Journey mapping secrets part 2 – Establishing a foundation of customer empathy


If you landed here first, check out the first post in this series: "Journey mapping secrets revealed."

Empathy is the magic behind journey mapping. By directly interacting with real customers—not just surveys, data, and internal stakeholders—Method Garage and our clients develop deep customer empathy that translates into unique points of view and competitive advantages. We gain a deep understanding of the pre-sale and/or post-sale journey from the customer’s perspective, including the themes and moments that matter.

Secret 1 – Narrow your focus

To hit the target, you've got to know where to aim. Whose experience are you actually trying to change? Think about the types of customer stakeholders whose problems you’re trying to solve. Are they the front-line users working with your product day to day, or the product sponsors a level up? Do they vary across the segments you sell into? Keep in mind that a tech administrator in a government-regulated organization might have very different priorities and concerns than a peer elsewhere. By clarifying who your customer is, you’ll be better able to understand where they’re coming from and where they want to be.

Secret 2 – Build an interview guide—but be ready to ditch it

An interview is a precious resource—don’t squander it! Build a highly structured interview guide to make sure you don’t overlook essential questions. And then, once it’s go-time with your first interviewee, be ready to throw the interview guide away in the first minute. The best insights come when you go where the emotion is—the stories your subjects tell. When you start hearing emotions, tensions, contradiction, and surprises, you know you’re on the right track.

Another key point on interview mechanics: always interview in pairs. Designate one person as the lead and the other as the note-taker, though of course either can jump in to follow up on interesting points, flag areas in need of clarification, or catch missed opportunities. Also, always be in review of your approach based on what you’re hearing. Use subsequent interviews to go deeper on emerging themes and separate the outlier viewpoints from the hidden consensus. This process is about iteration, not cookie-cutter repetition.

Secret 3 – Consider skipping the gifts

People struggle with whether to include an incentive in their interview invitation. In my experience, the most valuable thing you can offer these customers – especially in B2B – is a chance to influence the direction of their key vendor (i.e. your company). Instead of dealing with gift cards, spend your time making the study feel as special as it should—an exclusive opportunity beyond the usual commodity survey. You’ll get both higher conversions and higher-quality participation this way.

Secret 4 – Make sales feel like a hero

What salesperson has ever been eager to share their rolodex with anyone, whether a third party or an internal colleague? But you’ll need their contacts to recruit subjects—even those who might have deals in progress or a contentious history. Here’s what you say: Your customers will thank you for this. You’re offering them a chance to give their feedback and share their suggestions for improvement—that’s more valuable than any white-linen lunch or round of golf! In fact, we’ve seen an uptick in NPS scores from people who participate in journey mapping research compared with those who don’t. Don’t worry about hurting salespeople; you’re actually going to help them.

Secret 5 – Know when you’re done

How many interviews is enough? The short answer is, you’ll know when you get there. As common themes emerge, you’ll hear fewer new insights over time and the effort involved will begin to surpass the value you’re getting. The real number depends in part on the quality of your recruitment, but in our experience the sweet spot tends to be anywhere from seven to a dozen people from the same customer profile.

Secret 6 – Unpack while fresh

Don’t wait until the end of the process to catch up—debrief and synthesize after each interview. Highlight the key moments-that-matter and themes you heard before things start to blur together. If you’re feeling ambitious, create a spreadsheet or database listing the themes, insights, moments, quotes, and so on from each interview to serve as a knowledge base, and update it as you go. At the very least, take a few minutes to clean up your notes, compare impressions with your interviewing partner, and highlight the most valuable takeaways from each subject.

Secret 7 – Record everything—always

I’ve written before about the tremendous value of audio beyond simply documenting an interview. We’ll talk more about this in an upcoming part of this series, and you can find more on the power of audio here. Don’t worry about customer pushback; it’s rarer than you think. People almost always consent to recording, and if a few don’t, you’ll still be well covered by those who do.

Now that you’ve captured the raw materials of customer empathy, it’s time to put them to work to create a customer-centric understanding of the way you’re doing business now. In my next post, I’ll talk about phase 2: developing a current state journey map that generates passion and buy-in.