An example customer journey map for a Housing Association

An example of a customer journey map for a Housing Association

“A customer journey map is a diagram that depict the stages people go through when interacting with an organisation.”

As with the service roadmap I wrote about previously, I couldn’t really find a lot of information about customer journey mapping in the context of social housing. So, this is me putting some information into the public domain to save someone else a bit of time and effort.

Important context: I’m writing this from the viewpoint of a relatively modest sized Housing Association that recognises the potential of service design & user experience, but doesn’t yet have people dedicated to it. You might consider this ‘customer journey mapping on a shoestring’.[*1] Also, I’m not an expert and I’m learning as I go too! 🙂

Housing Associations tend to have lots of information about how processes and services work in terms of policies, procedures and technological architecture. What Housing Associations don’t normally have a lot of is what a service *feels like* to travel through, from the perspective of people interacting with it. [*2]

What is customer journey mapping?

Customer journey mapping is a way of walking through a process or service, from the perspective of someone who is interacting with it. In the context of housing associations that would mostly be tenants (or prospective tenants) or your own staff.

A customer journey map might be a singular diagram, or a series of diagrams. They can be very basic or very detailed. When starting out, I found it was easier to add just enough detail to support a meaningful conversation and iterate from there, rather than get bogged down wondering if I’m doing it right.

A google image search for ‘customer journey map’ that demonstrates they come in all shapes and sizes.

The value of a customer journey map is that it captures the points of friction in a process or service in an accessible way that most people can immediately understand without needing a lot of knowledge about how things work.

I think it’s also a great tool for challenging collective assumptions about how we (people involved in delivering the process or service) think things should work for the people that use them.

Feelings matter.

From a ‘customer service’ point of view, knowing how you inadvertently make people feel frustrated, or even delighted is a desirable thing. Armed with this information it’s far easier to amplify the good and nullify the bad.

Looking at the end-to-end view of how people travel through your own organisation, it might also be easier to spot activities that provide minimal value or work against their intended purpose. This should prompt a good conversation around “Why are we doing this?”.

You are not the tenant/customer/user.

Gauging how people feel about a process or service shouldn’t be based on assumptions or guesswork. Your customer journey map should be informed by information gathered from people who have lived experience of the thing that you are mapping. This is called user research. You may gather this information via lots of different means like informal chats, telephone conversations or surveys.[*3]

In order to recognise that not all people are the same, you should organise your findings based on different groups of people who are likely to use your process or services. These groups are commonly referred to as personas.

I won’t go into personas here as they probably deserve a whole post of their own. This introduction by Ideo is a pretty great place to start if you want to know more:

What does a basic customer journey map looks like?

Here’s a fictional customer journey example I created. As I mentioned earlier, there are LOADS of different formats. This is what I started out with.

A fictional customer journey map describing the process of placing some into a new tenancy.

At the top I’ve mapped out the steps in the process to take an applicant from the housing waiting list and successfully place them into a property to start their tenancy. These are the ‘end to end’ steps required to complete this process.

Below I’ve represented how someone might feel at each stage of travelling through this process. I’ve used emoji broadly indicate how the person feels at a glance. Emoji are pretty useful because most people instantly recognise them.

Underneath each emoji is a short quote to describe what’s going on. The quotes might be pulled directly from the user research you’ve conducted. This is a very basic, but impactful way of visualising which bits of a process or service are problematic.

Identify the friction.

In the above example it appears we have four points of friction.

  1. We’re asking applicants to enter a lot of duplicate data that they’ve submitted elsewhere. The forms are also quite detailed and complicated, and this often requires help from a member of staff.
  2. The first property the applicant looked at didn’t really meet their needs at all.
  3. The smartphone app we’re asking people to manage their tenancy with doesn’t actually work whilst we’re doing the sign up process because their tenancy hasn’t officially started yet.
  4. The big paper handbook contains lots of reference information they might not need. And when they really need it they might not be able to find it.

The interesting thing about these friction points is that they’re not all rooted in the same team. Nor are they all technological issues. It’s a blend of factors that are producing an undesirable experience. I think that’s interesting because one singular team doing a ‘service improvement review’ may capture some of them from their own frame of reference, but perhaps not all of them.

Opportunities for improvement

Flipping it around, what opportunities have we uncovered for better service delivery or ‘customer service’?

  1. How might we ask the applicant for less data or make the process of capturing data much more user friendly?
  2. How might we better capture people’s preferences so we only show them properties that are likely to meet their needs?
  3. How might we change our smartphone app so that people can sign in before their tenancy officially goes lives?
  4. How might we redesign the tenancy handbook so that the information is more convenient to reference?

Here’s our customer journey map with those opportunities stuck on it.[*4]

Customer journey mapping can be iterative. It may take a couple of passes at this before you’ve refined it sufficiently. But even an unrefined customer journey map can be a great discussion starter with internal teams around ‘how do you think we make this better?’.

Bad systems, not bad people

Customer journey maps help focus attention on what it feels like to experience the service you are delivering. I think that framing is important because it makes it much easier for the people delivering the service to empathise with people on the receiving end of it.

I think this is especially powerful for those who are not directly involved in frontline service delivery, but play an integral part in ensuring everything works as intended.

For example… If as an IT person, I can directly relate to the experience of someone not being able to register on our own smartphone app, then I might be able to more readily see my part in fixing the problem in the context of the process or service as a whole.

It’s this view, which is agnostic of particular teams or even underlying technology, that I think is really powerful in terms of mobilising people to improve service delivery where it matters most.

[*1] I think it’s worth pointing out that this is based on my pragmatic approach to getting going and demonstrating where customer journey mapping adds value. Dedicated user research + service design is hugely valuable, but it’s not always something you can launch into from a cold start.

[*2] Housing Associations do conduct tenant surveys which collect qualitative data about services. Although the frequency of the big all encompassing ones can be years apart and they don’t tend to drill down into specific components that make up a service.

[*3] User research is a skill and poor user research could potentially lead you down the wrong paths. The tweet below articulates the art of understanding underlying drivers of what people say. If this is something you want to stick with long term or scale up, I’d suggest properly training someone internally, hiring someone or buying expertise in.

[*4] It’s well worth doing ‘5 Whys’ on problems just to make sure you’re getting to the core of the thing you’re trying to fix. This where good user research also pays off. More information about 5 Whys here:

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