B-to-B Customer Journey Maps: New Wisdom

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business to business customer experienceBusiness-to-business customer experience managers have some advantages: mountains of customer comments on-hand, account managers who practically live with their customer contacts, and executives who want to see substantive improvements in customer experience.

Use these factors to apply new wisdom to your customer experience journey mapping. Here's a 3-step approach that bucks mainstream practice and makes more sense for B-to-B customer experience in these ways:

  • Transcend the silo-ization that typically happens
  • Segment customers per natural patterns in the data
  • Add "severity to customers" as a trump card to frequency and "severity to the company" in prioritization
  • Zero in on high-value findings with minimal expense in doing so
  • Apply insights effectively in every corner of your company

3-Step Approach to B-to-B Customer Journey Mapping
Notice that the following recipe is focused on customer inputs, not managers' perceptions. Note also that this approach dispenses with preconceived notions of segments, personas, and boundaries — to allow the customer insight to speak for itself.

  1. Start by examining customer comments that you have on-hand: the past year's VoC, service and sales logs, etc.
    • Map those comments to the end-to-end customer experience journey stages.
    • Highlight the quantification customers provide about how much effort, time, and costs they had to expend.
    • Segment the map by "what customers were trying to do" at the big-picture level: not the task they were attempting, but their overall aim in buying your product at all.
  2. Share your maps in a workshop with an insightful and charismatic representative from every functional area across your company attending.
    • Focus the conversation on what each attendee's organization can learn from the maps in their as-is condition, what they can fine-tune that they're currently working on, what they need to do differently, and what they'd love to learn.
    • Challenge every organization to put their answers into action, with follow-up from a top executive and reporting back to the original workshop team in a group setting again.
  3. THEN, plan to ask a representative sampling of customers about their end-to-end journey for your product category (not your brand), minimizing your assumptions.
    • Use customers' answers to refine your insights and assumptions from Steps 1 and 2.
    • Focus again on consequences to customers and their ultimate aim.
    • Repeat Step 2 workshops and actioning.
    • Create customer expectation personas based on the natural groupings you saw in the data about customers' ultimate aims. You'll find that these personas more accurately guide expectations management — which is the core principle of customer experience management. And you'll find that this type of persona is actionable by all functional areas across your company!

New Wisdom Accelerates ROI
We used this approach with a client and found that the comments on-hand from just the past year's voice-of-the-customer allowed us to paint most of the customer experience journey picture. And it gave us a tremendous amount of actionable "low-hanging fruit" to address before bothering the customer to ask about things they have already voiced. By making use of comments on-hand, the customer interviews were more interesting and valuable to customers and the supplier company, zeroing in on information that hadn't yet been voiced.

Seeing the customer experience journey with a unified perspective across your company can go a long way toward cross-functional collaboration that's needed to "move the needle" for customer sentiment and business results. The keys are to keep it pure, focus on customers' well-being as the path to achieving what you want, and engage everyone meaningfully — nobody is excused from their ripple effect on customers' well-being.

Step back and look at things from a business-sense viewpoint before setting out to do anything in customer experience management. Give top consideration to what makes the most sense from your customers' vantage point. Do things differently if you hope to achieve differentiation. Make wise use of resources with a big-picture outlook on how everything is connected and how everything flows and has consequences.

In business-to-business customer experience management we have advantages that we should make the most of. Adopt new wisdom to see better experiences and results for all involved.

This article is part of a monthly series, Optimizing the B2B Customer Experience.

Photo purchased under license with Shutterstock.

14 COMMENTS

  1. This is great! Very creative and highly practical. Appreciate your attention to detail in how you lay out the process. The most important step is the verification by a sample of customers in Step 3. Too often people do journey mapping from the inside out when we all know if you work in the system you are likely to be blind to the details only your customers can see! Thanks.

  2. Important as it is to design customer experiences around expectations and desires – and your blog addresses this very well – I’d add that is also essential that organizations build in continuity, sustainability, and continued selective improvement in the journey. Customer experience components are dynamic, and we find that organizations get added leverage from mapping when this is an active component of the journey.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Chip. You’re right that Step 3 is a must. A thirst for getting inside customers’ heads is one of the success factors for the most-loved brands.

    Some companies take baby-steps in customer journey mapping. Because it seems daunting they often start with employees’ perceptions of the customer journey. This can be a big learning experience about collaboration gaps. But if you’re going to invest in that effort, why not base your impetus for collaboration on customers’ actual comments?

    Some companies take baby-steps in customer journey mapping by choosing a specific customer segment/persona or touchpoint to investigate. This is because their span of control is confined (i.e. siloed), or because they’ve received advice from consultants who have never borne the responsibility for transforming customer experience results within a complex organization. The weakness of silo-izing customer journey maps is that it obscures visibility into natural breakouts in the customer data about different groups with different expectation sets. It obscures visibility into end-to-end dynamics about the realities customers face.

    The method I’ve described in this article is a lower-cost, higher-results approach. Readers may also appreciate seeing my presentation about the 8 missing elements in most customer journey mapping methodologies today: Customer Journey Mapping: What’s Missing for Actionability

  4. Thanks for your comment, Michael. In my experience, collecting customers’ views of consequences they face (negative and positive) throughout their journey is in fact the impetus for managers building in continuity, sustainability, and continued selective improvement in their post-journey-mapping customer experience management.

    For example, one of my clients was very keen on value stream mapping: they had in-depth work on internal process diagramming and they used issue frequency and severity to company costs as their prioritization of continued selective improvements.

    We brought the management team the added dimension of customer consequences, which put a whole new dimension on their value stream prioritization. Consequences that were occurring included splitting orders with other vendors because the company was not attuned to very critical expectation sets of the customers. Management was indeed aware of their performance record, but without seeing customers’ view of the consequences, they had underestimated the true costs to their business!

    Furthermore, by looking for patterns in customer expectations, we found 2 natural breakouts of their customers. Meaning that we found 2 segmentations of customers. Which significantly simplified the multiple segments they were trying to manage to historically.

    By simplifying to 2 expectation sets, the company could zero-in on what would better meet customer expectations. Meeting/exceeding customer expectations is the core of customer experience success.

    By characterizing customers (i.e. personas) according to their expectation sets, every functional area across the company had actionable information about how their jobs impacted customer experience success. This was the impetus for continuity and sustainability and continued improvement.

    These are the types of breakthroughs that need to occur in customer experience management in the future.

  5. Great post, Lynn! Regarding Step 3: “THEN, plan to ask a representative sampling of customers about their end-to-end journey for your product category (not your brand), minimizing your assumptions.” YES! Ask them about the product or service category *in general*, not just our brand’s products or services. We’re so inside-out-focus conditioned, we tend to ask about how our thing works / fills their need / falls short / could be improved instead of asking about their needs and consequences. Most journey mapping processes I’ve seen completely miss this, and as you’d expect, it shows in the results.

  6. Yes, Eric. Very important point. The aim of journey mapping is to get inside the customer’s head. You can do that best by analyzing their experience with the product category. There are plenty of other ways to get feedback specific to your brand. In journey mapping you want to understand needs, expectations and consequences at the broader level. Readers should try it and see! You’ll find much more actionable insights, actionable by more functional areas.

    Understanding the customer journey is not supposed to be a “tell me about me” exercise. You’ve been well trained, Eric!

  7. Hi Lynn

    An interesting post. I agree with most of what you say, but not quite all of it.

    There are three basic approaches to map the customer experience:

    1. Use desk research to map out the basic stages and steps that customers go through when using your and other products to get their jobs done. This is similar to your first step. It is easy, cheap and fast to do but it is hard to identify the jobs customers are trying to do, let alone the experience they really wanted you to provide.

    2. Work with customer-facing staff and managers to map out the basic stages and steps. This is also relatively easy, cheap and fast to do but it is even harder to identify the jobs customers are trying to do and it often becomes an exercise in justifying the experience the company already provides.

    3. Work with customers to map out the basic stages and steps. This is significantly difficult, slow and expensive to do than the first two approaches, but it is the only sure-fire way to understand he jobs customers are trying to do and the experience they really wanted you to provide.

    Obviously, the third approach involving customers should ALWAYS be the starting point. It is the only approach where customers will tell you, or show you directly what jobs they are trying to do and where they struggle with difficult, confusing or irrelevant interactions during the experience. Let’s face it, very few customers would have designed the experiences companies force them to go through if they had had a say in designing them!

    It really is that simple.

    Of course, it is not always possible to start with customers due to access, cost or speed reasons. In that case, the experience designer should start with one of the other two approaches, be very suspicious of the resulting journeys and then go and talk to a handful of customers to sense check the journeys them self.

    Graham Hill
    @grahamhill

  8. Thanks for commenting, Graham. Involving customers IS always the starting point. Honoring the comments they have already provided to the company is indeed a good way to drive initial action and ROI.

    Here are the mainstream stumbling blocks my recommended method overcomes:
    a) internal notions of the customer journey (i.e. #1 and #2 in your comment above).
    b) inaction, or action limited to a few functions.
    c) silo-ized journey analysis.
    d) preconceived notions of segments and personas.
    e) over-focus on stages and steps rather than expectations and consequences.
    f) over-focus on the Post-it(R) exercises in simply defining stages and steps, rather than the so what and cross-functional actioning.
    g) over-focus on appealing imagery of the map over cross-functional actioning.

    Sometimes CXers may be too close to things to be able conduct step 1 from my article efficiently. We have done this for clients with sufficient accuracy to accelerate step 2. What’s a shame with most customer journey map efforts is that step 2 does not take place in a thorough and sustained way.

    Step 3 is certainly a must. There is a lot of mapping occurring that relies on internal interviews or Post-it-ing without exploring customers’ views directly, and with all biases removed.

    Readers may appreciate slides 16-17 in my slideshare deck explaining 7 ways to take journey mapping to higher ROI: https://clearactioncx.com/customer-experience-journey-mapping/

  9. Hi Lynn

    I have been mapping customer journeys since I read Pine & Gilmore’s boo on the ‘Experience Economy’ in 1998. During this time I have seen the mapping approach evolve from service blueprints, through various kinds of journey maps, to best practice job (to-be-done) maps.

    Like you, I never cease to be amazed at how many customer journey maps are developed without ever benefiting from listening to, talking to or observing a customer directly. They are little better than glorified process maps!

    I would be interested in your thoughts about how big data about customers, their circumstances, their behaviour and their influencers can be used to create ‘liquid services’ that can continuously adapt to the needs of individual customers. Why design the customer experience when it can be continuously optimised for each individual customer during each interaction?

    graham Hill
    @grahamhill

  10. Hi Graham, I can appreciate the evolution you’ve seen and concerns about glorified process maps.

    I agree that big data has great potential to create ‘liquid services’ as you suggest. There are many B2C and B2B industries that can benefit from that pursuit. There is a large percentage of B2B companies that primarily manufacture equipment and specialized products, where big-data may or may not be as applicable or otherwise necessary for customer experience excellence.

    Many B2B firms have a dedicated sales force, long cycle time for the sales process, manufacturing, and installation process. These factors may make step 1 in my article more feasible than in other companies where employees are further removed from customers. As you point out, one size does not fit all when it comes to any form of voice of the customer.

  11. Hi Lynn

    As numerous articles have suggested recently, the Internet of Things (IoT) potentially changes all of this.

    Porter & Heppelmann describe in a recent HBR article on ‘How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition’ how IoT is catalysing a third revolution in Information Technology. In the first revolution, IT and BPR was used to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of internal operations. In the second revolution, the Internet was used to do the same for customer operations. The third revolution powered by IoT does the same for products. Just as B2B firm Caterpillar receives a continuous and extensive stream of data over a radio link about the operation of one its multi-million dollar D11T bulldozers working in a remote mine in Australia, so does B2C firm Google about the operation of one of its NEST thermostats in a home in Dallas, and B2B2C firm Medtronic about the operation of one of its glucose monitors in a diabetic patient in San Francisco. The communications, data, analytics and service layers built into IoT products provide the data, insights and the ability to remotely act upon them that could not even be dreamed of ten years ago. As William Gibson famously said, ‘the future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed!’

    Graham Hill
    @grahamhill

  12. Hi Lynn,

    Great inputs in your post. The approach is practical and, in my experience, has a host of other benefits too.

    I have found that working with the available VoC to arrive at broad contours of the current customer journey is also a great way for a consultant to get immersed in the clients world as well as give clients the satisfaction of their past efforts being useful in the current exercise.

    Identifying low-hanging fruit from this helps get some action going internally while the more time-consuming but all-important customer interactions happen.This also gets a wider section of the client company involved in the customer-experience initiative and excited about where it will lead.

    A huge advantage of treating the customer-inputs phase as an exercise to gain insights into the `category’ needs, expectations and impact rather than `feedback about the experience you are providing’ is that it puts client executives in a non-combative mode. It clearly buckets the customer experience initiative as a forward-looking exercise to build competitive edge rather than an `improvement program’

  13. Nice points, Deepa. Customer comments are so useful in more ways than initially meets the eye.

    “Low-hanging fruit” for every function to address is what I think customer journey map workshops should be about. If your team does pre-work in defining the basics of the journey map, rather than dedicating the workshop to creating it, you can re-direct attendees’ attention to “so what?” Creating action plans together is very powerful in making really good ones to begin with, and in driving follow-through.

    You’re right as well about minimizing defensiveness and maximizing learning and improvements. Many companies focus on user experience design or marketing in their CJM take-aways. I think that’s all good, but making significant improvements to reduce customers’ pain usually has the added effects of reducing employees’ pain and re-channeling remedial investments into higher-value investments.

  14. Thanks for the evidence of IoT, Graham, helping managers be more in-tune with B2B customers.I also like these examples’ emphasis on “experience with the product purchased”. That, of course, must be balanced with “experience with touchpoints”. As you wisely infer: “evenly distributed”.

    Some CX managers have gotten over-focused on customer touchpoints, over-focused on voice-of-the-customer via traditional methods, over-focused on remedial fixes, and over-focused on retention programs.

    The net-net is balance. Not throwing the baby out with the bathwater when a new customer experience technology comes along.

    In the 1990s, for example, customer satisfaction managers may have driven more cross-functional collaboration than we see now, they may have bugged customers with surveys and retention programs a lot less, they may have driven both product experience improvement as well as service experience improvement.

    No era in the CX evolution has been perfect, but the lesson is: as we go forward, maintain a balance of people-oriented efforts internally and externally, along with the tech.

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