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What You Need to Know About Customer Experience Maps
Before a company designs its map, it should take a number of steps to make sure it doesn't go off course
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Customer experience (CX) has been getting people's attention lately. "The new battlefield," declared a post on Gartner's website this past February, noting that 89 percent of the companies surveyed by the research firm believe that CX will be their primary area of competition by 2016.

This suggests that leaders are becoming increasingly concerned with ensuring the customer enjoys each interaction with its company. Yet, at the same time, it's getting harder to make sure those experiences are positive. And as the voices of the customers become more readily heard, it's vital that those customers be served properly during every interaction they have with a company, lest they be left with a bad impression that scares them away for good.

Every false move has the potential to alienate customers, whose number of contact points with companies is higher than one would think. Whether it's online, on the phone, in the store, or even while viewing the dreaded bill, customers are forming impressions all the time. And though the moment that stands out the most—and everyone's favorite to imagine—is the moment at which the customer hands over cold, hard cash in exchange for the goods or services she desires, many steps lead up to, and follow, that interaction. These steps are often easy to forget about or neglect, so it's important that companies make a concerted effort to keep up.

Unfortunately, the reality is that visualizing the steps a customer takes, and recognizing just how many there actually are, can be a challenge. Many of us are visual creatures, so it helps to see how things play out on paper instead of holding them all in mind. It might be helpful to think of the customer as a character in a board game, and the company the designer leading the way. It's the company's duty to make sure that character proceeds though the board successfully and meets their ultimate objective.

When the board game is levels more difficult than it needs to be, the customer won't always be willing to play along—especially if a competitor is offering an easier game. That's where customer experience maps come in handy, as they can give company leaders a way of keeping track. It's important to take careful steps in creating a map that will be of assistance to the company. After all, a board game that's impossible to play will not stay on shelves for long, and a customer experience that draws the customer away from his goal is likely to make him give up.

If we're going to continue with the board game metaphor, an important distinction must be made. Unlike in a board game, the CX journey should be as straightforward as possible, with no unnecessary complications, if you are to keep the participant engaged and happy. Read on for tips on implementing your own customer experience map, to help your customers on the journey leading up to and following a purchase.

THE BASIC INGREDIENTS

Customer experience maps should all have three things in common, according to Tony Costa, senior analyst at Forrester Research. First, regardless of the form a map takes, it must include a series of tasks or activities. For example, a customer might research a product online before going to a store, or return a product to the store if it is damaged. These signify activities—what the customer is trying to accomplish.

Second, a map should include touch-points—or points of contact—where the customer interacts with the company or brand in question. The touch-points are not always that easy to identify. A store and a Web site are obvious ones, but some are less so, like peers: People are likely to take product advice from a trusted friend seriously.

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