer Experience Professional.
If you are in the field of customer experience or product innovation, chances are you have created a customer journey map. This tool, which has enjoyed a recent surge in popularity, depicts the path of a typical customer experience, detailing interactions with a brand and describing customer emotion throughout, with specific attention paid to “pain points” and other areas where service levels break down. A good customer journey map can therefore be a powerful tool for spotting and fixing problems and improving the customer experience.
A good map has three defining elements. First, it defines the stages of the customer journey and the tasks or steps customers complete within each stage. Second, it identifies touchpoints in each stage, which are places that customers interface with the brand. Third, it measures customer sentiment throughout each stage and at each touchpoint to find points of dissatisfaction. Collectively, these elements explain how customers navigate the journey and where they encounter trouble. Good journey maps are descriptive and diagnostic, directing teams’ attention to the areas where customer effort is most strained.
Yet, many maps overlook a critical question: Why are customers taking the journey in the first place? The answer should be at the heart of every journey map: customers take journeys to satisfy needs. Without needs, a customer journey is merely a meander; with needs a journey has a destination and purpose. Products, services, and experiences create value for customer by satisfying needs. A company that better understands what customers need throughout the customer journey is therefore better positioned to create more value and consequently, capture more profits. If you are considering journey mapping for your company, be sure to include customer needs to get the best insights from this new research tool.
Customer Needs: What they are, what they are not, and where to find them
A customer need is the benefit a customer seeks from a product or service, within the context of time or place. Needs underlie why a customer buys a product, and a typical product or service may address over a hundred different needs. A homeowner who purchases a connected thermostat like Google’s Nest® may wish to save money on energy, shrink his carbon footprint, reduce wear on his heating system, or live in a cutting-edge home. A hotel guest who orders room service may want to maximize her time for work, avoid a crowded hotel restaurant, or avoid the risk of spilling coffee on her suit before an important meeting. Needs come in many forms: functional, emotional, social, financial, and so on. Importantly, needs should not be confused with features or solutions. Neither a connected thermostat nor room service is itself a need. Customers use these products and services not for their own sake, but for the benefits they provide. As the late Theodore Levitt famously said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
Needs arise throughout any customer journey, often more than once. At each stage of the journey, customers seek benefits that provide value. In some cases, customers evaluate several different options to determine which product best delivers the benefit. A customer shopping for a television will consider needs related to the kinds of programming she intends to watch and the size of her TV room, as well as the support she might get from where she makes the purchase (will they deliver, set up, and connect it?). Both TV manufacturers and retailers benefit from understanding these needs and when they arise in the journey
In other cases, the customer evaluates a single product to decide whether its benefits are worth re-purchase or renewal. An auto owner may reconsider his insurance carrier after filing a claim, creating a retention opportunity. In deciding whether to renew or shop around, he may consider how well his needs were met at each stage of the claim—reporting, adjusting, payment, closure. Insurance companies would be wise to understand the benefits he expects throughout the process.
Still in other cases, the customer determines whether the benefits justify advancing to the next stage in the journey, or simply abandoning the journey altogether. A patient considering a knee replacement—one of the most common inpatient surgeries in the US—is constantly at risk of abandoning the journey, even after admission to the hospital prior to surgery. Healthcare providers, and the makers of implants and tools used in these procedures can benefit from understanding what patients need not only during the steps prior to surgery, but also during the stages of recovery, since their experience influences whether friends or family follow-through when faced with similar circumstances.
Finding customer needs
Understanding customer needs must be a critical component of the Voice of the Customer. Yet needs-finding requires much more than engaging customers in online chat or transactional NPS® surveys. A company may uncover some customer needs through these methods, but a comprehensive and exhaustive assessment of needs—at the level needed to drive product and service design—requires thoughtfully designed and well-executed qualitative market research.
Two methods have long been effective for gathering customer needs: asking customers using in-depth interviews and watching customers using ethnography. Customer interviews use questions that inspire customers to narrate their experience and use deep probing to drill into the reasons underlying customer choice and sentiment. (Interviews should never ask customers to define what they need—customers won’t know!). Ethnography observes specific customer tasks or situations to uncover insights that may be hard to articulate in an interview. Both methods have strengths and weaknesses and complement each other well.
Beyond these time-tested methods, other more recent techniques have arrived on the scene. The ubiquity of smartphones has made it possible to use always-on, just-in-time online interviewing and diary tools to collect customer needs remotely and at the moment of truth (e.g., in a doctor’s office, the parking lot of a retail store, or at home while shopping online). Most recently, new methods of data analysis show promise by using machine learning to find customer needs in the wealth of user-generated content in online product reviews, customer discussion boards, and user support communities.
Regardless of which method you use, it is important to approach needs-finding as a structured exercise. The goal is not simply to collect anecdotes at a few points in the journey but rather a systematic assessment of customer needs at each point of interest, with the end result being a comprehensive and exhaustive inventory of every benefit—functional, emotional, social, financial—that creates value for the customer.
Using needs to improve the customer experience
A complete understanding of customer needs at each stage in the journey creates opportunities for innovative solutions—products and services—that improve the customer experience. To fully realize the upside, however, requires companies to reorient their perspective. Many journey maps consider customer sentiment at different stages and touchpoints, which identifies problem areas but crucially provides few clues about how to solve them. Instead, companies should examine which needs are most important at each stage and touchpoint and how satisfied customers are with how those needs are being met. Knowing that an important need is unmet at any stage or touchpoint establishes the root cause of customer dissatisfaction and not only identifies the symptom but points toward the cure. The solution that best meets the need has the best chance of alleviating the problem.
Needs can also add valuable dimension and depth to customer personas. Many personas attempt to describe the different paths that a customer takes through a journey based on demographic, behavioral, or attitudinal markers. While it is valuable to know how different kinds of people navigate the journey, it is just as valuable to know why certain people choose one path over another. We observe that customers often choose a path that best aligns with their most important needs, so understanding those needs provides is a better predictor of customer behaviors and how best to satisfy each customer type.
Finally, a detailed understanding of customer needs throughout the journey is the foundation of truly new products and services that create future value for a company. A journey map that focuses only on present pain may yield incremental improvements to existing products, processes, and experiences. An expanded journey map that prioritizes customer needs at each stage or at each touchpoint can be the source of breakthrough that will transform and disrupt markets.
Why settle for a good journey map when you can have a great one? A great customer journey map can not only help improve your customer experience, it can also chart a path to breakthrough product and service innovation. It will show you more than problems in the current experience, and crucially, will set you on the path to create entirely new experiences. Those innovations can increase the value your brand delivers to customers, yielding higher levels of satisfaction, increased retention
 Christiansen, Clayton M, Cook, Scott, and Hall, Taddy. “What Customers Want from Your Products.” HBS Working Knowledge, Harvard Business School, 16 Jan. 2006, hbswk.hbs.edu/item/what-customers-want-from-your-products.