3 Areas of Customer Experience Where Human Expertise Is Absolutely Vital

Customer experience (CX) measurement has become a priority for most large organizations. Systematically gathering and analyzing data from online surveys and other sources such as product reviews, customer complaints, etc., is viewed as an imperative. And for good reason.  21st century business is won and lost based on who can deliver the best customer experience.

However, as we become more comfortable and rely more heavily on intelligent systems to collect and interpret data for us, there is still an opportunity for a human element to play an important role in customer experience programs.  

This is a belief I’m incredibly passionate about. My name is Len Ferman and I am a senior consultant at InMoment. In 2019, I published a college textbook, “Business Creativity and Innovation: Perspectives and Best Practices”, which is now being used at several universities including in my classes as an adjunct professor at the University of North Florida. In my role at InMoment, I work with brands to generate and evaluate ideas to attract new customers, delight existing customers and identify strategic initiatives.

In this article, I’ll discuss three areas in which human expertise can make a valuable contribution. Let’s dive in!

3 Areas Where Human Expertise Makes a Valuable Contribution to Customer Experience

  • Qualitative Research
  • Customer Journey Mapping
  • Ideation to Improve the Customer Experience

Qualitative Research

In 2021, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled, “Why Companies Shouldn’t Give Up on Focus Groups.” The premise was that in this era in which big data is running the show, taking the time to listen to live customers can still be hugely beneficial.

Qualitative research can take on many forms including live or online focus groups, in person interviews or phone interviews. The distinguishing feature of qualitative research is that a trained interviewer is interacting live with an engaged respondent. 

As a qualitative researcher with 30 years of experience, I consistently find that there is no substitute for gaining a complete understanding of a customer’s story than by talking to customers live, whether it’s in person, on the phone, or via video conference.    

The value that qualitative research brings to a customer experience program is in being able to definitively probe with customers about why they respond and behave the way they do. Only in live, qualitative research can you fully leverage the “5 Why’s” technique to drill down to the root cause of a customer’s behavior.

The “5 Why’s” technique was developed by Sakachi Toyoda, the founder of the Toyota Industries in Japan. The technique is a simple but powerful method of questioning. For any problem that you hear the customer describe, you ask, “why?” And then when you have the answer, you ask, “why?” again.  The idea is that by asking “why?” five times you are likely to drill down to the root cause of a problem. This method can only be effectively deployed in live, qualitative research.

Customer Journey Mapping

Understanding the experience a customer has, from their perspective, across their end-to-end journey with your company, products, services or processes is what customer journey mapping is all about. Customer journey maps can be a simple yet powerful tool to enable your employees to empathize with and fully understand the customer experience.

The best customer journey maps are produced when there is a human element involved in the core data collection and final map development.  

Qualitative research is necessary for the foundation of a customer journey map since it is necessary to hear customers describe their journey. And the creative design of the final map to adequately portray and communicate a visual depiction of the customer journey remains a uniquely human endeavor.

Well developed customer journey maps have multiple benefits for a customer experience program including stronger customer experience survey design and a common understanding of the customer journey among all employees. One particular benefit is the ability of customer journey mapping to help identify the key moments of truth a customer has in the journey.

Ideation to Improve the Customer Experience

Ideation to generate and evaluate ideas to improve the customer experience is a process that every organization can benefit from. Experienced ideation facilitators can leverage processes that guide a team through creative exercises. 

These creative exercises use data generated in customer experience programs as a starting point. And they also tap into the expertise of your own employees to generate ideas that leverage the core competencies of the company. A second set of evaluative exercises provides the team with the discipline to narrow down and select the optimal ideas for development.

Leveraging Human Expertise

These three areas, which all require human expertise, can enhance your overall customer experience program and provide you with an advantage over your competition.

At InMoment, our consultants are available to perform these three types of human-led services. Contact your client success director to inquire about how you can engage with InMoment for qualitative research, customer journey mapping, or ideation to improve the customer experience.

Improve the Customer Journey

If your products or services aren’t performing well, it might not be because of the product itself. Instead, there could be a problem with the customer journey. Your customers’ journey can drastically affect how your customers experience your company—and whether or not they eventually become loyal to your brand. And it’s because of this fact that improving your customer journey is vital to overall business success. Wondering how to get started? We’ll walk you through the first steps to optimizing your customer journey. 

What Is the Customer Journey?

The customer journey is the process a customer goes through from awareness to purchasing and beyond. To provide an exceptional customer journey, you need to  understand your customers—how they interact with your website and what they’re really looking for. It’s important to point out that the customer journey is different from the customer experience (CX). Customer journeys are what your customers are doing, while the experience is how they’re feeling. A fully optimized customer journey can help improve your customer experience. 

While the exact steps in the customer journey can vary, these are the six most important parts of the journey: 

The Problem

First, customers need to realize they have a problem, a need, or a want that must be solved. Once they recognize a problem, they can begin looking for solutions, which should hopefully lead them to your company. 


During this stage, the customer is gathering information, researching, and looking for options to solve the problem. Hopefully with your marketing efforts and channels, the customer will come across your company and become aware of your solution to their problem. They’ll still be weighing options and researching what suits them best, but this stage is a great place to use content to showcase your brand. 


During this stage, your customer will be considering using your product or service. They may be deciding between you and another option and debating pricing options, prioritizing features, and weighing drawbacks. When a customer is considering, brand recognition is crucial. Having a trusted and well-established brand could be what sways a customer toward your product during this stage. 


The customer decides on your product and makes the purchase. Even once they’ve purchased your product, companies benefit from reaching out to customers and acknowledging the purchase. 


Once a customer has bought a product or service, it doesn’t mean they will return to your company again. A key part of the customer journey is retaining the customer for future purchases. Providing support is important for retention. You want customers to come back again and again and to look for your product or service when faced with a problem. 


Once your customer comes back to you a few times, they’ll start to develop loyalty to your brand. Loyal customers will almost always come to your company if they can because they trust your products, services, and customer experience. Getting to the loyalty stage takes effort, but loyal customers are the goal of every company. 

A Customer Journey Example

Let’s walk through what the customer journey could look like. A hypothetical manager at a finance company recognizes an ongoing issue with managing data for customers. She starts looking for a data management solution. Her friend in the industry recommends the data management solution he uses while another networking contact recommends a different one. She also uses internet searches and reviews to find more. Targeted ads on Google and company social media also bring in a few more options. She pulls together a comprehensive list of all of her options for high quality data management solutions. 

Using reviews and priorities, she whittles her list down to two companies. Once she has her two favorites, she then uses the companies’ software demos and pricing packages to consider each one. She makes her selection based on which one works best for her company and is the most affordable. Once she purchases the data management software, the company acknowledges and thanks her for her purchase, which helps her feel valued as a customer. 

A few months later, this same manager is looking for data architecture solutions that will provide security and big data management. She remembers her experience with the data management company and starts her search on that particular website. When she sees they offer software for her needs, she spends less time in the consideration stage and moves quickly into purchasing. She also begins recommending the company to other people in the industry when they’re looking for similar products. Someday, this manager could be loyal to this company and go to them for all of her data needs. 

The Importance of Improving the Customer Journey 

Understanding how your customer moves through the customer journey and planning for it is important to gaining and retaining customers. The Aberdeen Group did a study on the use of formal customer journey improvements in companies and discovered some key benefits: 

  • 18 time faster average sales cycles
  • 10 times improvement in customer service costs
  • 5 times greater revenue from customer referrals
  • 54% greater return of marketing investment

Overall, this study shows that companies that focus on customer journeys can benefit in revenue and profitability. Optimizing the customer journey also helps decision makers at the company to stay focused on customers. It also helps improve the customer experience and your brand. A well-optimized customer journey makes the purchasing process easier and more enjoyable for the customers, which improves their experience. 

Optimizing Your Customer Journey 

Improving your customer journey is crucial to improving customer experience and benefiting from increased revenue and profitability. These are some of the best ways to improve your  customer journey: 

Understand Your Customer

To fully understand how to improve your customer experience and journey, you need to know who your customers are. There are many ways to go about understanding your customers: analytic research, informal qualitative research, carefully crafted personas, and more. These methods will help you know what your customers want, what they need, and what your brand can provide. 

Identify Touch Points

Anytime a potential customer interacts with your brand, you have a touchpoint. Your touchpoints could be ads, your website homepage, a physical storefront, reviews, newsletters, phone calls with sales, or emails. Once you identify all the touchpoints, you can then find the obstacles that might make the journey difficult or cause potential customers to drop off. A broken website link, no set-up voicemail, or unclear ads could cause unnecessary difficulty and lose you customers. By keeping track of your touchpoints, you can optimize them to keep your customers moving through your customer journey seamlessly. 

Create a Customer Journey Map

Customer journey mapping involves visualizing the journey your customer takes through the process of gaining awareness of your product to purchase. This map will illustrate how your customers move through their journey for your company and on your website. Using customer research and touchpoints, you can map out exactly what steps a customer takes and what you can do to make it simple. Creating this map will give you greater insight into where your potential customers are falling away and where your company can fill needs. 

Improving your customer journey will help your customers learn about your company, products, and services. It will also help you keep your customers moving seamlessly through to the purchasing stage. But ultimately, your customer journey can help you improve your customer experience. Your customers can enjoy the ease and support your company offers them. 
To improve your customers’ journey, you’ll need tools to understand your customers and to utilize your touchpoints. InMoment CX solutions provide feedback and active listening tools to help you understand where to tighten your process and bring more customers to your brand. Improve your customer experience with InMoment.

Thinking About Employee & Customer Journey Mapping? 3 Reasons to Dive In

There are a lot of elements to building a successful customer experience (CX) or employee experience (EX) program, but one of the most fundamental is employee and customer journey mapping. Journey mapping allows organizations to better understand the interactions and relationships that various audiences share with you, which allows you to create Experience Improvement (XI). Here are three quick reasons why journey mapping is essential:

  1. Optimizing Program Investment
  2. Expanding Your Program
  3. Figuring Out What Comes Next

Reason 1: Optimizing Program Investment

Understanding which touchpoints your audience uses and why they may or may not be functioning well is key to optimizing program investment. You can use employee and customer journey mapping to identify those touchpoints, listen in, and gather quantifiable data that proves your program’s success. The end result of this element is being able to go back to the boardroom with hard numbers, which goes a long way toward getting more funding for your program’s next cycle!

Reason 2: Expanding Your Program

When you map your journeys, you get a much better idea of which stakeholders need to be involved in your experience world. Employee and customer journey mapping is therefore a great way to rope new departments and teams into your program. This process also gives your entire organization a holistic, 360-degree view of your audience, which gives everyone a chance to work off of the same profile and create a more united brand mission.

Reason 3: Figuring Out What Comes Next

Sometimes, it’s good to stop and take stock of your CX program. If you’re not sure what the next stage of that program looks like, journey mapping can help tell you. This process gives everyone a full view of the customer or employee journey, which means that you can deduce what needs to come next in order to meaningfully improve your experiences.

With all of that in mind, how can organizations like yours start or refurbish the employee or customer journey mapping process? Click here to read Stacy Bolger’s full-length point of view on journey mapping. She’ll take you through more reasons you should journey map if you aren’t already, and some best practices on how to get started in the most beneficial way for you, your customers, and your employees!

Getting Real Business Value from Customer Journey Mapping

I spend a lot of time with client organizations that have invested both time and resources into mapping their customers’ journey so I have seen the gamut of touchpoint maps, emotional curves and even on one occasion, the stunning graphical portrayal of the path taken by a certain Persona, frustrated with trying to return a laser printer.  Of course, some are better than others, some are based on data, some on opinion but the real question is a simple one: What impact did they have in helping the company create greater value for shareholders?

Some might argue that is asking too much of journey mapping. After all, they are just one of many tools experts trained in Design Thinking use to better understand the functional and emotional roller coaster that is associated with what we deliver to customers.

I disagree. In my experience, when done well, and leveraging mobile technology, customer journey mapping can provide a powerful platform for greater customer-driven innovation, generated faster and with higher quality.

To achieve tangible business value from journey mapping exercises, I suggest you answer three questions:

  1. Does your journey map tell a powerful story from both employees and customers?
  2. Does your journey map align your whole organization toward a common view of your collective performance in delivering a competitively superior experience?
  3. Does your journey map go beyond telling the story, to actually doing something about it?

Let’s take them one at a time.

Does Your Journey Map Tell a Powerful Story from Both Employees and Customers?

Certainly, the core idea of a journey map is that it visually highlights the customer’s view of their experience. Good journey maps do more than just describe what happens, they actually uncover those things that were previously invisible to us. They explain the reasons for a customer’s specific behavior or the alternative path they took when confronted with an unexpected roadblock. But for most organizations, there is another journey that is just as important and that is the experience of the front line employee.

In fact, we would suggest that there is a level of risk that is taken if you view the journey solely from the customer’s perspective.  There are three reasons why this matters:

  1. Frontline employees provide additional context: Although they can’t tell you what the customer is thinking or feeling, they do have helpful insight into what customers are doing, and they provide great insight as to what is happening, especially around those touchpoints that represent chronic problems in the experience.
  2. The gap matters: Understanding the gap between how customers versus employees see the experience is really important. It is not uncommon to see a clear divergence between what customers see as important and how you are performing from the employees’ view of the same experience. Closing these gaps is vital. The “satisfaction mirror” that exists between frontline employees and customers is often a critical driver of loyalty and advocacy.
  3. Clues to future experiences: Hidden in this information are clues to exceeding customer experiences in ways that you would never imagine if you hadn’t seen it for yourself. I will never forget what Danny Wegman of Wegmans Food Markets told me in describing the relationship between his employees and their customers:

“If you measure the service you get at Wegmans compared to some other place, we always come out pretty good on that. But I think it’s gone to a new level. I hear that when some folks are in a bad mood, they go to Wegmans to cheer up. People greet you with a smile and ask you if you want a taste of something. Customers get a happy fix and that makes our people feel spectacular. It’s circular.”[i]

We have seen this countless times in the caring and skilled interactions of our clients’ high performing frontline employees as they carry the heart of their firm’s brand promise to every customer interaction.

Perhaps I have overstated this point. Well good, it deserves to be overstated. As more and more digital channels are introduced to intermediate the customer experience, employee interactions become even more critical, not less. Let’s never forget the words of Fred Reichheld who told us back in 1996 in The Loyalty Effect, “If you wonder what getting and keeping the right employees has to do with getting and keeping the right customers, the answer is everything.”[ii] For your journey map to treat front line employees as merely silent witnesses to the customer experience is to ensure you are learning only half of the story.

Does Your Journey Map Align Your Whole Organization Toward a Common View of Your Performance in Delivering a Superior Experience?

The problem with most customer journey maps is they aren’t terribly portable. If you convert them to a PDF, they are usually so detailed it is hard to view them on anything smaller than a 60 inch monitor. Printing them out as posters is a good idea, but as with one client, the only way we could view their recently completed map was to visit their head office. Even if the map was developed using an online tool, often reviewing what it says can be like viewing a map of the London Tube. You know Piccadilly Circus Station is there somewhere, but it takes a while to find it.

Like many tools that over time, find themselves over engineered, many journey mapping tools suffer from trying to communicate too many things through too small a window. No wonder so many line managers can’t find the value in journey maps.

The way journey maps overcome these limitations is perhaps obvious. Follow three principles to ensure the product of the hard work of developing them translates into tangible impact:

  1. Bring the story to life through media: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million. Present a journey map not informed by fancy graphics, but by the perceptions, voices and emotions of actual customers and employees. It is one thing to review a score about your “lost package” performance, or to read a few customer comments – it is another thing entirely to hear the impact it has on the person who was counting on its delivery.
  2. Combine quantitative and qualitative: It helps to tell the story with both media and facts. We believe presenting both, side-by-side, adds color and insight to help focus on real improvement opportunities and to test new ways to innovate that would create measurable changes in consumer behavior.
  3. Make it easily shareable: By shareable I mean throughout the organization, but also to key trusted advisors as well. Being able to easily share the journey map invites comments and insights from the best experts in the world on your particular topic and provides significant business value.

CX Journey Maps that provide this level of transparency and leverage rich media to tell a compelling story, not only create alignment, but additionally they generate energy and enthusiasm toward a common purpose.

Does Your Journey Map Go Beyond Telling the Story to Doing Something About it?

Remember the point of all of this? When do we start to see the business value?

The best journey mapping tools don’t just capture the nuances, emotions, and often hidden opportunities to improve the customer experience; they provide a platform to engage directly with customers to co-create solutions to the gnarly problems they uncovered.

Speed matters. Taking weeks if not months to take action based on the data collected from journey mapping can be a fool’s errand. It’s essential to move right from priority issues identified by customers into brief, targeted online discussions with those same customers. As a result, you can better understand their issues, brainstorm solutions that weren’t obvious, and test solutions that will regain their trust and loyalty instead of waiting six weeks to hire a market research firm.

CX Journey Maps that achieve real business value actually aren’t “maps” at all. They are really an “always on” qualitative research platform, allowing an organization to deeply understand what customers are experiencing and take action that positively influences desired behaviors. Married with a robust CX management system, they provide a comprehensive solution to harness customer-driven innovation in about half the time of traditional methods.

Move Forward

Technology continues to advance our ability to understand the customer experience with greater granularity and insight. Traditional barriers to engaging with customers are no longer an excuse for taking months to implement improvements that exceed targeted expectations and outperform competitors. Journey mapping tools of the past served their purpose, but it is time to acknowledge the value they added and move forward to a new standard that is enabled by digital devices and SaaS-based platforms that are themselves re-writing the rules of competition.

The Internet of Things is not a buzzword. It is how the world works; it is time customer experience journey mapping caught up.

[i] James Heskett, W. Earl Sasser and Joe Wheeler, The Ownership Quotient, Harvard Business Publishing, 2008 pp. 104-105

[ii] Frederick Reichheld, The Loyalty Effect, Harvard Business School Press, 1996, p. 91

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