You work with business processes all day long, convinced that transforming them (or creating new ones) is essential to achieving your goals (or those of your business). But, in reality, it is the customer journey that will make or break you, not those processes. Most people know this in theory, but putting it into practice is a different matter. You can do it, however. Let’s take a look at the customer journey and how it can help you with all your projects.

Journeys Are About Experience

Customer journeys consist of the emotions, feelings, and desires of your end users, and at the core of it all is experience. Loyalty, motivation, and perception is the result of that experience. If the emotions, feelings, and desires are positive, the experience is positive, and you most likely end up with a fan, possibly for life.

Here is a rendering of an average customer journey.

So, how do you get there? By ignoring what you know—the process—and putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. First, ask yourself who your audience is. Then, consider where and how you touch the market they’re in. Then, you think about how your project might make them feel and what might affect them besides their interaction with it. Now it’s time to consider how you would approach the issue at hand in your daily life. Often it helps to pretend to explain what you do to your long-lost grandmother, or a close relative also works.

Imagine someone knows nothing, what does he or she need to do? What is the added value of the process you are working with and how could it change in the future?

Business Process Does Not Equal Customer Experience

So how does this work in real life?

Think about a business process. Users have tasks that have actions, all of which have IT implications. For example, “I need to search,” means “Access database.” Or, “I need to dispatch,” means “Submit request.” What you get, is a nice process diagram like this:

The problem with this is that the person using this process is human. And he or she is the reason the process exists. So, to get in tune with that person, you have to skip all process flows and think like a human. In other words, you need to understand your business process but map it as a journey.

Journey ≠ IT Process

So, look at your business process steps and think about them as the state transitions of the journey. So, where there used to be a time-based entity, for instance, is in itself irrelevant to your customer. Instead, the original process steps are now the transition “moments” between the experience states. Here’s an example. I would like to ship a package, but I don’t know with whom; this is customer step 0. This happens before the business process even starts.

The real value of understanding, improving, or creating a customer journey lies in understanding the statuses that impact the customer. These statuses can be waiting states, insecurity states, or happiness states. You or your business has done something that makes a user happy. The personal relationship with your business is longer than the process itself. This is why the first step of the journey is step 0, and the last is step +1. Basically, the impact of an action lasts longer than the action itself. And, often to get to an action, you need to do more than the action itself.

What do I mean? Imagine you are filling out a form. From an IT perspective, you need input fields and a submit button. From a user perspective, you need patience, security, feedback, information, and reward. Otherwise, you get bored, angry, impatient. Ultimately, you could stop trusting the process and brand and lose motivation.

Now the questions become: Why would users engage with your brand, where else could they have gone, and how quick and easy was the path? For the shipping example, these questions become why do I want to ship, why would I ship with you, who else can I ship with, do I really need to ship? You need to know these things because you are designing the experience for the people asking these questions!

The last step is step +1. This is where customers have had a good or bad experience with your process, and there’s a new set of questions. Do they like your brand? Will they use your service again? What are their emotional states at the end of the process? Would they recommend it to friends? Have they become brand evangelists? This goes way past the business process, that ends after I’ve shipped the package. The focus is on the whole transaction and the emotions involved, not just on the actual shipping process.

The Sweet Spot: Emotions

Yes, I just mentioned emotions, something else that’s not in that nice process diagram. Why? What do emotions have to do with business? Everything. They’re how you win the customer.

Consider the process of buying a bus ticket. You might think no happiness or sadness is involved. And you’d be wrong. If you can make the purchase easy, quick, and pleasant, you can create happy customers who sit on the bus with a smile, thereby improving the atmosphere for everyone else. They’ll complain less when things go wrong, support the driver in case of emergency, or have more patience with delay.

All these things have a positive and financial impact on your company or brand. The willingness, the ability and the need for this user to travel with you again will increase by having had a good experience. This is how Uber got so many people; it simplified and improved the process of ride sharing. They thought about the experiences of customers and changed an excepted business model to meet customers’ needs.

Transformation starts where convenience and innovation meet, like Facebook plugins that share information and speed up a login process. Use a digital trail to understand a user and suggest what he or she needs, which can solve the “uncertain” state and result in a “this business knows what I need,” emotion. And, mobile notifications can transform the state of passiveness to “Yes! This company cares about me”.

It may be too obvious, but as the saying goes: “Happy customers are loyal customers.” Loyal in this sense doesn’t only mean repeat customers, it also means the ones who can help you, be honest with you, spread your news to new markets, help your brand grow, and grow right along with you.

That is why you need to think about your customer journey.