The key to improving customer experience? Build empathy.

August 27, 2018

Customer journey mapping allows you to create personalised customer experiences

Recently my husband bought a very popular model of ute second hand from the brand’s dealership. The sales service was excellent but on the second day of driving the vehicle, he realized there was a glitch in the electronics. The hazard lights, windscreen wipers and handbrake alarm randomly activated whilst he was driving. Distracting? Very. Disappointing? A little. But problems happen and when he contacted the salesperson he was reassured the service team would be able to look at it straight away. And that’s where things went downhill. Un-returned phone calls, ignored emails, long delays in booking the vehicle in and total miscommunication between the sales and service departments over a period of weeks have left him at the point where he is ready to ask for a refund and has sworn off the brand for life. The dealership’s tagline ‘Drive away happy’ couldn’t be more ironic.  

No doubt you can think of several similar examples across a range of sectors. So how is it that large companies staffed by talented (and we assume at least mildly motivated) people, can produce marketing messages that are so disconnected from the customer’s actual experience?

Having a clear brand strategy is one part of the puzzle, whether this is developed in-house or with specialist consultants. Your brand is your north star, it should influence the design and/or delivery of all the touchpoints your customers interact with. Without this, it’s impossible to be consistent, and when it comes to developing strong brands, consistency is king. However, brand strategy often gets over-intellectualised as brand managers and agencies quibble over semantics and produce weighty PowerPoint slides and accompanying documents. While these are a great tool to steer marketing communications, these documents are too often just words on a page that the people on the frontline interacting with customers don’t connect with, understand or worse case even know exist. This is one reason we can all bring to mind a slick marketing campaign that is at odds with the reality of dealing with the company.

So, what can be done to better align your customer’s real-life experience with your marketing messaging?

One of the most valuable weapons in the armory is customer journey mapping. This is a way of helping your staff understand what your typical customer is thinking, feeling and doing at each stage of their decision to purchase your product or service and visualises all their points of interaction with your brand, both online and offline. It helps the people who are responsible for each touchpoint, whether that’s in the virtual or real world, understand how it affects the customer’s experience. Customer journey mapping can identify where there are conflicts between what you want the experience to be and the reality. For this to be successful it’s critical to involve three groups:

1. Your customers.

There are two ways to involve them. Firstly, it can be valuable to conduct qualitative research across a sample of customers from each of your core segments, seeking feedback on their positive and negative experiences of dealing with your brand. Qualitative research is time consuming, so aim to separate into your core segments and go for the segments where you see the most opportunity. For example, if you are a healthcare provider you might segment by life-stage, or if you’re in the tourism industry you may segment based on demographics such as singles, couples and families. Secondly, invite a few customers to be part of the mapping workshops. Don’t underestimate the power of their presence! It’s one thing to read comments from customers in a qualitative research report, but one of the most powerful ways of building empathy for your customer is by conducting workshops inviting real customers to share their experience with your business and help to collectively develop a customer persona. It can be awkward, even a little bit painful as gaps between your company’s aspiration and the reality emerge, but it serves to humanise the customer and any issues they experience.

2. Frontline staff.

These staff know your customers very well and can share valuable insights with the rest of your business. They also understand the limitations of your systems and processes and can share these with those in support roles. For example, travel agents in a call centre were on the receiving end of customer frustration about the timing of trip confirmation and itinerary details being sent via the automated system, the delay between booking and receiving confirmation led to customer anxiety that their payment hadn’t been received. Being involved in mapping workshops put these frontline staff in the same room as the sales support system analysts in an environment where their insights could be heard and as a result the systems change request was reprioritised ahead of work that had a less direct impact on the customer.  

Customer journey mapping

Involve frontline staff in the customer journey mapping process for powerful insights


3. Support staff.

Thirdly, involve those who work ‘behind the scenes’, whether that be in a systems-support role, administration, finance, marketing, product development and so on. The decisions these staff make can impact the customer experience profoundly and often they have only a superficial understanding of how their work impacts a customer. They often learn a lot through this process about how their interactions drive frustrations or highlight for the customer. When empowered to make changes to their workflow they almost always harness these nuggets to make improvements. In a recent workshop, university application processing staff were exposed to a real customer’s frustration of being unable to find out an estimated time for application processing. The impact on the customer is a sense of uncertainty – “I don’t know if my application is being progressed”, “Maybe I should accept an offer at another institution?”, “Will I need to budget time and money for study?”. The volume and frequency of this feedback resulted in staff swiftly implementing a revised process to inform customers at regular intervals. The beauty of this is that it’s the staff themselves who come up with solutions at their own behest because they have developed a deep level of empathy for their customer. 

With the right expertise guiding the mapping process, improvements materialise from within and that greater sense of ownership leads not just to better processes but more commitment to continually enhance the customer’s experience.


Looking to grow your business’s bottom line? The first step to connecting with your customers before customer journey mapping is to create customer personas. Now you can create your own personas with our free Customer Persona eBook. By creating targeted content tailored to your prospective customers' needs, you are better placed to attract, convert and retain them to achieve sustainable business growth. Our free eBook will help you to develop personas for your different customer segments and will assist you in creating more value for your new and existing customers by delivering the right content, to the right person at the right time.

Download our free Customer Persona eBook and generate increased engagement and leads today.

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At Marketing Entourage, we work with all sorts of businesses, big and small, for-profit and not-for-profit, to help them stay competitive and realise their vision. If you’d like to know more about our methodology and services, take a look at the relevant pages on our website or Contact Us for a free consultation and see how we can help transform the way you market your business.

by Helen Stevens

Helen Stevens

Written by Helen Stevens

Helen is a marketing strategy professional who has held senior positions in financial services, higher education and travel sectors in London and Melbourne. With over 18 years working for a diverse range of companies including Visa, ANZ, Intrepid Travel and Deakin University, Helen has a Bachelor degree majoring in marketing and has completed post graduate studies in international relations. Helen enjoys connecting the dots between business strategy and consumer insights and believes long-term sustainable growth comes from championing a customer-first mindset. She is a volunteer with GAP greyhound rescue and has a keen interest in the benefits of exercise to enhance mental health.

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