A great customer journey has to be planned from end-to-end

A person setting out on a walk along a path through the woods

A customer journey is much more than just a set of touchpoints and interactions. It also includes all the parts in between. If it doesn’t, then even if every interaction with the customer is as good as it could possibly be, it is still possible for the customer to have a terrible journey.

This story is about a real journey that I took. It taught me the importance of planning the entire customer journey, and how important it is to consider the handovers, and the bits in between the touchpoints, if you want your customer to have a great experience.

A visit to the Olympic games

My dad really enjoyed the London Olympics in 1948, and when the Olympic Games came back to London in 2012 he asked me to take him to see the athletics. So I applied for tickets on the website, and was lucky to get four tickets for the morning session on Friday 3rd August. This meant two of my adult children would be able to join us for a great family outing.

My dad, who was in his early 90s, couldn’t do the journey by public transport.  He’d been left with impaired mobility following a stroke.  But we knew it wouldn’t be a problem because the website gave us the option of booking a disabled car-parking space. We booked, everything on the web site worked well, and things were looking good.

A couple of weeks before the event we received a letter with our tickets and car parking information. The instructions for the parking space seemed clear, they said exactly which roads to use to get to the car park and included a tear off section to allow us to board a shuttle bus to get into the venue. I didn’t completely understand the instructions for the shuttle bus, so I called the phone number printed on the car park ticket to ask about this. The person who answered explained that there was no shuttle bus from the disabled parking, only from Stratford Station. Since this made no sense at all I assumed that information about disabled access hadn’t been as widely disseminated as it should have been, and that it would be obvious where to go when we arrived.

It normally takes about 20 minutes to drive from our house to Stratford, but we left at 06:45 to make sure we’d be in plenty of time for the 10:00 start. We carefully followed our instructions for getting to the disabled car park from the A12, but to our surprise, when we arrived at the A12 the slip road was closed, because of the Olympics.  This meant we had to go on a much longer and slower route. “Good job I’m the sort of person who always leaves plenty of contingency time.” I thought.

We drove through Stratford looking for the car park, but there were no signs for the disabled parking to be seen, and the routes suggested by my GPS were no use because they involved using Olympic lanes or turning right across them at temporary Olympic no right turn signs. We drove right through Stratford, turned around on the other side and drove back again, before eventually finding a sign that matched the instructions we had.

We were stopped at a check point where the car was carefully examined, inside and out, by soldiers who were very friendly and polite. They then directed us toward the car park in the Westfield shopping mall. We parked in one of the clearly marked bays, near where two other people with mobility problems were parking. Now all we had to do was find how to get from the car park to the Olympic stadium.

There were no signs anywhere to be seen.

The three little groups who had met in the car park rode up and down in the lift looking for assistance on various floors until we found some Westfield staff with wheelchairs who offered to help us. They explained that they weren’t allowed to push the wheelchairs themselves, but that they would come with to show us which way to go.

The next part of our journey involved: a very long walk, going up in a lift, crossing a bridge that led away from the Olympic park towards Stratford Station, going down in another lift, pushing the wheelchair into the station against the flow of people arriving at the Olympics, and finally going up in another lift to an incredibly crowded part of the station. The Westfield staff thought that it would be unsafe to attempt to manoeuvre three wheelchairs through the crowd simultaneously, so they asked two of the little groups to wait.  They led the people in wheelchairs and the people pushing them across the station one at a time to another lift, where we descended to ground level again. All this took quite a long time, but we did eventually reach the part of the station concourse where there were, indeed, shuttle busses to help disabled people get into the Olympic park.

The Westfield staff took their wheelchairs back, presumably to look for other lost travellers near the disabled car park.

It took quite a long time to load the bus, but everyone was very friendly and helpful. The bus then drove out of the station and back through Stratford on the road we had driven down more than an hour earlier. It was quite a long drive, and the bus had to pass through another security checkpoint, where the polite and friendly soldiers again checked the vehicle inside and out; they had mirrors on sticks, and some very cute dogs that were presumably sniffing for explosives, but, thankfully, they didn’t find anything.

The bus drove past the outside of the car park where we waved to the cars we had parked earlier and then stopped not too far away.  While we were fairly near the entrance to the Olympic park, it was still going to be a bit of a struggle for my dad.  We asked if there was a wheelchair available that we could borrow for the next part of the journey, but we were told that we would have to go and queue in the “mobility centre” and that this would be quite a long queue. My determined dad announced that of course he could manage the walk to the park entrance.  It was only about 50 meters and there were three of us to help him. So that’s what we did. We walked to the Olympic park entrance and joined the queue for the security checks.

The queue for security was very quick and efficient, and they only took my dad’s walking stick away for a few minutes while he walked through the metal detector.

Once we were through security, we found some helpful staff who provided a wheelchair, and helped us get inside the Olympic park, where they dropped us by the stop for the spectator mobility shuttle. The shuttle arrived shortly after we did. It was a bit like an oversized golf buggy, and it took us on a long trip around the park. We did see gate C, where we needed to go, but the bus turned the other way and it was a long time before we arrived at the correct entrance.

After we got off the shuttle, we again found somebody with a wheelchair to help us on the next stage of the trek.

We had finally reached the stadium area. Our tickets were checked, and I asked where I could find drinking water to fill the empty water bottles we had remembered to bring through the security check. There was a very long queue for water so I asked my daughter to accompany my dad and the wheelchair, whilst my son and I went to queue up and fill the water bottles.

It took 20 or 30 minutes to fill the water bottles, and I then found the right stairs for block 249 where our seats were located. We did have fairly cheap tickets, so I wasn’t too surprised that I had to climb a lot of stairs to get to the top of the stadium, but I was surprised when I got to our seats and found that my dad and my daughter hadn't arrived yet. I was just starting to phone my daughter when I saw my dad struggling up the last few steps inside the stadium.

After a very long pause to catch his breath, my dad explained that they had been escorted to a lift on one side of the stadium, but this did not provide access to our seats. So they were escorted down again and taken right round the stadium and up a lift on the other side which proved no more helpful.  The only option left, the person with the wheelchair explained, was to climb the stairs.

So my dad, a very determined man, did just that.  With my daughter’s help he managed to climb 6 flights of stairs before collapsing into his seat.

We got to our seats by 09:45 with 15 minutes to spare before the start of the first event. A journey that should have taken at the very most an hour to complete had taken 3 hours, and had left all of us frazzled, anxious and, in my dad’s case, utterly exhausted.

The athletics events were excellent, and we had a great time. The arrangements and logistics for the events were very efficient There were lots of different events going on, often at the same time, but the big screens and commentators provided all the information we could want.

We left the stadium at about 1:45 PM, tired but happy.

Before we left the stadium, we spoke to the staff. We asked if there was a sensible way that we could get back to the disabled parking area.  They were friendly and full of sympathy, But, apparently, there wasn’t one. So, despite our best efforts we had another nightmare trek back to the car.  We reached home again just after 5 in the evening.

What did I learn from this trip?

The people responsible for the Olympic Games had clearly made some effort to provide access for people with mobility problems. Disabled parking was available. Wheelchairs were provided at each location where they might be needed. There was a shuttle bus from the station to the Olympic park. There was a spectator mobility shuttle for transporting people between venues within the park.

Everyone that we met on our journey was incredibly helpful. They were all cheerful and polite and did everything they could to help us.

All that was missing was a joined-up plan to help people actually making the journey. Nobody had thought through all the handovers that would have connected the touchpoints and enable us to have a great experience.

When I work with my clients to help them design journeys for their customers and users, I often tell them this story, and it usually helps them to understand why it’s not enough to focus on the touchpoints. You need to walk through everything that your customer is going to experience, from start to end of their interactions with you. Don’t just think about the interactions you have with your customer, think about their experience of working with you and using your services.

Have you tried mapping out your customers’ journeys? If not, then it’s an exercise well worth doing.  Even when the customer journey as a whole works well, you will probably find opportunities for improvement.  And if it doesn’t, you may discover why you are getting complaints or sensing frustrations, when every individual interaction you look at seems to be going well.

The ITIL 4 Managing Professional books and exams will include the publication called Drive Stakeholder Value, this will have lots of content to help you design customer journeys.


Picture credit: Loren Kerns

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