The Why (and Why Not) of Customer Journey Mapping

If you and I communicated recently (say, last 1-2 years) in any way – talked, emailed, came to a panel or keynote of mine, or are just lucky enough to be my client – you know how much I — er, “love” customer journey mapping (CJM).

I explained a large part of it in my April CRM Magazine article “Why Journey Mapping Wastes Time and Money“.  I was adamant about the organizations trying to control the customer in view of their slow loss of control.

I was reading BFF Paul Greenberg’s excellent assessment of Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud event in NYC last month (it was a good event, but still hasn’t’ found “their message” — I agree with Paul) and my spidey sense lit up again.

Paul did a magnificent job of explaining the perceived need by the organization to embrace on customer journey mapping.  He says

Salesforce spent a lot of time in discussion about the customer journey. They said that businesses have to guide customers to be active participants in the business by managing the customer journey. To do that, the customers need personalized attention. This makes it incumbent upon businesses to identify who are the customers and prospects via their purchase histories, online behavior and demographics. Then with that data figure out what has to be said to the individual customers, or modularly similar ones at least (my words, not theirs) and get them the appropriate content. The digital assets have to be created, and then distributed to the specific individuals at the best time in any conceivable digital channel (e.g. Ads, web, email, mobile, social, group messaging, text, apps, sales, service, communities). All of this requires some understanding of the customer journey. This was all in the context of the Salesforce Journey Builder product.

I seldom quote other writings, good or bad, so you know this is an important piece of writing.  Besides my admiration of Paul’s prose and how easy it is for him to explain complex concepts in simple sentences, I think he nailed the main problem with CJM – without highlighting it (actually, I am not sure he was intending it – only a curmudgeon like me would notice…)

Paul saved me, and you, so many words by explaining the why of CJM.  But he also pointed the Achilles heel (my perspective, not his) for it.  He says, as the main justification for companies to embrace CJM

This makes it incumbent upon businesses to identify who are the customers and prospects via their purchase histories, online behavior and demographics. Then with that data figure out what has to be said to the individual customers, or modularly similar ones at least (my words, not theirs) and get them the appropriate content.

Which is undoubtedly how organizations, and more importantly, marketing organizations see their role in this new world where customers own the conversation and where customers are greatly (to an extent never seen before) empowered by communities, social networks, and collaboration potential.

You see, customers never expect the businesses to “get them the appropriate content” anymore.  There are four critical aspects of why this is not the case:

  1. Content creation has shifted away from the brand.  In an effort to end my own business (which accounts for its revenues in part with content creation for vendors) but being fair – how much content is directly created by companies versus content created in communities and directly by users for users? If you have a need for information (content + data + knowledge – or combination of such) you will more than likely do a Google / Bing (seriously?) search.  That will point you to many forums, communities, blogs, and other pieces of content – not company generated, that answer your needs.  Trust me or try it, you will seldom click on the brand-generated content instead opting for the community or peer-generated content.  This is why we have the “customer era” upon us.
  2. Customers are not sure what they are doing.  The complexity of today’s world, coupled with the accelerated pace of life makes it so we seldom complete one “journey” the same way we started it – or at the same time.  Time continuum of experiences in a distracted world (how many messages and content are you exposed to each day?  how many of them are “brand owned”? etc) has become very disrupted.  The time between when we think of, for example, getting a hotel for a vacation and ending up in a cottage using Airbnb (true story from these past two weeks) has shifted from hours to weeks and spanned channels and content that I wasn’t even aware it existed.  Expedia, VRBO, Airbnb, Hotel Websites, Tripadvisor, and reviews sites all contributed to my “journey”.  Did I plan it that way? Hardly… and neither do your customers.  They don’t know where they are going when they start – but they sure know they are not going to take your journey once they realize the many options they have.
  3. Paths to complete their journeys are always expanding.  In his excellent post, truly, Paul also makes the case that digital marketing (including content management) has become a force of its own for organizations (he has the data, go read it).  Other data points you read just about everywhere confirm that: budget for digital marketing has emerged and grown dramatically, content management is “a thing” to contend with again, and more.  If I had to convince you of that you wouldn’t be reading this,   Brands are recognizing more and more the loss of the control of the conversation.  This is not how they are taught or prepared to act.  Even the most modern marketer today is having a hard time adjusting to the reality of the loss of this control – and now we are even telling them they don’t own the funnel anymore (thanks Sameer for that excellent piece!).  I am not the first, not will be the last, to say the traditional funnel (I’d say any funnel) is dead.  This is because on a daily (if not hourly basis) more and more paths to the goal are being created, modified, and expanded.  Building a set of paths (or expected) paths for customers is not what’s happening.
  4. Customers don’t know what they want.  We live in a society on its way to be post-consumerist.  This is in part cemented by the existence of the so-called “sharing economy” (of which Airbnb is one example – a name I abhor) where more and more organizations are finding ways to offer services and “pay as you go” solutions for consumers.  Often, more and more, consumers are not even sure what the end state of their journey is.  Using my own example, I started researching a weekend in Maui at a hotel and ended up with a week in Central California at a cottage.  Yes, I knew I wanted to get a vacation – but the length and location of the same was not even close to known when I started my journey.  Drawing on my example, Expedia missed out on getting my business since they did not have sufficiently good packages or options for destinations other than Hawaii.  Marriott, my beloved hotel chain that is always my first stop in lodging, missed out on getting my business since they did not have a link or partnership to VRBO or Airbnb when the hotels in my preferred destinations were booked.  And virtually all others missed out on my business by not reading the “tea leaves” I left behind stating what I was looking for.  I hadn’t used Airbnb for over 2 years now – even though I got their emails suggesting places (many, none interesting or relateable) over that time.  If any of these companies with whom I do business regularly didn’t get the idea of what my journey was is because I didn’t know it first of all.  And I would like to think I am not unusual (at least on behavior – most of you will disagree overall, I know…).

I have droned on for 1200+ words about this – but I am just getting started.  I promise I will stop now, but I hope I got you to think about this process.

You, the brand, is very quickly losing this battle.

No desperate attempt at controlling it by “mapping customer journeys” will get you where you want to go.  Heck, where you want to go does not even exist as a destination anymore.  You don’t want to manage your customer journeys – you want to provide them a way to build their own paths as they go along.

This is what I have been, and will continue to, advocating for a long time.  Build a killer infrastructure that will leverage communities and social networks as “wisdom hubs” (I wrote that post yesterday – the beginning of the concept at least):

  • Establish a presence in every channel and situation by building an ecosystem (Expedia and Marriott should offer Airbnb as an option even if no revenue comes of it – think Miracle on 34th street or Nordstrom’s style – ok Zappos for the young ‘um)
  • Forget the customer paths, give them tools to build them fresh and new every time (think Platforms and Ecosystems, again)
  • Realize that your content is not longer yours, but your customers’ and find the “wisdom hubs” and tap into them (don’t forget to help them grow also!)

I am just a bird-dogging curmudgeon: I simply point the way.  That’s what I hope I accomplished in these 1500+ words… are you hunting?

disclaimer: yes, Salesforce is a customer but I only mentioned them here because Paul did first (that didn’t work with my siblings when I was growing up, don’t think will absolve me of blame here either). I have no commercial relationship with Google or Bing (although Microsoft Dynamics is a client). I have no commercial relationship with Airbnb, Marriott, Expedia, Nordstrom’s, Zappos and others mentioned here – although at some point in the past they were either clients via Gartner or independently, or inquiries I took, or met them and chatted with them at a conference or event or even as a reference.  Paul is awesome, a great friend, and the oracle (lower case, no relationship to the vendor – who is not a client currently since they hate me for the most part) of the customer world.  I am merely taking on his work to expand on a rant of mine – any errors or problems here are mine, not his.  He rocks.  In spite of my oldest daughter’s objection that “Wikipedia cannot be trusted – anyone can edit it and say whatever they want” (which frankly, ignores the fact that crowdsourcing wisdom is exactly why it works – but I digress) I will continue to make it the source of definitions and whatnot.  If you feel like my daughter, find your own definitions – but I promise you that they won’t be too far off (and likely you don’t get it… but don’t tell my daughter I said that… don’t want to relive that debate again).  I have no commercial reason for writing this other than needed to be said.  If you think otherwise, you have not followed my career.


7 Replies to “The Why (and Why Not) of Customer Journey Mapping”

  1. Oh come on man! This is Esteban’s blog, not Paul’s. 😛

    But I love your term “wisdom hubs”.

    I would like to believe that’s what I am building right now for our IT support department. We are getting started with a SharePoint based knowledge repository complete with rigorous approval processes and taxonomies defined by PhDs. Hopefully the knowledge stocks will be used at the point of need – resolving tickets. This will happen the traditional big bang approach.

    We are also getting started with Yammer based communities and hope we can mature it as we learn how things pan out in our organization.

    I have grand plans, but these are things that, as you said, only time will tell … if I managed to create wisdom hubs. And time, as Doctor Who would say, is woobly wobbly, timey whimy stuff. 😉


    1. sounds like you are busy, but also sounds like you re doing a lot of “company focused” work — where are the customers in your effort? even if the project is internal, customers are those using the content, doesn’t sound like they are participating – did i miss something?

      i love taxonomies, i love the sound they make as the rot in the folder without being used the most 😉

      good effort, but is is aligned with what your customers (internal? external?) are doing? or is it a new set of tools to show them what they could do (which is unlikely they will do – since they are not doing it now and forcing adoption never works well…)

      thanks for sharing, i hope i misread what you said and there are simple answers to my questions…


      1. Guess which one is imposed and which is the one I get to do because I took up the imposed one? 😉

        The customers will come, as sure as day will come after the night.

        I just need to figure out how to nudge the org along. It’s a lot easier to nudge now than 2-3 years back when I joined. I am being patient.

        Yammer is not the best of platforms, but I need to deal with what I am given. And we are just getting started. There will be lots to learn how this goes.


  2. Excellent, Esteban. But a good CJM will also include non-branded content, community content etc. We need to find a way to build serendipity into the customer journey – rather than trying to nail down each and every touchpoint.


    1. ab-so-freaking-lutely.

      if i hadn’t offered already to have the babies for the chef at goose and gander in st helena CA (howard, you should most definitely go there) after he made that amazing off-the-menu yellowtail collar with a mushroom reduction sauce – you’d be offered that.

      i wrote about that also yesterday in my duck intelligence post, and i wrote about it (and said it many times before) many times: brands don’t own the content anymore, and customers always start at content. finding a way to make the “foreign” content part of the CJ (if i may use that term) is the key to a great marketer’s ability to manage inbound flow in a content world.

      thanks for the comment, much appreciated.


  3. Esteban,

    Oh, how I am sure you miss my comments on your blog (said Esteban, never).

    I am more and more a believer in the importance of understanding the customer journey, specific to what the customer is trying to do; vacation, car, school whatever it is, wherever it takes place. That said, like experience, it cannot be managed. Understanding something and managing it are two very different things. So, in that area I agree that the description you shared, of what Paul said, I agree with – hard stop.

    If any company wants to create valuable, usable and necessary content, understanding the stage in the process, decision, product use that the customer is in would be a bad thing, how? The Customer Journey is not only about the sales process. If you take a look at what you and Paul wrote, while it keeps referring to the customer journey, all of the references are about trying to become a customer; the ‘pre-customer’ journey.

    My recent experience with a combination of WestJet and Expedia had little to with the purchasing of a vacation (which we did), but all that goes wrong when one partner decides to cancel a flight and the other partner spends lots of time pointing out the true boundaries of the “partnership”. Even if the sites you referenced did have a relationship with Airbnb, you would find something, maybe, but then what, who can help when things go wrong.

    My simple point is that the customer journey starts well before the purchase of anything (you highlighted that). It continues from the point of transaction to product (or service) use and then keeps going – as you know, better than I do. Finally, it cannot be managed or controlled. If the customer has taken control of the conversation, and a business wants to invest time into understanding where the conversation is going, I think that is a good thing.

    It is way too hot in Vermont – where is Winter!



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