Okay, enough!! What the %^&$%& is a customer journey?

I am a customer service and customer experience practitioner and I would like to know who came up with this customer journey stuff? And why is everyone in the industry talking about mapping the customer journey as if it is some new silver bullet solution that is going to solve the world’s problems? I’m fed up with this nonsense, and like it or not – I’m going to tear down this customer journey thing to shreds

I’m fed up for a totally different reason, and it put the customer journey concept right into my warpath. Here’s the story:

My sister is visiting. We went out for coffee. She recommended that we go to the Blue Crane restaurant in Brooklyn, Pretoria. You see, I have a four year old child and this place was described as having a beautiful river with ducks and everything. This would make for a great, family friendly venue. I bought this endorsement outright and without question. You see – “experts” tell us that “word of mouth recommendations” and the “power of social media” is where all future advertising dollars should be spent.

Here’s what – in approximate chronological order – transpired on the night:

  1. We arrived to a dark, shady looking, dated, untidy parking area
  2. The river ended up being a muddy, poor looking body of water with no visible, or audible ducks. Try explaining that to an intelligent, insistent four year old!!!
  3. I went to the ablution facility and ended up standing in an puddle of smelly, disgusting, unhygienic I-don’t-know-how-long-it’s-been-laying-there urine
  4. I went upstairs to the bar area. I wanted to catch the last 15 minutes of the final rugby match between England and South Africa. There were multiple screens, however the blaring sound from each of theses screens was out of sync. This gave me an instant headache
  5. Out come the menus. These are age-old laminated printed-paper menus. They looked old and I wondered about how regularly they get cleaned. I open up on page 1, and I see the following unequivocally stated:
    1. No split bills
    2. No variation on the menu
    3. Some items on the menu that were probably not in season were scratched out with some sort of black ink. Could be nail polish or something like that
  6. I hadn’t eaten for a while, so I suggested that we order some food. At this juncture, I hear the most spectacular response from the self-same individual who brought me to this place. “The food at this place is not that great!” I’m thinking… then why the TOOT bring me to this place at all? I hate it here, have a problem with EVERYTHING they’ve done so fare and no we have to relocate and I have to wait another thirty minutes or more to eat

So here’s the operative question… How is mapping a customer journey going to help me out in my situation?

Lets get real people. If you are a practitioner, or a customer experience consultant, can we get back to the basics of customer experience management – proactively designing the emotions that we want our customers to feel, and designing the company and processes? Lets not kid our customers and syphon their money on this stuff – bamboozling them and convincing them that they need to map their customer journey

Even before I became a customer experience practitioner, the very first thing that I was taught was to think like, and on behalf of a customer. Doing this requires you to adopt a customer focus that is outside-in. I’ve developed this simple model that explains it better:

  • The customer is interested in fast and relevant resolution according to his “ideal outcome” that makes him feel respected and listened to. As a point of departure, this is where many companies go wrong – they resolve issues according to the symptom, rather than the customer’s ideal outcome
  • Everything that a customer does can be described and documented as a process
  • In order to keep this process controlled, slick and fluid, we define some rules, or boundaries around it. The transactions can only occur inside of these boundaries. (Some companies call these business rules – and use them to constrict – rather than enable the customer need)
  • In order to enable the customer process, we need an enabling business process
  • In order to enable the business process, we need enabling information systems
  • Analysis, adjustment and evolution are integral parts of the initiative

Lets summarise. The customer journey is supposed to add value by getting the whole organization on the same page about what the customer goes through when doing business with your company. So, you spend 6 months on a cross-functional project to document the customer journey. Then… so what?

I officially contend that this has not provided your company with any value. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed spending the last 6 months looking in the rear mirror, documenting a flawed stream of events that differ vastly from the day-to-day individual experience of single customers who have done business with you just today!

I’ll tell you what Blue Crane Restaurant’s customer journey is. It’s this:

  1. Customer walks in
  2. Customer is seated
  3. Customer order drinks
  4. Drinks are delivered
  5. Food order is given
  6. Food is delivered
  7. Customer pays

Oh yes – any disruption to this routine hectically confuses the waiter, leading to poor service, leading to a poor tip, leading to labelling the customer.

So, unless someone with significant authority and proof on this customer journey thing explains it to me, I continue to see the customer journey as a tool that:

  • Keeps the organisation busy – and busy is not accomplishment
  • Suffers from a lack of standardisation in approach and documentation
  • Averages out the experience of customers, therefore removes individual relevance and realities
  • Does not adequately highlight points of failure and opportunities
  • Is inward focused – rather than as a customer would – outside-in focused
  • Pays little attention to detail
  • Produces no clarity on the way forward
  • Is a flavour of the month buzzword

Customer experience (101) – according to me, is about giving the customer what he wants, when he wants it, the way he wants it, at a fair price and delivering a smile to his face and causes your brand to creep into his heart. No matter how you stand on your head, colourful flipcharts and PowerPoint slides will not deliver that. Service to your customers is delivered on the cold face and the customer experience is the emotions that your customer takes away over a series of interactions with your company

If you are not doing what your customer wants, and finding a way to make the business model work, then what are you doing? Must be documenting the customer journey then!

Ordinary South Africans and other people who have inspired me

I was inspired by some brave and humble South African achievers whom I have had the honour of meeting during my small, meagre time. I’m going to name names and I apologise to those who may not like it, but I think that your positive impact on society deserves a mention.

My parents, family, friends and those in my religious/spiritual circle…. Done.

Now… Mr Birkenbach – my dad used to call you Bergie. I respected you so much and Willowridge High School was great because of you.

Roland Schoeman – I remember playing soccer together in primary school and countless teenage conversations, while throwing stones at streetpoles outside the Willowridge school gate while waiting for our parents to pick us up. Your achievements awe me especially because I was naïve enough to miss seeing a champion rise right up infront of my eyes.

Nelson Mandela – I don’t think anyone will ever know what your sacrifice really cost, or felt like. I can’t help but think that if it was me, that I would have reacted so differently – violently, vengefully, and you did not. You are the consummate leader and inspiration and there’s a special kind of reward for people like yourself in the afterlife.

Dr Goldman at the University of Johannesburg, my longsuffering promoter. Thank you, sir. Please hang in there and do not give up on me. We’re nearly there.

Glen Lewis – for your humility and just for being nice when I’ve met you on the odd occasion. As a teenager, I was very influenced by you and I cant recall ever reading any negative publicity about you. That’s admirable – no, that’s great. Thank you.

Alan Knott-Craig. Wow, what a boss. I looked up to you since you first spoke to us as young bursary students in about 2000. If you asked me to go to war, I’d go.

Tito Mboweni – I met you one night while you were the Minister of Labour. Your humility and plain niceness surprised me and made me tell that to people for ages.

Kader Asmal – always smiled and showed so much care when we bumped into each other. Once again, plain humility and kindness.

Mosiuoa Terror Lekota – bumped into you outside the hardware store the other day. I enjoyed our leisurely chat. You struck me as a down to earth and nice gentleman.

Surina, Bertus, Mrs Brikkels and many others who have given me a chance. We honor your contribution and legacy.

As I watch the progression of the olympic torch towards the lighting of the Olympic flame, I see that it is passed from hand to hand. Sometimes it goes out. No biggie – it is re-lit and we carry on. However, when the Olympic flame is finally lit, the legacy of that particular games is sealed. So in life, the ceremonial torch is passed from person to other to carry the light. These too, are small contributions that lead to the lighting of the flame that seals their own, personal legacy. We thank you.