I have a friend who was a camp director.

Over his career he had the opportunity to build a lot of new buildings on various camps. During the time that I knew him he always did the same thing. He built the building or venue, but no sidewalks or paths to get there.

During the first year, there sat a beautiful facility. A new dining hall, boathouse, or tennis courts, but with only a foot worn path to get there. I asked him why he always waited a year to put paths in. Wouldn’t it have been easier and more cost efficient to just do it when he had the construction crews on camp?

“Of course,” he said. But every time he laid down the path where it made sense to him, the campers tended to make their own path anyway. So he just waited a year and put the sidewalk where the camper’s actual feet guided him.

So it is with our customer journeys. As much as we think we can rationally imagine how our customer is going to get from Point A to Point Z, they continually surprise us.

They don’t wander straight or obvious paths. There are unexpected twists and turns that we just can’t anticipate in advance. If we study and research where they have actually gone and we ask them why they did what they did, their paths actually become predictable.

We can use the data of those many footprints to understand what they did, but we need to actually engage with them to discover why they did what they did. Maybe that turn in the path happened because there are remnants of an old tree trunk, a big rock or a rough spot in the grass that was not visible, but everyone felt underfoot as they walked. Maybe a puddle forms in a specific spot after a heavy rain. Maybe it was just easier to cover the steepest part of the walk on an angle instead of going straight down.

Just as the campers defined the path for the camp director, our customers are laying down footprints for us to follow everyday. He could see it in the worn grass; we need to look deeper to follow them.

While we can pretty accurately see within our heaps of data what each subset of our customers has done or is doing, we can’t readily see why. In following a customer’s journey, the “why” of things is necessary for both prediction and implementing long-term change to our customer’s self-determined journey.

This is the challenge we now face.

How do we help brands figure out the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ in ways that will make a long-term difference?

Just for a moment let’s reflect on what we mean when we say “long-term difference for our brands?”

Just as organizations realized, over the last thirty or forty years that a deep understanding of brand could provide significant financial value to organizations, so it is with customer experience planning today.

Recent studies by Gartner, Forrester and Maritz all indicate the leading organizations are more than doubling their investment in understanding and planning their customer experiences over the current five year period.

Why? Because the companies running ahead and reaching maturity in their customer experience are demonstrating a 3X increase in customer retention and financial performance.

Executives are beginning to much more clearly understand this continuum between customer experience, behavior and business outcomes.

But before we dive into that, let’s step back for a moment and talk about some of the foundational beliefs that are driving the rapid growth of Customer Experience and Customer Journey work.

We know that customers, not marketers, build brand experiences.

Customers now have the ability to construct their own journeys in ways they haven’t in the past. To place their own digital footprints wherever they desire. And that’s true not just for digital products and services—although it’s more obvious there. The interplay between the digital space and any customer engagement with any product or service makes this much more possible.

Think restaurants and Yelp.

So, I’m walking down the street in a small city we are visiting on business with a Millennial colleague—we’re in the prime business area and we have a limited time for lunch. And we’re hungry.

I am about to walk into a very close restaurant that I’ve been to once before. The food was, admittedly, just passable and pretty stuck in the past.

But, before I can even pull open that door my colleague has gone onto Yelp (like any self-respecting Millennial will do) and instantaneously re-directed our journey. Now we’re headed two blocks further down the street— technically out of our way.

Both restaurant owners likely have no idea that the journey for their customer has been completely altered. The benefits of conducting business in the central district and providing simple “American” food, now meets customers with the digital capability to readily find their pick of virtually every flavor of global restaurant—from Vietnamese pho to Brazilian coxinha —within blocks.

We know that customer experience is the new “brand”.

More and more we are coming to understand that this self-directed journey is the Brand. Brands no longer exist separately from the experience the consumer has with, or doesn’t have with, the brand.

Consider how that restaurant went from a perfectly serviceable, if old school, place for lunch to a pariah in about ten seconds flat. It wasn’t because where we ended up was a little more modern or a little more exotic, though it didn’t hurt. The real reason we were there was that for my colleague the authenticity of the food is the experience! He is willing to take a more convoluted journey to achieve that end.

The reality is that customers can choose to engage with, or sidestep, brands as they choose.

That little restaurant can likely see the financial data that says his revenue is dropping. He can also see that he is ordering fewer steaks, fewer green beans. But he likely has no idea what is happening to his business. Helping him understand this story requires boots on the ground.

We know that for our brands, just understanding the journey isn’t enough.

Just because consumers have the ability to construct their own journey doesn’t mean that brands can’t exert influence on the paths. Once you understand the journeys customers are creating and the motivating needs that drive the journey, the brand can help create the types of experiences that will get the customer effectively to the treasure.

What would need to happen with that original restaurant guy?

Should he re-position his brand around authenticity—a key selling point for the Millennials in his market?

Should he redesign his experience to be focused on serving only locally-sourced food that is authentic to the time period he appears to be positioned in?

This process can be applied to any product or service in any category. There is a great McKinsey article that really addressed this issue of competitive advantage through customer journey.

One example comes from a residential solar panel company. They realized through their journey planning work that while people were really interested in the idea of residential solar panels, the fear of what their house would look like with them — and what the neighbors would think — prevented them from moving past the exploration state. This organization solved for that in the first seconds a potential customer spent on their new site: they entered their address and a picture of their house from Zillow popped up — with solar panels already placed on the roof.

No matter what the product, the service, the organization, the legacy. Our brands need to be prepared to engage in the kind of design thinking required to address changing the customer experience.

We know that innovation will absolutely be required.

If the goal of competing on customer experience is to prevent customers from considering alternatives, we must use all the data and research tools in our arsenal. That goes past merely understand the journey customers are on with us (and our competitors), but to imagine new ways to design the journey that causes a customer to eliminate consideration of alternatives.

All of the work we are doing in customer journey is really an outgrowth — a first step if you will - of the world-wide movement toward using human-centered design or design thinking to lead the innovation process.

In the past, innovation was something that R&D did. Today organizations and brands are applying the tools of innovation to every stage of a customer’s journey.

The need to approach our brands from this perspective has led to an explosion of support for getting people trained in using human-centered design. The LUMA Institute, here in Pittsburgh being one of the premier organizations in that space.

Some people imagine customer journeys like this.

Thus they have a hard time imagining how or where to make the critical adjustments necessary to achieve competitive value.

I prefer to think of journey mapping more like a treasure map with both a very defined X that marks the spot of the treasure we are trying to help our customers find and strong indications of where the problems exist that are going to prevent them from reaching that treasure.

Both of these are very simplistic, if helpful ways, to think about journey mapping. But journey mapping is just the first step in the process.

Understanding the current customer journey has little value without using that information to actually create a plan for how to alter the current map in ways that are meaningful to achieving the goal.

Unfortunately, while a 2015 study of CX professionals revealed that 56% of organizations now have a formal CX program — with airlines, consumer package goods, apparel and supermarkets leading the pack — only 28% said their programs were very successful. This same study indicated the maturity of the CX program was what was driving this result. Organizations that stop at the mapping stage never achieve the treasure they were seeking.

A customer journey map is nothing more than a structured way to represent and understand the experience your customer has with your brand, product or service from the first potential touch point to the last. And they can take many and varied forms depending upon the way your organization best consumes this type of information. A journey plan however, is a comprehensive way of looking at both where things are today and planning where they need to be in the future.

While different organizations attack the journey planning process differently, we believe in a very disciplined and structured approach. Our experience has been that this approach is the most likely to garner sufficient internal interest and engagement to insure the mapping exercise actually drives to innovation of the experience and the ultimate goal: competitive advantage!

So the process we use has three sequential steps with specific tactical activities involved in each:

First, we study hard.

Deep Data Analytics, effective segmentation of customer groups to be studied—which helps us define our whose journeys matter the most! Intensive Qualitative Research closely tied to the analytics and then quantitative verification—including a quantitative competitive analysis. Researchers and product teams lead this effort.

Then, we define strategy.

At this stage all the findings from stage one are synthesized. A Journey Map of the current experiences is created and all of the internal teams who need to be engaged in the innovation process are brought into the strategy definition stage. Designers join researchers

and product teams.

Finally, we design.

This is the stage where prototyping and testing of the new experience occur. This stage is highly iterative and may take many months. Product teams and designers lead this effort, with research and strategy helping to guide when necessary and provide concept testing.

While we have been involved in understanding and planning the customer journeys in a variety of industries, this pattern stays the same.

We begin the process with years and years of data. Which, like you, we slice and dice in any manner of ways. We model to predict future behavior and generally use the data to its maximum capacity to provide insights. Consistently the value of the journey to the client has not been in the data alone.

Let me give you some examples from completely different industries:

First, a healthcare client:

Data demonstrated that some people with diabetes were more likely to be successful with managing their disease. The data could even tell us that these people tended to be younger— yet that clearly wasn’t a reliable predictor.

What data alone couldn’t tell us is people who were substantially more likely to learn the most they could about managing their disease were also the ones most likely to describe a much more emotional reaction to their diagnosis. In particular to describe that reaction as fear.

Not only was this emotional state actually driving the subsequent behaviors seen in the data, this emotional state could be predictable in certain people or easily ascertained by just asking at diagnosis.

Perhaps more importantly, the journey of all diabetes patients could be adjusted to motivate that particular emotional response. Intentionally causing fear flies in the face of what most healthcare professionals typically want to do. That changes when they learn, through data-driven customer journey work, that more realistically laying out the urgency of the situation and the long-term ramifications — in effect, inciting a sense of fear and urgency - can actually help patients to achieve better long-term success. That’s a change healthcare providers can embrace to drive experiences that improve long-term success for their patients. The patients then feel a strong sense of loyalty for the organization that directed their process in such a way as to make them successful..

Second, a restaurant chain:

Data demonstrated that people with children are high users of a certain restaurant chain. The data could even tell us what the family ordered.

What the data couldn’t tell us was that in the 6 – 11 age group the child actually exerted substantial influence in making the choice for that restaurant, as opposed to other competing options. Three main factors driving the child’s preference for this restaurant were things we couldn’t see in the data:

A trip to this restaurant was a place that mom or dad wouldn’t say no to, and therefore it was viewed by the child as a way to capture valuable time with a busy Mom or Dad.

At younger ages, it also gave them an opportunity to “break the rules” and get breakfast for dinner.

At older ages, rather than getting a “kids meal” per se, they could go to the salad bar - where they could gain a sense of complete control over the meal they were selecting and do it in a grown up kind of way.

None of these insights could be ascertained by the data available to the restaurant chain, but substantially changed the way they addressed cultivating the journey of this important customer group — including opening up the opportunity to market directly to the child — something they hadn’t considered doing in the past.

There are a couple of critically important things data does for us, and why it is always the starting point in our customer journey planning work at Campos.

It gives us the lay of the land. For any group of customers, how many different types of journeys they might be on.

It defines long-Term customer value — tying the customer to their revenue stream.

It permits us to add segmentation schemes that allows us to focus on the types of customer most likely to provide us long-term value.

It can link behavior to opportunity — how many more people like this one exist in my market.

It can accurately tell us what, specifically, happened and when — time of day, or week or year

This is especially important in our work in healthcare.

A customer’s insurance claim history captures every isolated activity within every health event. Just one year’s worth of data can be hundreds or thousands of data points. But we can now easily characterize this data in ways that facilitate quality discussions with members.

This visual is of a hypothetical customer’s cancer journey. As you can see, her journey with our client has been long — 7 years — and predates her cancer.

Using data visualization software, we can scroll over any of the bars. Each can tell us a lot about the event that happened at this exact time and what the financial consequences were.

We can make both some very broad conclusions — this person was fairly healthy until that cancer diagnosis, actually only taking a small amount of daily prescription medication. When cancer hit, it hit hard — causing a series of high intensity and high cost events that lasted for over a year. But, at least in the time frame the data represents, this hypothetical person clearly got past the cancer and returned to what was for her a fairly normal life, with an added level of follow-up physician care as seen here.

In addition to claims data, we can even add the layer of her digital experience with her health plan and health-care providers — how many times and when did she use the digital tools provided by the plan? Did she use the physician search tool? Did she call into the patient assistance line? We can see the entirety of her DIGITAL journey by combining the various data sets. And we can see from this data she was fairly highly engaged with our client’s tools throughout her care.

So if we left her journey story to the data, it would stop here and we would have a fairly straight-forward understanding of what happened in this customer’s journey.

But what we wouldn’t know is why she did what she did — the most important factor in being able to understand and ultimately predict the customer journey in ways that become meaningful for constructing or managing journey paths in the future. And we would also not know if what she did — particularly in her digital engagement — was an anomaly or an early indication of a trend or change in the market.

As it turns out with this particular patient, we discovered the ‘why’ she did what she did was critical in understanding what turns out to be a rapidly shifting and largely undetected change in the journey experience of cancer patients — particularly the 20 percent of patients under the age of 50.

We could see in her data, compared to other patients, she engaged in a substantially higher volume of digital activity — she used virtually every portal and tool available to her. She researched physicians, researched hospitals, called the insurance hot line, and called the customer care line.

Why? You need to put skin and bones on her to figure this part of the journey out.

We knew from secondary research that we had conducted while the data analysis was underway that more than 70 percent of cancer patients don’t do any one of these behaviors —they simply place all of their trust in their cancer physicians and move through the process as instructed. We also knew this lack of engagement wasn’t unique to our client’s patients. We had documented that competitors had similar structures in place, but cancer patients were among the least likely to actually use them, even when age was removed as the variable. So why did this particular woman engage in all of them?

Only by both talking to her at length — with her data story in front of her — and then conducting a much larger validation study — did we learn that she is actually an example of a bell-weather customer.

Turns out, she represents an early window into a fundamental shift in the cancer patients’ willingness to blindly trust the healthcare system and get on the fast moving, and largely uncontrollable, train that is cancer care in our country today.

Not her. She questioned every move. She researched every subject. She researched every doctor. And ultimately, I wish I could say that she experienced a greater sense of satisfaction and control with the process by being this engaged. Turns out, there is an oppositional relationship between cancer patients directing their own journey and their ultimate levels of stress and satisfaction with their care, but that’s a story for another day.

Bottom line, in many ways this woman should not be a surprise to any of us. As our digitally native customers age, the expectation they will be able to control the twists and turns of their journey — with every brand, every product, every service — right down to and including their cancer care should not be unexpected. And yet our whole system, at least our oncology system, is not yet set up for her.

I use this patient’s story as an example of one of the myriad customer journeys we see where, while the data clearly demonstrated what happened to her, it does not provide us with the complexity of her response. Not getting the customer journey right in healthcare can result in monumental costs with re-admission, ER visits, and the list goes on.

What are the costs to your brand for NOT getting the customer journey?

While there are fundamental aspects of the patient’s journey that can be better structured based on data, there are many critical things that data can’t provide.

Data cannot identify emotional states.

Motivation is strongly tied to emotion. People don’t get out of bed and do the things they do without emotional context driving.

Data doesn’t give us the whole picture of someone’s experience and how their data experience influences the rest of their life.

data alone does not tell us what we need to do to meet the customers most critical needs and wants - ultimately, the ways we need to improve.

As we have worked with clients, two other critical elements have been important to gaining organizational commitment. They need to truly believe the changes they need to make to the customer experience will actually result in competitive advantage and the revenue changes that come along with it.

This has increased the role for both competitive intelligence as part of the journey planning process as well as market validation for the findings. If we keep in mind the fundamental purpose of understanding the customer journey is to help construct a future journey that is a competitive advantage for our brands, there are important implications of this.

Deep competitive intelligence comes from both the secondary research at the start of the process and from market validation studies. The quant studies take the findings of the qualitative and verify them at scale. They also give us the opportunity to test the competitors customer experience on these same potential differentiators. If it turns out the competitor already owns the positions we seek, it will help us re-direct our process and prevent our client from investing in an adjustment to the customer journey that will not differentiate their brand.

For both of these reasons, the learnings we accumulate through data, secondary and qualitative research must be rolled up and somehow validated at scale.

One last, quick example with a note about the role that quant can play in Customer Journey development.

In working with a non-traditional college client, their internal data established that graduates of this particular institution tended to be older — 24ish. But the data was less clear on why. Data also indicated the older the student was, the more successful they tended to be.

Since credits from previous institutions didn’t typically transfer, there was no data record that spelled out either how many of the students actually were transfer students from other colleges or universities vs just late bloomers. The data, therefore, could also not tell us how big the opportunity might be, if there was one, among transfer students.

We relied on secondary research for context: which told us the transfer rate among all college students was approaching 33%. Perhaps an all time high. So we had enough intelligence to begin the customer journey exploration but no real insight into how comparatively valuable this segment could be.

Instead of following the usual process at this juncture: we went directly to quant. They had a brand tracker going into market, to which we added just a few key questions to get at this answer. Turns out, the transfer issue is a huge issue. And not only that — the competition isn’t even among similar institutions. In this case, while the clues came from the data, the validation of the opportunity came from the quant vs the qual.

The exploration of this customer journey opened up a whole new channel. For others a simple market survey that measures the key areas of identified differential against the key competitive set is what is in order.

How you develop mapping and planning for our customer journeys is critical on many levels, but particularly in communicating the story to the internal audiences—who ultimately hold the responsibility for executing changes.

While simple maps can be effective in focusing people on the current journey (and its limitations), our experience has been that in large organizations a much more substantial output is required in order for people to active. The ideal is to get all the players into one space and create an interactive and visual experience of the journey and the insights.

Unfortunately, that is not always practical. We typically produce highly engaging 20-page reports — essentially coffee table books — that bring the customers and the process to life in a way that demonstrates the organization means business. We also often present via webinar in order to get far flung teams engaged. And particularly large organizations have us produce 10-minute videos of the findings in order to re-use them again and again as they need to engage the new players who are, invariably, brought into the process.

Every customer journey map is fundamentally different, because it communicates a story unique to this individual customer segment. But making sure it captures the key elements of the entire journey, not just specific touchpoints the client is accustomed to focusing on, is key.

In order to get to competitive advantage, the process cannot stop with mapping. Moving into the next stage of strategy planning and design puts structure around how to solve for the problems that have been diagnosed in the mapping process.

The planning and design process is a very iterative process that involves an integrated and collaborative approach.

As the Study and Explore phase of the process moves into the strategy and concept phase, all the tools of design thinking and human-centered design are used to model possible outcomes and decide upon the strategy options that will, once again, provide competitive advantage and keep our customers from considering alternatives.

Developing prototypes and using the tools of the maker movement to imagine different configurations or possibilities. While 3D printing demonstrates how tangible prototyping occurs with product development, often the prototype is in-store or an online experience.

And then, testing, testing, testing.