Customer journey mapping – The secret to digital transformation

Paul Boag

If you need to convince management that digital transformation is required — map your customer journeys.

What is it that people say — “the first step to recovery is recognising you have a problem.” I am seeing a lot of organisations recognising they have a problem with digital. They begin to understand that digital isn’t just something that they can bolt onto an existing business. They are realising it is transforming our world in profound ways and that changes business too.

The normal response is to commission a strategy document about digital transformation. I have written many of these myself. Yet, realising you need to change and writing a report about it is not enough. Sooner or later you have to take action.

I normally recommend that the first action is to map the customers journey.

Why customer journey mapping matters

You maybe wondering why I start with the customer journey. It’s because digital doesn’t matter in and of itself. Why should an organisation care about a specific new piece of technology? Digital only matters to the extent that it is changing customer behaviour.

Take for example the music industry. The arrival of the MP3 format would have been nothing more than a curiosity, except that it changed what customers wanted. They no longer wanted to go to the high street to buy an album. They wanted instant access to the individual songs they liked. This turned the industry upside down.

Customer journey mapping helps to expose these changes in customer behaviour. It ensures organisations are not planning based on out-of-date assumptions. The problem is that senior management see digital as nothing more than an add-on to their existing offering. They fail to realise just how much digital has changed things. By mapping the customer journey you help to highlight that change.

Customer journey mapping also helps management teams look beyond their current obsession. For example, management have a habit of focusing on things like mobile, social media or SEO. Instead they need to see these things in context. A customer journey map helps give that context.

Providing this context helps to highlight gaps or shortcomings. This shows management where the business is failing to meet the needs and expectations of customers. It also helps them to focus on the customer, rather than on their own products, services and organisation. This customer service mentality is lacking, especially within larger organisations.

How then do you create a customer journey map?

How to map the customers journey

A customer journey map is a straightforward document. It is a timeline that shows the stages a customer passes through in their interaction with an organisation. Stages will vary depending on your offering but include steps such as research, ordering or support.

For each stage, the customer journey map will list the actions taken by the customer. This includes any touch points with the company (such as calling a customer care number or visiting their website).

Alongside each of these actions it should show the questions customers have at that stage of the journey. For example they might want to know about return policy or how to speak to a real person.

Finally each stage in the process should outline how the customer is feeling. Are they excited about buying? Are they worried about the cost? Are they frustrated that they are having to return a faulty item?

The actual creation of a customer journey map is simple. The challenge is ensuring it is accurate. This involves talking to as many customers as possible — building up a picture of how users behave. This takes time, but proves invaluable when you start comparing the perception with the reality.

Mapping the business to your customer journeys

I often encounter an interesting anomaly when producing customer journey maps. The customer journey itself doesn’t come as much of a surprise to employees. It is only when you map it against the business that the full ramifications become clear.

Most employees have a reasonable handle on their customers behaviour. They realise that digital has changed how the customer behaves. What they fail to grasp is how incompatible that makes the organisations current processes.

To prove this point I like to map the customer journey against the organisation. Which department serves each of the touch points? What processes exist for ensuring customers don’t fall between the gaps? How is communication regulated across business silos?

This throws up all kinds of ways the organisation is failing the customer. For example, I worked with a charity who discovered they were spamming their best donators up to eight times a day. This was because each silo sent their own emails and had no idea how many emails others were sending out.

Mapping customer journeys to business processes demonstrates the need to make governance changes. It leads to new strategies for handling customer service and digital implementation.

The danger is that it throws up issues that involve significant organisational change.

Starting small

Past experience informs processes and so they can almost never deal with the future. Digital has changed customer expectations and that means we need to adapt our organisations. That can be an intimidating realisation.

It was a realisation the British government came to. Yet they did not start by outlining a massive project to undertake sweeping change. Huge projects like this almost always over spend and fail to deliver.

Instead they chose to start small. They began by assembling a small team to create a proof of concept website ( This proof of concept had at its core a different ideology. An ideology built around rapid development and customer focus. This challenged the departmental thinking and project mentality of government, but did so on a small scale. It showed the organisation what change looked like and that it could perform better.

That is an approach most organisations could learn from. As I said in my last post, we need to learn to start small. Instead of trying to address all aspects of the customer journey, experiment with one area. If you have many customer groups, map a small number of the most important ones. Trying to map them all at once will overwhelm you.

Most of all, learn from and prototype. Experiment with different ways digital can meet customer needs, rather than leaping in with both feet. This will give you the data you need to find the best approach and prove to the rest of the organisation that change must happen.

So what are you waiting for? Start mapping one customer journey today? If you don’t have the time, get some help. But, whatever you do, make sure it happens soon.