Where does a Customer Journey start and end?

One of the most common questions with regards to customer journey mapping is, “Where do I start and stop mapping the journey?

I want to discuss two very straightforward strategies that will help you to answer this question, so you can get on with the real important stuff.

Customer journey mapping is an important tool for creating a positive impact on people and business. But how far should the journey go? Where does it start and where does it stop?

A common mistake I see people making when answering this question, “Where does the journey start?” is to think of it as the moment a customer interacts with an organization for the first time, for instance, the moment you walk into the airport. That’s the moment the journey of your travel experience starts.

Well, that’s a common mistake. A lot of the clues and answers to improving the user or customer experience lie specifically in the parts before entering an airport or after leaving the airport, as it has been scientifically shown that the memory we have of the quality of service is determined by the last parts. If you don’t look at the last part of a service, after you’ve maybe even left the airport, you’ll miss out on some important opportunities to improve the experience.

So the question is, how do we determine where it starts and stops?

The way I think about where the journey ends is to think about the specific goal a customer wants to achieve. We’re not thinking about process maps and what the process map says. What is the goal your customer wants to achieve?

For instance, if somebody wants to buy a house, then that’s the specific end goal, but the question is, how far do you go with it? The specific goal could be signing the mortgage papers, it could be the moment you entered the house, or it could be that’s the first time you meet your new neighbors. So how far do you actually go with expending the journey?

Andy Polaine said in his episode that service design is fractal. Every journey contains endless numbers, probably of smaller journeys. If we think about buying a house, we think about the end goal. But, how far back should you go? Is a conversation at a birthday party also part of the journey of buying a house?

Until you want to play a role in debt as a company, you can, you can make it as big and a small as you’d like. And that can be a real challenge. So how do we approach this?

I have two very pragmatic strategies to just answer this question.

My first approach is really simple and straightforward: Start in the middle and then think of five steps to the left and five steps to the right.

Map the journey by looking at what’s happening in the middle.

Let’s call it the “during” phase—what is the moment your customer interacts with your company that you know for sure? Start with that moment. It’s up to you how many steps you’re going to take to start and end. At first, it’s smart to do more steps than fewer. And then just work your way out!

The second approach is similar to the first one, but it’s a little bit different: Define three moments—a “during” moment, an end moment, and the start moment—and then start filling in the gaps between. (It doesn’t really matter what those moments are at this stage, so don’t get hung up on finding the exact right moments.)

When I do this in a workshop, I ask, “What are three interactions activities, touch points, that are in between the start and the during phase? What are the three touch points that are in between the during and end phase?” And we fill in the gaps.

Does that mean that you will know for sure if this is the anthem the start moment? No, you won’t. But, like I said, it doesn’t really matter at first, just start making the map. You can always expand and ask the questions—”Is this really the end? What’s going to happen after this moment?” When you approach it by simply filling in gaps, you’ll have something to start the discussion. I think that’s the key essence of this approach. Make sure you get up to speed, pick up momentum, and have something to think (and talk) about.

Should we map activities that aren’t in the sphere of our service delivery?

Why should we map activities outside of the airport? Or why should we map activities that are after the moment that we’ve been assigned. Mortgage papers let for instance, the birthday party, right? If you’re talking to your neighbor about buying a new house, why should we map those activities?

The truth is that usually you’ll find the most interesting clues on how to improve the user experience, how to improve your service, in the before and after phase. If you start thinking about what happens outside of the realm of your own service, you’ll really get a lot of clues on how to do just that.

My key message here is that it doesn’t really matter that much what the start and end point of your map are.

The best way to think about it is from the perspective of your clients. Think about the spirit specific goal he or she wants to achieve and take that as an answer moment and the start moment—it’s really up to you to pick how far you want to go.

My advice: It’s better to go too broad than too narrow, because you can always narrow down (and chances are, you’ll see some interesting opportunities in the dead space!).

The most important thing is just start mapping. Make sure you have something on paper that you can talk about with other people and get that discussion going. Because that’s what a real value lies, and not in scientifically determining what the start an endpoint of your journeys.

If you do customer journey mapping right, it is always an iterative process. You’ll always be updating and expanding the map. So, just go out and do it!

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