A Conversation with Annette Franz: All About Customer Journeys

Written by Diana Serrano

Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought-leader, coach, consultant and speaker. She is also the author of the CX book Customer Understanding

Airkit recently interviewed Annette on customer-journey mapping and the right approach to customer understanding.

Q: Understanding customers has always been crucial for businesses. Why is this topic more critical today?

A: “Executives haven’t really taken it seriously,” Annette said. “They spend all their energies focusing on creating or maximizing shareholder value instead of customer value. But if you focus on creating customer value, that can ultimately lead to shareholder value. So that’s really the key and it’s time for executives to think differently.”

One way Annette helps executives think differently is through customer-journey mapping. Often, she says, leaders think there’s only one issue, not realizing the full picture of the company’s customer-service process. 

“I’ve done several customer-journey mapping workshops where the CEO will say ‘Gee, I didn’t realize we did that to our customers. We need to change this.’” @annettefranz @AirkitCX

Q: Explain the difference between regular journey maps and touchpoint maps.

A: “Most of the time when people are talking about journey mapping, they’re actually referring to touchpoint mapping.”

Touchpoint maps catalogue interactions between businesses and customers. 

“Let’s think about the example of an airline experience,” Annette said. “You’re arriving at the gate and you’ve got different touchpoints: your boarding pass, the gate agent, the signs, the announcements you hear. Businesses tend to think about touchpoints as just phone calls and digital channels, but it actually includes everything, at every stage of the customer lifecycle.”

Journey maps are very different. 

“The journey map captures a timeline of what the customer is doing, thinking and feeling in any given scenario.” 

Annette tells us to remember that a journey map is merely a tool. Leaders should think through all the stages of the customer lifecycle.

“This process should include a current state map, a future state map and a service blueprint.”

Service blueprints too can be a useful tool. Annette gave AIrkit some insight into its importance.

“If customer experience is the tip of the iceberg, a service blueprint looks beneath. You examine the people, the tools, the systems, the policies and the processes that facilitate CX. Because you can’t just fix what’s happening on the outside, for the customer. You have to fix what’s broken on the inside.”

Q: Who should be involved in creating these journey maps?

A: “If we don’t include customers, then we’re sitting around in a room with stakeholders, creating an assumptive map. When we create good customer journey maps, we want to hear what the customer is doing, thinking and feeling at each step.” 

Businesses should include a broader set of stakeholders in the mapping process, Annette said. Leaders should invite other departments to get involved in the process. Service reps, sales, marketing, product design and even accounting can all be useful assets. This type of cross-departmental collaboration can help iron out wrinkles before they become a full-blown crisis.

“First of all, you need to figure out how the customer ended up having to call customer service and why they are calling … If you can fix these issues before the customer has to call, then you reduce the workload for your contact centers.” @annettefranz @AirkitCX

Q: Other than standard surveys, how can companies keep in touch with the customer?

A: “You’ve got frontline folks who are talking to customers day in and day out. You’ve got to capture what we call the ‘voice of the customer’ through the employee feedback somewhere in your CRM and your contact center system.”

Additionally, Annette tells businesses to tune into social media. Look at the “breadcrumbs of data” that customers leave behind, she advises. Data showing where customers are dropping out of journeys is extremely valuable.

Q: Is journey mapping useful in deciding what new CX technologies to adopt?

A: “When a company creates its service blueprint, that’s where leaders can identify the systems that aren’t working. That process also helps businesses identify where things break down for the customer as well.” 

Annette said listening to the customer will give businesses a pretty good direction for what new tech solutions to pursue. Also, testing new technologies and journeys with customers is important, something that companies can often forget.

Q: In January 2020 you published an article called “Digital Schmigital” where you argue that digital transformation has become a meaningless phrase. Please elaborate. 

A: Annette explained that the phrase “digital transformation” has become the buzzword du jour, replacing “omnichannel”. Omnichannel represents a clear goal of unifying customer communications, while digital transformation is much more vague. If leaders focus on “doing digital”, they’re thinking of technology, and the customer is de-emphasized. 

“Everything is digital now, so nothing is digital. What does it really mean?” @annettefranz @AirkitCX 

The backstory of the article title “Digital Schmigital”, Annette said, is that she was doing research in preparation for a keynote speech. 

“I read this five page article about digital transformation that only mentioned the word ‘customer’ once. But the customer is really at the heart of digital initiatives. Digital transformation should be enterprise-wide and focused on meeting the needs of the connected customer.”

Q: How does a company recognize it’s time to change their CX systems or tech to stay adaptable?

A: Annette advises businesses to have an ongoing audit for technology, which she recommends doing every six months. A process blueprint will also help leaders understand how technology fits into the customer support process. 

“I keep coming back to this: listen to your customers. Listening to customers should be an ongoing process,” Annette says.

Continuing Your CX Journey

If you want to keep learning about CX and customer journey mapping, be sure to follow Annette Franz on LinkedIn as well as on Customer Think. Check out the Customer Experience Professional Association, or CXPA, for great resources, events and certifications.