We Narrandumites (that wasn't a word before, but it is now) have seen an awful lot of customer journey maps over the years. Some are beautiful – expansive in scope, meticulous in detail, and pivotal in creating great services customers love. Others are... well, sometimes it feels like people create the story they want to be true, rather than one which accurately describes the reality of their situation.
The American author John Barth once wrote that "everyone is the hero of their own story". Life is a series of unconnected episodes we don't have much control over. But when we tell others our story, we thread these episodes together into a single, continuous narrative. Most of the time, that narrative we construct about ourselves shows us in a positive light. It highlights and embellishesour successes, and brushes our failures under the carpet. What's more, this isn't just the story we tell others – often it's the tale we tell ourselves, to make sense of our own circumstances.
This might seem a little dishonest, but most of the time it's perfectly fine. By constantly revising the story of our past, it helps us make sense of our present. The important events form part of the narrative, the side plots and dead ends which didn't amount to anything are left out.
But if the story you're telling is a customer journey, this self-serving narrative isn't going to work. If your product is to succeed, you need to consider much more than just the happy path. Honesty – about your customers and yourself – is the key to creating good journey maps.
A tale as old as time
When we're conducting design workshops, we usually start by asking a client to describe how a typical customer engagement goes. Often they tell us a familiar story. The customer is looking for a product that does a particular job, but they're not sure which one is best for them. They meticulously research the competitive landscape, and identify the option which best suits their needs. Amazingly, this just happens to be our client's product! They buy it and are happy. Sometimes, they're so happy they recommend it to their friends, and our client sells even more products. Then, after a long and happy time together, the product reaches the end of its life, and the customer comes back to our client to buy a replacement.
A heartwarming tale, I'm sure you'll agree. But if stories are supposed to teach, what do we learn from this one? Very little. Because it's missing the crucial ingredient that makes any story interesting – tension.
From start to finish, it's plain sailing. The product is perfect, the decision is easy, the ownership experience is flawless.
If this is the only story you're telling about your customer journeys, you're lying to yourself.
Fortunately, Narrandum makes it fast and easy to create as many stories as you like*. So by all means start by mapping out the happy path - describing the customer lifecycle in general is a great way to start thinking about your customer journeys. But once you've done that, it's time to start asking some hard questions.
Look at every stage of your journey and ask "What could go wrong here? What else could happen?". Maybe your perfect customer never discovers your product at all (a scenario we're very familiar with here!). Or they do find out about it, but overlook it for a rival product which is actually less suited to their needs. Or a better deal changes their mind. Or... the possibilities are endless. And this is just for a single phase of the product lifecycle. You can – and should – repeat this for every stage.
This is the essence of good storytelling. Keep throwing obstacles in the protagonist's way, show how they overcome them, and how things change. The people, their relationships, their circumstances, their perspectives, their futures.
So maybe your competitors tempt customers away. A late delivery results in a cancelled order. Your product fails a week after the warranty expires. Challenges like these will arrive for any business, and it's through truthfully mapping out your customer journeys that you can identify them, anticipate them and rectify them – or stop them happening in the first place.
A question of balance
Of course, repeating this exercise over and over for every part of the customer journey will lead to a lot of stories being created, which could muddy the waters when it comes to creating a service blueprint or product roadmap. To create great products, we need to be able to discern trends and patterns, and this is hard to do if we have too many divergent scenarios.
George RR Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire series of books on which Game of Thrones was based, says that when he reaches a branching point in a story he's writing, he picks one path and follows it until it reaches a conclusion, then if he doesn't like that conclusion, he walks it back. This leads to an awful lot of discarded writing, publication delays, and frustrated fans. We can't recommend it as an approach.
Instead, try to consolidate everything into just a few stories. It might be a little unrealistic to have one story where everything goes wrong, but at least it allows you to find ways to address problems at each stage. Once you've done this, you should be able to identify the areas which need the most improvement, and concentrate on those. Break them down into stories of their own. Get more specific with customer pain points. Fine-tune those user needs and goals.
Soon you'll be ready for anything your customers might throw at you, and they'll be raving to everyone about the seamless customer experience you gave them.
*Provided you pay for a subscription, of course. Free users are limited to just two stories.