In 2017, digital transformation efforts will continue to leverage social media and gamified user experiences, big data analytics and advanced search to create a more personalized, outside-in (versus inside-out) customer experience. And it will be delivered on a mobile platform. “More of the same”, you say, and you are right to be disappointed!

But my hope for 2017 is that it’s the year organizations really start to understand and embrace the role of the customer journey map, and how critical it is to achieving the best possible customer experience and loyalty over time.

Digital transformation guru Brian Solis (@briansolis) recently published a great pointer to embracing this approach with his “4 Keys to Designing New Customer Experiences.”

His second point hits home!

“The ones who are doing it right are working to define a good experience from the consumer’s perspective and working backwards from there. Too many marketers don’t have a true understanding of their customers. They try to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes, and end up skewing the data. Because we are not our customer. And as marketers, it’s our job to make the decisions that are right for them. Ultimately, we must allow people to go through the journey the way they want, instead of forcing them to go through the journey that we think is best.”

Today’s app visitor expects an experience tailored to who they are, with the app knowing who you are as soon as you arrive or log-in. Welcome to the world of personas, where the real interests of customers or constituents are reflected in the customer journey. By creating a persona, its characteristics then help define what the optimum journey should be.

When done properly, it’s a powerful blend of storytelling and visualization to help guide the user.

This shift is reflective of the outside-in approach UX design teams are adopting these days – instead of the old inside-out approach where you built a site and assumed visitors would navigate their way to the information they are looking for.

Personas also instill a discipline in site design, providing direction to inform every step of the user’s journey. With strong research based on real users’ needs, it offers a truth-like guidance for all the design and content requirements. It takes any guesswork out of the process.

What are the steps to ensuring an effective digital persona and the optimum journey maps?

  1. Know your customers. Identify the key categories of visitors you need to engage. Perhaps they are a potential patient for a healthcare app, a citizen looking for information about their city services, a PhD researcher, or a doctor seeking quick answers? Your website or app will need to handle each one of these very differently!
  2. Go one step further and categories by age – millennials expect a different experience to middle age visitors (usually).
  3. Now create the personas you are ready to create journey maps for. Be a specific as you can be, creating effective personas is an art!
  4. Set out the timeframe of steps – perhaps from initial contact to signing up or from initial awareness to returning to the site to register and input data or order.
  5. Turn this into the visualization journey map, telling the story of how the persona experiences the product/service.
  6. Review regularly to make sure the persona and journey are still accurate.

For more on the best practices around mapping the customer journey, check out this article from Nielsen Norman Group’s Kate Kaplan (@katewkaplan). In her own words, it should be “a truthful narrative, not fairytales”. Well said!