We've all had poor customer experiences at some point, but some people have experiences that become infamous. 

Perhaps you’ll remember when the Amtrak customer was stuck in an elevator and tweeted @Amtrack asking for help. In 2016, Amanda Carpenter, the passenger, tweeted, “Guys. I’m trapped in an amtrak elevator at Bwi airport. Help?” More than six months later, Amtrak tweeted back, “@amandacarpenter We are sorry to hear that. Are you still in the elevator?” To which Carpenter replied, “Oh, my thank you for this but I was trapped months ago. Like last February. Thanks for checking? . . . Ha.”

In fairness to Amtrak, it had replied to the original tweet the same day Carpenter became trapped, and the later reply was a real-time response to someone’s retweet of her original message many months later. But Amtrak couldn’t control the story, and it became the poster child for poor customer experience. 

Several years earlier, a Comcast technician had set up a modem in Brian Finkelstein’s Philadelphia apartment. As part of the standard process, the technician phoned in to a Comcast regional call center to finish the setup. While left on hold for an hour, he fell asleep.

Finkelstein videotaped the snoozing technician, added music with the lyrics “I need some sleep. I can’t go on like this,” and uploaded the video to YouTube. The video went viral and news outlets picked up the story. Not a great situation for Comcast.

Comcast isn’t alone, of course. Many companies are caught providing poor customer experiences, and companies are often unsure how it happened. It usually happens because the organization has grown too big too quickly, and nobody has full ownership of the customer experience. The challenge in business isn’t just understanding how to solve a problem, it’s also identifying it in the first place. 

Journey mapping is an effective technique for identifying problems. Even though customer-journey mapping has gained more traction in the past five to ten years, its origins date to a 1989 book in which authors Chip Bell and Ron Zemke introduced the concept. They described it as a cycle of service mapping.

The idea is to map out all the steps in a customer’s journey from beginning to end—from the first time the customer first considers buying a product or service to when the customer has become the owner of the product or service. The key is to map the experience from the customer's perspective, not the company’s. The process is highly visual, and the final output is usually a large document. Only after the journey has been mapped out can you figure out how to improve it.

Customer-journey mapping can be done by an individual but is especially effective for teams. The technique provides a structure for organizing brainstorming or problem-solving sessions. I highly recommend that you have someone with journey-mapping experience lead the session the first time your team uses technique. 

Following are the typical steps to creating a customer-journey map.

Step 1: Agree on what you’re mapping.

The most challenging part of this technique is determining where to begin. Start with a specific type of customer and a specific journey. If the scope of what you’re mapping out is too big, you'll never be finished with the mapping, so be sure to focus on a specific persona undertaking a specific task.

Step 2: Draw a timeline.

Draw a timeline from left to right. On the left side are the early stages of the journey, with the last stage on the right endpoint. Above the line are labels for the various sections of the customer journey. Common labels include awareness, consideration, evaluation, and purchase.

Step 3: Research the entire experience.

Talk to your company’s actual customers and ask them to describe their journey. Ask questions like, “What’s frustrating about this experience?” and “What would you do to make this a more enjoyable experience?” Ask them to go through all the steps they took, from first considering making a certain type of purchase to making the purchase from your company. Even if you think you know what the customer experience looks like, pretend you know nothing about it. You will be surprised when customers share some steps that you know nothing about.

Also talk to employees at your company who are familiar with customers’ experiences. Your goal is to gather any information they may have about customer sentiment. They could have insight into why some of the internal processes are causing poor customer experiences, for example.

Step 4: Document.

Start filling out your journey map based on what you’ve learned from customers and colleagues. Use sticky notes, because there will inevitably be some back and forth with the steps. Also include all the customer touch points in the journey. For example, a customer’s visit a retail store, setup of an online account, or request for advice from a friend.

Step 5: Find the pain.

After the steps of the journey are mapped out, add to the map indicators of the customer’s emotional state or pain points. These will help you to identify the parts of the journey that are broken—that is, the points at which customers experience difficulties. After you understand what's broken in the process, then you can move on to the next step.

Step 6: Identify improvements.

This is where the value of journey mapping really occurs. You've mapped everything out and understand what’s causing your customer pain or frustration. Your team is now focused on answering the following questions: How do we make this better? How do we eliminate the pain? 

You can do this in a variety of ways. Sometimes it involves fixing an internal process. Other times it might mean changing what and how you’re communicating to your customers.

In addition to revealing how the customer journey can be improved, journey mapping can be used for setting customer expectations and thereby providing a better customer experience. 

For example, the contractor my wife and I used for our house’s recent kitchen renovation understood his customers’ journey and early on provided a piece of content that clearly laid out the different stages of a kitchen remodel—planning, design, demolition, installation, etc. The document showed customer sentiment that was typical at each stage. It showed excitement at the beginning of the project and immense frustration after demolition. At the end, it showed customer excitement again.

When, a couple weeks after demolition, we started feeling as if the kitchen would never be done, we remembered the map and thought, “Oh yeah, this is actually what we’re supposed to be feeling.” The contractor had done nothing to change what happened during the renovation; he had just set our expectations by letting us know that we would eventually feel frustrated and that, when we did, we knew not to worry because it was normal.

Journey mapping is inexpensive but can be challenging, because it's qualitative rather than quantitative. There is no exact science to creating journey maps, and every map looks different. 

When using this technique, don't become obsessed with mapping out every detail. Stay focused on the big picture, continually asking yourself what an improved customer experience would look like. Have you eliminated the pain the customer is experiencing?

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