Walk A Mile In Their Journey

I recently had a chance to get a business contract with a non-profit that has teamed up with USAID and the American Refugee Committee to build sustainable businesses in the Eastern Congo area of Bukavu. I was there to do a situational analysis of the project. I knew in advance that they had hired an organization called IDEO, who has popularized the idea of customer journey, all over the world. Before I tell the rest of the story, let me give you one definition of customer journey I like: customer journey is the sum-totality of how customers engage with your company and brand, not just a snapshot on time, but through the entire arc of being a customer. It actually had its start in the product design world where one way of saying it simply is this – if you are going to design a chair, design it with an understanding of how the person who is going to sit in it 8 hours a day wants. It has gone way beyond product design to an essential discipline in many successful organizations.

What was a welcome surprise is how important it was to the life and death of families in this project in Eastern Congo. In that context, IDEO took the time and tools to understand how the villagers got their water, food, and medical and health needs each day, and what their customer journey was. By way of contrast, millions of dollars had been wasted on outsiders simply coming into the area and designing what they thought the villagers needed, and they failed miserably and wasted the money. By taking their customer journey seriously, there are successful, profitable businesses in all three zones they are working in that are fully functional for their customer, the villagers. It is also saving the lives of thousands of children, and bringing families out of poverty.

Let’s look deeper at the basic principles behind understanding your customer journey. First, I want to point out the understanding of servanthood embedded in this whole process. For a business to be truly customer responsive, which they all need to be, they must focus on others, namely their customers. Service and other-oriented-ness is exactly what Jesus was, and what the apostles taught us to be.

Philippians 2:5-7

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,

   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

7 rather, he made himself nothing

   by taking the very nature[b] of a servant.

That said, one format to use in doing the research and customer interactions are these areas. This is taken from Adam Richardson’s articles on Understanding Customer Experience:

  1. Actions – What is your customer doing at each stage of engagement with your organization? What actions are they taking to move them to the next stage?
  2. Motivations – Why is the customer motivated to keep going to the next stage? What feelings are they feeling? Why do they care?
  3. Questions – What are the uncertainties, jargon, or other issues preventing the customer from moving to the next stage?
  4. Barriers – Why structural, process, cost, implementation, or other barriers stand in the way of moving on to the next stage?

With this understanding in hand, two other considerations are also important to consider. They are:

  1. Touchpoints – Companies need to look at touchpoints – products, websites, advertising, call center, etc. the support the customer journey.
  2. Ecosystems – Companies also need see how integrated ecosystems of products, software and services, open up new possibilities for customer journeys and experiences in ways that more isolated touchpoints cannot.

That is one good way to begin to understand the customer’s journey. It takes a good deal of research, as well as an ongoing learning from your experience process to keep adapting to changing environments.      

Although Jesus did not have the benefit of research, in-depth- interviews, etc., he had something much more powerful to understand the spiritual journeys of people he ministered to – The Holy Spirit. Over and over again in the gospels, you see Jesus using customized experiences (many of them sensational) to meet each person in a way that would move them forward on their spiritual journey. A few examples will help.

He met Peter with fish, because Peter was a fisherman, and had just had fished all night long and caught nothing. He met Zacchaeus with acceptance, because he was hated as a tax collector and needed desperately to be loved. He met the woman at the well with living water, because her deep spiritual thirst mirrored her walking a long ways in the heat of the day to get water for sustenance. He met Nicodemeus with spiritual insight, because he could not reconcile Jesus actions with what people were saying about him. By understanding where they were in their spiritual journey, Jesus tailored the experience they had to open them to the gospel and who he was.

Want to dig in further? Check out our podcast on the topic.

Categories: Capability, Culture, Design, Strategy

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