Expectation vs. Reality: Creating Customer Journeys That Actually Work

CX Solutions: Day 2 of 7
Insights / 2020.07.17

Expectation vs. Reality: Creating Customer Journeys that Actually Work


Tandem Theory’s CX methodology always starts with data, but before we can put data into action, we run it through a key filter: empathy. Empathy is key for any business that relies on customers (read: all of them). It’s how we find the narrative in the numbers to derive actionable insights.

Customer journeys are one of our favorite tools for applying empathy to the customer experience. While traditional customer journeys tend to focus on the what, our approach takes it a few steps further by determining the why behind the what as well as the what now. It’s how we bridge the disconnect between what customers expect and what they really experience, and then transform that experience into something even better. 

But we don’t just see gaps in the customer experience — we often see it in the experience mapping process, as well. Here are a few of the most widely held expectations of customer journeys, and the realities that actually have an impact on the way your customers reach you.


Expectation: A customer journey follows a linear path.

Reality: Today’s customer journey is a choose-your-own-adventure story.

Traditional customer journeys depict a simple trajectory: awareness, consideration, transaction, retention, and advocacy. But they often don’t account for the fact that today’s consumer has so many ways to encounter a brand, and just as many opportunities to leave it behind. Creating a customer journey that’s unique to your customer and your organization will result in a more accurate picture of their experience — and more relevant, impactful solutions.

Through Tandem’s work with an online tax software company, we saw how redefining traditional phases could provide a richer understanding of customers. Their typical transaction phase began with the start of an online return. But as we developed the customer journey, we saw that the customer mindset perceived this step as part of a second consideration phase to compare competitors. We then leveraged this insight to inform an increased focus on conquesting and retargeting campaigns to break the secondary cycle of consideration and move more customers into the true transaction phase: submitting their return.


Expectation: Customer journeys document what we already know

Reality: Customers can surprise you (and themselves)

One of the biggest mistakes we see in developing a customer journey is stopping too soon — what many organizations actually create is the assumed customer journey. Of course, assumptions aren’t necessarily wrong (they are usually informed by years of experience and familiarity with performance metrics), and this is an important step in the customer journey process. 

But it’s only the first step. An assumed customer journey captures the business perspective about what is working and not working — it’s the hypothesis stage where key stakeholders are interviewed and informed predictions are made. Typically, this stage captures the what.

Next comes the current-state customer journey in the validation stage. Through a variety of methods (heat mapping, customer service shadowing, customer surveys, third-party research, store visits and more) we capture the customer perspective. This stage focuses on understanding the why — the emotional drivers and responses to behaviors and touchpoints. This stage is an empathetic exercise in prioritization, revealing the nuances in customers’ biggest pain points, helping organizations pinpoint what to address first or inspiring innovative solutions.

Take one of our clients, a beauty retailer. We partnered with them to develop a customer journey with the goal of increasing online orders from salon professionals. While the assumed state journey identified the biggest area of opportunity in the transaction phase, the current state revealed the most impactful ways we could help them improve. 

We found that most stylists were actually using their online shopping cart to plan their in-store shopping experiences. Stylists wanted a chance to examine and test products in person, especially before purchasing a new item. But when they got to the store, product quantity and availability differed from what was indicated on the website. 

To solve this, we prioritized enabling accurate, real-time inventory tracking and updates as well as introducing an online order for in-store pick-up option to drive more orders both online and in-store.


Expectation: Customer journeys are the marketing team’s responsibility

Reality: Customer journeys involve every area of an organization

Enter stage 3. We create the future state customer journey — our roadmap that tells us what now to fix, add or remove for a frictionless customer experience. And since customers experience an organization without silos, we believe that the best way to remove friction in the customer journey is to do without internal silos, as well.  

When an email doesn’t seem relevant, a website doesn’t load, a product doesn’t work, or an in-store pick-up doesn’t go as planned, a customer doesn’t think: “Marketing/IT/ Merchandising/Operations doesn’t get me.” They think: “Brand X doesn’t get me.” 

Tandem’s process involves partnering with a team of cross-department stakeholders to not only facilitate the upfront gathering of information, but also to facilitate implementation of solutions and opportunities based on findings.

Our work with an online lending company demonstrates why internal collaboration is key to success. They were experiencing high loan application drop-off rates and wondered if honing applicant targeting or source channels via marketing would yield better results. 

User testing revealed that the company’s biggest reason for drop-off was actually due to their responsive design needs. Their lower-income target audience made more mobile applications than the average. But on several mobile devices, crucial site buttons were not always visible or easily accessible, making it difficult for many applicants to continue or submit their application. 

While marketing could make short-term adjustments in response, such as targeting desktop users, they would also need to coordinate with the internal product and IT teams in order to execute a long-term solution.


To learn more about how we can help you drive results through empathetic, strategic planning, send an email to info@tandemtheory.com.