Journey Mapping to Avoid Travel Horror Stories


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Welcome to the busiest week of US summer travel. AAA predicts travel this week across airports, train stations, and roads, will reach higher than pre-pandemic levels for the first time. Nearly six million of those travelers are expected to go through US airports in the next few days. With numbers like this, the flow of passengers through transportation hubs is critical for operational success and customer satisfaction.

To prepare, travelers are planning to get to the airport up to two hours before their domestic flights are scheduled to take off. What are those two hours going to look like? How can we shorten that time? These are the questions transportation stakeholders need to answer as they prepare.

As customer experience designers, our focus is on the process stakeholders need to engage in to guide travelers along their journeys. The process of journey mapping starts with building the standard journey all travelers need to make. Then, recognizing not every traveler’s journey looks the same.

How Does Journey Mapping Connect to Experience?

Journey mapping is the behind-the-scenes process that creates the flows that get people where they need to go seamlessly. No matter crowd size or customer need. Informed by universal design and customer-centric experience design principles, journey mapping also invites travelers to participate in engaging, positive moments. These moments benefit both the traveler and the airport or train station.

Doing journey mapping well starts with identifying what journeys our travelers take – from the standard (curb to gate) to the more complex, or what we call, alternate journeys that include the alternative flow (shortcuts), the special flow (for accessibility), and the facility flow (restrooms, lounges, and other needs).

In addition to journey mapping, experience design also guides physical design (including wayfinding) and digital design (including travel apps, kiosks, and announcements). For true customer satisfaction,  persona-based journeys must factor in the multi-faceted experience expectations of travelers and their unique needs.

Step One: Map the Standard Journey

The standard journey, or the main flow, is the first step. This trip from the curb, through security, to the gate must be seamless, efficient, and guided. Here, the primary focus is throughput. Throughput is a critical operations goal for asset management. We design wayfinding, build signage, and create touchpoints to move passengers to a singular destination: the gate. And to avoid chokepoints that result in delays.

However, mapping only this standard journey means leaving out a key step of experience design. Namely, planning for alternate journeys that reflect traveler needs and wants beyond on-time gate arrival. These are the journeys, or micro-experiences, that can make or break a traveler’s airport experience, especially during high stakes travel times. So, beyond getting from the curb to the gate, what does your traveler need?

Let’s take a look at two of the common – if not often considered – alternate journeys of travelers in our airports and train stations. And let’s examine how to leverage these journeys to create a comprehensive, human-centered journey that helps manage throughput at the operational level and experience at the individual level.

What is an Alternate Journey?

In the context of an airport or train station, an alternate journey is any journey the traveler takes that diverts from the direct arrival-to-gate path. This includes a journey to access restroom facilities. A quick trip to check out retail stores in the airport. Or a walk around the central concourse to grab a cup of coffee.

Alternate journeys represent opportunities for travelers to engage in the space around them – to check out local art installations or temporary exhibits housed at the airport. They invite passengers to develop a real sense of the place they are in. Even if they are only in that space for a short time. In fact, alternate journeys are the bread and butter of the world-class experience so many transportation hubs set out to build.

Alternate journeys cannot be enjoyed (or optimized financially) if travelers do not know how to access them. Or if travelers worry they will have insufficient time to get to their gate if they stop to explore. This is where journey mapping and the guided wayfinding that naturally flows out of it comes in. It is also where we capture the opportunity to improve passenger experience – indeed to elevate that experience – through  memorable, world-class moments. And to generate more revenue for airports and train stations, especially when they are drawing large crowds.

Intentionally designed alternate journeys lead to personal stories of Wow Moments – encounters with beautiful local art, unique finds at new-to-the-traveler retailers, delicious meals with locally sourced ingredients and signature cocktails. These are the stories you want people to tell about your airport. Not the stories of long lines, delays, and disoriented travelers that too often lead the news cycle this time of year.

The Amenities Journey

An Airport Council International (ACI) report quoted in the International Airport Review says an average of 40.4% of global airport revenue comes from commercial activities like retail, dining, and duty free shopping.

Mapping the alternate journey of retail, concessions, and amenities needs to be a key priority for airports. However, this is not always the case. Alternate journeys, even profitable ones, are rarely considered at critical junctures in the design process. That’s leaving money on the table for airports and train stations. Ironically, it is also adding to the throughput pressure on the typical curb to security to gate journey. Because it cuts the number of offshoots from that journey that would help to reduce bottlenecks and better distribute passenger flow.

Another alternate journey to map is the airport lounge journey. Here, amenities and concessions come to an apex with the opportunity to offer elevated hospitality and uniquely personalized customer experience. Airport lounges further world-class experience and offer additional opportunities to create Wow Moments that promote brand loyalty (think the Capital One lounge at Dulles Airport, or the newly launched Delta lounge at JFK).

The Facilities Journey

While amenities and retail offer commercial opportunities for an airport or train station and elevated experience moments for the traveler, the facilities journey operates in the space of accessibility, safety, and comfort. It is imperative to get that right along the patron’s journey. For every travel persona. That includes seasoned travelers, travelers with disabilities, parents traveling with small children, elderly travelers, and non-native English-speaking travelers.

Are you designing seamless, simple, guided journeys to restrooms in a way that empowers every one of those persona types to access the facilities they need, when they need them? Or are you creating more chokepoints along the main flow?

These chokepoints arise when a confused traveler or a traveler who needs assistance is forced to seek out a customer service agent to help find a restroom. Again, mapping alternate journeys intentionally and clearly frees up space and customer service agents, and assists in managing throughput more efficiently. Think about how to design wayfinding and how to incorporate static and dynamic signage to guide travelers to restrooms. In the early stages of architectural design, look at restroom location placements. Are they safe? Are they accessible?

And, especially during the busiest travel times, are those restrooms fully functioning and clean? Consider technology that enables real-time notification about cleaning and stocking facilities with necessary supplies. Reduce downtime and get travelers moving through this unglamourous, but undoubtedly important touchpoint along their journey.

Good Journey Mapping is a Customer-Centricity Fundamental

At the end of the day, journey mapping is a design practice that connects customer experience designers with architects, interior designers, and transportation stakeholders through their shared goal: award-winning passenger experience design. Taking the time to intentionally and intelligently map both the standard journey and the alternate journeys affirms a commitment to customer centricity because it accounts for the needs, wants, considerations, and expectations of customers in all the scenarios encountered through the space.

The journey mapping exercise forces us to design with intention, to promote accessibility, and to create opportunities for engagement at every touchpoint. All of this generates more positive, memorable experiences for the traveler and ensures universal design. At the same time, each of these also create commercial opportunities for the transportation hubs.

Those world-class experiences we want, start with carefully mapped journeys that meet our travelers where they are, and support and guide them where they need to go.

For support in creating the journey maps you need to transform customer experience in your space, schedule a time to chat with our team.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Liliana Petrova
Liliana Petrova CCXP pioneered a new customer-centric culture that energized more than 15,000 JetBlue employees. Future Travel Experience & Popular Science awarded her for her JFK Lobby redesign & facial recognition program. Committed to creating seamless experiences for customers and greater value for brands, she founded The Petrova Experience, an international customer experience consulting firm that helps brands improve CX. To elevate the industry, she launched a membership program to help CX professionals grow their careers. Ms Petrova lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.


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