Why you should forget customer journeys

When B2B service providers think about digital experience they often think about touchpoints – typically, service-based touchpoints. They then link these touchpoints into journeys.
But touchpoints are just silos of customer experience and this is not how customers experience what a company has to offer. If just one aspect of the experience is improved, it still doesn’t mean the whole experience resonates well with customers and it might even feel anomalous. It’s like having a fantastic dinner in a dirty restaurant, or going to a wedding dressed in rags. Customers judge the experience by the weakest part not the best part.
Focusing on individual touchpoints and not on the coherent whole creates situations where each department optimises the part of the experience they’re responsible for, with scant regard for how this affects other departments or other parts of the experience. Focusing on touchpoints alone means that the company is still organisation-centric and not customer-centric.
The recognition of the limitations of a siloed approach to experience means that there has been a growing recognition that experience is made up of many touchpoints across many channels. This insight led to more forward-looking organisations attempting a more holistic approach – hence the concept of the customer journey.
This is an altogether better way of looking at customer experience. McKinsey defines customer journeys as: “a progression of touchpoints that together add up to the experience that customers get when they interact with companies.”
However, this definition is mechanistic, and the advice concerning customer journeys quickly descends into talk about systems, processes, BPR, training and advanced analytics.
Our view is that while we welcome any thinking about customer experience, the concept of ‘customer journey’ is still flawed.
It’s flawed because it’s still not customer-centric thinking. There are three concepts embedded within this that we take issue with:

  • a journey has a sense of having a goal – a sense of starting and ending and eventually reaching an end point. This idea of journey therefore confers the idea that the relationship will end once it reaches a predefined goal. This is a goal that the organisation has set and typically presents as a sale. Our view is that a customer relationship should be viewed as something that you never want to end. There should be a sense of continuity. Instead we are left asking: what happens in between journeys? What happens when the customer does not want or need to journey?
  • a journey confers the sense of movement – it is an action not a state of being. It is something to be curated and managed and organised. This may have its place, but sometimes we don’t want to be on a predefined journey – we simply want to play, to think, to experience. We believe that customer experience can be less active: it can be about experiencing something in the moment
  • the customer journey delivers a sense of separation between the customer and the company – it’s a traditional division that’s becoming less meaningful. In this scenario the company, at best, is a provider of services to the customer on their journey. But a better way of looking at things is that both customer and company are on a journey together. This incorporates those collaborative scenarios that are emerging, whereby the customer not only receives a level of service or a certain experience, but is instrumental in shaping that, commenting on it and providing insight.

Focusing on journeys makes organisations believe that a customer relationship is a linear process that only takes place when an activity of some kind is happening. An activity that they have defined. But pesky customers behave like cats. They wander all over the place using an ever-increasing variety of channels, making well-meaning companies despair. To curate the experience, companies believe they need to define and control it.
The problem is they don’t control the experience – in the truth they never did (that was simply an illusion born out of ignorance).
Customers are seeking genuine relationships. If you seek to drive them along a path to a sale (what’s good for you) then they know it’s not a genuine relationship. Instead, companies need to adopt a more mindful approach to customers – and by customers that means everyone not just those who have bought from you – by understanding that experience happens in the moment.
You can work as hard as possible to create an efficient experience, but this will only take you so far. It’s the human, emotional moments that are the difference between neutrality and engagement. And it doesn’t matter that you are selling business services, ultimately you’re selling to a person not a computer and the experience we’re interested in is that of human customers.