How and why journeys go wrong.

In my last article, I explained what journeys are and why they’re so critical. Sadly, despite their importance, we all regularly encounter hellish journeys laden with friction. You know the kinds of journeys I’m talking about because I’ve outlined them previously, and you’ve experienced them for yourself:

  • Confusing websites and apps.
  • Navigating bureaucracy at the DMV.
  • Calling the phone or cable company.
  • Being unable to get the medical care you need because your doctor, insurance, and pharmacy all tell you completely contradictory things.
  • Spending hours searching and applying for a job, but HR never sends a confirmation of receipt nor a status update.

How do problems like these continue to happen, despite the rise of Customer (CX), User (UX), and Employee (EX) Experience in recent years?

I’ve witnessed a variety of causes:

Organizational leadership doesn’t even understand what a journey is.

Admittedly, the word “journey” is most closely associated with adventure, exploration, and travel. As a result, for many people, the kind of journey we’re talking about here doesn’t even cross their minds. If you don’t even know what a journey is, you’re sure to get it wrong.

The organization focuses too one-dimensionally on individual products, services, and experiences.

This one is so common it makes me sick (which is why it’s high in the list).

Over and over again, I see organizations become fixated on one specific project — “we need a new website” — yet they do nothing about their non-existent marketing strategy, their lackluster customer service, and other related experiences in the journey.

This kind of piecemeal approach makes about as much sense as having an ancient bathroom that needs a complete remodel, but instead choosing to buy only a top-of-the-line new toilet and installing it right on top of the nasty 1970s linoleum.

Bottom line: We no longer live in a world of products or services, digital or physical. Instead, this is an “all of the above” world. Literally everything your org does, and everything your people experience, is now a hybrid consisting of multiple components that must fit together seamlessly, even if they seem unrelated at first glance. The sooner you shift your mindset to this new holistic reality, the better you’ll be at creating integrated experiences and journeys that your people love.

The organizational structure is too siloed.

If you’ve never worked in a place where there were tensions or even turf wars between different departments, then consider yourself lucky. It’s very common, especially in larger organizations.

To some extent, this is an unavoidable aspect of both human nature and office politics. But when an organization is highly disjointed, their experiences and journeys will be, too.

My two cents: You need to build multidisciplinary, cross-functional teams within your organization, and one of the best ways to do this is to hire enough “unicorns.” These are people who are genuinely interested, or possess a high level of talent, in multiple separate skill areas (eg: designers who can code, marketers who are also good at customer service, etc).

The goal isn’t to have your unicorns do two or three jobs for the price of one. Instead, they should be in leadership roles. Think of them as the glue that binds departments, or the translators that build understanding between specialists. If you have any unicorns in your org, treat them like gold because they’re incredibly valuable.

The organization intentionally creates complicated journeys.

Yep, you read that right. Sometimes, experiences and journeys are high friction by design.

The most obvious examples are cable and landline phone companies. Every year, they raise rates like clockwork and make the process of calling in and negotiating as difficult as possible, because they can. As near monopolies, they know there’s not much you can do about it, so they intentionally turn the journey into a nightmare hoping that you’ll give up and accept the higher rate without a fight.

All I know is, they better hope they’re never deregulated or disrupted. People have long memories for negative experiences, and these companies are in for a mass exodus and a destructive crash if and when a superior competitor enters the market.

The organization doesn’t prioritize, research, or involve the people at the heart of the journey.

Let’s face it: some organizations are pretty self-centered. Always about power or profits, never about people.

Others mean well, but they tend to design and develop things in a very insular way. One example: an organization engages in a customer journey mapping activity that consists only of employees, but no customers.

Both tendencies are highly problematic, so if you truly want your org to succeed in today’s world, you need to change your ways and become obsessively human-centered.

That means putting the wants and needs of your people above all else — and when it comes to creating quality experiences and journeys, that means involving and focusing on the people at the heart of the journey.

So, talk to your people. Ask them questions. Engage in proper research activities that reveal their wants, needs, and pains.

In other words, don’t develop experiences and journeys in a vacuum. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a mismatch between the journey the customer or employee wants or needs, and the journey your org provides — and the result will be that nobody wins.

The organization is fixated on the customer, but neglects the employee.

Some orgs genuinely get it and have invested heavily to improve their customer experiences and journeys. The problem is, many of them forget about the other half of the equation: their employees.

It’s incredibly frustrating how often EX seems to be the red-headed stepchild of CX. It should be obvious that treating employees well is good for business, but since it’s not, I’ll simply repeat something I said in an earlier article about my four rules of modern business:

Happy employees are the foundation on which successful companies are built. Without them, everything else will fail.

After all, your employees are the ones who serve your customers. Do you really think your customers will ever be truly happy if your employees are miserable?

No, they won’t.

So, work hard to empathize with your employees and improve their experiences and journeys. Do that, and they’ll be happier, more effective “tour guides” who help your customers advance in their own journeys.

Do you recognize some of the problems mentioned here? Looking to solve these issues in your own organization?

I happen to know somebody who can help, but I’m also working on the next two articles in this series on journeys. I think you’ll find them helpful, so stay tuned, they’re coming soon…