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Exploring Customer Journey Mapping – An Interview with Jim Tincher

Sterling Sweeney

18 October 2023

10 min read

My goal was, and is, to show that there’s a better way. You’ll note that I said “better,” not “easier.” That’s probably been the biggest challenge we’ve faced: pushback from people who want or expect, it to be easy.”

SurveySparrow, the maker of widely celebrated online survey software, was recently fortunate enough to chat with Jim Tincher, one of the most respected voices in the Customer Experience (CX) industry as well as founder and Mapper-in-Chief at Heart of the Customer. Today, we’ll have the opportunity to pick Jim’s brain about what goes into designing an effective CX campaign. So let’s jump in!

SurveySparrow: Hello there, Jim, and thanks for chatting with our audience today. Your lifelong passion for customer experience (CX) has led you to create Heart of the Customer – a firm that assists companies in increasing customer engagement. Prior to that, you led initiatives at Best Buy and UnitedHealth Group doing pretty much the same thing. Your experience and hard work in this space have led you to become one of the most respected voices on the topic of customer experience. Why don’t you kick things off by giving us a little introduction by telling us how your career has evolved over the last 15 or so years?

Jim: You bet! First, thanks for the opportunity to share my experience and discuss our work.

I started my career in small business, where you really have to be obsessed with satisfying and retaining customers because you’re keenly aware of how each one can impact your bottom line.

I was able to maintain the somewhat naïve belief that that was the only business model out there as I began working for larger organizations. But eventually, it became clear that many businesses had a different approach, and I found myself in a company where literally no one in Marketing or Product Development had ever even met any of our customers.

So, to help them understand how our products were actually acquired and used, I launched an initiative called “Hug Our Customers,” where I took our employees out to meet our clients face to face. We learned so much about what we were doing well and where we were falling short that the company created a CX role just for me so that I could focus on devising ways to improve the experience we were providing for our customers. That’s where I laid the foundation for some of the best practices like Heart of the Customer which is still being used today to bring the voice of the customer back to the offices and board rooms where decisions are made.

Soon after that, while working for a research company, a client asked me to create a journey map using this bland, simplistic template they had provided. I was horrified! I remember saying, “You can’t represent the richness of the customer experience with a PowerPoint slide filled with dots and bubbles!” I knew that to have any value, the process and the resulting journey map needed to be much more immersive. That’s when I began exploring ways to capture what customers were thinking and feeling during a journey, and just as importantly, ways to turn that data into easy-to-digest, actionable insights.

Those kinds of experiences led me to find Heart of the Customer, where we specialize in helping companies understand the emotional connection customers have with their brand, and how to use that newfound knowledge to drive action that gets results. It’s been incredibly satisfying to see the transformation in a company culture that our collaborative, data-driven approach can bring about.

SurveySparrow: You’ve worked with some recognizable companies in the past and then by the year 2013, you founded Heart of the Customer. So let’s dig a little deeper into this. What was your motivation in starting your own CX firm? During its early days, what were some of the key challenges that your team faced, and how did you overcome them?

Jim: There are so many terrible approaches to customer experience (CX) out there. My goal was, and is, to show that there’s a better way. You’ll note that I said “better,” not “easier.” That’s probably been the biggest challenge we’ve faced: pushback from people who want or expect, it to be easy.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of CX consultants out there who will tell you that you can drive change by gathering your teams and having them imagine that they’re customers, then throwing around a few Post-it Notes and brainstorming ways to improve the experience. But if that worked, would your customer experience be broken in the first place?

The fact is, you can’t bring about measurable, enduring customer-focused change without involving actual customers. Shortcuts might save you time or money today, but you’ll lose overall because you’ll end up investing in scattershot initiatives based on what are, essentially, hunches. Because more often than not, those hunches will be wrong.

Similarly, many seem to think that merely publishing a Net Promoter Score (NPS) that indicates your employees need to provide a better customer experience will somehow magically empower them to do that. It won’t.

At Heart of the Customer, we know from experience that you have to find out what your customers actually think, do, and feel to reveal their Moments of Truth. Those critical interactions have a disproportionate impact on their perception of the experience and present the greatest opportunities for change. You also have to gain buy-in at all levels and break down the silos that prevent interdepartmental cooperation in order to act on what you learn. That’s how you unleash the power of journey mapping to transform the way you do business, and I found Heart of the Customer to help companies make that happen.

We’ve overcome the challenges of those early days because we’ve proven that our approach works. In fact, many of the processes we’ve created and optimized are now recognized as industry standards and best practices of journey mapping. We’re known for that.

SurveySparrow: Continuing from my last question, how has your past knowledge and skills gained from working for other people contributed to the success of your own customer experience company?

Jim: My past experience doesn’t just drive the way we do journey mapping, it drives the way we do business. Collaboration is just as key to Heart of the Customer’s success as it is to the success of our journey mapping initiatives within client organizations. The better you work together, the better your work.

That’s why I’m so proud of the crack team we’ve assembled. Most of us have extensive experience driving change within massive companies (Thomson Reuters, General Mills, MoneyGram, Microsoft, Cargill, and US Bank, to name a few). But we’ve all honed our skills in different ways and settings, so we have a broad base of expertise to draw from. One thing we share, though, is a thirst for knowledge. We thrive on going where the data takes us, bringing change management to customer experience to help CX leaders drive customer-focused action.

SurveySparrow: Besides being its founder, you are also the Journey Mapper-in-Chief of Heart of the Customer. Great title! What process do you go through to uncover and chart the customer journeys of your clients? What advice would you give to our blog readers to help them start their customer journey mapping process?

Jim: Well, naturally, I think our book, How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer? Using Journey Mapping to Drive Customer-Focused Change, is the best place to start! Even if you’re not a novice, it will help you take your skills to the next level.

The book dives deeply into the proprietary three-phase journey mapping process we developed, but I’ll give you the broad strokes:

We begin by learning about the company and the business problem it’s trying to solve, and we take steps to engage teams and gain buy-in from key stakeholders early on. Laying that solid foundation really fuels success later in the process. In fact, the No. 1 best practice for journey mapping is to involve a broad cross-functional team. A lot of clients say, “We want to keep the journey mapping team small and nimble, so we can complete the journey mapping faster.” But that only works if your end goal is to create a map that’s going to sit in a drawer gathering dust. If your goal is to drive change, the time you save creating your map will be more than offset by the time it will take you to engage your teams with the findings. When they’re excluded from the process, they’re not going to be invested in the results.

Next, we immerse those teams in the voice of the customer, bringing them out to hear from their clients firsthand. We also “bring the customer back to the office” through video recordings of their interviews. Then we distil all the data we gathered down into attractive, easy-to-understand journey maps and bring the client’s teams back together for an Action Workshop to develop initiatives based on the results.

SurveySparrow: Speaking of your clients, you claim that small businesses and Fortune 500 companies can both use your processes to enhance their customer-focused results. But how does your approach differ when you get to work with both big and small-sized companies at the same time? Is there a major difference in how you (or they) manage CX for their enterprises?

Jim: That’s where the focus on change management that I mentioned comes in. I’m a big fan of the ADKAR change model, which lays out the key factors needed to get employees to create a better customer experience:

Awareness of the Need to Change

Desire to Change

Knowledge of What to Change

Ability to Change

Reinforcement of the Change.

Those factors apply in every organization, regardless of size. So our approach is essentially the same, though obviously the scale and complexity will differ. Too often, CX programs focus on Awareness and Knowledge, but that’s just not enough in any setting. Unless you foster Desire, whether you’re a huge conglomerate or a startup, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

For example, we worked simultaneously with a Fortune 100 global manufacturing firm, a $2 billion division of a large global organization, a regional non-profit, and a $40 million software firm. All four had to ensure that team members were engaged and that executives were on board and involved with the findings. For larger organizations, that involved more people and more time, but in every case, our process gave the critical Desire factor the attention it deserves.

SurveySparrow: Your dedication to becoming an expert in customer experiences led you to become the second Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) in the world. Aside from that, you are also an active member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA). What drives you to be this passionate in developing customer experiences? What is the secret to your longevity in this industry?

Jim: I’m endlessly fascinated by what “real” people do to drive CX. And the CXPA is an amazing community, where I get to hear from practitioners about what they do and what they need to succeed. We’re a practitioner-focused community, which engenders a lot of sharing and support. I never stop learning. I think that’s why Heart of the Customer has such staying power. We’re always looking for ways to refine and improve how we work to better serve our clients.

SurveySparrow: Under the CXPA, you give advice to its members who are located in different parts of the globe. You get an opportunity to speak with many professionals who have a strong desire to do things better. Often people don’t plan on giving a bad or average experience. It just kind of happens due to bad planning, bad hiring, poor systems, lack of communication etc. When you have a chance to speak with people at these events, what are the three biggest (but easiest to avoid) mistakes they make that lead to bad customer experience and how do you suggest they fix those issues?

Jim: You’re right that nobody intends to create a bad customer experience. But too often, experiences aren’t deliberately created at all! When we discover a bad customer experience – and given the nature of our work, we do that all the time – it’s typically because nobody designed the experience they were providing. Most organizations focus on individual touchpoints, leaving it up to the customer to figure out the overall journey.

To solve for this, you need to:

  • Involve a broad, cross-functional team in the change. Not just Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service. Bring IT, HR, Legal, and Compliance to the table, too. That’s how you design a sustainable, positive experience.
  • Involve customers in the process. Surveys and metrics aren’t enough. Talk with your customers. Learn their Moments of Truth and focus your change initiatives on these.
  • Select the best areas to impact. When we interviewed CX leaders for our book, we heard a lot of people fret about “boiling the ocean.” Don’t dilute your efforts. Redesign specific sub-journeys to improve customer experience.

SurveySparrow: I’m truly amazed to see how much you’re able to juggle and accomplish at once. Not only do you manage your own company, but you’re also a frequent speaker and teacher on building better customer engagement. I’m curious to know, how do you manage your time to be able to juggle all these roles at once?

Jim: That gets back to our incredible team. Heart of the Customer team members have built CX programs from scratch, and they know more about the inner workings of large organizations and customer journeys than I ever will. We also have project managers who keep us on track, and analysts who discover those critical Moments of Truth. I may be the face of the company, but I don’t do all the work. I rely a lot on our amazing team.

SurveySparrow: As a well-known CX influencer yourself, I’m sure you’ve met a lot of people who are just as passionate as you are. Do you have anyone particularly in mind (a person or a company) that you believe is doing a good job in leading the customer experience sector towards a better and brighter future? What defining characteristics do they possess that makes them ideal?

Jim: We work with a lot with large organizations in the B2B space whose company names aren’t commonly known. Two that I’d call out are Darin Byrne of Wolters Kluwer and Jen Zamora at Dow.

We’ve worked with Darin for five years now, and he’s also on our Advisory Board. Darin began as the Senior Director of Services before his promotion to VP of Client Experience. He has a strong vision for how to introduce customers to his broader organization, but also for how to drive change.

Jen leads CX at Dow, working around the globe to improve their customer experience. Dow has a wide range of customers, from the largest manufacturers in the world down to small subsidiaries. Jen’s critical mission is to work across their broad organization to develop the right experience for each and every one of these very different customers. She does this by grounding her and her team’s CX work in both customer and business needs – ensuring that they’re tackling the problems that matters the most.

SurveySparrow: At SurveySparrow we provide the online survey tools to be able to gather feedback and measure experience. These types of tools allow us to turn the seemingly immeasurable into the measurable. Now speaking about surveys specifically, what are three pieces of advice you would give to entrepreneurs looking to use surveys as a way to better their own customer’s experiences?

Jim: When building a survey, first determine what matters most, both to customers and your business. If high-scoring customers aren’t buying more, staying longer, or costing less to serve, you’re asking the wrong questions. For some, “likelihood to recommend” is a great question, for others it’s “confidence in the supplier,” and for others, it’s “ease of doing business.” No matter what some CX bloggers claim, there isn’t one “right” survey question that will work for everyone.

Second, ask only about the most important matters. I remember a Best Buy survey from many years ago that had over 60 required questions! It might be cost-effective to try to cover everything, but each additional question makes it harder on your customers, so try to keep it short. Don’t ask a question unless you plan to do something with the feedback.

Lastly, close the loop. Nothing ruins a customer relationship faster than asking a customer for feedback, then not letting them know what you did with it. Reach out to every customer who gave you a bad score. If possible, close the loop with those who give you good ratings, too. Show your customers that they matter.

This has been a very insightful interview. Thank you, Jim. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Jim and the work he and his team do over at Heart of the Customer, you can follow them on Twitter, or visit their website here

Sterling Sweeney

Sterling Sweeney is a growth hacker and the founder of WhalePages, a SaaS marketing agency which is a platform designed to help SaaS companies scale.

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