Milad Elmir, ChannelNet’s Chief Experience Officer (CXO), explains the who, what, when, where and why of creating a customer journey map. In a short interview, Elmir shares what a customer journey map is, its importance to a brand’s strategic planning and how to create one.

What is a customer journey map?

Elmir: In its prototypical form, the customer journey map is a visual representation of a customer’s relationship with a brand over time and across touch points, channels and devices. The goal of a customer journey map is simple: to teach organizations about their customers.

They go beyond what any possible data set can tell you. Good customer journey maps allow us to model the customer experience by telling the story of a particular set of prototypical customers (or personas) as they interact with a particular brand. The map emphasizes the intersection of customer expectations and business requirements.

Great customer journey maps take an empathy-based approach. They comprehensively catalog and describe every aspect of the relationship between the customer and the brand. The objective is to find ways to deepen and extend the brand relationship.

Why should a brand develop a customer journey map?

Elmir: Simply put, you do it because it is the best way to understand your customer and the overall customer experience. All organizations run the risk of inward thinking, focusing primarily on their internal business drivers and requirements, often in a highly siloed or departmentalized fashion. A customer journey map is an essential tool to help your organization maintain a customer-centric view and understand how your brand fits into the life of your customer.

Customer journey mapping places the customer front and center and helps you understand that customer’s motivations and frustrations and the unique considerations for each touch point along the customer experience. Mapping helps you understand the context in which customers interact with your brand and clearly identify the opportunities across channels, devices and departments to reduce any gaps between what the customer wants and what the customer receives. This results in a stronger, longer-lasting and more profitable relationship.

How do you go about building a customer journey map?

Elmir: First and foremost, define and align. For me, the success or failure of any complex project hinges on clearly defining objectives and creating proper organizational alignment around those goals, across disciplines and key stakeholders.

Next, gather data. Information is key. Quantitative and qualitative research is the basis of any insight-driven customer experience mapping. In my experience, organizations have a lot more information than they think they do. Having the right multi-disciplinary stakeholders on the team will help uncover more holistically relevant and useful information.

Get everyone together and brainstorm. At this point, I like to facilitate a session with all the stakeholders to come up with every possible interaction a customer has with that particular brand or service, including touch points and channels. The brainstorm should include present state as well as envisioned future state.

Personify the customer. Once you’ve mapped interactions, it’s time to put yourself in the customers ’ shoes. What are they doing, feeling and thinking during their experience with your brand? This is when the customer fully comes to life and you start to uncover deeper and often surprising insights.

Put the pieces together. This is the part that everyone wants to get to on day one. But it’s only at this point that you have all the elements that you need to start thinking in terms of a true customer journey map. Here you bring your research and insights, touch point/channel mapping, personas, and all the ideation that the team has developed into a visual representation of your choice. At this point I like to keep it open and loose. Sticky notes on a wall or sketches on a whiteboard will do.

Digitize and share. Once the team is satisfied, it’s time to finalize your customer journey map in a form that has the detail that your organization needs while maintaining readability and clarity. Keep in mind that creating the journey map is just the start. Socializing the journey to key stakeholders and decision makers is how you transform it into a living, breathing document that can serve as a road map for strategic and tactical recommendations.

How has digital innovation changed the customer journey?

Elmir: Digital innovations have put more resources, more information and more choices in the hands of customers. This has empowered customers, driving them to have even higher standards and expectations from their brand experiences. And it has also made the process of mapping a customer’s journey more complex. Websites, social media, mobile apps, SMS and email are all playing an enormous part in the customer journey. Driven by digital innovation, the number of touch points has exponentially multiplied. Plus, new communication channels have emerged. Where customer journey maps may have followed a more linear model in the past, digital innovation requires a much more complex, matrixed model with a multidisciplinary and cross-channel approach.

Your final thoughts?

Elmir: The impact of digital innovation on the customer relationship is enormous. It is no longer enough to think about a linear purchase funnel or a singularity to which you drive the customer, you need to think about that customer’s journey because you are in it, not the other way around.

Today’s customer inhabits a world of connected devices, applications, social connections and experiences. Successful brands are able to think in experiential terms. In this landscape, the customer journey map is a necessity.