Get All Access for $5/mo

Customer Journey Maps: The North Star to Digital Transformation Diving right into digital transformation can tempt any leader, but a lack of architecture might mean failure. Here's the most important step to take before starting out.

By Margaret Rogers

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

shaunl | Getty Images

Sometimes, blazing your own trail is the easiest way to get lost -- just ask Shyp. Though the startup aimed to disrupt the shipping industry, its low price point would eventually mean death. Shyp's service was popular with customers looking for easy shipping solutions, but its financial model was unsustainable. The founders remained committed to their original business model instead of adjusting, and that Shyp quickly sunk.

The startup's mistake -- overestimating how often people actually ship things -- is a specific example of a common problem. Companies can now access large amounts of data thanks to digital touchpoints, but they continuously struggle to understand customer motivations and influences.

Related: Avoid These 3 Overconfidence Traps to Succeed Where Many Startups Have Failed

Customer journey maps are perhaps the best solution for this, as they teach businesses how to build relationships with customers using their needs as connection points. Research from Aberdeen Group shows that customer journey maps improve marketing return on investment by 24 percent and shrink sales cycles by 16 percent. The business case is clear, but even when businesses do map out the customer journey, they often depend on small sample sizes and shallow inquiries or create multiple maps that go in different directions. Biases and emotions can also cloud interpretation.

A great customer journey map should articulate an ideal experience. According to Adobe and Econsultancy, companies with a focused, customer-first approach are more than twice as likely than peers to rise above competitors. That advantage increases when you consider how customer journey maps can guide digital transformation -- or the ways in which businesses can leverage technology to boost performance.

Walking confidently into the unknown.

Companies are eager to complete their digital transformation, but the scope of this effort is overwhelming. It requires a top-down transformation rather than just a few tweaks or additions. Getting lost in the creation process is easy, but customer journey maps can lead you toward success.

These maps clarify how organizations can become more customer-centric. In doing so, they also create alignment across teams, projects and departments. In other words, journey maps allow companies to coordinate customer efforts while also reworking their approach from the inside out. Digital transformation involves the same kind of effort.

Almost every modern customer experience involves a digital component -- this highlights the overlap between customer journey and digital transformation. In fact, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania identified customer journey maps as the most important prerequisite for digital transformation. This is because maps facilitate cross-functional collaboration and foster a neutral perspective, both of which are essential for breaking down data silos and creating truly integrated organizations.

Related: Aggregate Data to Grasp the Whole Customer Journey

Plotting a map that others can follow.

Just having a customer journey map is important, but the more detail it includes, the more straightforward it will be to implement. Follow these three tactics to customize your own map and start your digital transformation on the right foot:

1.) See customers as individuals.

According to Capgemini, 75 percent of companies consider themselves to be customer-centric, but only 30 percent of customers agree. This unfortunate gap exists because companies engage with customers on a shallow level and view them as replaceable.

The better approach is to talk with and observe consumers -- ideally face to face -- to truly explore their physical and emotional needs. These conversations identify where, when and how your company can deliver the most value and cultivate maximum loyalty while reducing business biases that might accidentally divert teams away from customer needs. Those touchpoints are especially important to address during digital transformations, and companies should find ways to upgrade customer experience through technology without pivoting away from what people actually want.

2.) Turn strangers into partners.

Creating a customer journey map for just one experience or department can make things disjointed. It's important to create cross-functional teams to ensure consistency throughout the entire customer journey. Using one map across your organization synthesizes and streamlines everyone's efforts so you can keep everything in alignment. Teams speak in the same vernacular and have a clearer understanding of each other's intentions.

Toyota Motor Corporation, for example, has prioritized cross-functionality since the 1990s and aims to integrate efforts both within and across projects. It's clear that alignment and shared focus are mandatory for carrying out digital transformations.

3.) Get critical and focus on what matters.

A customer journey map is not a static document. First, it should guide decision-making. After that, the results of those decisions should be used to evaluate and revise the map for even better results in the future.

Identifying the key performance indicators that define success and drive decision-making also helps you establish a critical framework for the map. As a rule of thumb, KPIs should incorporate both product and business performance and can indicate when and how plans should be stopped or revised.

Make sure you're measuring what you need to: For example, research from Ensono and the Cloud Industry Forum found that although 51 percent of companies use cost savings as a KPI, 70 percent consider it to be a key driver. Critical analysis helps locate disparities and make meaningful changes, and these skills are crucial to have before making major investments in digital transformation.

Related: Which Analytics Do You Really Need?

Today, all companies are in the business of customer experience -- and the best customer journey maps illuminate the who, what and why. As long as the map is kept current, it will always indicate where to go next, like a compass. The customer journey map is invaluable in the era of digital transformation and disruption.

Margaret Rogers

Vice President at Pariveda Solutions

Margaret Rogers is located in Washington, D.C., and is vice president at Pariveda Solutions, a consulting firm driven to create innovative, growth-oriented and people-first solutions.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Growing a Business

3 Branding Strategies That Will Make Any Brand Stand Out

Here's how to differentiate your brand in three essential steps — understanding your unique selling proposition, leveraging storytelling, and valuing feedback.

Business News

How to Be a Billionaire By 25, According to a College Dropout Turned CEO Worth $1.6 Billion

Austin Russell became the world's youngest self-made billionaire in 2020 at age 25.

Science & Technology

Ignoring This Website Essential Can Hurt Your Search Ranking — and Bring Legal Consequences

Learn the importance of website accessibility for businesses, highlighting its impact on customer engagement and SEO effectiveness.

Growing a Business

How a Local Greek Restaurant Seized Opportunities and Won a New Food Network Competition

After starting as a food truck in 2014, Think Greek has evolved into an award-winning restaurant by creating innovative menu items and taking advantage of opportunities that extend its audience reach.