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4 steps to organize around the customer journey to propel beyond competition

Customer centricity is becoming a commodity and the landscape of customer journey mapping is exploding. This is fantastic! In this article I will talk about how you can take the next step to become truly customer centric by organizing around the customer journey. And why the vertical aspect of your customer journey mapping is crucial.

Happy Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

I think you’ll agree if I say that a majority of all brands exist because there is a customer that wants, or is in need of, what a brand has to offer. Maybe you also agree if I say that customer centricity is becoming a commodity. Brands are tracking customer feedback and gathering behavioural data as never before. In fact, they are drowning in feedback and data that tell them what their existing customers are thinking and doing. Some brands have even started to master the art of combining qualitative and quantitative data to truly benefit from CX and customer centricity.

In this exploding landscape of customer centricity, the customer journey, that used to live a somewhat quiet and peaceful life on a wall at a design-, UX- or CX department, is now finding its way into the product, marketing, sales and management teams. Customer journey mapping is soon a prerequisite in any key workshop worth mentioning, and searching for people with “customer journey” in their title on LinkedIn, will give you nearly a million hits. This is fantastic! It really is.

A masterfully executed customer journey is where you visualize all the business-critical insights around your customers. Customers you have, the customers you want to have, the pains and gains, aspirations and needs that will unlock moments of interest.

A masterfully executed customer journey will tell you where to shine, where you have gaps in your offer or communication, and how to prioritize work. (Shall we focus on maintenance of a broken payment flow or launch a new feature for cats?) It will tell you how to connect the dots and how to prioritize the MVP to get ahead of the competition. (MVP - a version of a product with just enough features to be usable by early customers who can then provide feedback).

To summarize; All the amazing things about the customer journey I just mentioned lead up to one common denominator; Business Benefits.

Two ways of looking at the customer journey

The most common way to work with, and look at, the customer journey is horizontally, going from left to right.

Let’s say that you start by mapping your customer’s actions. At the upper left corner you will find the customer is realizing a problem, followed by the customer looking for possible solutions to this problem and after that the customer is comparing existing offers available on the market. Then the customer is moving into consideration, then decision and BAM!, into on-boarding. Now, when the customer is entering your offer, you follow her/him, step-by-step, throughout the experience and the customer journey will probably end with the customer leaving and off-boarding.

When having mapped your customer’s actions, you start populating the lanes underneath, going left to right, with insights and content that will inform your prioritization to maximize your impact.

Why the vertical aspect of the customer journey is crucial

I could go on forever listing benefits of a masterfully executed, horizontally addressed customer journey, but I won’t. (Not in this post, anyway. 🙂)

Instead, I would like to talk about how the customer journey can play the role as an enabler for organisational change. Aligning an organisation, on all levels, around complex strategic and critical decisions. Acting as a springboard, (or a battering ram, depending on the task at hand) for making the prioritizations, eliminating risks and taking the right decisions fast.

The key here is to address the customer journey vertically.

Why vertically?

Because this is how you support and serve your customer when he/she experiences your product or service.

E.g. When your customer is on-boarding to your service for the first time he/she is dependent on all the touch points and support systems vertically addressing this particular action. The customer doesn’t care about how you are organized or how your product is supposed to be perceived further down the line. You have to be relevant at the right moment to build loyalty and avoid churn.

Below I will exemplify how the customer journey can play the role as an enabler for organisational change and aligning an organisation, on all levels, around complex strategic and critical decisions.

How a tech startup switched from working in silos to organizing around the customer journey map

Imagine that you are working at a solidly invested tech startup.

The product this tech start up is building has the potential to solve a gigantic consumer challenge, and the date of the Beta launch is approaching with frightful speed. (Beta - knowingly releasing an unfinished product with known bugs to users to identify its most critical bugs, usability friction, and bad performance before releasing it in its finished version.)

You have already started to invite and onboard paying customers into the Beta and at the last management meeting the key investor called out convincingly that “failing is not an option”.

To make this example even more delicate the product is a combination of a digital and physical customer experience, in high demand of partners.

All teams are working around the clock to make this high stake Beta launch a big success. Product, tech, data, marketing, hardware, finance, communication, operations, management are all running side by side. Stand-ups, big room plannings, all hands - everything is centered around the coming launch and the dependencies are extensive.

But even with the best intentions to work towards the same goal, the teams ended up working mainly in silos, making their own priorities and mapping their own customer journeys when not fighting about resources. And working in silos, in my experience, is one of the worst enemies of establishing a business critical customer experience.

With 12 weeks until the Beta launch, the teams, management and the investors collectively realized that this way of working was not working. Something had to change.

And so it happened that someone at the solidly invested tech startup came up with the idea of using the customer journey as the foundation for propel.

The steps to tear down the silos and move towards customer centricity.

Step 1. Establishing the Beta customer journey

This process started off by co-creating a Beta customer journey. The co-creation process included all key stakeholders and every piece of information that could possibly inform the mapping process where drawn into daylight. After a couple of rounds of iterations and refinements, the entire organisation was ready to sign off on the Beta customer journey - including the customer’s phases, activities, emotional experience as well as the preferred customer experience. (Preferred customer experience - What you want your customer to experience interacting with your offer in a specific situation.)

Having this beta customer journey in place, the tech start up was now ready to move on to step 2.

Journey-mapping workshop

Step 2. Creating vertical divides and dedicated coordinators

The customer journey was now divided into six vertical pieces, each piece representing the customer’s phases (In this particular example it was phases like Awareness, Becoming a customer, Using the product for the first time, Payment, etc.)

Each divided vertical piece was then appointed to one dedicated coordinator. This Beta-Team of dedicated coordinators was responsible for identifying gaps, raising concerns and ensuring conditions for a successful launch. One key success factor was that the Beta-Team was cross-functional, representing different parts of the organisation to secure buy-in and fast decision loops when needed. Always with the mindset to stay true to the customer experience the entire organization has signed off and approved upon.

Step 3. Starting the work and having a hallelujah moment

The vertical coordinators started off by mapping ready, or soon to be ready, features and solutions into the customer journey with the purpose to identify gaps. After the first round of mapping it was clear that there were several significant and critical gaps that hadn’t been recognized before. Having the identified gaps mapped and visualized for the entire organisation to see and reflect upon, led to a bit of a hallelujah moment.

This visualization made it clear where to problem-solve and how to re-prioritize going forward. This was the first time the product, with all its touch points, was directly connected to the customer promise and to the purpose it was supposed to serve.

Example customer journey map

Step 4. Moving on in the vertical direction

In the following weeks the coordinators were making regular updates with the teams and functions updating the customer journey, changing red flags to yellow and finally to green.

The Beta-team worked closely together, always with the mindset that a challenge that occurred in one of the verticals could cause a massive error, and eventually even churn, in another. The constantly updated customer journey map was accessible for all teams and formed a base in daily stand ups, and the process, progress and achievements were easy to follow, prioritize and celebrate on a regular basis.

The visuality the customer journey brought to the table, despite the potential risks and red flags, also created a sense of control and peace of mind within the management and investors. In fact, this was so fruitful that one of the conference rooms was temporarily transformed into a Beta-Room where the walls were primed with concepts, sketches, wireframes, pictures and physical samples making the launch even more tangible for everyone involved. Creating a feeling of pride and belonging across all teams and functions.

The effects and learnings of the new way of working

So, was this new way of organizing and working fortunate? Here are some of the immediate take-aways and effects that it resulted in.

  • Within the first week of applying this new way of organizing and working, a number of concerning risks that needed immediate re-prioritization was recognized. Risks that would not have been recognized at this stage otherwise.
  • The knowledge that a challenge that occurred in one of the verticals could cause a massive error, and even churn, in another led to a new way of thinking going forward. Imaginary walls were torn down, unlocking the counterproductive silo structure. Nurturing an even more customer-centric, curious and inclusive culture.
  • Gathering the entire organisation around the customer journey brought the teams closer together. To be able to visually follow the progress in real time nurtured the sense of working truly collaboratively towards a common goal.
  • Management and investors had for the first time access to a clear status overview that brought a sense of control and peace of mind seeing all the things already in place, as well as giving them clear indications on how to best support.

The story doesn’t tell if the Beta launch became a success, but I’m quite sure it was.

/Ulrika


Ulrika Ewerman is an Independent CX (Customer Experience) Advisor and expert in CX Management and CX Strategy Execution. Over the past 20 years she’s been working globally, creating impact through CX Methodology, Management, Organization and Execution. She holds an MFA in Design and has headed senior management roles at Veryday, McKinsey and Volvo Car Mobility.

Today she is supporting organizations and brands to unlock the CX potential and become truly customer centric, with a human-centred, possibility-driven and iterative approach. Link to Ulrika’s LinkedIn profile



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