Customer Journey Mapping: A Guide for Retailers

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Customer journey mapping isn’t a new concept. It’s been around for several years, but the last 12 months have seen a real increase in the impact the model is having across the retail industry and more critically, in the board room. As is the case with many emerging disciplines, it’s easy to get carried away and run headlong into journey mapping without fully understanding what the goals are.

If you’re not familiar with it, customer journey mapping is a practical, visual document that covers all the steps that customers take in their interactions with you. It covers all your direct sales channels, but also all the less obvious areas, such as the back-office, that impact the customer experience. In effect, it’s an extension of the “moments of truth” approach that many businesses have used for year, but taking it to the next level to cover every area, not just the most impactful. A good map should not only show the obvious areas where companies have the opportunity to delight the customer, but also those areas about which customers are unaware — until they go wrong.

At first glance, it is easy to over-simplify the concept. You might think, “OK, we have stores, a website and a call center. Done.” Customer journey mapping needs to incorporate much more than a list of sales and service channels. It needs to deliver an understanding of what your customers are trying to achieve, and the steps they take to achieve it. A true customer journey map provides a framework that encompasses the entire business, how each area impacts the customer and informs your “Voice of the Customer” program to ensure you’re able to capture feedback at the right moments.

Let’s focus on key considerations to provide a solid foundation for an effective customer experience program for retailers setting out on a customer journey mapping initiative.

Have a Plan

First, a journey map must generate value and drive change if it is to improve customer-centricity across the company. So you need to think about what you’re trying to achieve. Are you going to use the map to improve the customer experience in specific channels? To engage employees so that they deliver better service and enhance the customer experience? To refine and consolidate your brand? You will probably find that ultimately you can do more than you imagine at the outset, but make sure you start with measurable and achievable goals.

Involve Everyone

No successful customer journey map was ever built in a vacuum. It’s vital that you include people from across your company and representing all levels in order to capture the full customer journey. It’s a great rallying point for the business because you can see how different stakeholders fit within the framework and help them to understand their impact on the customer experience.

For example, front-line employees, including store workers and customer service reps, have a wealth of knowledge which must be included to ensure that local variations are accounted for. They’ll also have better insight than anyone into what customers expect, particularly in-store, how they react to particular situations, and the process they go through to make a purchase. This level of on-the-ground input is critical in the retail world where even the most structured sales situations will have nuances that aren’t recognized at your head office.

Meanwhile, back-office areas like accounting or dispatch will hold information about processes that directly impact the customer but are often virtually unknown outside their departments. Bringing different perspectives together with the frontline view will help you consolidate your understanding and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks.

Sharing goes beyond just building the map. Stakeholders from across the company who help create the map ensure a broader personal understanding of the business, what you’re doing and why. Make it clear to employees that they all impact the customer journey. Whether directly or indirectly, they play a part in one or more touchpoints; being aware of that can be highly engaging for them. It’s also important to include your customers in the process. Be sure to ask a few customers to validate the journey for you to ensure and outside-in perspective.

Remember, No Touchpoint Is an Island

Your customers see your brand as a single entity. They don’t know (or care) that the website is handled by different people than the call center or the social media program … or that some services are outsourced. As you build your map, think about the combination of touchpoints that customers go through, and consider how well you deliver your brand experience at each of them. As a retailer, your focus may be more on your direct sales channels—brick-and-mortar or online stores—but your customers encounter your brand in many other ways. A poor or inconsistent delivery experience will mar the whole process, even if your product was perfect.

In addition to looking at which touchpoints customers encounter on their journey, remember that your map must show more than just a series of points of contact. You also need to look at what customers are trying to achieve at each point, why they’re there, how they feel and what external factors might be influencing them. This will help you meet customers’ needs effectively and build processes that work for them.

Deal with Reality

Some things are beyond your control but still impact how customers feel about you. It might not be entirely fair (road repairs outside your flagship store or your customer’s Internet connection that makes your site so slow), but the result is the same. When you build your map, make a note of the things that can affect key touchpoints. In some cases you may be able to build strategies to mitigate against them, for example, special offers tailored to customers who regularly use a store that’s been affected by construction work.

When it comes to implementing your VoC program based upon the framework provided by your map, it pays to enable store-level employees to have some level of input into the surveys you send to customers. For example, one leading retailer enables store managers to add up to three additional, localized questions to the standard VoC survey in order to account for exactly these types.

Use Personas

A good customer journey map needs to be based on more than the generic idea of “the customer.” Create personas, representative, composite characters who are trying to achieve something specific by interacting with your business. The process of mapping the journey is much easier when you can focus on“Brian” who has researched your product heavily before purchase but thinks he’s been billed incorrectly, or “Jessica” who realizes she’s bought the wrong item and needs help identifying what she really wants and returning the original one.

This is particularly key for multi-channel retailers (which in reality, is all of us now!) because different customer groups will use a different combination of channels in a slightly different way. Increasingly, customers use mobile devices in store to check whether there’s a better deal elsewhere or to find out about specific product details. Make sure that you’re accounting for this and other particular behaviors within your persona set.

Building Your Voice of the Customer Program

Don’t forget that your journey map is part of your wider customer experience program. Companies can maximize their customer experience program effectiveness by harmonizing customer journey mapping efforts with their customer listening initiatives. Ensure that the feedback you gather through that program is tightly linked to the touchpoints on your map. This enables you to pinpoint the root cause of any issues effectively and take action quickly where you need to.

In terms of building your VoC program based on your map, it makes sense to start small and build up. There’s a temptation to “boil the ocean,” do everything at once and change the world overnight. But it’s usually better to identify a couple of the touchpoints on your map and start to collect feedback at those stages. As you refine your processes for reporting, follow up and process enhancement, you can add additional touchpoints over time. This approach also means that you can prove the ROI of your program in stages, making it easier to roll it out.

Finally, it’s important that you review your journey map on a regular basis. It may not need amending most of the time, but in some cases a new store, sales channel, or delivery company, will have kicked in and you need to build that into your map. Otherwise, within a couple of years, you’ll have something that resembles an out-of-date atlas that doesn’t acknowledge a major road!



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