Use Touchpoint Terrain Maps instead of Customer Journeys

Customers frequently talk about their experience of your service, especially if it’s been outstandingly good or bad. But how often do you hear them talk about going on a journey with you (travel industry excluded of course)?

The only people who seem to mention the phrase customer journey are service and experience design practitioners – because it’s convenient for us to think this way. Yet, as we are supposed to be thinking from the perspective of the customer, why do we focus on a topic they never consider?

Customers just want to achieve an end-goal in appropriate time-frames, with or without you – and nothing else! Sometimes this end-goal does actively involve you – especially for luxury or physical experiences like health spas, restaurants and personal care, for example.

Tropical BeachAn uncomfortable truth

This is an uncomfortable thing to hear, but the vast majority of your customers don’t want to go on a journey. Many wouldn’t even want to interact with you in an ideal world if they had the choice. Your service is simply a means to an end in the customer’s mind. For example, would you rather fly with your favourite airline for ten-hours or be at your end destination ten-hours earlier if you had the choice?

Other examples of this situation are when a customer…

  • Simply wants their new mobile phone to work properly – but they know they’ll have to get their network provider involved to fix it.
  • Needs to have an amazing new outfit for an event next week – but they know they are going to have to spend time online or in a store to find it.
  • Just wants to feel well again – but they know they are going to have to go to hospital for a check-up.

Frequently, customers deal with you not because they want to – but because they are forced to. We have to spend ten-hours sat in a thin, metal tube at 35,000 feet because that’s the only practical way to get to our destination.

To be truly customer-centric, you need to help them achieve their end-goal in the quickest possible manner. But a customer journey map alone isn’t the best process for achieving this.

Once you have the customer on-board your thin, metal tube then the number of alternatives they can consider is limited. Chicken or fish, madam? Red or white, sir? Choosing their movie etc. However, during the lead-up to this point, their consideration set is huge. Choosing an airline; finding a fare; getting to the airport; departure lounge shopping; and many more pre-flight activities offer an array of different options and are subject to so many customer whims, needs, constraints and irrationalities – that they are too chaotic in nature to be mapped usefully.

Pinball predictions

Pinball MachineImagine trying to map out the route a ball will take in a pinball machine when you pull the plunger. Once the first bumper is hit, the ball’s journey becomes chaotic. But many of the early, life-cycle stages in a customer’s relationship with you are just this chaotic. Unfortunately this is where you need to attract and engage with the customer – when their business value (your future revenues) are up for grabs.

Let’s commit the cardinal sin of service and experience design and consider our own personal situation. We all know this is to be a huge design-crime as designing a service for the public by using yourself as the intended persona is a mistake. But let’s do it anyway.

When was the last time you formally committed to going on a customer journey with any company that you as an individual are involved with?

For example, when you wanted to buy something – did you plan your journey beforehand? You may decide to go into town and look in the store when you get up tomorrow morning. But if you wake-up tomorrow to find it pouring with rain, you may well change your mind and buy online instead.

Being in the moment – and the mouse-click

Already there’s a change in your planned customer journey – but what is your online route going to be? How many times have you decided to do something online and been diverted by the search engine’s results, a targeted offer, or some other digital distraction? You go where the moment and the mouse-click take you! No real planning – just intentions that are easily, frequently and impulsively changed. So why do we as experience design professionals seem to think that this can be mapped in advance?

Retrospectively, every customer’s route from their initial starting point to their ending point can be mapped – but to what purpose? Will that same person use this same route the next time they perform the same task? Unlikely. And what’s the probability that another customer from that same consumer segment will use the exact-same journey? Minimal. In fact, of all the customers that will interact with your business on any given day, the percentage that will follow any pre-mapped customer journey is likely to be shockingly low – or even non-existent.

We’ve all seen the development of beautiful visuals that show a zig-zagging line that purports to show how an ideal customer moves between different channels. And we’ve all seen smiley faces and sad faces added to show the highs and lows of the experience for them at that point. But try to find a single customer who actually followed that journey and had those emotional experiences, and you’ve a better chance of finding unicorn poo on your doorstep.

It’s about individual touchpoints – not overall journeys

A customer journey map is actually trying to show how a customer advances from one touchpoint to the next. However, there needs to be appropriate mechanisms built into every touchpoint such that the customer can be advanced to the next stage – which hopeful will still be one of your touchpoints – at an appropriate speed to suit their preference. In actual fact there are so many things that customers are likely to consider out of rational and irrational behaviour, that frequently the touchpoint needs to nudge the customer on as swiftly as possible.

Another truth is that a customer can suddenly appear at any one of your touchpoints and just as rapidly disappear if they can’t achieve what they expect to. Your touchpoints need to be designed suitably for this drop-in behaviour, and also designed to prevent customer drop-out too.

There are some constrained touchpoint sets which effectively form a defined activity sequence. These are more appropriate for being mapped into a customer journey, as the customer is locked-in while a specific process is completed.

Relaxation SpaFor example, when you buy a specific relaxation package at a health spa, you allow yourself to be guided in almost every detail as to how the various treatments to your body are done.

Another example is selling a house. Once the seller has authorised the sale to go ahead, then a standard sequence of events commences.

These more clearly-defined processes that aren’t significantly at the discretion of the customer are ideal for conventional journey mapping, as any process can always be improved.

However, where the customer is in full control of their actions and can make decisions according to whatever whim or impulse triggers their behaviour, there’s a much more effective tool to use than customer journey mapping.

The alternative: Touchpoint Terrain Mapping

Instead of trying to create idealised journeys of how a customer interacts with you, which by default will be wrong for the majority of the time, instead try Touchpoint Terrain Mapping.

A Touchpoint Terrain Map is a list of all the customer touchpoints that exist in your business arranged by the stage in the customer lifecycle. The aim of each touchpoint is to accelerate the customer onto the next touchpoint to help them achieve their task in the most appropriate manner and timeframe as possible.

Touchpoint Terrain MapThe many customer touchpoints you have in the early stage of your customer lifecycle are similar to a pinball machine. Some touchpoints are like bumpers that accelerate the ball in a specific direction as soon as the ball makes contact with that bumper. Other touchpoints are like the pinball machine’s indented saucers that capture the ball and hold it for a period while your score rockets upward. After a time the ball is ejected to continue on its way.

And some touchpoints are like the flippers where the player can try to flip the ball in a desired direction to try to score more points by hitting specific targets. The only difference here is that you can try to guide the customer onto the next touchpoint that is preferred by the business – but still give the customer an option to do what they please.

An example of this is a Contact Us page on a website. The page may suggest that the quickest solution would be to look at the Frequently Asked Questions to direct the customer to another self-help solution which is better for the business – and also better for the customer to know in the future too. However, lower down on that same page, there should also be other options for them such as phone numbers to call, or a tool to help them locate their nearest store if they feel the need to visit.

Locating your customers

Many CustomersThe fascinating thing with a Touchpoint Terrain Map is that every one of your active customers is located somewhere on the map at any given moment. This allows you to identify which are your most influential touchpoints that need the most attention.

And not all touchpoints are created equal, as some are used far more frequently than others. Your primary operational and contact touchpoints will be used to a very-high level while other touchpoints – like the fax number on the side of your delivery trucks – may hardly be used at all.

A Touchpoint Terrain Map can also be used to allocate each touchpoint to a specific person within the organisation and it’s their responsibility is to ensure that touchpoint performs optimally. It’s important that every touchpoint is the responsibility of one specific person and that they are capable of developing that touchpoint to ensure that it operates at its maximum potential.

BrandedVan So regardless of whatever segment of customer uses a specific touchpoint, or for whatever reason, it must nudge the customer onto the next touchpoint in the most business-efficient manner possible.

The term nudge is used deliberately, as we should recognise that customers are in control and will always make the final choice for themselves.

To get a thorough end-to-end view of how your customers interact with you, a combination of Touchpoint Terrain Mapping and Customer Journey Mapping is likely to be your best option. The Touchpoint Terrain Map helps for the more-chaotic early stages of the customer lifecycle, while a Customer Journey Map is practical for the more-defined customer interactions.

Closing questions for you to ask

There’s a popular saying that “life isn’t a destination, it’s a journey”. While this may be philosophically true, when it comes to your customer experiences – then it’s all about the destination and not the journey! You need to recognise that in the chaotic early life-cycle stages, the customer has the potential to leave you at any moment – and so each touchpoint needs to be considered as an intermediate destination.

Here are some powerful question for you to ask:

Is every one of your touchpoints today allocated to a specific person?

Do they have the formal responsibility of boosting the customer’s experience at that touchpoint?

And, are they mandated with maximising the business value from that touchpoint?

If you start to ask these questions you can start to become more touchpoint focused in your answers.

Chris Thomason – Ingenious Growth. See

What our customer experience design team can do for you…

If you want hands-on, practical assistance to move beyond the current approaches to customer experience design to enable your organisation to leapfrog into delivering next-generation customer experiences – then please get in touch with us.

We’ll work with you and your CE team in the most-innovative manner to boost your customer experiences. We prefer to help you by creating progressive momentum through advice and guidance with your team to gain short-term, high-value benefits – and to also work with you building platforms for longer-term, strategic CE development.

Our expertise in customer experience design and management comes from working with large, global organisations on both sides of the client / agency fence. Our clientele includes UPS, O2, AkzoNobel and Vodafone.


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