Thursday, January 28, 2016

Customer Experience Improvements - A Series of Baby Steps

Image courtesy of Dell's Official Flickr Page
I love talking about the customer experience; I could sit for days, answering questions and discussing the finer points of this topic.

So, as you can imagine, I was honored when Paolo Fabrizio asked me to be a guest on his Social Antipasti podcast series to answer some of his questions about customer experience. As the conversation often goes in a podcast, it was fast moving and filled with lots of great conversation.

During our chat, Paolo explored some high-level concepts of customer experience for his audience. The following is an outline of the questions Paolo asked me; we covered a lot of territory in 20 minutes.
  1. Who is Annette Franz? Tell me about yourself and what you do.
  2. Imagine you're talking to somebody who doesn't know anything about customer experience. How would you define it in the simplest way?
  3. Do you think that customer experience is important for any kind of business or industry? If so, why?
  4. In your LinkedIn bio, you say that "the customer experience is an ever-evolving journey." Can you please explain this concept from a brand's perspective? (This response causes me to contemplate changing the name of this blog!)
  5. What should brands do in order to deliver a great customer experience?
  6. In your article Treat Employees Better than Customers, you put employees first, then customers. Why do you consider building a great employee experience a priority?
  7. What are your big projects for 2016? (I throw something out into the universe. Will it become a reality this year?)
Paolo provided some quick highlights of the podcast on LinkedIn, or you can go straight to listening to the podcast.

Thank you!

There is no one giant step that does it. It's a lot of little steps. -Peter A. Cohen

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Is Your Customer Experience the New Normal?

Image courtesy of micahb37
Is the customer and his experience ingrained in your organization's DNA?

A while back, I wrote a post titled, What the Hell is Customer Experience?. The basis for that post was a story about fish responding to the question, "How's the water?" - to which the fish responded, "What the hell is water?" Reason being, water is what they live in every day; it's part of their environment, just natural for them, to the point that they don't even think about it as being separate from who they are.

That aligns well with Google's definition of DNA: the fundamental and distinctive characteristics or qualities of someone or something, especially when regarded as unchangeable.

Fundamental qualities. Unchangeable. Like the water.

That's how I think about customer experience when I talk about the customer and the customer experience being ingrained in the company DNA. It's part of who you are. And it's unchangeable.

I think Neil Lindsay, Amazon's VP of Advertising, Device Sales & Marketing, said it best when he talked about how Amazon makes the customer its top priority: their focus is to create an experience so magical “… it disappears into our customer’s every day as their new normal.”

In other words, what the hell is customer experience?

So, how do we get to that point? How do we deliver an experience so magical that it really becomes the new normal?

I'll get to that in a second; first, though, here's the challenge with making that the new normal (and let's be clear; we're talking about a good new normal, not a frustrating one):
  • Some say that you can (or should) never really try to delight customers, that you should just focus on reducing effort and meeting the current expectation, the current normal. 
  • Once you actually meet that current expectation on a consistent basis, customers will want you to elevate the experience to a new normal. It's a moving target, and you should just focus on a static target.
But, I digress. That's a more-detailed post for another day. Let's focus on getting to that magical experience, the one that becomes the new normal. Besides, does anyone hate what Amazon is able to deliver? I don't!

On to the question at hand: how do we get to the point of the magical experience being the new normal? what are the inner workings of the organization that drive that experience? how does the customer and the experience become a part of your company's DNA?

First and foremost, know that it's a lot of hard work, and it takes a long time. Dare I say, it's a journey.

Let's start with some of the fundamental necessities.
  • CEO buy-in and commitment
  • well-communicated CX vision and strategy
  • employee experience as a priority
  • employee commitment, alignment, and clear line of sight to customers
  • Chief Customer Officer* (or similar) and a governance structure
  • understanding customers
  • a culture of outside-in thinking
  • a customer-obsessed workforce and mindset
*Note that some say that once the customer experience is ingrained in your DNA, the CCO role is no longer necessary. That's a true "what the hell is customer experience" culture.

To build that customer-centric culture, to get the entire organization to live and to breathe the customer, here are some adoption techniques to consider:
  • brand your initiatives, even name a character/mascot after it
  • deliver ongoing education about customer initiatives, expectations, new products, etc.
  • communicate openly and transparently about issues, financials, customer initiatives, and more
  • hire the right people; culture fit is definitely important
  • set expectations during onboarding and through continuous communication and education about who the customer is and the experience to be delivered
  • share customer feedback and insights throughout the company via intranet, monitors, weekly standing meetings, 1:1s with employees, etc.
  • create a customer room and encourage employees to visit frequently
  • create a customer experience wall, which is not that different from a customer room except that some companies don't have a room to spare or may find it more accessible and more effective to line walls with customer journeys, customer feedback, personas, and more to ensure the customer is ever-present in the employee's mind
  • use persona cutouts strategically place around the office to keep those key personas front and center at all times
  • develop awards and recognition programs for random acts of kindness and exceptional experiences
  • tie the experience (via key metrics/KPIs) to compensation (be wary of gaming and other detrimental responses/behaviors)
  • talk about the customer and his experience in all meetings
  • place an empty chair at the table in all meetings; the chair represents the customer
  • or designate one person in each meeting to represent the customer
  • bring the customer and the customer voice into all decisions (outside-in thinking), design meetings and discussions, and development efforts; ask questions like...
    • what would the customer say?
    • what would the customer think of that?
    • how would that make the customer feel?
When customer-thinking is part of your culture, when delivering a great customer experience is ingrained in the DNA, when everyone speaks "customer," then you've achieved the "what the hell is water?" level of customer experience maturity, your new normal. How ingrained is the customer and his perspective in your company's DNA?

Our DNA is as a consumer company - for that individual customer who's voting thumbs up or thumbs down. That's who we think about. And we think that our job is to take responsibility for the complete user experience. And if it's not up to par, it's our fault, plain and simply. -Steve Jobs


Friday, January 22, 2016

4 Voices That Could Pull Your Company Out of the Innovation Rut

Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem. It was published on their blog on August 20, 2015.

How do you drive innovation within your organization? Do you think outside of the box to think outside of the box?

When you're designing or redesigning your customer experience, it's critical to listen to - and understand - your customers, what they are trying to do, and how well it's going. (And then act on what you hear and let them know what you've done.)

I recently wrote about the many voices of customer experience, all important to total customer understanding. Those voices come from customers, partners, employees, and customers through employees. Additional, less familiar voices are those of the business (financial and operational data and metrics) and of the market (brand and competitive data).

A couple weeks ago, I came across a book by Wayne C. Burkan titled Wide-Angle Vision: Beat Your Competition by Focusing on Fringe Competitors, Lost Customers, and Rogue Employees. It's on my reading list, and I hope to get to it in the coming weeks, but he poses an interesting idea: to break out of your shell, to break away from the herd (mentality), to get out of the rut your business may be in, to innovate and to succeed, you need to listen to those on the edge.

What does that mean?

He says every company has a mainstream and an edge. Your mainstream consists of your established customers, best employees, and biggest competitors. Success is defined by growing your customer base and having competitors imitate what you're doing. The mainstream is all about today. He defines the edge as those who see the world through a different lens and are dissatisfied with today's solutions. They're not better or smarter; they just have different needs. They're not trying to be difficult; they're only trying to solve their own problems.

I think we're all pretty clear on what's mainstream and which voices would fall into that category: they'd be the ones I've already mentioned above.

But what about the edge?

Burkan says the following are classified as the edge: lost customers, rogue employees, fringe competitors, and fringe suppliers: he claims they are your best source of information to drive innovation.

Let's step away from the book for a minute, and I'll give you my thoughts on each of these voices.

Voice 1: Lost Customers
Let's start with lost customers. They fall into three buckets: (1) complaining customers are those who might be lost customers eventually because you cannot - or can no longer - meet their evolving needs or solve their problems; they complain because they hope to influence product decisions or enhancements, not to be difficult; (2) those who were customers and left because they gave up on you; and (3) those who were prospects but selected a competitor because you couldn't quite meet all of their needs.

Lost customers from any one of these buckets are good for identifying where the market may be headed because they came to you for something they liked but then you weren't (or were no longer) able to solve their problems or meet their growing, emerging needs. It's important to capture their feedback and track all of their enhancements, requests, and needs that you can't currently meet, as some day they will become their expectations - whether you deliver them or someone else does. Perhaps they are lost customers because you just aren't prepared to meet their needs today, but if you listen, you'll be able to figure out where your products need to be sooner rather than later.

Voice 2: Fringe Competitors
The crazy thing about competitors is that everyone wants to be like them. We think that we're losing customers to competitors because they're doing something innovative or cool that we should be doing. Maybe. But maybe they're listening to all of their customers, all of the voices. Maybe they're doing a great job of understanding their needs, today's needs along with emerging trends.

Fringe competitors are made; they are not born. Remember those lost and complaining customers? These fringe competitor companies were created as a result of them - because they couldn't find a solution with those mainstream companies. So, fringe competitors were created by you, in a sense. They had a better idea or a better solution.

Voice 3: Rogue Employees
Burkan states that rogue employees have two traits: (1) they are opposed to - or question - everything (policies, procedures, plans, etc.), and (2) they are never team players. They see things differently, but they see them clearly and can't understand why others don't/can't.

We know that employees are (often) your best source of information and ideas. It's worthwhile to listen to all employees, even those that are misunderstood. While their viewpoints may be different, their ideas challenge a system that often needs to be challenged. Why do we continue to do things this way? "This is how we've always done it" is not an acceptable response to rogue employees. They are rebels with a cause; they buck the system and question the status quo because they know there's a better way. They may not always be right (and probably often aren't), but if we don't listen to them, we'll never know.

They may infuse some fresh thinking, and that's not a bad thing. Don't stifle or squash new ideas just because they aren't what "you usually do." Stop the trend of the blind leading the blind. Get out of the rut and start asking some serious questions. Listen to your rogue employees.

Voice 4: Fringe Suppliers
Many companies select strategic partners or preferred providers as a way to secure price breaks and other relationship benefits. These partners often are (or become) no more than extensions of the company, a mirror of what the company already does and believes in - dare I say, "yes men" who lack creativity and become complacent with the way things are (because, hey, they are getting paid) rather than suggesting better or different solutions.

Rogue or fringe suppliers or partners often offer different and innovative business approaches and solutions, but because they don't align with your approach are cast out and ignored. I've worked with clients who say they don't want a "yes man" as a partner. To them, I say "Bravo!" You just really have to mean it; in the end, don't say it if you don't. Some of those same clients also beat me up until I agreed to just say "yes." Not good! Your partners should challenge the status quo and help you identify ways to be better overall.

Can these four voices change the shape of your future, the shape of your organization?

I know you can't listen to everyone. And some voices drown out others, while others may carry more weight. Just don't be afraid to listen to different voices. If you're stuck in a rut and looking for ways to innovate and grow and be different, have a listen to those on the edge. You might just be surprised by what you hear.

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. -Apple Inc.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Yea, But Will They Keep You as a Customer?

Image courtesy of Critical Todd
The old acquisition vs. retention challenge is alive and well!

The perils of focusing on customer acquisition and sales over the customer experience and retention can be summed up nicely with this: "As fast as you're bringing customers in the front door, they're running out the back door." Some refer to it as the leaky bucket syndrome.

If only companies knew what they truly needed to do to keep us coming back, to keep us feeling loyal. If only they would shift the ratio of acquisition : retention focus to be more about how to keep the customers they already have than on how to acquire new/more customers. Imagine how many more customers they could acquire - thanks to word of mouth from their current customers.

Today's post was inspired by a story shared on LinkedIn recently by one of my connections:
I'm always looking for great customer experience to emulate. This morning I went to a coffee shop for the first time. I think the server sensed she'd never seen me before, so when I accepted a loyalty card, she smiled and clipped off 4 coffee's worth "to get me started". I thought about this on the way to the office - would a loyalty card with 1 clip motivate me to return to a coffee shop I'd used as my regular was closed for the holidays? No. But a half full card will, so they lost nothing, and gained a new customer.
Congratulations to the coffee shop! It worked! Put another notch in your belt (or loyalty card) for acquiring yet another customer. (Or did they?)

My immediate reaction after reading that last sentence of the story was: "Yea, but will they keep you as a customer?" That, my friends, is the $64,000 question.

Interesting on the customer's part is that he wouldn't go out of his way to go to this coffee shop for just one clip on his card. It doesn't seem like this coffee shop truly is a viable alternative for him. So, did they really acquire a customer? Well, in the marketing sense of the word, they did. They got another one. The problem is, maybe he'll go back; maybe he won't. And therein lies the problem. If they'd truly made an impact on him, if they'd executed on a great experience for him, he'd go back. For just one clip.

It's quite the game we play.

This is the difference between loyalty programs and customer loyalty/retention.

Loyalty programs are a marketing tactic to acquire new customers and hope they keep them coming back as a result of all the perks. Loyalty cards, discounts, coupons, points, miles, cash back, etc. are all examples of those perks. This is what companies think they need to do to keep customers coming back. What happens when companies take all that away? Do people keep coming back? Ha! Ask Ron Johnson how well that worked for him at J.C. Penney.

True customer loyalty, and thus retention, is earned. Companies have to work for it. Companies need to spend time, effort, and resources to design and deliver a great customer experience. Then, and only then, will they have acquired a real customer, one that will keep coming back, tell his friends, spend more, become less price sensitive, provide feedback, and want to see the brand succeed and grow.

In the story above, it doesn't sound like there was anything special about the coffee shop -  there were no ravings about a "better than Starbucks" experience. Nope, just four clips on a loyalty card. And he'll go back some day because of the four clips, but he wouldn't go out of his way for one. Starbucks, for example, only gives one star at a time. And we know people go out of their way to find a Starbucks. One star or none.

So, you decide. Where's the real ROI? Acquisition or retention? Marketing programs or customer experience strategy? And which one brings you real customers?

Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends. -Walt Disney


Friday, January 15, 2016

12 Es Impacting Employee Experience

Image courtesy of Leo Reynolds
A lot of elements comprise the employee experience. Many, ironically, start with the letter E.

Last year, I wrote about some of the employee lingo that gets bandied about, often interchangeably - and, sadly, incorrectly so. For whatever reason, as I started writing today's post, I was reminded of that post. Regardless, the lingo I'm writing about today is more specific to what makes up the employee experience. 

Oddly enough, as I started thinking about what impacts the employee experience, the factors I came up with all started with the letter E. I know there are others, but I think these cover a lot of territory.

Stick with me here.

First and foremost, let me define employee experience. My definition is:
The sum of all interactions that an employee has with his employer during the duration of his employment relationship. It includes any way the employee "touches" the company and vice versa in the course of doing his job. And how he feels and what he thinks about those interactions.
Basically, the experience is impacted by all the Es I'll share; I'm sure there are a few other factors, as well.

Without a doubt, the first E is the employee! They're obviously an essential ingredient!

The other critical E is the employer. And this one plays a huge role in the experience, obviously. The employer sets the tone for the relationship at the outset, as early as the candidate experience. Which leads me to talk about...

Expectations: The difference between expectations and performance leads to (dis)satisfaction. Expectations about the company, the brand, the role, and the employee experience are set as early as during the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring processes. Communication is key; communicate them clearly.

Emotions/Emotional Intelligence: When you understand how your emotions affect others, when you have this emotional awareness, you can better control your reactions - to your co-workers and to your customers - and use the emotions in a positive way. It then keeps you from attacking others, allows you to feel empathy, and allows you to solve problems and resolve conflict more effectively and diplomatically. Your emotions will affect your own experience and that of the people working with or around you.

Effectiveness: What does the employee bring to the table? How good is he at delivering the desired outcome? Does he have the tools, resources, attitude, background, common sense, and motivation to do the job and to get the job done? If we don't feel effective, it's a bit of a downer.


Effort: There are two types of effort; one is discretionary effort, which refers to going above and beyond what is expected, the other is overall effort, in terms of how easy it is to get the job done. In this instance, I'm referring to the latter. Are there processes that hinder the employee's ability to do his job in an efficient manner? This definitely impacts the experience.

Engagement: Some might argue this doesn't belong here - and perhaps there's a chicken-and-egg thing going on here - but if the employee is engaged, the experience is going to be much better than if he's not. Engagement comes from within, and yet the company has a role in it, as well. When there's some confluence of: (1) emotions, commitment, passion, sense of ownership, etc. on the part of the employee about the brand and (2) what the organization does (purpose, brand promise, who the company is and why, etc.) to facilitate and enhance those emotions or that commitment - then we have employee engagement. (And this is where discretionary effort comes in to play.)

Empowered/Enabled: When employees are empowered, they walk around with a sense of ownership, thinking and acting like they own the business. When you own a business, you put your heart and soul into it, into making it succeed. Empowered employees don't stand on the sidelines waiting to be spoon-fed; they know what to do. They take the horse by the reins and run with the directive (aka the brand promise), being accountable for their roles in the execution of the customer experience and in the success of the business. They work together with others who are just as passionate and who share a common goal. These things combined result in efficiencies from a variety of angles. And a better experience.


Efficiency: If we reduce employee effort and increase employee empowerment, the outcome ought to be improved employee efficiency. If we hire the right employees, if our employees are engaged and passionate about what they do, the outcome ought to be improved employee efficiency; they'll find the right way to work.

Education: The better educated your employees are about the task at hand, the vision, the mission, the brand promise, your products, the desired customer experience, etc., the better they will work, the better their experience.

Environment: This one might seem like a catch-all, but the overall environment has a huge impact on the employee experience. A positive environment, one that prioritizes and facilitates a great experience for employees, is conducive to employees giving their all. I include in environment: workspace, tools, resources, culture, values, guiding principles, leadership, feedback, communication, and more.

Energy: The energy, the passion, the emotional investment that employees have for the brand, the product, and their roles certainly impacts the experience they'll have as an employee of the company. It will impact the amount of discretionary effort put forth on a daily basis, too.

What else would you add?

It all came down to employee engagement. It all came down to recognition. It all came down to leadership, which led to every sailor feeling ownership and accountability for the results. You can ask a team to accomplish a mission, but you can’t order excellence. -Mike Abrashoff, Commander USS Benfold (retired)
 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Ask Me Anything about Customer Journey Mapping

By now you can probably tell that this is a favorite topic of mine!

I was honored to be asked to join MindTouch CEO Aaron Fulkerson for an AskMeAnything podcast on journey mapping; I could talk about that all day!

Journey maps are such important tools to have in your CX toolbox. The reasons and the benefits are endless.

The main reason to journey map? You can't transform something that you don't understand. And journey maps will help you understand. Without knowing what steps your customers currently take to complete some interaction or task, there's no way for us to make improvements or change the experience for the better. Imagine trying to change something that you have no clue about, that you  have no idea how it transpires today. That's just silly. You can't go into this transformation from (bad) current state experience to (great) future state. And yet, so many companies attempt to do that.

It was a pleasure to answer the questions that Aaron had for me about journey mapping. They included:
  • What is customer journey mapping? and how is it used in the wild?
  • What industries employ customer journey mapping?
  • Does the customer journey map differ by industry? and what does it look like?
  • Customer Journey Mapping 101: how do you capture the customer's perspective in the journey map? and how do you validate your journey map?
  • Are there software tools available for automating a customer journey map?
  • Are people journey mapping during the sales and pre-sales experience? 
  • Having facilitated a number of these projects, where in the journey do most people tend to focus?
  • Can you talk about some of the coolest projects you've been involved with?
  • What pulled you into this field, i.e., creating tools to help companies empathize with customers?
  • What's the most-important skill needed to help companies empathize better with their customers?
  • Do you have a set of customer journey mapping methodologies to help you navigate large organizations?
  • How do you build your business case? It's all about ROI.
  • Are you using any of the popular industry metrics, like NPS, CES, CSAT?
  • Do you have a standard journey mapping process that you roll out regardless of the project that you're working on?
  • When you start a project, do you go in with an expectation of what the outcome will be?
  • What's my one central message/key takeaway for the audience?
Aaron asked some great questions, and the conversation led to other twists and turns about journey mapping and customer experience.

Go here to listen to the podcast. (It's about 35 minutes long.) I hope you enjoy it!

If you have any other questions about journey mapping, please feel free to leave a comment below or shoot me an email. I'm always happy to help.

There is a great difference between knowing and understanding: you can know a lot about something and not really understand it. -Charles F. Kettering


Friday, January 8, 2016

To Mark the Spot with Benchmarking or Not?

Image courtesy of Woods | Damien
I originally wrote today's post for Intradiem. It appeared on their blog on July 16, 2015.

Are you focusing on a benchmark that may not or may no longer be a valid mark to strive for?

I recently came across the following Chinese parable, and as I often do, wondered how this story might apply to customer experience measurement and management initiatives.

The parable, titled "Mark the Boat for a Dropped Sword" goes like this:
There was a man crossing a river on a boat. When the boat reached the middle of the river, he accidentally dropped his sword into the water. He scrambled to grab it, but it was too late: the sword had already sunk to the bottom of the river. He immediately pulled out a small dagger and proceeded to carve a small mark into the side of the boat. He then said aloud, “This is where my sword dropped in the water.” When the boat reached the bank on the other side of the river, the man jumped into the water to look for his sword in the place where he had marked the boat. 

Of course, the boat had since moved, but the sword itself had not. Isn’t this a foolish way to look for his sword?
First, let me just say that I hope we're all smarter than that! But let's go with the moral of the story and work from there: everything in the world constantly changes. 

So how do we tie this story to customer experience? I make the connection vis-à-vis benchmarking your voice of the customer metrics, e.g., NPS, customer effort score, satisfaction, and loyalty. Benchmarking means that you're making comparisons to competitors or to some standard or average in order to help you understand the relative perception of your business in the minds of your customers.

When you benchmark, you've put a stake in the ground (or a mark on the boat) and have decided that that's where you want to be as an organization. The problem is, just like the boat, the benchmark moves while the sword (your company) remains exactly where it is relative to the benchmark. Why? For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a misplaced focus on the numbers rather than on the customer experience.

Tom Peters takes an interesting stance on benchmarking - and addresses that movement - in a talk he gave back in 2007:
I hate benchmarking. Benchmarking is stupid. Why is it stupid? Because we pick the current industry leader, and then we launch a five-year program, the goal of which is to be as good as whoever was best five years ago five years from now. Which to me is not exactly an Olympian aspiration.
Benchmarking is fine to do in order to get that relative perspective - and that's all it is; you really need to take that information for what it is and figure out what makes your company unique. How can you be different?  How can your company become the one that inspires others? What about your business approach excites customers to consider your products and services first?

Typically when companies are focused on benchmarks, they don't have a real strategy in place; they've got an executive looking at their NPS, for example, and wondering where they stand; it's probably a metric that executives are being bonused on. But they have no real strategy in place to fix the experience behind that number. It's all about the number.

Meanwhile, the industry leader is on the move (like the boat), keeping up with changing customer needs, emerging trends, new tools and approaches, and more. How's a benchmarker supposed to keep up?!

There are a few things you need to keep in mind:
  • It's fine to benchmark, but you have to view it for what it is and not make it your end game to be like the competition or to beat the competitor's score.
  • The end game should be to do what's right for your customers, to deliver an experience that meets your customers' needs.
  • Customer experience is a journey; it is a moving target because customer needs and expectations evolve and change, you develop new products and services, the world is changing, etc.
  • The things that work today may not work tomorrow; the experience you deliver today may not meet customer needs tomorrow.
  • When you focus on the benchmark, you're likely misplacing the focus on metrics rather than focusing on the experience.
  • Benchmark for inspiration, not for imitation.
  • Don't focus on the number or the score.
  • Listen to and understand your customers and their experience - without that understanding, the business will always struggle.
W. Chan Kim, co-author of Blue Ocean Strategy, said: To grow, companies need to break out of the vicious cycle of competitive benchmarking and imitation.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Are You Using Journey Maps for Product Design?

Image courtesy of hayley.vallejo
Can you use journey maps to develop a new product or service?

A question similar to that was posed to me on Twitter several months ago after I published my post on The Most Import Rule of Journey Mapping.

Specifically, the question Andreas Jonsson posed was:
How about customer journeys that are still in the making and thus have no users/customers yet?
I asked for clarification, and he responded with:
Any new service that is being developed that has 0 users and no track record to gather insights from (1/2); Users of similar concepts would be great to involve, but accessibility and time will be a challenge. Ideas?
From a journey mapping perspective, I suggested that he start with building an assumptive map - what he and his team assume the journey to be. I love this idea: I do believe that journey maps can and should be used during the design/development phase; if they were used during this phase more often, then we wouldn't have as many customer experience breakdowns as we do today.

Build the assumptive map and iterate from there. Even if you don't have any actual customers yet, take the maps and the concept out to prospective customers and beta testers to get their thoughts.

Create your personas, identify the different types of users/customers, and enlist their help. There must have been a customer need to fulfill or a job to be done that the product or service was based upon. You built the product or the service with a customer in mind. Find that customer.

Customer journeys (and maps) need to be based on customer research, listening, understanding. During the design phase of your product or service, you'll be conducting focus groups and other research with potential customers, so play out the customer journey with prospects by using maps. If you're building a better mousetrap, prospects can certainly provide you with insights into the ideal experience.

The steps will look something like this:
  • Know the personas of your ideal customers, i.e., know the customers for whom you are building the product or service
  • Most importantly, start with the job the product or service is going to help the customer do
  • Identify steps the customer must take to do that job
  • Create an assumptive map that is built on your assumptions of how the customer will interact with you and the product or service
  • Take it to the field to use as a research tool
  • Find your ideal customers/prospects and have them validate the assumptive map or have them build a map from scratch based on the job they are going to try to do with your product or service
  • Do further research among competitors' customers
The different customer types (ideal, prospects, competitors') will all help you build a better product and design a better journey. The map then becomes iterative at this point - as it moves from assumptive to validated to ideal to evolving as the concept evolves, needs change, etc.

When I first read the question from Andreas, I was concerned that he was designing a service for which he had no customers, in other words, someone had an idea and, well, that's all they had. With no customers, you really don't have a product; just an idea. (I know that's not what he meant, though.)

So I'm going off topic for a minute to reiterate that every product or service has customers or prospective customers. One thing to remember here... what is the purpose of a business? to create and nurture customers. Who are you building the product for?

In Bernadette Jiwa's latest book, Meaningful, she talks about creating products for customers, not hoping customers will like the products you create. She makes this important distinction.
The opportunity to build a great business starts not with creating a great product, but with understanding and then creating a great customer
All companies have customers, regardless of whether their concepts are new or not. Design products and services with the customer in mind. Use journey maps to design the product and the experience before it goes to market. The maps are an invaluable tool to get it right from the start!

Making products for your customers is far more efficient than finding customers for your products. -Seth Godin