How to Do Research-Based Customer Journey Mapping with Bob Thompson from CustomerThink

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How to Do Research-Based Customer Journey Mapping with Bob Thompson from CustomerThink TW

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In this episode of Customer Service Secrets, Gabe Larsen is joined by Bob Thompson from CustomerThink to discuss his recent research on customer experience. Bob is the CEO and founder of CustomerThink and has published a book titled, Hooked on Customers. His career and company are built upon the idea of customer centricity and other customer service management principles. His company has over 60,000 pieces of published content on customer service. In addition to writing authoritative content, Bob conducts primary customer service research. In the newest episode of the Customer Service Secrets Podcast, Bob reveals the findings of his most recent study. Listen to the full episode below.

How Journey Mapping Exemplifies Customer Centricity

Journey mapping is a CX principle that used to be unique, but has become a necessary and common practice for all companies. Although most companies practice journey mapping, Bob Thompson reports that only about a third are doing it successfully. Essentially, journey mapping is the process of going through the thoughts of the customer so that they can have a tailored experience. Bob provides a visual representation of this by stating, “think of journey mapping as walking in your customer’s shoes and then take pictures as you go and read their mind.” An effective journey map is one of the best ways to focus on the customer and ensure that your business is putting the needs, thoughts, and feelings of the customer first.

Key Principles to Customer Journey Mapping

Because effective journey mapping can help differentiate between mediocre customer service and quality customer service, Bob suggests two principles to help companies build useful journey maps. First, building them around personas. He states, “different people experience a brand in different ways. And so one of the top factors we found… is to develop personas for each of the customers, with each of the key customer segments and then build journey maps around each of these personas.” Separating customers into personas to customize their experience is a smart way to maintain customer centricity.

The second principle of successful journey mapping is to be specific and create a full journey map. Rather than segmenting the process, laying out the entire map allows for an uninterrupted flow from beginning to end. This also helps customer service experts better understand the long term goals and expectations of the businesses/people they serve. Bob mentions, “So if it’s a business, what is it they’re trying to get done? I think this is absolutely critical. What are — in the end — they trying to accomplish with this experience?” Customers have their own long term goals so going through the entire journey of the customer helps them feel understood.

The “Future State” of Customer Service

As a final observation, Bob talks about the importance of the “future state” in the customer experience. Most of the time, CX experts focus on fixing the problem at hand instead of honing in on designing a future experience for customers. When trying to create this experience, customer service representatives tend to forget that the CX journey begins long before the customer calls customer service. When sales expectations aren’t met by a product or there is a problem with the product, people call customer service as if they were the problem. Bob explains this concept and the need for companies to create a future experience by stating: “So, CX is about figuring out where we’re screwing up, and let’s go fix that. And you know, that’s fine. Everybody has room for improvement. …We want to drive towards a planned or designed experience as opposed to fixing the mess that we already have.”

To learn more about customer experience strategies, check out the Customer Service Secrets podcast episode, and be sure to subscribe for new episodes each Thursday.


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Full Episode Transcript:

How to Do Research-Based Customer Journey Mapping with Bob Thompson from CustomerThink

Intro Voice: (00:04)
You’re listening to the Customer Service Secrets podcast by Kustomer.

Gabe Larsen: (00:11)
Alright welcome everybody to today’s podcast. We’re going to be talking about journey mapping; how important it is, why you should do it, how you can be thinking about doing it. And to do that, we brought on the guests today Bob Thompson. He is the founder and CEO of CustomerThink. He also wrote a book called Hooked On Customers, but really an expert in the idea of customer centricity, bringing brands together, how they should manage their business more appropriately. So, excited to get into the talk track today. This is one that journey mapping has been asked a lot about. I think some of the research and the findings that Bob will bring will be very interesting. So Bob, thanks for joining. How are you?

Bob Thompson: (00:51)
I’m great. Thanks for having me, Gabe.

Gabe Larsen: (00:53)
Yeah, yeah. I always appreciate you taking the time. It’s fun to kind of do the podcast and meet a lot of leaders, thought leaders like yourself. So thank you for jumping on. Talk just a little bit about anything you’d add or get into your background, more about some of the things you’ve done or what CustomerThink does, just so the audience has that kind of pillar?

Bob Thompson: (01:11)
Yeah, absolutely. So CustomerThink is an online community. It’s free. People can visit or they can join and get our newsletter. We’ve been around for two decades and the core idea is customer centricity. How do we treat our customers better and create a better business as a result of doing that. So that’s the online community. I run that. We’ve published a lot of content, several thousand posts a year. We have, I think, close to 60,000 pieces of content. It’s been over 3000 authors. So it’s a big community covering customer experience, customer service. If it’s related to customers, we cover it. In addition to that, I also do research, I do primary research. And I usually do two or three studies a year and I’ll be sharing some of my findings from a study we did recently on over 200 customer experience initiatives. So, I do a lot of research and do some public speaking as well.

Gabe Larsen: (02:11)
I love it. I love it. Well, we’ll get into that. So let’s maybe start — appreciate the overview on your background. This was a topic that was asked about a lot from the audience, customer journey mapping or process flows. Big picture — maybe just for those that don’t know, tell us just a little bit about what it is and maybe why a company should be thinking about this.

Bob Thompson: (02:33)
Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. It’s become kind of the go-to thing that if you’re doing a customer experience program, you’re probably doing two things. One, you’re collecting feedback. And number two, you’re doing a journey mapping project. Now it’s not a hundred percent, but it’s a very high percentage. Those are sort of the two activities that are associated with doing customer experience. Now there’s a lot more to it than that, but those are two that came up in our study. And so in terms of journey mapping, the idea is you’ve probably heard this expression walk in your customer’s shoes, right?

Gabe Larsen: (03:12)

Bob Thompson: (03:13)
And so when you think of journey mapping is walking in your customer’s shoes and then take pictures as you go and read their mind. So you’re trying to understand it and create a visual depiction of what your customer is literally experiencing, what they’re thinking, feeling, what sort of interactions they are having as they interact with your company. So it could be in marketing or using your product or service, customer service. So, ideally it should be everything and use that as a diagnostic tool.

Gabe Larsen: (03:45)
I love it. I love it. Do you feel like — how proficient or how extensive is this idea? I mean, having done some research does every organization do it? Is this a new idea for most people? What’s the penetration of this into organizations would you say? It’s pretty high. I’d say the penetration of doing it well is not that high. Maybe, maybe a third. I mean, but this is typical. Not every company starts out being an expert in anything. I know I didn’t. So, it’s not a knock, it’s just to say that if you look at new programs, they’re learning a lot of different things about how to collect feedback, how to do analytics, how to do journey mapping and to say, well, they’re, you know, they’re not doing very well because they’re not an expert at journey mapping. That’s not really fair. Having said that, I think that there is a lack of skill and completeness that we found in our study that the more successful CX initiatives did journey mapping more thoroughly and more effectively. I talk about what that means. We’re only talking about maybe one out of four that I would say are doing a pretty respectable job of it.

Gabe Larsen: (04:57)
I like that. So one out of four. So definitely room for improvement when it comes to this area. So let’s get into some of the findings. I mean big picture, any kind of big takeaways before you get into tactical of how to do it? Any surprises in the data that you saw?

Bob Thompson: (05:14)
I think one thing that surprised me is that I did a study I think three years ago and what we found — and this was very, this was specific to customer service by the way. What we found is that just doing a journey mapping project was a success indicator. In other words, it was one of the factors and more successful companies are able to increase customer satisfaction. Just doing it, not how well did you do it, but did you do one? It was a plus, right?

Gabe Larsen: (05:44)
Just going through the exercise. Yeah, I could see that. I can see that.

Bob Thompson: (05:50)
What changed is that’s no longer true. It was a differentiator maybe three years ago or so, but you know, attempting one– I mean there are definitely benefits to doing a journey mapping project. You bring people together, you understand your customer better and doing one versus not doing one when you’re at a relatively immature status is fine.

Gabe Larsen: (06:14)

Bob Thompson: (06:14)
But now, customer experience is not a new idea. There’s lots of programs out there that have been out two, three, four, 10 years and so we have a much better base to look at what is it about the actual process of journey mapping. And we didn’t find just doing one was a success indicator anymore. You have to do it more effectively. And we came up with a number of different elements of what makes an effective journey mapping project and we have data to back that up.

Gabe Larsen: (06:44)
I love it. I love it. Well let’s get into some of those cause I do think the big ask was, you’re right. People seem to know the concept. I think the effectiveness, how to make it impactful, how to do it the right way. Maybe walk us through some of those findings or recommendations on how people should be thinking about doing it again, well.

Bob Thompson: (07:02)
Well, what I’ll start by saying, if you — again, this concept of walking in your customer’s shoes, and the question that I think everyone should ask is which customer? Not some generic customer or what we think the customer is, but to actually have key customer segments or often called personas. So you can say, Hey, we’re going to create a journey mapping for our senior executive that’s making a technology purchase. Maybe it’s a different persona for somebody that’s a user using the product– maybe using customer service. Different people experience a brand in different ways. And so one of the top, factors we found, again, we have analytics behind this and a lot of experts to back this up, is to develop personas for each of the customers — with each of the key customer segments — and then build journey maps around each of these personas.

Gabe Larsen: (07:55)
Hmm. Hmm. And is that, when you think about personas — it’s really just about the types of customers that you obviously interact with. Do you go, how deep down in that persona do you go? Is it, try to keep it a little more high level or do you get very specific about industry, title, function, company size? What’s too granular versus too high?

Bob Thompson: (08:22)
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I mean, you can get lost in the weeds here. And you know, never get your head out after developing personas. But, I would say that they need to be developed at a fairly granular level. So you’d want, what job title are we talking about? What is the size of the company? So some of the standard demographics, there would be, what are their goals? So if it’s a business, what is it they’re trying to get done? I think this is absolutely critical. What are — in the end — they trying to accomplish with this experience because that turns out to be one of the five things that it came out as a differentiator is that being — understanding the outcomes and defining them in the journey map is really critical because it’s not just about how easy it was. It’s like, well, did it actually help accomplish their — what they had in mind?

Gabe Larsen: (09:17)
That makes a big difference. Do you, maybe just one clarification for me. As you identify those personas, how important is it to do, and maybe I’m jumping ahead, but how important is it to do kind of the whole journey or is it better to kind of bite size it and say, let’s just talk about the pre-buying experience or the post purchase experience. How do you think about the actual journey?

Bob Thompson: (09:43)
Yeah, that is an absolutely critical question and there isn’t one right answer. I’ll tell you that from our research, what we found is that more successful CX programs overall tended to do the end to end journey. But, everybody has to start somewhere and part of the challenge with CX is that it becomes a boiling the ocean problem. There are so many things you could do, where do you start? And so, it’s definitely feasible to start and say customer service. You know, you can get your feet wet and learn some things about what the service experience looks like because that has some complexity. But the danger of starting in any one part of the journey and staying there is that you lose sight of the handoffs. And so what happens when you go from marketing to sales to service? There’s a set of problems that have to do with the handoffs and the sales and then there were problems within a particular function and in the end they both need to be addressed.

Gabe Larsen: (10:54)
That’s right. That the hand offs, it’s like they’re, I mean, I don’t — I’m not the expert in journey mapping, just having run sales and marketing. The old sales and marketing debate, that is a problem. Whenever you have two people in a room, it’s always a little harder than having just one. So, you’re right. Anytime there’s a hand off, you have challenges and if you don’t manage that or think about it, you’re probably losing a little bit of that [inaudible].

Bob Thompson: (11:23)
I think for customer service managers, which I understand is our key audience here, I mean, let’s face it; they can be the dumping ground for problems that happen elsewhere in the company. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true, right? You know the product didn’t work, so they call customer service and they’re angry at customer service. Is it customer service’s fault that the product was bad or is it the customer service fault that sales made a promise —

Gabe Larsen: (11:48)
How could the sales promise [inaudible]. It’s always the salespeople who are causing problems but —

Bob Thompson: (11:57)
But, rather than blame, it’s not about blaming but say, but these problems tend to happen somewhere else. And so, if you start in customer service, which is a very common starting point for CX programs, then you want to expand and say, all right, so here’s a set of problems that, why is the customer calling because they’re confused. Where did that confusion start? Maybe it started in a marketing message or a sales promise or somewhere else. And work on those root cause problems rather than saying, well let’s hammer customer service and make sure they fix those problems. They can’t fix them all.

Gabe Larsen: (12:32)
You’re right, you’re right. You really need to probably look at that holistic. But you know, you’ve also got to start where you can and do what you can. So, okay, so one is persona. I like this conversation about chunking it or potentially looking at the whole journey. What else works; some of the findings or best practices as you look at this exercise?

Bob Thompson: (12:51)
Yeah, I’ll talk about a couple of others together because they’re related. What is the information or the data that you use to build a journey map? And it’s relatively easy, maybe not easy, but relatively easy to get a bunch of employees in a room and say, all right, what do we think the journey looks like? So you can get posted notes and start outlining the steps and what you think is going on. And, that’s not a bad way to start. It might help you find some of your colleagues elsewhere in the company, but, it’s not a good practice if you stop there. The best practice is to get customers directly involved in this problem. You have some key customers you bring in, maybe some of them representing these personas. It can help you do a reality check on what’s going on. And you can use data, which is the other thing, which is from customer feedback or maybe you have analytics which will just show you where some points of friction or problems and so on. And so when you build a journey map, it’s not just, here’s an internal view of what’s going on, but here’s a view informed by research, by feedback, by customers, and then you’ve got a solid foundation to build upon.

Gabe Larsen: (14:08)
I love that. I love that. Is that something that you feel like people get tripped up on that? I mean often times they do just rely on the internal resource. That’s kind of a challenge people often face.

Bob Thompson: (14:20)
It is, and it’s difficult to get customers involved but [inaudible] CX programs, figure out a way to do it, and they do it. And they use data that they already have. You don’t necessarily have to go out and do another research project, but if you say, look, we want to understand what’s happening in the buying experience, well, you have a website, you have analytics, you have some surveys that we get feedback and you can get some indication without doing flush research about where the problems are. So, make it a habit and you at least start with a better journey map.

Gabe Larsen: (15:00)
I love it. So, data, internal and external is going to give you more of a holistic view. Okay. That’s fair. Got it. Okay. What’s next?

Bob Thompson: (15:11)
Here’s one that I think is a more advanced process, but it definitely popped up as a differentiator. When I say differentiator, I mean that we saw a statistical difference, but the things I’m talking about here, we saw a statistically different level of effectiveness of CX programs that were successful and those that were not. And by successful I mean able to show some business value. So there’s some real data behind these recommendations, but the one that I think tends to get forgotten the most is looking to the future; and so often called a future state journey map. So, and I think this one I want to probably end on this one because I think it points to one of the biggest problems I see in the CX industry, which is it has what I call a find and fix paradigm.

Gabe Larsen: (16:10)

Bob Thompson: (16:11)
So, CX is about figuring out where we’re screwing up, and let’s go fix that. And you know, that’s fine. Everybody has room for improvement. Well, what leaders, CX leaders do as they’re thinking about how to innovate. How can we — we want to get so close to the customer, we understand what they’re trying to accomplish, how fast you want to accomplish and we’re going to create a future experience that’s dramatically different and better. These future state maps then become a planning tool so you can say, Hey, while we’re fixing what’s broken in customer service or the product or whatever it is, these things people are complaining about, can we get a real edge on our competitors? That’s the future state and we want to drive towards a planned or designed experience as opposed to fixing the mess that we already have.

Gabe Larsen: (17:08)
I love that. Yeah. It’s like the current state. It’s so easy because you find some of these problems and you quickly fix them and you’re feeling good, but you don’t actually take that time to say in a year or two years from now, what does optimal look like? What are we building towards? I can see tons of people stopping on the current state. That’s a — I’ve done that. I’ve done that. One tactical question for you, what do people normally, as you get building this, is it they sketch it on a piece of paper, they use it like a charting tool, like a lucid chart. Is there any recommendations that you’ve found that makes this a little easier to do when you’re actually trying to visualize it? You’ve got past maybe the post it notes and you’re trying to put pen to paper.

Bob Thompson: (17:55)
Well, I would say that the more advanced you get, the less likely you’re going to be using PowerPoint or some flowcharting tool. These journey maps can be quite big. I’ve seen some that literally you could put them up on the wall and when they are up on the wall, they’re 20 feet long and it can be daunting. So, there are some specialized tools out there. I am not an expert on all those tools and I have not found any one sort of —

Gabe Larsen: (18:25)
I wondered if there was a magical one out there.

Bob Thompson: (18:27)
I think post-its, you can’t get simpler than that and it is an excellent way of getting started. But I want to stop short of trying to give a recommendation on what to do from there.

Gabe Larsen: (18:41)
You’re right, I appreciate the honesty because I’ve wondered if there is one tool that rules them all, but it sounds like you’ve got to kind of find where you are. There’s some simple, maybe some more complex and find what works and make it happen. I think the exercise is probably more important than tools. So that’s going to hear. Okay. Well Bob, really appreciate the time. Very interesting findings on customer journey mapping, mapping the whole experience end to end. If someone wants to learn a little bit more about CustomerThink or dive even deeper into this topic, is there a quick summary or recommendations you’d point them to?

Bob Thompson: (19:17)
Yeah, I mean if you come to one of our topic areas is the customer journey. Okay. So you can come into — there’s a big tab on the top named customer experience and there’s one on customer journey map below that. If somebody comes and clicks on that they’re going to get dozens of excellent articles and blog posts from many of the leading experts in the industry as well as myself on this topic. So, that’s a really good option. And then you can go into Google and you asked about techniques for actually presenting a journey map, and the reason I say I don’t know what to recommend is that I’ve seen lots of different ways of doing it that all work. So do the search on Google under customer journey map and then click on images and you will get probably a hundred different ways of doing it. Also, I think there are some experts in the industry, many of the CX professionals get into the details of actually doing those through some vendors that provide tools. There’s a lot of resources out there to help people. And I honestly, I think most companies would be advised to get some help because this is such a key diagnostic and planning tool, but you don’t want to screw it up. Do it right. It’s going to help you make better decisions on how to make customer experience better.

Gabe Larsen: (20:40)
I think that’s great. Yeah. Sometimes you do, you think you can knock this out, but it does take a real expertise there are people out there who can help. So Bob, again, really appreciate you taking the time. I know you’re a busy person. You know many things going on at CustomerThink, so can’t thank you enough for the advice and some of the recommendations as well as takeaways for customer journey mappings. So thanks again for joining for the audience. Hope you have a fantastic day.

Exit Voice: (21:13)
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