Why the customer journey will only take you so far

Key takeaways

  • Customer journey is often mistaken for the customer experience – but the concepts have key differences.
  • Customer journey mapping is mechanical, customer experiences are transformational.
  • Within every customer journey are opportunities to design and deliver signature experiences.

I met with a client recently who wanted to know the differences between the terms customer experience and the customer journey, whether they were relevant to their organisation, and if one should be prioritised over the other. This got me thinking about how the two concepts are perceived in the marketplace. Despite being quite different things, I’ve often heard them being used interchangeably.

True, the digital economy is changing how both customer journeys and customer experiences can be conceived and executed. Yet one is mechanically mapped, while the other is carefully designed and transformational. It’s a focus on the latter – the customer experience – that’s crucial to the future success of businesses and organisations.

Defining the customer journey

The customer journey maps the entire route a customer can take to find and obtain a company’s product or service: where they go, who they encounter and what information they’re exposed to along the way.

The journey can be simple, such as visiting the corner store and picking something off the shelf, or it can be complex, incorporating multiple channels and touchpoints across physical and digital spaces (such as advertising, mobile apps, social media and so on).

Say you want to purchase a new Wi-Fi modem. After conducting research online, you venture into a shopping mall and visit an electronics retailer (perhaps spotting some ads for Wi-Fi modems along the way). You make a purchase depending on price, selection, or engagement with a salesperson, then return home to set it up, perhaps talking about the experience on social media afterwards.

Different channels and touchpoints came together to shape the overall customer journey. Yet organisations can have the exact same mapped journey as the one above, with very different overall experiences. Why is that?

Experiences within touchpoints

Where the customer journey provides the roadmap towards a product, the experience occurs within the roadmap, at every turn and intersection. It’s the touchpoints (physical, digital, or a combination of the two) that should be designed to cater to the customer’s empathy and emotions, delivering superior service and quality along the way.

If the characteristics of these interactions add up to a simple and seamless engagement then a differentiated experience is created: one that delivers on the values of the brand.

Same journey, different experience

Let’s revisit the same customer journey from above – the quest to purchase a new Wi-Fi modem – through the lens of customer experience.

After researching the modem online, you use a retailer’s website to reserve a product for collection. The site is slow, badly designed and the process takes a lot longer than it should have, with many pages and mouse clicks. Once you enter the store, the staff don’t know who you are and the product is still sitting on the shelf. You return home, sharing the experience on social media.

Compare that to a well-designed customer experience: after reserving the product online – a breezy process involving only a few clicks – you walk into the store. The geo-fencing technology identifies you and the staff greet you by name. You’re then handed the modem, which is specially wrapped up and ready to go. You return home, sharing the experience on social media.

Both of these journeys are exactly the same. Yet one begins to touch the emotions of the customer, while the other is just a plain bad experience. Which would you rather encounter?

Journey to experience

Customer journey mapping is a key component in delivering outcomes. It reveals processes and interaction points, identifies where channels can be switched, and highlights areas where information can be exchanged.

It’s the designing of experiences in this journey – overlaying memorable touchpoints and interactions – where true value is delivered. If organisations don’t design signature moments and experiences throughout, brand promises and values can’t be translated and crucial opportunities will be missed.