Proto experience designers discussing a customer journey map

The mystery of the missing customer

We’ve been noticing a disturbing trend with customer journey maps lately. The customers are disappearing from them.

Increasingly, we’re seeing customer journey maps, especially from the large consulting firms, which fail to reveal customers’ real needs. They don’t appear to map customers’ actual experience, or what they want that experience to be.

What they do is a great job of is recommending a large digital transformation project. What is lacking is any deep research and understanding of what the customers themselves want.

This deep customer understanding should be what is used to inform those digital transformation projects, not to be used as an incidental means to an end.

Why is this happening? Here’s our analysis

Firstly, Customer Journey Mapping is becoming more popular. This is a good thing. But as with most trends, the more popular something becomes, the more variations occur, often resulting in a product far removed from its original design or intention. The Customer Journey Maps we are seeing sprouting up all over the place are often mutant versions of what a Customer Journey Map started out as. They lack rigorous research, deep insights and they are most often lacking any real customer input.

Secondly, Customer Journey Maps are sometimes being created with a hidden agenda. Mapping the ideal experience of a customer should be about making the customer’s life better, with the confidence that when we do that, the business will drive stronger growth. It’s not about developing a shiny iPad app (how many apps do we all need?) or the implementation of a new digital stack. We know that digital solutions drive efficiency, reduce cost and sometimes these can be powerful solutions to delivering what customers want. But when a digital transformation is not an option that’s available to organisations, you can still achieve significant improvements in CX by leveraging changes to people, policy and processes and setting clearer customer expectations, at a fraction of the cost and time. The ideal Customer Journey Map is about designing ways to touch and deliver to customers what they want, where they want it, regardless of how it might be delivered.

Thirdly, the small but important factors that make a big difference to customers aren’t as sexy as large-scale digital transformations or new apps and websites, so they’re often left off the map. The small things are, in our experience, the most important to customers. Most organisations undervalue the importance of delivering the “brilliant basics” for their customers. If you missed our last article you can read more about that here.

Here are some real examples we’ve come across

The real value of a customer journey map is when they are created and dictated by deep and real customer understanding.

We have been to clients where they have had previous examples of work presented to them mapping the end-to-end ‘customer’ journey spanning an 18-month period that was created based on as little as eight customer interviews.

I don't know about you, but I reckon if you invested six figures in a CX project you might be expecting insight from more than just eight people.

Of course, you can learn a lot from eight customer conversations. However, to ensure a conclusive, useful result, you need a sample of customers that considers all variables; captures the emotions and behavioural drivers from all groups and personas, and connects, empathises and communicates what is and isn’t working for your customers. That’s what a useful Customer Journey Map should do.

When this so-called journey map was presented to the business, unsurprisingly, the staff and stakeholders responded with “that’s not our customer and it’s certainly not the journey they go on.”

The large consulting firm had created an “ideal” customer journey that incorporated large scale digital solutions and a change management plan which required a whole lot more consulting help to be executed.  The question you have to ask is, Who is this map really for? The consulting firm or the client and their customer? Too often it feels to us like they may be guided more by self-interest rather than having the customer at the heart.

The danger of these "ideal" Customer Journey Maps is that they lead organisations down a path of investing heavily in problems that aren’t priorities for their customers. They also fail to inspire employees to get on board the journey to increased customer focus because they don’t establish real customer empathy. What’s more, employees aren’t empowered to continue improving customer focus through capability transfer.

These “ideal” Customer Journey Map’s sometimes reveal little of what customers actually want, which is often just better human-to-human service, not yet another app. Customers often see more value in having help paying their bill, someone returning their phone call, or having a promise fulfilled.

What a Customer Journey Map should really do and how to approach it

We believe the only way to truly understand your customers and give them what they value, is to undertake rigorous customer research. This research will deliver valuable, prioritised and actionable insights.

To do this you need to go beyond the metrics and understand human behaviour. You need to:

1. Focus on uncovering the underlying mindsets, emotions, motivations and desires your customers' experience when interacting with your service.

2. Ensure your research methods are designed to elicit stories about experiences by responding to what participants say and allowing the conversation to go in unexpected directions. It becomes more like facilitated storytelling than surveying.

3. Use these insights to build a detailed customer journey that gives your business an actionable plan to give your customers – and your business - more value.

Let me know if you want to check whether your current Customer Journey Maps are really telling your customers’ story. I’d be happy to meet, online or in person. You can reach me via phone: +61 418 494 489 or email

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