Understanding The Customer Journey – Part I: Strategy

What do we want to learn when we ask to see the customer’s journey?

When clients ask me to uncover the customer’s journey, my initial response is always, “Great! What are you hoping to learn from this?” The reason for this question is because the term customer journey has become such a buzzword that most people know they need it, but don’t fully understand why they need it. There are a variety of reasons to want to understand the customer journey. Some examples I’ve encountered are:

  • Clients who want to disrupt their current customer experience to help set their product/service apart from their competitors.
  • Clients who want to identify pain points within the use of their product/service so that they can make it easier for current and potential users to interact with it.
  • Clients who want to look for opportunities to design solutions that meet needs/desires the customer doesn’t even know they have.

Whatever the reason is behind a client wanting to learn more about their customer’s journey, the end goal is clear: they want to identify a strategy to deliver solutions that will surprise, delight and care for their customers in hopes that they will continue investing in them. In order to create these solutions, we must start by observing the customer to learn what it is they really need and desire. By observing customers and asking questions we begin to understand their explicit (clearly expressed) and implicit (implied but not plainly stated) wants and needs, which helps us create the most impactful solutions.

My favorite example of this is a quote from Theodore Levitt: “People do not want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” As Mr. Levitt points out, designers often believe that the solution is the product or service, but in reality the solution is the experience delivered by that product or service.

Steve Jobs understood this practice, which is part of the reason that Apple became what it is today. He found ways of creating products that served the higher needs of his customers through understanding their journey and the “jobs to be done” within the journey. An excellent example of this was the iPod.

The iPod was developed in the early 2000s based on Jobs’ observations of how users were acquiring music. He watched customers struggle to use cumbersome devices to navigate vast quantities of music files in order to have the music they loved at their fingertips. He watched  competitors try and fail and knew his company had the technology to give the people what they wanted. Steve Jobs, along with a team of hardware and software designers, set out to create an experience that would serve users what they wanted with ease, speed and aesthetic, and in doing so they changed the way we listen to music forever.

When we observe and question the customer’s journey through the experience, we learn not just what the user thinks they want, but what the user doesn’t know they need. This helps us to create solutions that can make incremental changes to the experience or disrupt it altogether.

This was the first part of a three-part-series called “Understanding The Customer Journey.” Stay tuned for the next installment, “Understanding The Customer Journey Part 2: User Research.”

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