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Journey Maps: Not the End of the Story

Strategy Matters

Realizing the power of UX strategy

A column by Ronnie Battista
May 18, 2015

Recently, during an early scoping effort for a project with a new client who needed our help transforming their retail experience, we proposed their considering a journey-mapping exercise. Their response:

Please! I do not want to see another journey map.”

Were we surprised? Meh. It was only a matter of time.

This response—or perhaps lament might be a better word—came from the client executive who is responsible for leading the effort. I was not at that meeting, but was curious about where this comment came from, so I probed for more detail about the context. There wasn’t much more to learn, but it was clear that this person had experienced a few journey-mapping efforts in the past and failed to see their value. And it confirmed what a lot of us have been expecting.

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Journey maps have been around for the better part of a decade—some would argue longer—but it’s really only in the last three or four years that they’ve come into more common use, and more strategists are advocating their use as a framework for improving the customer experience. Without getting into the specifics of what a journey map is or isn’t in this column—there’s no shortage of material on the subject—suffice it to say that many in our field, including me, strongly believe in the potential of journey mapping for helping companies to achieve human-centric business transformations.

Mapping the Experience: A Step in the Right Direction

As an activity and artifact for understanding and providing actionable recommendations for the end-to-end experience through a customer’s lens, journey mapping can provide businesses with a strategic tool for framing their brand experience through the eyes of customers. While there are common features across all journey maps, there are also significant differences among the journey maps for specific projects. That’s both good and understandable. With so many different types of people, industries, interactions, products, services, and so on, brand experiences tend to be both complex and unique. So, while journey maps have been around for awhile, if you’re relatively new to them, you’re not too late to the party. There is no shortage of opportunities to learn about the ins and outs of producing journey maps either online and in training workshops.

As yet another piece of Heuristica Jargonistica in our field, I’ve seen many different terms for journey mapping, including experience mapping, ecosystem mapping, and customer/employee journeys. Suffice it to say that all of these terms refer to the same thing. Strategists of all stripes—whether they’re focusing on user experience, customer experience, experience design, interaction design, information architecture, or service design—are employing these tools. These are useful tools regardless of how we choose to define who we are and what we do.

That said, regardless of how many of us are advocating and delivering on journey-mapping initiatives, we continue to see cases where—beyond the final project presentation—the journey-map artifact itself loses value quite quickly. So, while journey mapping remains a powerful way to discover, prioritize, and road-map opportunities, there are definitely opportunities to improve on and increase the long-term value of the map itself.

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5 Critical Success Factors for an Actionable, Valuable Journey-Mapping Exercise

Thus, I’ve tried to distill five critical success factors that should be part of any journey-mapping effort, as well as five reasons why journey maps are not proving their long-term value. First, the five critical success factors. Bon Voyage!

  1. Establishing goals and outcomes—Establishing clear goals and outcomes for a journey-mapping initiative lets you accurately design a research plan, focus the effort, and gain support. This should be the first part of any conversation about a journey map. If you don’t know what the goals and outcomes should be, it’s best to assume that nobody else on the project knows what they are either.
  2. Representing the customer perspective—The journey map should represent interactions as your customer experiences them. This means looking beyond customers’ observable actions to what they’re thinking during their journey and what emotions they’re feeling, which are as important as their actions. This often includes some interactions that happen outside your control—for example, social media and Web search. Although there may be some people in the business who think they know what’s going on, it’s best not to rely on internal staff speaking on behalf of customers.
  3. Basing journey maps on quantitative and qualitative research—Research drives the most valuable journey maps, which are based on evidence from customer research. To gain insights beyond the customer journey itself, include key customer experience metrics that enable easier benchmarking—such as Net Promoter Score (NPS), Customer Experience Index (CxPI), and American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI)—as well as the critical business outcome metrics—for example, initial conversions and churn rates. While you might whiteboard an initial sketch of the journey with stakeholders to get a good framework from which to start, make sure everyone knows that research will inform and support the journey map. The more professional and better-planned the research, the better the results. 
  4. Building to communicate—A customer journey–mapping initiative enables customer-experience transformation. Share findings as broadly as possible. Be visual. Ditch PowerPoint as much as possible. Make sure that anyone in the company who sees your journey map can understand both what it is and what its purpose is. You can easily test whether people can intuit this by putting the journey map in front of someone in the company who is unfamiliar with the effort, tell them no more than something like “this is meant to capture the customer experience,” and see whether they get it.
  5. Ensuring post-mapping executive ownership and governance—From the get-go, a journey map is only as valuable as a company’s willingness to operationalize it. Like any journey that a large group takes in the real world, achieving success requires up-front planning, appropriate resources, a trusted guide, and a destination that all agree upon.

5 Reasons Journey Maps Are Failing to Prove Their Long-Term Value

Now, here are the top five reasons that I’ve seen for journey maps’ failing to prove their long-term value. Non-Voyage!

  1. Mapping too much complexity—A good map is a legible map, but not all journey maps are easy to follow. People do not experience brand journeys in the same way they do geographic ones. Maps of physical terrain assist people in getting from one place to another. In contrast, many customer journey maps are too complex, replete with numerous channels, touchpoints, and contexts of interaction—some of which are incongruous. In a valiant attempt to capture everything, teams sometimes go to such great lengths to detail all they know in a journey map that it ceases to function as an accessible communication tool for anyone beyond the project team that is completely familiar with the effort.
  2. Encountering the shiny-trinket syndrome—A bit like what happened with personas a few years back, some journey maps suffer from what I call shiny-trinket syndrome. Forrester and other companies communicating the benefits of journey mapping to executives who are struggling to transform their organizations tout it as a relatively inexpensive, but powerful way of plotting a way forward. As the number of companies and people offering to create journey maps has grown, a natural consequence is that we’re seeing a proliferation of companies and groups chasing these shiny trinkets. While most of them approach journey mapping with integrity, some are offering journey maps of dubious quality and value. While this presents a key opportunity for all of us to differentiate ourselves, as I noted at the beginning of this column, it also presents a challenge: we’re already seeing companies push back on our journey-map pitches because they’ve “already done one” with someone else and found it disappointing.
  3. Lacking organizational readiness—As many of us have experienced in one way or another, there’s often a chasm between an organization’s verbal commitment to customer centeredness and the true cultural willingness that it takes to act on it. Often, only a small number of people can understand, translate, and take action on journey-map outcomes—at either strategic or tactical levels. Journey maps often uncover larger strategic issues, and addressing such issues may require coordination across channels or products. The leaders who really need to take on the work are often far removed from the operational folks who receive the journey map. At both levels, it’s usually hard to find people who are both experts in their area and have a customer-centric, design-oriented skillset.
  4. Lacking governance—Without governance, journey mapping can be like climbing Everest without a Sherpa. A solid, executable governance plan is often lacking, as is executive sponsorship that extends beyond the project and can leverage and evolve the journey map for monitoring and decision making. Often, a key culprit is people viewing journey maps as qualitative, stand-alone, episodic artifacts that are untethered from key data and metrics that the team can track over time. Yes, by design, journey maps are meant to convey more qualitative elements—for example, thinking and feeling—but there are certainly ways to align journey maps to data frameworks that let us track key data such as conversion paths, customer satisfaction, and return on investment (ROI) by initiative.
  5. Failing to consider the long road ahead—My colleague Jim Combs encapsulates this one really well when he says, “It’s really hard work to make things right for customers. Often, the first best steps from a journey map are small, incremental changes that lead to larger, incremental changes, that lead to smaller strategic shifts, that lead to larger strategic shifts. I’ve worked on some journey-map projects that took three to five years to actually see the … outcome. How many organizations can think, plan, and operate in that way?”

Do these reasons for failure resonate with you? It shouldn’t be a surprise that, more often than not, what I’m seeing and hearing from others is the growing concern that, while journey mapping gives us the heady feeling of being at the tip of big change, it’s often quickly followed by a hangover. If this continues to happen, we’ll run the risk of having an even harder time advocating for the use of a journey map as a strategic experience tool.

Am I missing other big culprits? If you’ve done journey-mapping work, I’d be interested to know:

  • Did executives who were either directly sponsoring or tangentially involved in journey mapping value and push it within the organization?
  • Did they use the journey map for training or corporate communications?
  • Is someone responsible for modifying the journey map to meet customer needs as the business changes?
  • Was the journey map integrated with the capture of existing or new business metrics?
  • Are customer or employee advisory panels or boards leveraging the journey map?
  • Did anything go particularly well or badly with client perceptions of the journey map after you delivered it?

As always, I would love to hear from you! 

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Practice Lead for Experience Strategy + Design at Slalom Consulting

New York, New York, USA

Ronnie BattistaRonnie is a senior UX executive with 20 years of experience envisioning and delivering creative, cross-channel user experiences with positive bottom-line impact. Ronnie has served in UX leadership positions at Accenture, Dun and Bradstreet, Gextech in Spain, MISI Company, and Slalom Consulting. He has provided experience design leadership to over 120 clients, ranging from C-suite-level strategic solutions to team-level tactical solutions. Ronnie co-created the Rutgers Mini-Masters in User Experience Design with Marilyn Tremaine and currently serves as both Program Director and Lead Adjunct Professor at Rutgers. Ronnie served on the Executive Committee of the Usability Professionals’ Association International (UPA-I) Board of Directors from 2010 to 2012 and was formerly President of the NJ Chapter of the UXPA. A life-long lover of the real Jersey Shore, when not on the beach, he lives in Tinton Falls with his wife Tiffany and their three children.  Read More

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