Customer journey mapping & the importance of experience

Author: Ash Mann

Towards the end of last year I spoke at a few conferences about the importance  and impact of customer experience, and the role that digital platforms and activity can play in supporting that.

A few people have asked me to share my presentation so I’ve done my best to write a post to rework the talk I gave. It isn’t all the same words, but looks to cover all of the same points and case studies.

Digital feels like a threat

Whilst I love digital and have spent all of my working life trying to understand and use it, I also understand that for many people digital doesn’t feel like an opportunity.

It feels like a threat. A confusing, overwhelming, expensive threat. It involves increasingly complex technology, and a pace of change that is, at times, terrifying. However it touches everything we do.

Therefore I hope what I cover in these two posts gives you, regardless of the size and complexity of your organisation, or the resources at your disposal, a set of tools, and ways of starting to think about your digital activity that will:

a) make it all make a bit more sense

b) help identify where whatever resources you do have are best directed.

Because when we talk about customer experience digital is something we can’t afford to ignore

Loyalty is an opportunity

Last year Spektrix released their Insights Report, it was full of interesting things but there were a few areas that particularly resonated with observations we’ve had in our work with cultural organisations.

One of those, was the area of customer loyalty.

The Spektrix Insights report showed that the average of customers retained from 2016 to 2019 was just 26%, 74% of those audiences from 2016 haven’t come back.

Key findings from the Spektrix Insights report showing that 26% of customers from 2016 returned in 2018, 31% returned in 2017. On average, 56% of customers in 2018 were first-timers. 24% of customers were frequent bookers, attending more than once in 2018

Key findings from the Spektrix Insights report around Customer Loyalty

Which is a problem, or an opportunity, depending on how you want to look at it.

We’ve seen significant increases in customer satisfaction and commercial effectiveness – whether that’s around increasing the amount people are spending, or their chance of reattendance (i.e. loyalty) – with digital experiences that are focused and appropriate.

I want to explore some of the elements that I believe underpin achieving customer loyalty in a digital context.

Because you are not going to increase customer loyalty unless you can offer them something easy-to-use, relevant, contextualised, rewarding and useful.

And when you start to think in those terms, a broader focus on customer experience (CX) becomes a valuable framework within which to think about, plan, design and deliver this activity.

Because experience drives loyalty. We know this through our own, lived experience. Where have you been more than once in the last year? And why? What role did experience play in that choice? I’d expect it was probably significant.

Why, for example, do people go to Everyman or Picturehouse cinemas when they could go to the Odeon for a third of the price. Because of the experience on offer.

And the data backs it up. Experience plays a part in customers’ decision-making, PWC’s Experience is Everything report found “65% of respondents say customer experience is important when choosing between options”.

People are willing to pay more for a good experience, with “55-85% of customers saying they would pay more for a better experience” (Esteban Kolsky: CX for Execs / Forbes: Want Better Customer Experience?)

And bad experiences will drive them away, “32-49% of customers say they walk away after one bad experience” (PWC Experience is everything again).

Experience can really work for you if you get it right, and it can be catastrophic if you get it wrong.

Experience economy

All of the organisations we work with are operating in the experience economy. They are competing, above all, for time and attention.

Because people are only going to get off the sofa, leave their homes, to go to your venues, to see your performance, or your exhibitions because of the experience that involves.

And that experience is not confined to the duration that they are with you watching the performance, or visiting the exhibition.

If you’ve been to an arts conference over the past couple of years you will probably have come across this quote from Coney’s Tassos Stevens, but I think it is insightful, so I’m going to use it:

The experience of an event begins for its audience when they first hear about it and only finishes when they stop thinking about it.

So inevitably the experience that you deliver is made up of numerous moments, spread across a likely significant period of time, involving numerous interactions and touch-points, and therefore numerous parts of your organisations, spanning many many teams and people.

But who ‘owns’ the customer experience? Because, if we agree that customer experience is important, then it’s equally important to understand who has authority to invest in, and agency to affect, that experience. Who’s in charge of this strand of your organisation’s activity and thinking?

Is it controlled by the artistic or curatorial part of your organisation? Is it a marketing thing? Or a front of house thing?

Or do you feel like you’ve contracted out experience due to the way that various 3rd parties may be responsible for delivering significant aspects of that customer journey?

I think this is an important question to ask yourself, I don’t think there is necessarily a ‘right answer’ but if you don’t have clarity on who’s in charge, or how it all hangs together, then it may be difficult to affect meaningful, coherent change.

Understanding experience

If we’re beginning to recognise that experience is important then there are some questions we need to ask: What elements comprise that experience? And how do you begin to understand, inform and address that challenge?

It requires, firstly, a sophisticated understanding of your customers, your offer, and your organisation, and secondly being able to understand how to configure all of those elements in a way that results in something positive.

This involves questions of people, psychology, technology, communications, customer service and more. It isn’t easy.

But on that question – the question of understanding – I think cultural organisations are quite uniquely placed. You all have a better and deeper understanding of who your customers are than many other industries could ever dream of.

You have an enthusiastic and engaged constituency. You aren’t selling soap. People care about you, and about what you do.

But to try and make the most of that relationship. To understand how it can be optimised for the benefit of everyone involved takes time. And thought. And, probably, change.

And amongst the overwhelming slew of 1000 things that you need to try and keep across it can be easy to let the difficult things slide.

After all people must be finding out what you do, turning up at the right place at the right time and engaging with the thing, and afterwards maybe some of them talk about it and tell their friends.

And most of that is happening without too much direct attention so does it really warrant particular time, effort and attention?

I’d argue, now, with the expectations of today’s consumer, you can’t afford not to.

The importance of experience

We’ve already touched on the fact that people are willing to spend more money for a good experience, and that lots of them will leave you if they have a bad experience.

The Walker Group have carried out a number of studies over the past 6 years looking at the shift in customer expectations and all their findings point to experience becoming the overwhelming way of differentiating yourselves from your competitors.

by the end of 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator.
Customers 2020: A Progress Report, Walker Group

So if experience is increasingly important then equally important to understand is what your customers’ expectations are around that experience.

Because unless you understand what someone’s expectations are then it is going to be very difficult to meet, or exceed those expectations.

And to understand those expectations it’s useful to understand the broader context within which those expectations develop and exist.

No-one is resetting their expectations when they interact with your organisation.

No-one is giving you the benefit of the doubt.

Your customers care about you and value what you do but that does not give you a free ride when it comes to customer experience.

And that, frankly ruthless, reality is true of every aspect of the customer experience, from the quality of your marketing, to the ease of finding and buying a ticket, to the usefulness of the pre-visit communications, to being able to access the venue, the welcome they receive, the quality and price of the food and drink, the comfort of the seats, the quality of the performances, the set, the lighting, the air conditioning.

The toilets.

If you don’t believe me just spend a little time looking at Google, TripAdvisor, FourSquare or Facebook reviews of your organisation.

Comments on the comfort of the seating, price of drinks, temperature inside the venue and friendliness of staff will all be just as prevalent as comments on the quality and specifics of ‘the art’ (exhibition, performance, etc) itself.

Your customers’ expectations are being set by increasingly excellent experiences they are receiving elsewhere, whether that’s online or off.

So you need to have a clear-eyed view of what ‘good’ looks like, but you also need to have a deep and nuanced understanding of every part of the customer experience.

How do you understand what that experience is? And how do you identify what you can do to ensure you’re maximising every part of it?

Today the continuum of customer experience has radically changed. It has fragmented into so many pieces, across so many channels and platforms.

What was once a fairly linear journey, with just a few discrete steps, with very few voices to deal with, has become a cacophony.

Customers source their information from a panoply of sources both online and off-.

They can buy tickets in all the old ways but digital platforms – whether that’s your site, apps, resellers or agents – have given them ever more options.

And because the internet allows us to communicate about everything in the history of the world at every moment, forever, the period between purchase and attendance is now heavy with potential, and the potential for confusion.

The experience of attendance is no longer isolated to sitting down and being performed at, people share their thoughts about the experience, the art, and the toilets, before, during and after their visit.

And after the visit, my god, people will review you to your face, they’ll review you behind your back, they share their experience with friends, with strangers, with people in the show, with other theatres, with anyone who’ll listen, and everyone who won’t.

So with this fragmentation, with this loss of control, how do you ensure that you are doing everything you can to ensure the experience you offer is consistent, appropriate, and high quality?

Afterall what people want hasn’t really changed much at all, it’s just where they get it from, how quickly they want it, and their level of expectation that has exponentially increased.

Mapping chaos

Before you can meaningfully influence your customer’s experience you need to understand what comprises that experience, and what the customer expectations, frustrations, ambitions and motivations are along each step of that journey.

Because if we acknowledge that there is at least some truth in the quote I shared from Tassos, that the audience experience spans a significant amount of time, then it must also be true that it intersects with an equally broad range of the things we do, and the people doing them.

This is a well-trodden area of thinking, and there are a number of different approaches you could take to try and define and then analyse what goes into your customers’ experience.

However all of these devices and approaches are aimed at understanding the same thing, what does the customer want, and how do we give it to them?

At Substrakt we have seen real success using two of these approaches, Experience mapping, and Customer Journey mapping.

And it’s the second of these devices I want to dig into today, because it’s the second of these that I have seen holding the most immediate relevance and value for the types of organisations represented here today.

Customer journey mapping analyses specific, defined users moving through specific defined scenarios.

It identifies the different phases of that journey and the touchpoints, goals/needs, motivations, emotions, frustrations involved in each phase.

Now obviously this makes some assumptions. It assumes that you have some knowledge of your users and of the scenarios you are trying to map.

If you haven’t spoken to a user in years and have never bought a ticket through your website, or attended a performance, or eaten in the restaurant, or bought a drink from the bar then it is going to be difficult (or impossible) to meaningfully map out that, or indeed any, customer journey.

However I am going to assume that you have some sense of your users, and the scenarios you want to map.

Customer journey mapping is a valuable way to bring together all of the colleagues whose work goes into delivering the various customer experiences you offer.

However, HOWEVER, caveat time.

A customer journey map is a story designed to provide insights into the customer’s journey. It is not designed to represent a 100% real experience with all its nuances.
Paul Boag: What Is Customer Journey Mapping and How to Start?

There is no point expecting (or trying) to produce an encyclopedia that will be the definitive breakdown of the reality of every single possible user experience.

That simply isn’t realistic.

And I’m not going to pretend this is a quick or easy process, but the value we have seen organisations gain from this more than makes it worth your time.

Whether that’s significant efficiencies achieved with staff time, increasing the amount of money people are spending, improving internal communication and buy-in, or developing more effective relationships with their customers,

the organisations who have engaged with this shift in thinking have found it to be hugely beneficial.

But in order to see those benefits you need to do a few things.

You need to focus on mapping specific user journeys. ‘Coming to a show’ is not discrete enough to generate any real insights

Your audience is not one homogenous group, this reality will already inform many other areas of your thinking.

To get really useful let’s remind ourselves of the key components to be able to map a customer journey:

  • A specific user
  • Scenario

So that might look like: a first-timer wanting to come to the opera and bring their friends.

This level of specificity gives you enough context to be able to meaningfully map out this potential customer journey and understand where and how it could be improved.

I want to stress now – don’t look to do everything, focus on a few, discrete customer journeys first and see if you can move the needle on those – inevitably you will learn things along the way.

But before you begin to map any customer journeys you need to do some research. You need to start to build up a picture of the current journeys.

Talk to people, go and stand in your foyer and see how people enter and move through the building, look at how people are doing the same on your website.

To further build your understanding there are a few buckets of data that are worth checking.

That could involve:

  • Anecdotal feedback – front of house and box office teams are a great source for these insights! What do people always comment on, or ask about, what do they need help with, do different types of show result in shifts in these conversations?
  • Reports from your ticketing system – how are people buying their tickets, when are they buying them, how much are they spending, how many tickets are they buying, where are different people choosing to sit, etc
  • Looking at Google Analytics data to understand how users are arriving at and engaging with and moving through your site
  • Social media – what are people asking? How are they talking about you?
  • Search data – both on your site and google – what are the pieces of information people are looking for? What questions are they trying to answer? How do they perceive you?
  • User feedback – talk to your customers!

Once you have built up a broad understanding of the user journey(s) in question you are ready to run the mapping exercise.

It is important that this isn’t done in isolation, engage with all of the colleagues who have any role in delivering this user journey and ensure there are some senior stakeholders in the room too.

Much of the value we’ve seen people get out of this comes from the process as much as the outcome.

To map the journey you need the story you’re trying to understand, in this case a first timer wanting to come to the opera and bring their friends.

You then need to break that broad journey into distinct phases.

Transactional or visit-related journeys might have the following broad phases:

  • Discover
  • Research
  • Transact
  • Plan
  • Attend
  • Share

Obviously YMMV and this isn’t going to be a one-size-fits-all model (indeed there are lots of other frameworks out there, Tessitura’s Andrew Recinos has been sharing his thoughts around a Cultural Experience Framework), however it gives you a starting point through which you can start to analyse your operational activity relating to customer experience.

Then for each phase of the journey you want to identify some or all of the following:

  • Goals – what is the user trying to achieve at this point in their journey
  • Touchpoints – how does the user interact with you at this stage? are they on your site? Are they on social? Are they picking up a brochure or seeing a poster? Are they at a tourist information office?
  • Questions – what questions will the user have at this point in their journey?
  • Emotions – what might the user be feeling at this phase?
  • Weaknesses – where are there gaps in the experience at this stage

The resulting journey map should give you a clear idea of the phases a user moves through, the touchpoints they engage with, the questions they might have, the emotions they experience, and the weaknesses in the current journey.

It doesn’t have to be a designed thing, it could just be a long roll of paper that it stuck up on the wall where everyone can see it

You may want to add in additional things to measure for each phase but I’d recommend keeping it simple and remembering:

  • A customer journey map needs to be regularly used to be useful
  • A customer journey map needs revisiting and checking on a regular basis
  • A customer journey map will never be perfect

Now what?

You should now have a clear(er) picture of how and where these journeys, these experiences, could be improved.

And I would argue Digital will likely play an important role in delivering, or supporting, or augmenting  the experiences in question.

If you are selling 60, or 70, or in some cases, 90+ percent of your tickets online. If your website is visited by hundreds of thousands, or millions, of people and f social media, digital ads and email are the ways in which people are first finding out about what you do then it is unarguable that digital plays a fundamentally important part in the experience your customers are having.

And expectations around digital experiences have increased exponentially over the past 5-10 years.

Most of platforms where people spend most of their time online are quick and easy-to-use. They provide focused, obvious ways for users to meet their needs.

And most of people’s time online is not spent interacting with cultural organisations.

So, you need to recognise what people’s expectations are and evaluate where the weaknesses are in the digital experience you’re offering in comparison to how people’s expectations are being set.

But don’t worry, that almost certainly doesn’t mean you need to think about designing everything from the ground up, or reinventing the wheel.

After reflection it will probably become clear where there are parts of the digital aspects of your customer experience that could be improved. And many of those improvements are potentially straight-forward to make and maintain, with a little thought.

In the second article I will look at some specific examples of where organisations have used this thinking and the user experiences they have produced as a result.