Most businesses find themselves operating in a competitive landscape. If they’re not, and they’re successful, they soon will be! For a business to thrive and stand the test of time it needs to be continually looking for a competitive edge - something that makes them stand out from the competition.
There are many ways businesses can succeed in a competitive environment: having cheaper or better products and services, better advertising, better after sales service etc.
One tried and true differentiator is to provide a superior customer journey. This is sometimes referred to as the customer experience, but we like to think of it as a journey through the various processes and touch points with your business. To do this we identify the different types of people who interact with your business, we give them personas and we walk with them, thinking about their needs and preferences, through their journey to buy or use your goods and services.
So what does this mean and how can businesses use this approach to boost their competitive edge?
The customer journey can be thought of as all of the interactions and involvement the customer has with your business. This might start at the first time they see an advertisement or hear of your business through word of mouth, continue through the sales processes and onwards to the after sales care (and hopefully repeat business…)
There are of course many variations in what a customer journey might look like, just as there are many types of customer. For some businesses, like a supermarket for instance, the interactions are frequent, short, ongoing, typically across a large number of products and with a huge variety of customer types. For other businesses, like an electronics component manufacturer, interactions may only be once or twice a year and with a very niche customer set. It’s important to maintain a good understanding of your customer(s), what they value in the process and products, and how they typically interact with you.
We’ve all enjoyed that wonderful experience where everything is just right, the advertising is fun, the staff are fantastic, the product or service and its delivery exceeds expectations and the after sales care is spot on. We tend to become advocates of the business from these sorts of experiences as we tell our networks how good it was. As any marketer will tell you - this is the real gold! Equally though, we’ve all sadly had the opposite where it seems the business has gone out of its way to disappoint you - we tend to tell those stories too and marketers have some words for that as well.
So how do we ensure that we’re delivering a positive experience? How do we ensure we are doing this consistently, that we are actually delivering the sorts of experiences that customers really want (it’s often a bit different to what we think they want) and, to put it in blunt terms, how do we know that the investment we are committing in creating these positive experiences is paying off?
One key tool in the Business Analyst’s kit is the Customer Journey Map. This is a way of looking at a business and all the touch points and interactions it has with a customer, and, critically, doing this from the customer’s own point of view.
Firstly, we are only concerned with the bits of the process that the customer is aware of or affected by. As an example, how the goods came to be in your store may be of little interest to a customer, even though it is of great importance for a business considering its supply chain efficiency. Having the goods in stock when the customer wants it, or being able to show ethical sourcing on the other hand will often be very important for the customer. In a similar fashion, a sales heat map is important to help with cross selling and market coverage but isn’t likely to be as valued by a customer as is consistently spelling their name correctly and ensuring that each department is aware of their overall relationship with the business.
Like other types of process mapping however, we do go through the exercise of drawing up the process flow, but with a firm focus on understanding it from the customers’ perspective. What is the process they go through, where do they interact, where are they being asked to wait, how hard are the steps they’re being asked to participate in etc?
This provides the obvious and valuable insight around their experience of the customer journey they currently take. The point of the exercise, however, is to use this tool to identify and design ways to improve the customer journey to provide the all important competitive edge and to capitalise on the investment all businesses (should) make on the customer experience.
Achieving this requires overlaying the customer journey map on the wider set of business process maps to understand what processes, people and roles, data flows and the systems that support them are involved in the delivery of that journey. If some aspect of that journey needs improvement then this allows you to understand what factors are at play and what improvement of those factors would involve. From there we’re into the more familiar territory of considering costs and benefits, prioritisation and sequencing and undertaking projects to deliver the desired changes. Establishing baselines and being able to measure changes (for example by customer satisfaction surveys) allows you to critically gauge the effect of your efforts at improving the customer journey and their experience of working with your business.
Customer journey mapping provides a deeply insightful perspective with which to look at your business through your customers’ eyes. Being able to understand what “awesome” looks like from your customers’ perspective is the key to truly being awesome and, as we all know, that is often all the difference in the world!
If your business is seeking to gain valuable insights and improve its customer journey- get in touch. We'd love to help you take your customer experience to the next level.
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