Advanced Customer Journey Mapping– Embracing the Multi-Tasking Customer


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This article, by leading UK customer experience designer Rick Harris, explores the behaviour of customers seeking to juggle many tasks simultaneously. It will argue that, far from seeking to bind a customer into starting and finishing a customer journey, companies should be designing a flexible presence into their brand experience – neither elusive nor pushy, but simply within reach.

One of the most common and even iconic activities in customer experience design is customer journey mapping. For those who have tried it, you’ll remember the (long) process of identifying steps that customers go through in order to complete a task, or set of tasks. It usually ends up involving post-it notes all over a wall (!), so here’s a zoomed-in image to remind you.

Figure 1: Post-it journey mapping (Image courtesy of Peter Ashe -
Figure 1: Post-it journey mapping (Image courtesy of Peter Ashe –

Hopefully, your journey map will have been guided by customers’ own insight and experience of what they are trying to achieve, and what the current process feels like too.
However, one piece of insight that is rarely captured from customers or users is how ‘dedicated’ they were to the task. By using this term, I’m referring to the degree to which they were solely occupied, 100% focused on the task, or whether they were ‘multi-tasking’.

This might seem a strange question – why is knowing this so important?

The reason is that, in today’s world of time-pressured lifestyles, often interrupted by incoming mobile phone alerts, dedicating ourselves to starting and finishing a task in one sitting can be rare. In other words, we might design our customer journey, thinking all our customer’s focus is centred on us, when the customer reality could be very different. This can have major impacts, not only for tangible measures such as conversion drop-out rates, but also softer metrics such as brand engagement and advocacy.

So how do we deal with this, as customer experience designers?

First, let’s look at the customer symptom in a bit more detail, and then apply some solutions. In practice, people who are juggling their time and effort across tasks tend to do one of two things:

1. Multi-switch – this happens most typically when the customer is interrupted – this could be a planned switch (I have to go to a meeting) or an unplanned switch (phone rings, child cries, nature calls!). In such circumstances, we hardly ever carry on with what we’re doing at the same time, even if we switch quickly and efficiently from one task to the other.
2. Multi-task trade-off – this is the exception rather than the rule, but there are times when we genuinely do two things at once. HOWEVER, this almost always sub-optimises both tasks. An example, as evidenced by many studies, is how using cell phones whilst driving reduces peripheral vision of the road, even using hands-free devices. The cognitive load, especially when tasks involve visual processing, ends up being split across tasks, and weakens customer ability for both.

Now let’s come back to the customer journey, and in particular, the impact of this issue on multi-channel journeys. By this I mean the range of possible channels that a customer has to complete the journey, such as by phone, mobile, online, or face-to-face in a physical environment. It’s nearly 3 years since the landmark Facebook/GfK research (2014) which highlighted that the more devices a person owns, the more they juggle them to complete various tasks, often switching between devices mid-activity.
This trend in multi-device juggling provides an interesting conundrum – it means that such devices can be both part of the problem and the solution! They can interrupt a consumer from completing a task, yet they can also help pick that task up somewhere else or sometime later.

To deal with this issue of multi-tasking, we encourage experience designers to build in triggers that help identify that the customer has juggled a task, and more specifically to treat this as a shift from active-to-passive. However, such an approach should be built into the initial agreement or sign-up with the customer upfront, otherwise it risks feeling like bullying. As Seth Godin discussed when inventing the term permission marketing, providers should not chase or hassle their customers to become active again. It’s something that should be agreed in advance, and that doesn’t mean via the use of sneaky cookies in the background of your computer.
The design premise here is that, having made a promise, our brand takes your interest in our products and services seriously, and if you reach out, we’ll keep listening and remember your interest for as long as you want us to.

Let’s look at a few examples of applying this approach:

• when a customer stops short of booking a train ticket or a medical appointment, this may mean that they no longer want it, but could also indicate a pause in order to tackle another task. Rather than simply ‘timeout’ the booking, a CX designer (with permission to act) could keep the booking window open for an extended period, whilst asking the customer by text or email if they want to continue later.
• an online store could itself try switching a dropped shopping basket into an abandoned wishlist, ready to be recovered upon next login
• just as social media providers provide mobile apps to enable users to drop back into a conversation on-the-move, so vendors could use push-notification on apps to remind users of ‘unfinished business’

In a previous blog on CustomerThink, we have described how important it is to put success outcomes into each step of the customer journey rather than simply at the end (such as identifying success at the end of the browse step, or the compare items step, as opposed to simply defining success as a completed transaction). By taking this approach, CX designers can lock in completed steps, making it easier for vendor and customer to pick up the next step in the future (including on another device if desired). A good example of this is the super-slick Amazon website, seamlessly syncing live baskets across a customer’s devices – a particularly useful feature if a customer is considering adding further items later in the day, perhaps to qualify for free shipping. The most recent version of the UK self-assessment tax website ‘bite-sizes’ the different sections to complete, giving the user a sense of progress, and encouraging ‘do-ability’.

As free wifi access continues to extend across more and more places in everyday life, those small slices of ‘downtime’ (at railway stations, hotel and office lobbies, restaurants and even hospitals) are providing opportunities for people not just to check-in on email and social media but to make small, progress steps in larger tasks. The onus, however, remains on the provider to recognise that mobile channels are built for task switching and push notifications. A key target segment is Travellers, who can be genuine multi-taskers, perhaps passively sitting on a train, whilst also using the journey to eat, work, read, sleep, often in no particular order.

By embracing the multi-tasking customer, CX designers can imbue brands with a flexible presence – neither elusive nor pushy, but simply within reach.

Rick Harris
For over 20 years, Rick has helped businesses and organisations to develop their employee and customer experience, making their brands more innovative, engaging and competitive. His experience spans a wide range of industries and international markets, with a particular focus on the retail, leisure and healthcare sectors.


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