A story in the New York Times caught my eye this morning: Trapped in the System: A Sick Doctor’s Story. The story details the trials and tribulations this doctor needs to go through every three months in order to obtain medication that fully controls what would otherwise be an extremely onerous health problem to endure. He is delighted with the medication (its effectiveness, lack of side effects, and low cost) he is happy with his doctor, and he is satisfied with his health insurance plan and the coverage it provides. But he is completely frustrated with the process, the many places where burdensome requirements are placed upon him, and the multiple points where communication breaks down. For example, he is not allowed to present prescriptions for more than 90 days of the drug, he is given a 12 month order for blood tests (which must be performed prior to each prescription being written) but the lab will only honor it for 6 months, and the computer systems for each of his providers are not electronically linked.

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Whatever you think of the current US healthcare system, (and this article points out a bunch of delivery shortfalls), there is another lesson in this tale that every small business owner should take to heart:

Even if your customers love your company, love your products and/or services, and think that they provide great value, you may still lose them to the competition if doing business with your company is simply too frustrating for the customer to stand.

Even if you think you’re providing great customer service and have all the major bases covered, it could be little things (or a combination of multiple little things) that end up making a huge difference. For Example:

  • You don’t pick up your phone, and the customer always has to leave a message when they call, (even if you always promptly return the call).
  • You don’t have a website, and your customers can’t easily access information about your business, or get help, online. (See my Tips for Launching a Small Business Website from earlier this month for help with that one.)
  • Your service truck leaks and leaves stains in your customer’s driveway.
  • Your customers want to book and manage appointments with your company online, but you don’t offer that capability.
  • You only offer one package size, and your customer always ends up wasting a third of it.
  • Your customers love the taste of your homemade jams and jellies, but the lids are hard to open and have a tendency to break and crack.
  • Your invoices arrive erratically, and customers are never sure where their account stands.
  • A customer’s favorite item is always on back-order.
  • Your customer makes an appointment with a preferred service provider, and you often send someone else without prior notice.

I could go on and on, as the possibilities are as endless are there are types of small business. But, one thing is certain: if you don’t identify and solve your customers’ pain points, however minor, there is a good chance that it will eventually cost you their business.

Of course, before you can find solutions you must first identify the problematic issues. This can be difficult, as it may not be obvious to you, and the customer may not volunteer it. One approach to this problem is to create Customer Journey Maps.

About Customer Journey Mapping

A Customer Journey map is a visual or graphic interpretation of an individual’s relationship with your company over time. It often begins with the buying process (and Buyer Journey Maps are popular sub-sets of the overall journey mapping process), continues through the initial stages of customer onboarding/conversion, and finishes (but never ends) with customer support and other ongoing interactions with your company.

Understanding that different people, and different groups, interact with your company in diverse ways, Customer Journey Mapping typically begins with crafting “Personas” to represent customer groups, and creating Journey maps for each of those personas. The Maps are drawn from the customer perspective, and ideally highlight key decision points, key pain points, and key milestones along the “journey” with your company.

The process itself should expose areas where your company is strong, and those where improvement or changes are needed. Additionally, it is most important to examine places where your business requirements and your customers’ expectations do not align. For example, if your customers want to pay via credit card but your business only accepts cash or paper checks, then there is an alignment problem you need to solve.

Read, Executive Q&A: Design Personas And Customer Journey Maps from Forrester Research for a good overview of the entire process.

Creating Customer Journey Maps includes using diverse data analytics, customer interviews and focus groups, internal company input, and many other sources to fully profile your customers and their experiences with your company. It is a project often undertaken by large companies with myriad experts and mammoth budgets. Thus, many resources and tools available are designed for that audience and are beyond the reach of the average small business owner.

The following tools and resources are designed for journey mapping beginners; and all are free (or offer free versions).

Customer Persona Creation Tools for Small Business

It is possible that your business caters to only one very small customer niche, and that there is only one “persona” to consider for your journey map. But, it is more likely that your small business has several distinct customer types. In some cases, customers will be so diverse that it is impractical to create one persona for each type; in which case you’ll want to concentrate on several key personas. In B2B relationships, your “customer” may mean a team rather than a person. In this case you can decide to create a “persona” for the team, or to create personas for each type of team member (i.e. Engineers, Purchasing Agents, CEOs, etc.)

This short video provides a good introduction to creating personas:

The following tutorials and guides may be helpful:

  • Marketing Personas: The Complete Beginner Guide
    This buffersocial post provides an introduction to personas, as well as step-by-step instructions for creating them and resources you should utilize to improve accuracy during the creation process.
  • DIY User Personas
    This post provides a deep-dive into 10 key component of a user persona, highlights why each one is important, and provides examples of the type of questions you should be asking and the type of data you should be identifying for each one.
  • Example Buyer Persona
    This presentation from the Buyer Persona Institute provides a step-by-step example of the buyer persona building process, based on the 5 Rings of Buying Insight ™ developed by the institute. (They are: Priority Initiatives, Success Factors, Perceived Barriers, Buyer’s Journey, Decision Criteria)
  • Why You Need A Persona-Based Content Marketing Strategy
    From Marketing Land, this post provides basic steps for creating buyer personas for both individuals and purchasing teams.

You may want to start small with very basic persona formats. Once you get the hang of it, you can move to more complex profiling that really digs down into individual customer motivations and pain points.

These tools and templates can be useful at all stages of persona creation:

  • Persona Template from arangebus
    A very basic, easy to complete persona template.
  • A Bootstrapped Guide To Validating Your Customer Personas
    This guide provides an 8-step framework for creating a customer persona that includes key considerations for each element, and a template you can use to put it together.
  • Xtensio User Persona Tool
    This free online tool (you need to provide you name and email address to register for a free Xtensio account to use it), provides an online tool that enables you to create as many persona as you like. You can save and edit your creations, as well as add sections to the base template. How To: Create A User Persona provides instructions for creating personas in general, and this post provides basic instructions for using the tool itself.
  • Up Close & Persona
    This free tool is designed for creating B2B Buyer personas, and B2B Buyer Team personas. It walks you through a series of comprehensive questions, (For the best results, take the time to really think about them and enter detailed responses.), and then provides a text based persona output at the end. This may be good enough for your needs. But it is also a great content base for creating a graphic persona using one of the other tools or templates. (Note that it will ask for your email address at the end, but will provide your completed persona output even if you don’t provide a “real” email address.)

Customer Journey Mapping Tools for Small Business

Once you’ve created your personas, you can begin mapping Customer Journeys for each one. This short video from UX Mastery provides an overview of the process, and the accompanying post How to Create a Customer Journey Map provides additional high-level details.

The following tutorials and guides may also be helpful:

  • The No-Nonsense Guide to Mapping the Customer Journey
    This recent post is a great starter guide for creating very simple customer journey maps. It walks you through the why and the who of journey mapping, then provides several different examples of how to create a map, and finally provides some basic suggestions for how to use it to optimize your business.
  • The Anatomy of an Experience Map
    This is an older post, but it provides several in-depth examples of different types of customer journey maps, and detailed analysis of how they can be useful business analysis tools.
  • Customer experience and beyond: customer journey mapping
    This post explores how customer journey maps can be created to help with value creation throughout the business by mapping customer experience against business goals, content, and user access channels (i.e. phone, internet, mobile, social media, etc.)
  • All You Need To Know About Customer Journey Mapping
    This post emphasizes how customer journey mapping can be used to teach organizations more about their customers. It provides detailed information and tips for two key phases in the process: research and presentation.

As with persona formats, you may want to start with a very basic journey map, and progress to more detailed versions as more complex questions about customer experience present themselves

These tools and templates can be useful at all stages of customer journey mapping:

  • Mini Experience Map
    This mini version of a customer journey map is designed to help you quickly learn the process by working through it. The personal worksheet template is designed to be used with the instructions in the main post.
  • UXpressia Customer Journey Maps Online
    UXpressia CJM Online is a application that enables you to use the provided template and design tools to create customer journey maps. You need to provide your name and email to register for a free account that enables you to create one journey map. (When you’re happy with a map, you can print it, and then delete it and start over with a new one.) The paid version ($9 / month) lets you create, save, and export an unlimited number of maps.
  • Canvanizer
    This free tool enables you to use a customizable template to create a “canvas” of interactions with your customer. It is specifically designed to work as an “audit” of your existing business model, and cover not only the actual customer interactions themselves but also the “pre-service and post-service phases of the journey…” enabling businesses to see the “connections with the back stage supporting processes.” If you provide a real email address you will be emailed links for editing, and sharing view-only versions of, your projects. (If you provide a fake email address, be sure to copy the links provided on screen so that you can get back to your project.)

Utilizing Customer Journey Maps

Creating your customer journey maps is only the first part of the process; the second piece is using what you’ve learned to make meaningful business changes. Sometimes you’ll discover some low-hanging fruit that you can easily fix, that will do wonders for enhancing customer experience. Using the examples cited at the beginning of the post, you could:

  • Fix that leaking truck
  • Hire someone (or an answering service) to answer your phone
  • Increase stock of commonly back-ordered items

Other changes will be more involved and require strategic business planning.

Watch 10 Ways to Use Customer Journey Maps, a #CXweek presentation, for ideas on how to maximize the value of your customer journey map efforts. (You can also download the transcript.)

NOTE: You will be prompted to register in order to get to the content, but you can enter dummy information if you don’t want to provide your true contact info. This presentation is the second one in the right-hand column.

Customer Journey Map Pitfalls

Like any tool, customer journey maps are only as useful as the business person wielding them. And, it is easy to fall into several traps that will lead you astray.

One common error is completing customer personas and customer journey maps based solely on your company’s internal perception of customers, and not on empirical evidence like data analysis of behavior on your website or results of customer surveys and focus groups. (Of course, the latter may also be misleading, as I discussed in last year’s The Brain in Small Business Marketing tip post.)

A recent Gartner Blog Network post, Getting Lost on the Customer Journey, describes how customer journey mapping inherently provides an incomplete picture of true customer experience, and if used without other investigative tools can lead companies to create strategies based on incorrect or incomplete conclusions. For example it notes that Customer Journey Mapping tends to focus solely on the customer’s interactions with the company, and that this can generate severely distorted conclusions because a majority of the customers interactions related to a company do not directly involve the company at all. (Think reading online reviews, following public Twitter hashtags related to the company, or even conversations with friends and co-workers about the company.)

A recent CRM magazine post, Why Journey Mapping Wastes Time and Money, discusses other problems including that it is often used to build static interaction paths that it is believed customers will enjoy (or at least won’t mind) following; when it should be used to create flexible paths that will satisfy customers regardless of how they enter the journey.

Another related post (by the same person on different site), The Why (And Why Not) of Customer Journey Mapping, continues the argument by positing that the very nature of today’s customer experience is one of trial and error and exploration and discovery. As such, customer journey mapping is useful in identifying possible paths of interaction but never in crafting a single “ideal” path. It can be most successful when it is used to provide customers “a way to build their own paths as they go along.”

Putting the Customer First

However you accomplish it, and which ever tools you decide to use, taking the time and making the effort to understand where you are not meeting customer needs, or even where you are not optimally meeting them, and taking steps to remedy those deficiencies, can provide a true competitive advantage.

Returning to the healthcare example with which we began, one little change in policy–be it allowing prescriptions to be written for more than 3 months, or recognizing blood work orders for their full 12 month lifecycle–would make a world of difference to the customer (patient) and have a small to negligible impact on the provider.

At PaySimple we call this trying to make customers’ lives easier, it is at the core of our company culture, and is something we strive for every day.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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