A recent roller coaster of customer emotions prompted me to consider where a consumer brand (Belkin) might have delivered a better customer experience as well as where it was subject to the whims of fate. This blog tells the tale of those events with help from a customer journey map. I've also offered a few ruminations that illustrate how holistic Customer Experience analysis can shed light upon the need for investments in UX design and technology.

Customer journey maps provide a means to capture and illustrate individual customer experiences in a comprehensive manner that spans intent, emotion, functionality, and impact. Since being introduced to customer journey mapping by my colleagues Bill Rattner and Jason Snook roughly a year and a half ago, I've considered my own interactions with brands in a new and brighter light. Read on for a prime example.

Earlier this year, somewhere in suburban Richmond:

  • Wed, 12pm: My wife Ashley calls to let me know that we need a new wireless router, as our 10 year old Linksys router has become increasingly unreliable and generally doesn't perform well enough for her to do her work from home through a VPN. I pledge that I'll pick one up that night.
  • Wed, 7pm: I purchase a new Belkin wireless router from my neighboring Best Buy, a process that takes no more than 10 minutes, is based solely on my consumption of in-store signage and product packaging, yet still leaves me feeling sufficiently informed and satisfied that I have made the right purchase for my specific need.
  • Wed, 8pm: Upon returning home, I set up my new router smoothly and easily. Every device works (my wife's PC, which is running Windows XP; my Mac, iPad, & iPhone), dual bands are humming, yada yada yada. I am happy. I throw away my receipt, the box, and my old router. I have no room for these things in the tiny apartment that is home for the foreseeable future as we await construction of a new house. Besides, everything is working great. Why would I need my receipt or old router anymore?
  • Thurs, 7pm: After working beautifully for 24 hours, my new router suddenly stops working completely, wired or not, irrespective of device. Error messages suggest IP address conflicts.
  • Thurs, 8:30pm: After a typically draining tag team effort to get my 2 year old to bed, I begin what ultimately amounts to 2 hours of fiddling, resetting the router to its factory settings, manually changing the IP, etc. Somewhere along the way, I visit the Belkin website for support via my iPhone, but the site is not mobile optimized and generally frustrates me. Moreover, I am still full of machismo at this point – despite being mentally tired - so I give up on the website and fiddle some more.
  • Thurs, 10:30pm: After exhibiting admirable patience for 2 hours, my wife eventually googles Belkin support on her iPhone. I remind myself that I am not an architect/developer and don't really know what I'm doing, which helps me to finally allow that the phone call to support might not be the worst idea in the history of home computing. Ashley gets the call started and provides some high-level info before eventually handing the phone to me. The support rep is clearly offshore but I assume works for Belkin directly or that it's an outsourced support arm, which is mildly disconcerting but hardly shocking. I open a(nother) beer. Though not exactly unprecedented, this is not in any way a good idea for me at 10:30 on a weeknight, but I sense that I'm going to be up a little while and my spirits are waning, pun intended.
  • Thurs, 10:45pm: Sadly, the first few suggestions from my hopeful help desk hero don't work.
  • Thurs, 11:15pm: The failure of the first several suggestions prompts the guy to tell me he needs to run some more sophisticated tools. To employ these tools, which he assures me will enable us to resolve the problem, I need to sign up for a service plan that's good for a full year for anything we need related to technology. My alarm bells go off, but it's 11:15pm and I need the internet to work so that Ashley can work from home on Friday, and b/c it's 2014, I'm allegedly an internet professional, and I need the internet to work. So I agree and pony up some $, with an assurance that I can get my money back if these sophisticated tools don't work.
  • Thurs, 11:15pm –11:45pm: He does a bunch of things that don't work. I get passed to 2nd level support.
  • Thurs, 11:48pm: I realize that the "2nd level" guy clearly knows nothing about Belkins in general and hasn't asked my model # or anything else that would presumably be needed for anything other than the most generic of answers. I do not feel as though Belkin has taken me to another level.
  • Fri, 12:30am: We keep trying stuff, nothing works; I become convinced I got a bad piece of hardware. It's 12:30, I'm feeling a bit salty, and I have no reason to think that the guy on the phone can do anything for me. I hate Belkin. I hate their support line. I am not particularly happy with Best Buy, either – don't they need to be selling quality products to survive the Amazon threat?! - but I will go to Best Buy Friday evening to try to get $ back for my Belkin router with no box and no receipt, and I will purchase a new Linksys router.
  • Fri, roughly 3am: My 2 year old daughter wakes up and starts clamoring for Daddy and lullabies. I am not excited about this request on a number of levels, including not wanting to foster an unsustainable pattern of middle-of-the-night lullabies, but in my cozy apartment, she's only two thin doors and about 12 feet away, so my sleeping and her crying it out do not align. Nor will my neighbor upstairs endorse the cry-it-out approach. So I sing some lullabies and get her back to sleep, then fall back to sleep myself by counting all the ways I hate Belkin.
  • Fri, 5:55am: My daughter wakes up again, clamoring for Daddy and desperate to play on her new slide, which I had assembled the previous evening, just prior to the Belkin router failing. I grit my teeth and get out of bed, lamenting the existence of Belkin.
  • Fri, 9:00am: Ashley figures out that she didn't call the right number for Belkin support. She calls the real Belkin support number. She loves the support rep, who walks her through everything, gets the router reconfigured and optimized in some way that Ashley didn't fully understand but that works swimmingly, all in <30 mins.="">30>
  • Fri, 9:51am: My wife texts me the good news. I chuckle while updating my Action Item log and drinking my 2nd cup of coffee. I no longer have a quarrel with Belkin. iYogi, whom I now understand to be a "general" IT Help Desk with some clever Search Engine Optimization skills, is on the Bad List.

See below for the Customer Journey Map which visually depicts the story above.

What can we learn about customer experience and related strategy from this story?

First, be aware that I'm consciously skipping over the fact that my experience was a product of the fact that my router didn't "just work" after a couple of days; the fundamental key to delivering a satisfactory, let alone delightful, customer experience is selling a product or service that fulfills the primary customer expectations that prompted the purchase. However, not having been on the phone call that resolved the problem, and not being technically savvy enough to solve it on my own, I'll refrain from commenting on whether or not the router should have just worked, if the problem was inevitable and forgivable, or it was (unthinkably) somehow spurred by user error.

Moving on, Belkin's lack of a mobile friendly website played a key role in the story. Having swallowed my pride enough to search for help on their website via my iPhone, I was stung by the disappointment of finding a site that was difficult to navigate on a mobile device. The image below provides a roughly accurate view of the site as it presented on my iPhone. I will hold back on any snide comments about the fact that Belkin sells a wide variety of mobile related products yet lacked a mobile-optimized website, as I'm sure they have something in the works. (If not, hopefully they'll call CapTech.) Regardless, with even average sized fingers, accessing any type of content on this site is no cup of tea on a mobile device.

Moreover, the site did not prominently display what would seem to be high-value content for mobile visitors: a help desk phone #. I'll save you the detailed click path, but a level-headed re-enactment required extensive clicking, expanding, and scrolling to find the US Support phone #. While I understand that minimizing help desk calls is likely a Belkin cost management strategy, burying the phone number strikes me as a penny wise, pound foolish approach for the router support use case. As reflected in the previous screen shot, the get-help-from-Twitter option was easy to find, but for a variety of reasons, using Twitter to solve this problem was not at all desirable for me; semi-public, character-limited, asynchronous written communication, typed on my iPhone keyboard, is not high on my list of best practices for troubleshooting abstract problems such as the one I was facing. Since I'm at least somewhat more technical than the average bear, I am skeptical that a majority of users would see the Twitter-based Tech Support option and think to themselves, "why yes, I would love to tweet my way through a troubleshooting exercise related to this thing I don't understand that well."

In summary, my aggravated disposition and corresponding predisposition to judge their mobile web experience harshly + the fact that I didn't actually find what I needed tainted my view of the Belkin brand and set me up for further ignominy.

What could have been different? What if Belkin's home page was responsive to the device I used to view it, thereby making it easy to see and access the primary functions a mobile user is likely to be seeking (Contact Support, Research Products, and Shop)? What if the Contact Support options were personalized based on geolocation? What if two mobile clicks connected me by phone to the same person my wife ultimately talked to the next morning? In the name of Steve Jobs, what if?

The true inflection point of my tale of woe exemplifies the threat of Search Engine Optimization and paid search results to unsuspecting googlers and to the brands with which they interact while searching the web, which is to say, pretty much all brands. The image below sets the stage:

Having searched for "belkin router support," the first result in the list contains exactly what we thought we needed.

Concession: the Yellow box which says "Ad" is not hard to pick out.

Defense: on the other hand, nor is it hard to pick out the control that my wife really wanted to see: the big "Call" button juxtaposed near a URL that includes the words "Belkin-Support-Number."

More broadly, on a scale of 1 – 5, where 1 = not at all distinct and 5 = impossible-to-miss distinct, I would rate the treatment of the two paid results a 3. Distinguishing the ads from the real results may not be difficult, but it's not a total no-brainer either. In retrospect, did my wife feel good about having called iYogi when she thought she was calling Belkin? No. But I'm sure she's not alone in making that mistake. Consequently, it's important for brands to account for the paid search/SEO phenomenon in their customer experience design. While the following amounts to a less than novel point, it's also worth noting that Google plays a major role in brand experiences for, well, the Fortune 2,000,000. Though fundamentally out of CX designers' control, Google's design decisions and related efforts to balance revenue maximization with end user experience must be continually monitored by brand advocates, irrespective of device, but especially in the mobile context, where paid and SEO-driven results can completely block the highest value "real" links from the user's view.

Customer journey maps do not solve problems, but they do provide a valuable tool for identifying and truly understanding problems that should be solved from the viewpoint of the most critical stakeholder in the Age of the Customer. Organizations cannot properly prioritize their efforts to improve the customer experience until they understand it.

If other motivators for experience optimization aren't compelling enough, consider that a deeper understanding of your customers' journeys can help to shield your organization from the wrath of social media. I am not one to feverishly Tweet or Post or Like in response to, well, anything. But if I were, it might have been an ugly night/morning for Belkin on my social network of choice, a development which would have been both unfair yet part of the game in the modern era. With the threat and opportunity of social networking now always looming, the criticality of "owning the experience" – to borrow a phrase from a CapTech partner – has never been greater.