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Build a Sustainable Advantage with Customer-Journey Mapping

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

You’ve invested in new equipment, hired some young guns and installed an updated ERP system. You’ve built a repeatable sales process, enhanced productivity, got your team using the CRM and tightened up delivery times. You’ve done that and so much more in the eight years since the Great Recession ended. What’s next? Where do you turn to create a sustainable advantage and continue your company’s growth? Answer: Customer experience.

The latest PwC industrial barometer indicates that improving the customer experience is the top priority among private-company executives for 2017, ranking above containing costs, innovating and improving productivity.

Why Does Customer Experience Matter?

We all like working with people who make getting things done easier, faster and hassle-free. We have higher trust and confidence in them. The same goes in business: We prefer suppliers that make doing business with them easy, fast and hassle-free. We feel that we can always turn to these suppliers, that we can depend on them for help.

When you revise your firm’s business processes to make it easier for the customer to do business with you, you’re improving the customer experience. Your customer’s trust and confidence in your firm increases. When customers can depend on your firm for help, they are more likely to continue doing business with you. Bottom line: Enhancing the customer experience increases your firm’s customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Take quoting for example. Quoting in response to an RFQ is often the first touchpoint between you and a customer. If your firm circles back to the customer and asks for every last detail of specifications that the potential customer did not include in the RFQ (because your firm is extremely thorough on your quotes), you have made the first touchpoint difficult, slow and full of hassles.

With quoting as a single touchpoint example, think about all of the touchpoints that your customers have with your firm for one job and over the course of a year. It’s easy for one job to include dozens of touchpoints—the sales effort, quote package, credit application, CRM information, purchase-order details, order details, scheduling, PPAP evaluation, quality evaluation, shipment details...the list goes on and on.

Consider what it’s like for your customers to interface with your firm on each one of these activities. Each is a touchpoint, which is an opportunity to make a favorable or unfavorable impression. Your impression will be favorable if you made your customer’s life easier, faster and hassle-free. Unfavorable if the opposite is true.

Your customer’s experience is the sum of all touchpoints over the duration of its relationship with your firm. The adage, “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” is familiar. But oftentimes, it’s the last impression that counts.


It’s up to your company to understand the customer’s goals, needs, expectations and actions taken at every step of the customer journey. The more that your firm helps meet your customer’s needs at each step, the more comfortable the customer will be in taking the next step with your firm.

I hear often from manufacturers in the volume-production business that they can produce one million defect-free parts. But, if the next part has a quality issue that impacts the customer’s production schedule, then the company’s name is dirt. It’s human nature that the next decision we make is based on the last impression we have. That’s why managing customer touchpoints is so important: Every touchpoint matters, because you don’t know which one comes before the customer’s next decision.

Your Customer-Experience Challenge

An analogy can shed some light on how to address your customer-experience challenge. Chances are that you’ve done value-stream mapping at some point. Value-stream maps usually focus on processes, mapping the steps taken from order to shipment, for example. Value-stream maps are particularly helpful when trying to eliminate a bottleneck within a specific activity. By mapping every step of the process for every person involved in completing it, we first may discover that different people do things differently. Second, we find ways to eliminate waste. It’s the proverbial “ah-ha” moment, driving what your people do and how they do it to become more consistent, lean and efficient.

Improving your firm’s customer experience works similarly to value-stream mapping. I’ve found that getting a handle on this is best performed by mapping the journey your customers pursue when purchasing and using your products and services. Just like mapping your work processes surfaces the inconsistent and wasted steps and activities, mapping your customer’s journey will create the same “ah-ha” moments.

Customer-Journey Mapping

A customer-journey map identifies the steps that your customers take to do business with your company. It differs from a value-stream map because instead of looking at activities that take place inside of your company, the focus is to map the activities that the customer takes. It means wearing your customer’s hat—not an easy thing to do.

The best way to begin a journey map is at the high level, drawing a parallel between your business processes and those that the customer takes at the same time. For example, when your sales team prospects for new customers, the receptive customer is prospecting for a new supplier. Likewise, when you are onboarding a new customer, your customer is onboarding a new supplier.

At the high level, the customer journey has five key steps, which parallel five core business processes inside of your company (see Company vs. Customer View).

It’s up to your company to understand the customer’s goals, needs, expectations and actions taken at every step of its journey. The more that your firm helps meet your customer’s needs at each step, the more comfortable the customer will be in taking the next step with your firm. This will help you win more business and build loyalty.

Before we dig deeper, take a minute to put this in perspective. Think about how hard it is for your firm to change suppliers for a critical commodity or component. Changing suppliers takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s risky. You know the problems with your current supplier, but you don’t know the problems you’re inheriting with a new supplier.

Which means that your customers hate the first steps in their journey: searching for a new supplier, evaluating and comparing potential alternatives, and onboarding the supplier. They don’t like the third step much, either: committing and purchasing from that new supplier. Paperwork, confidential information exchange, and many unknowns between your firm and the supplier to work out during your first job together—the process is filled with surprises, delays, hassles and risk.

Ease Potential Customers’ First Steps

As a supplier approaching a new potential customer, consider a couple of ideas that your firm can take to help the potential customer take the next step easily, quickly and without hassle. It’s helpful to provide the following:

  • Welcome Package. Inform your potential customers exactly what to expect when doing business with your company: key contacts for each department; notifications they should expect to receive (purchase orders, shipment confirmations, etc.); personnel they should expect to meet from your company; when meetings may take place; and the purpose of those meetings.
  • Project Plan. Lay out how your customer’s project moves through your operation: setting up, launching and running the job; when you seek approval from the customer to move ahead; when your firms should meet and who should participate; what information you need from the customer at various steps.
  • Case Studies. Share relevant situations where your firm solved a problem such as the one that challenges your potential new customer. This builds confidence that your company will solve its challenge quickly and expertly because you’ve done it before, reducing the risk of choosing your firm to be its new supplier.

The whole point of understanding the customer journey is to improve your business processes to help meet your customer’s goals, needs and expectations in a manner that is easy, fast and hassle-free. This sets your company apart from competitors.

The last two steps, using and monitoring your product/service, and finding continuous improvements around it, is where customers spend 99 percent of their time along the customer journey. They only go through the first three steps of the journey when they need to replace a supplier or add a new one.

As manufacturers, the customer hat is tough to wear when we’re dedicated to providing products. We’re caught up making our shop floor run and dealing with employee turnover, equipment breakdowns and the other realities that get in the way. Sure, we focus on meeting quality expectations for our customers, and meeting their delivery schedules, but…

What about your customers’ goals for continuous improvement in the product that you provide? Is it just quality and on-time delivery—your tracks—that they track? Chances are that many other things matter: purchase cost, operation cost, warranty cost, ease of use, etc. And, what about their goals to enhance productivity or reduce supplier count?

Change the Dialog to Build Partnerships

Providing the best customer experience means that your firm must identify and implement ways to help customers meet their most challenging goals as they relate to your product line. Customers are attracted to strategic partners that help them achieve their continuous-improvement goals. To succeed, ask:

  • How can we enhance the customer experience when our customers are driven by their own continuous-improvement goals?
  • What data do we have that could help our customers order sooner to avoid delays or expedite fees?
  • How can we monitor how our customer uses our product?
  • How can we make our product last longer for our customer?
  • How can we reduce our customer’s total cost of ownership/operation of our product?
  • How can we help our customers receive quotes more rapidly?
  • How can we help our customers reduce waste?

By raising questions like these with your customers, you’ll dramatically change the dialogue. You’ll shift the conversation and start building a partnership. You’ll shift to enhancing the experience your customers have with your firm. Dialogue such as this goes a long way toward creating the elusive win-wins.

Welcome to the first step in changing the nature of your business from manufacturing to service. Your service happens to be a manufacturing product, but your business centers around building the ideal customer experience. FPN