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Mapping customer experiences into journeys

“When every single artifact, be it content, product, or service, is a part of a larger ecosystem, focus shifts from how to design single items to how to design experiences spanning processes.” (Andrea Resmini, “Information Architecture for ubiquitous ecologies”, here).

When we think of our own experiences as customers, we can look at them in two ways: either, we look at the quality of the experience - the amount of pleasure we derived from it, the ease and seamlessness we encountered, the impact our latest product purchase has had on us - or we can look at how the experience unfolded as we went through it.

Especially the latter perspective is of interest to businesses and other organisations, too. Organised around product departments and fuelled by standardised processes, organisations have a keen interest on a short path from product discovery to purchase. In recent years, the organisation’s interest has developed beyond the realm of their core products. More and more businesses are looking at their doings as providing both products and related services. The main driver for this development is that service value complements product value.

Services have become a value stream in their own right - and if done well, valuable service ecosystems can be created. For customers, these service ecosystems are encountered as a linear sequence of events. For businesses, these experiences take place at certain touchpoints. Service design can help with establishing and enhancing the systematic understanding of the services (or the service ecosystem) that a company provides in order to structure and improve their customer experience. The initial toolset for creating this systematic understanding consists of journey mapping and experience mapping.
Let’s look at an example.

A pizza restaurant in your local neighbourhood

Many pizza restaurants found in cities' suburbs are offering both a dine-in and a takeout service. The biggest difference between the two services is the general sequence of events structuring the customer experience.

An in-house diner may see the following events structuring their experience: Enter the shop room, proceed to the dining area, be seated by the staff. A table menu is presented, drinks are ordered, and when the drinks are brought to the table, the food orders are taken. After a waiting period, the food is brought to the table. The diners eat, and may order another drink with their meal (or after). They order the cheque, pay, and leave the restaurant.

The biggest difference between the dine-in and takeout experience is the moment of payment: at the table, customers have usually eaten before they pay; for takeout the payment is often done already when the order is taken. The payment happens at the table for dine-in customers, and at a counter for takeout customers.

The takeout experience is structured along the lines of: Enter the shop room, study the display menu behind the counter, order at the counter, pay for the order, proceed to the waiting area while the pizza is prepared, baked and packaged. Once the pizza is ready, the customer leaves the restaurant with their pizza in a carton.

This general structure is experienced differently by different customers. We describe a general customer journey path, but depending on customers' varied prior experiences and resulting expectations, their personal preferences, their dispositions, their likes and dislikes, and depending on the availability of amenities and the capabilities of the service staff, each individual customer experience may vary.

Interactions between customers and staff can be observed, but the mental processes of customers can only be inferred. In the field, service designers take detailed notes of how each interaction set unfolds in time. Service designers are looking for patterns, for commonalities and differences in interaction sequences as different customers are experiencing them.

How does this help a business?

Businesses are interested in providing their services in an efficient manner. For this to happen, organisations benefit from a deep understanding of the current state of their service ecosystem. Historically speaking, established business processes are often preceding the investigation of the service environment. The main question is: are these established processes more supporting or more damaging for the customer experience?

Businesses are very much interested in identifying the bottlenecks in their service environments. Naturally they see themselves engaged in an optimisation game, aiming at improving critical parts of their service provision. As most services are involving people from different parts of the organisation, businesses want to take a close look at each of the interaction points where their service offering manifests, so they often strive for creating a touchpoint map of their service landscape.

From path diagrams to customer journey maps

In its simplest form, the experience path shows the sequence of events that make a customer experience. While there are different ways of drawing it, most commonly we use an initial form in which the interaction points are described and split into “what the customer does” and “what the staff does”, as shown in Fig. 1 below.


Using a general structure like this, we can now observe actual customers, and try to gather more details for any of the interaction stages. Out aim is to identify common issues that customers may encounter along their way.
While we don’t expect large deviations from the general structure, we can gain useful insights into issues and hiccups that customers experience. It could be that we observe that different customers have issues with reading the display menu behind the counter. At the point of occurrence we won’t know the reason: if it is printed too small, if the light is too dim, if an illegible font is used, or if customers suffer from a reading disability. Some customers may ask for a leaflet menu, others may order a dish using a mispronounced name, or describe the dish they want by naming all the toppings they want on their pizza. The point is: we are looking for the variance in experiences as they unfold, and try to pinpoint the ups and downs, and the applied workarounds that customers go through at certain interaction stages.

Customer journey maps often show the emotional quality of the experience path, either by depicting the path itself as an upward- or downward-bound path, or with a set of emotion indicators for each of the interaction points. Fig. 2 shows a couple of hiccup observations and gives a rough account of the inflicted customer mood by using a set of emojis.


It is easy to see that, the more observations of a takeout experience are being taken, the variance of expressed or deduced customer emotions will grow. By overlaying the different experience paths, we can collect a greater variance of what could go wrong events at each stage. Comparing the experiences, and sorting them along interaction points will give us a good understanding of the commonality of the occurrences, and of the applied remedying actions.

While there can be written a lot more into a customer journey map, these essentials are needed for building a proper understanding of the service landscape the customers find themselves in.
The next instalment in the article series will explain the proceedings for developing these experience path depictions further into proper touchpoint maps.