By Jeremy Mugridge, Marketing Director at Instinct Studios

As the number of smart digital devices increases and the way we interact with technology changes, so does the opportunity to connect and engage with customers. Today’s customers want more personal and fluid experiences, from initial research about whether to buy a product or service to the after-care support they receive.

This pressure to “get the customer experience right” is forcing many brands and organisations to completely rethink their approach. However, there are a handful that are getting it right, with many others still failing to deliver a seamless customer experience because they’re hampered by their own functional structures. Too much emphasis is placed on departmental structures and people within these companies aren’t working together to deliver a positive customer experience. It therefore becomes difficult to connect the dots of an entire customer journey.

Stepping into your customers shoes

This is where customer journey mapping can add real value, as it enables a company to understand and visualise the customer journey from both a customer and a company perspective. Customer journey mapping can help brands understand and improve the customer experience. When used successfully it provides a method to encapsulate and illustrate the stages a customer passes through and maps their interactions with the business – also known as ‘customer touch-points’. Mapping identifies improvement opportunities by exposing limitations and develops a holistic view of customer behaviour and expectations across every business function. By gaining an appreciation of the entire customer journey across each department – from sales and marketing to customer support and beyond - the organisation can identify strengths, weaknesses and key moments of truth in the customer journey.

This then places organisations in a position where they will need to ask themselves some difficult questions and then prepare for a shift. The benefit of taking this cross-departmental approach is that it’s possible to identify and design a consistent and efficient customer experience. Plus it ensures the various business functions are aligned, so companies can prioritise business development plans to ultimately deliver what the customer needs.

Planning a clear path

Although there’s no standardised approach to these mapping activities, organisations that want to take a more customer-centric approach to their business need to adhere to two overarching principles.

The first, yet often unheeded principle, is to start with an “outside-in” approach. Often many customer mapping activities undertaken by organisations fail at the first hurdle as they’re too internally focused, seeing things from a business function perspective rather than the customer perspective.

The second principle is to remember that ‘journey mapping must involve the customer’ and should always be underpinned by facts and accurate data, not personal viewpoints or assumptions of the team. Where feasible, actual customers should be directly involved in mapping workshops. This will help paint a clearer and more unbiased picture of the customers’ actual experience and expectations. After all, how effective can a customer journey map be without real customer insight?

Where to next?

Some brands are still a little reluctant to embrace customer-mapping activities because an activity of this type will expose serious weaknesses, which they may be reluctant or unable to address. But uncovering weaknesses doesn’t mean they all have to be rectified at once. On the contrary, a strategy can be adopted which gains some initial quick-wins, which is then followed by a road-map of incremental improvements, with a long-term view to improving the customer experience as a whole.

As more organisations successfully adopt a customer-centric approach, others will inevitably follow suit. Global brands such as Apple and Amazon have an in-depth understanding of how crucial it is to deliver the best and most seamless customer experiences across all their business channels. This has enabled them to connect with their customers at an emotional and psychological level, creating arguably the most powerful brand-consumer connections we’ve seen.

Others now need to play catch-up because as consumer expectations change, they’ll vote with their feet, especially if they feel the customer experience isn’t aligned with their growing and changing needs. Consumers now have a huge influence when it comes to how brands are perceived, and social media and online forums will be another key driver in ensuring that customer-mapping activities are a core part of business strategy.

Customer mapping should be more prevalent, it’s clear that when businesses develop a customer-centric model, they experience higher levels of customer satisfaction, which can only improve sales and retention rates. And that’s a road map all businesses want to follow.