The power of a real life customer journey

Indulge me while I tell you a story. It happened in real life, and it’s a story that’s helped me understand the power of taking people on a journey.

A few years ago I took a holiday to Nepal. I had always wanted to see the Himalayas, though I wasn’t foolish enough to think I could become a mountaineer – I wanted to go walking for a month, see the sights and be inspired by the beauty of nature. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no fitness fanatic: I’m the sort of person who’s signed up for gyms several times, but probably averaged six visits before giving up. So when I booked this trekking holiday, the travel company advised that I spend the next six months preparing by going for long walks in the English countryside. Each week I should increase the distance and difficulty, so that by the time the holiday came round I’d be fit for a trek around the Himalayan trails.

Being me, my social and work life got in the way a little, I lunched it. The only walk I did was the weekend before the flight.

When I stepped off the bus in the valley on the first day of the first trek in the low Annapurnas, I was met by two guides who would lead me for the next few weeks. They took my (huge) rucksack and several litres of water, handed me back my walking sticks and a small bottle, and told me we’d walk along the valley for a little while before setting me up for the day’s trek. After an hour – my pack on one of their heads, me in my newish boots – we sat at a bench and they said, “OK, we’re going to walk for forty-five minutes up a gentle slope, then we’ll stop and take on some water.” Easy. At the stop they told me about a beautiful view of the valley we’d get to next. And it was. There, we had some water, rested for a few minutes, then they told me about a tree, filled with birds, about an hour away up the hill. We walked, it was tiring (well for me at least), but the tree with the birds and the birdsong was lovely.

Next stop, they said, would be three quarters of an hour of hard walking, then we’d stop for some lunch at a family home. The lady of the house was welcoming, the food a delicious vegetarian dhal, and we set off again refreshed, eagerly looking forward to the next stop at a bench in the hills with my first view of the mountains. By this time, given my lack of prep, I was pretty tired. My legs hurt, but the promise of a view of Annapurna gave me fuel. We got there, me soaked in sweat, desperate for (a lot of) water and a ten minute rest – but oh, what a view.

Every forty-five minutes or so there was a different goal. A view down the cultivated steppes was spectacular, a stop next for tea in a hut extremely welcome, a longer break (fifteen minutes) just sitting panting on a bench on the trail, willing my legs to work. Finally they told me there was a view in the dusk worth a little more pain and effort, and we rounded a corner and saw the sun low lighting up the valley facing the hills we’d climbed. Time for one final push as it got dark with the thought of a desperately needed leg massage (amazing!) and bed at the end. Where I collapsed in a heap, relieved, broken, but there.

The next morning I was woken by the guides and told to come out onto the terrace of the lodge for breakfast. Aching I opened the door to find a perfectly flat lawn, with a huge heavily laden breakfast table surrounded by smiling people. And the world’s most spectacular view:

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The mountains are Annapurna South and Fishtail. The little white dot on the hill in front is a hotel. The view is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. Below is a snap of the breakfast table…  the people around the table (that’s me by the way looking broken in the khaki top) are in their seventies, members of the Cotswold ramblers club – they’d passed me easily in the early afternoon.

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My guides had got me to the top. They’d done it step by step, in easily manageable increments, each forty-five minute step with a goal that motivated me. Had they started by saying, for instance, “You’re going to walk up a huge hill for six hours but at the top the view is amazing,” I don’t think I’d have got there. If they had told me I’d have to walk a trail of three thousand uphill steps (Ghandruk is at almost two thousand metres, and we’d set off at eight hundred), I wouldn’t have even started. I mean it’s bad enough when you get to Covent Garden tube when the lifts are out and you have to walk up the 199 stairs to the exit. But the guides knew exactly how to get me up that hill. And exactly how to make it all worthwhile.

Getting your customers to go on a journey with you is the same. Nobody wants to know the goal is fanatical lifetime loyalty and twice the number of purchases or twice the revenue. No customer is really interested in the whole journey. They want little bits of value. CRM’s job is to define the journey and lead the customer by the hand little by little, in small increments, one step at a time towards your commercial ends, in a way that feels like a series of valued moments to the customer.

CRM has big goals. You want to transform your customer relationships and deliver real value – perhaps a thirty percent increase in revenue – without breaking the relationship or pushing too hard or risking what you have already. You have to take them on your own customer journey. Like my trip to Nepal, no matter how grand the plan, how big the goal or how long it might take, it all starts with the first few steps.

I am a consultant (board digital strategy, agency strategy) and CEO, currently thinking about my next role – you can find out more about me on LinkedIn and in Wikipedia.