When businesses talk of customer journeys, they are employing a useful metaphor for the process of connecting to and establishing a relationship with that customer. The idea of a journey stands for many of the discrete steps in identifying a customer's needs or wants, and then gradually interacting with that customer to fulfill those needs. It also encompasses the steps that go beyond purchase into support or recommendation, even advocacy on behalf of a brand.

As a metaphor for engagement, the idea of a customer journey can be expressive. But as a practical matter, it is also an effective way to document and analyze sections of the customer's experience to look for moments of influence and leverage. Customer journeys can be mapped, either singly or in the aggregate, using a variety of tools and methods that are coalescing into a niche market segment aimed at service and marketing professionals. This market touches multiple existing technology product segments. Systems that purport to map or manage customer journeys can be found as part of interaction routing platforms, marketing automation offerings and analytics tools, among others.

The 451 Take

Journey mapping occurs in a diverse range of systems because the nature of the customer experience has itself changed to become more fluid and dynamic, less rigid in its steps and outcomes. Every journey is not the same – customers can choose new contact channels and are targeted with personalized content tailored to their precise attributes. Analyzing the journey is an essential part of making those personalized recommendations or offers because it offers insight into what a customer is likely to do at each juncture, based on true histories, not just conjecture. In a recent 451 Research survey, (VoCUL 2H 2017 Corporate Mobility and Digital Transformation (Representative)), when asked which marketing technology tools would have the highest level of investment over the following 12 months, 25% cited customer journey mapping. Among C-level respondents, that figure rose to 30%, indicating significant buy-in for the ability to see into and control the nuances of customer behavior.

The Difference Between a Journey and a Lifecycle

A journey is different from a lifecycle; for one thing, a journey is how the customer perceives it herself, as a pathway toward (or away from) specific outcomes. A stage in a lifecycle more aptly represents how far along a journey a customer/prospect has traveled and in what order. Again, these are metaphors that describe how people inside a business approach the problem of trying to influence a customer. A lifecycle, for example, can be used to broadly classify someone as most likely to interact with a sales rep or a service rep, or where they are in a sales funnel or pipeline. But a journey represents the series of connective steps taken to achieve a set of goals – a view on a website, followed by a chat with a rep, followed by a phone call, a mailing, a store visit or dozens of other possibilities. The rationale for managing the journey is that with the number of steps multiplying, a business has to discern which pathways are optimal and which are dead ends, which result in sales and which in frustration, what are the distinctive choices made by successful customers and what are the ones that cost the company time, money and opportunities?

Service Departments Look Backward, Marketing Looks Forward

Journeys are perceived differently depending on where an observer is within a business. The first attempts to understand customer journeys emerged within the last five years among service professionals. Faced with an explosion of contact channels replacing or augmenting traditional toll-free voice calls, service departments were often forced to handle contacts in forms that went untracked and disconnected. For example, it was difficult to see the entire picture of a customer's experience if she begins by looking at a mobile app and then calls for help. Without tying together the two threads of the interaction, a business is going to see those two components – app use, followed by voice call – as separate events. Data providing a through-line needs to be gathered to complete the 360-degree view of customer behavior and intent. In service environments, where cost control is the main driver of technology use, understanding the journey is a way of making sense of an expanding menu of connection options. Service centers began studying journeys as a way of aggregating post-connection information about past activity and using what was learned to identify breakpoints or moments of friction that degrade the customer experience.

Marketers, by contrast, have a view of the journey that looks forward instead of back. Their role is to create and nurture potential customers, so it is to their advantage to conceive of their mix of messages and campaigns as a way of orchestrating optimal journeys. Marketers can be said to view journeys as an inside-out process, looking ahead to what customers might and should do, where service teams view them from the outside in an after-the-fact accounting of what has already happened. Journey mapping on the service side is often a manual, labor-intensive process that hand-stitches together customer touchpoints using whiteboards and sticky notes. This is often done in concert with interaction routing vendors and performed as a consultative service. Verint, for example, has used its Major Oak consultancy as a journey mapping service provider for clients, partly as a way to shine light on its clients' process issues that can be optimized through better use of Verint's software applications.

Journey Mapping Tools Span the Spectrum from Service to Marketing

Legend: From left to right illustrates whether the company's journey tools aim more to create and orchestrate experiences (marketing side) or analyze aggregated data for an after-the-fact picture of what has already occurred (service side). From top to bottom illustrates whether it's built as part of a broad offering with analysis in mind (top) or whether it's more of a stand-alone offering (bottom).

Different Approaches Have Influenced Tools with Divergent Aims

The inside-out and outside-in approaches are merging as the tools become more capable and businesses find value in understanding the nuances of the customer journey. To move beyond the manual processes, one must first get access to multiple streams of data from across the stack and identify the processes and stakeholders who control that data.

For example, CustomersFirst Now performs journey mapping via a combination of professional services and a dedicated software tool. Its CFN Insight lets users assign a business owner to specific customer touchpoints and processes, making them responsible for the metrics associated with their part of the journey. The goal is to gather the separate silos (technological and cultural) and get people to see them as parts of a holistic approach to customer value.

A similar hybrid approach of consultative services and software is taken by SuiteCX. With this tool, users develop and map personas and segments in three states: as-is, transitional and to-be, then show the journey of each on a map. Practitioners can develop both personas and segments, map the result and then print the map for a presentation. It's designed to be used alongside a CX Assessment process that draws heavily from voice of the customer analysis to diagnose where pain points are degrading the experience.

There are many small firms that offer mapping software, often geared to use by ad hoc teams gathered from multiple departments into workshops. Companies like Smaply, UXPressia and Transformation.ai emphasize the design and visualization aspect of journey mapping, including the persuasive power of elaborate maps to alert decision-makers to the importance of CX in a broader context. All of these emphasize the outside-in approach that dominates the customer support environment.

Other tools, especially those that stem from the marketing and analytics segment, fold journey mapping into broader suites for CX management. Quadient, for example, divides the operational space into three parts: customer communications management, digital experience management, and the maintenance of data quality. Journey mapping is part of the communications component, where it integrates with related systems for designing and personalizing content for customers, along with reporting and measurement. Marketing-centric systems like this one tend to put the journey at the beginning of a process of iterative improvement, making the map into an action plan, rather than a static record of past activity.

MaritzCX takes a similar approach, using mapping as a starting point for a business to understand how the entire CX process works. In Maritz's case, customer experiences that are uncovered by the consultative mapping process are validated using a suite of Voice of the Customer applications and other analytics systems to relate findings to specific business goals and metrics.

Other firms with marketing roots approach journey mapping incidentally, as an adjunct to the process of de-siloing data sources and aggregating customer information into 360-degree views. NGDATA, for example, is a customer data platform provider that makes use of those analytics in operational mode, rather than just as visualizations of stages. One can argue that the emergence of CDPs is laying the groundwork for a more automated and less ad hoc approach to understanding journeys, one in which experience optimization, marketing and service delivery all hinge on being able to compile broad swaths of customer data into a series of insights that operations professionals can act on. NGDATA's approach is to insulate the marketing person from having to ask the IT person for a look inside the data; instead, putting all the richness of what you know about the customer at his or her fingertips like a catalog function. At some point in the not-too-distant future, this approach may bring us journey maps that are unique to each customer – based on the same enormously rich data that drives personalization and targeting.

Buyers of the broad portfolios from marketing cloud vendors like Salesforce, Adobe and Oracle will find journey management features built into those suites. Salesforce's Journey Builder, for example, is a component that helps orchestrate finely detailed marketing programs by incorporating cues from past customer behavior into plans for personalized messaging. Adobe's Journey Management optimizes content across touchpoints and integrates with advertising tools.

Integrate Customer Data and Journeys Move Front and Center

Since journeys sit at the intersection of innovation in data management and marketing automation, we are likely to see continued development of tools that allow stakeholders to visualize and act on customer behavior. The use case for such tools, however, is shifting away from the simple illustration of journeys (i.e., the maps) toward a more integrated and action-oriented approach taken by marketing-focused vendors. What makes a journey map useful is its ability to suggest personally and contextually relevant customer communications (i.e., journey management). This is coming from the marketing side rather than the service sector.

It's also likely that we will see the consolidation of niche point products aimed at journeys in favor of an approach that puts understanding the journey into a constellation of analytic and optimization tools for messaging, targeting and personalization. The home for that functionality will probably be the marketing automation suite, or marketing analytics, or both.
Scott Denne
Senior Analyst

Scott Denne is a Senior Analyst with 451 Research, where he helps direct the firm's coverage of technology mergers and acquisitions. He also contributes to 451 Research's Customer Experience & Commerce Channel with coverage of the advertising technology industry.

Sheryl Kingstone
Research Vice President & General Manager - VOCUL

Sheryl Kingstone leads 451 Research’s coverage for Customer Experience & Commerce, which covers the many aspects of how customer experience is a catalyst for digital transformation. She oversees the company’s coverage of a variety of customer experience software markets spanning ad tech, marketing, sales, commerce and service.

Keith Dawson
Principal Analyst, Customer Experience & Commerce

Keith Dawson is a principal analyst in 451 Research's Customer Experience & Commerce practice, primarily covering marketing technology. Keith has been covering the intersection of communications and enterprise software for 25 years, mainly looking at how to influence and optimize the customer experience.

Want to read more? Request a trial now.