Are customer journey maps the wrong path?


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From the provocative title you might think I do not believe in customer focus. Nothing could be further from the truth! I am always looking for ways to help me and my clients improve their financial performance by focusing better on their chosen customers. As a technique for improving customer focus, journey mapping has become a must do and there are many benefits, including:

– Drives outside-in thinking
– Communicate customer expectations to people across the company
– Provide a focus for process improvement
– Generate ideas for product innovation and user interface
– Prioritise continuous improvement
– Structure voice of the customer and experience measurements
– Identify opportunities for collaboration with complementary providers

There are however failings in the way many implement customer journey mapping. I have seen process flowcharts dressed up as customer journey maps, built without any meaningful input from customers. Rather than see customer journey maps as a tool for continuous use, they are a one-off exercise. Maps are built, changes made and then the resulting processes locked in as the one way.

The most significant failing however is that maps fail to represent the iterative, non-linear nature true customer behaviours. Customers and their behaviours are often highly complex, irrational and non-deterministic. There are almost as many decision points and options as there are customer. The response of many companies to this complexity is to overly simplify in order to make the mapping exercise achievable in a reasonable timeframe. This often means missing nuances that make the customer experience contextually rich. Many maps are also rigid and lead companies to customer interactions that fail to respond adequately to differences in customer needs and behaviours.

We must recognise also that developments in technology provide opportunities to significantly improve the quality of customer experiences. Big data and real-time execution systems enable the delivery of contextually rich, highly personalised experiences. Mass customisation of experiences may not be simple but is now achievable for those with the will.

So if journeys are not the best answer, then what?

I believe the answer lies in ‘next best actions (NBA)’: a determination of the next step by an analysis of multiple, current customer datum points, including previous activity. Sophisticated machine learning that identifies paths that have been successful with like customers is used to improve decisions about the next best action.


This approach is more sophisticated and contextually richer than defined customer journeys: it recognises that there are many paths to the customer’s end goal. It is dynamic not pre-determined, responding to changes in customer behaviour.

Implementing next best action will be challenging. It requires a comprehensive, single view of the customer to provide the contextually rich basis for decisions. Without this only crudely differentiated journeys are possible. Increasingly, such systems will need to support real-time decisions to respond to customer activity: delays open up opportunities for customers to look elsewhere.

Customer journeys will continue to be used and have value in moving the focus on customers forward. I do however believe they are only an interim step.Whilst in its infancy, next best actions shows great promise as a tool for helping customers take the next step in their relationship. The technologies exist and the techniques are being used. Challenges however are real. Companies with legacy technology will struggle but not as much as those with legacy mindsets.

This article was first published on TheCustomer.Co.

David Jackson
David is CEO of TheCustomer.Co, advising senior executives on building customer focused companies. Before starting TheCustomer.Co, David founded and was CEO of Clicktools, the global leader in feedback software integrated with CRM. He sold the business in 2014. David is a recognised expert in the area of customer focused organisations.


  1. Hello, David. Well written and good points.
    I would prefer to work on reducing the customer journey and figuring out why it is necessary for him to make a journey. Many of his journey points are because of something the company did by omission or commission. For most items, I want to buy the product with no hassles, have it delivered or pick it up ( a journey, may it be pleasant), install and get it to work (require an easy journey), and use it (good easy journey) and then sell it or throw it away.
    Where is the need for additional journeys? If buying is inconvenient, or installation is a problem or if performance is an issue….

  2. The key point taken from your post about customers is that they have ” iterative, non-linear nature true customer behaviours. Customers and their behaviours are often highly complex, irrational and non-deterministic.” Where customer journey mapping could greatly benefit, and often does not, is identifying the emotional subtext, and associated memories, with experiences. This is not a critical path TQ-type exercise. Rather, it enables an organization to design, or redesign, experiences around prioritized customer motivating factors.

  3. Michael

    Your point about emotions is an important one. A question I always suggest is that for each action you take, how do you want your customer to feel? It is also useful to try to identify the behaviours that indicate how a customer is feeling.

    This suggests a degree of sophistication in both the type of data they collect, their thinking and, most importantly, the training they give people to deal with personal interactions.

    Thank you for your comment.

  4. Gautam

    I agree with your point about making customer facing processes as simple as possible. But however simple, what remains must be purposefully designed and able to accommodate the needs of different customers. My belief is that too many companies over-simplify customer needs. Whilst customer journeys are a step forward for many companies, they are not the ultimate solution that many suggest.

    Thank you for your comment.


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