Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.


Companies are becoming more customer centric. Given the choice of leading with product, operations or customer, more and more companies are choosing the third option.

Why is this? The general wisdom in the innovation community is that one should lead with product, and the success of companies like Apple and Google seem to reinforce this belief. Open View Venture Partners even has a Product Led Growth summit. Product innovation is a compelling way to create value, but it is also unpredictable, as studies on successful innovation continue to show (for a good meta analysis see Myths about new product failure rates by George Castellion and Stephen K. Markham). Once a company is in the growth phase, a deep understanding of and connection with customers is often more important to growing customer lifetime value (LTV or CLV) than product innovation. And of course, innovation itself is often dependent on identifying and then filling unmet needs.

One area where companies are trying to become more customer (or patient) centric is healthcare. The healthcare sector represents about 17% of US GDP and about 10% for most other developed economies. As populations age, this sector will continue to grow. Some of the trends driving the focus on customer intimacy in the healthcare market are the consolidation of buying power into larger and larger organizations and a counter trend to delivering more and more care in diverse out-patient settings. Concentration of buying power makes it critical for sellers to have a deep understanding of their key customers. Diversification of treatment into new modes of delivery also makes it important for sellers to understand these new buyers and the opportunity they represent. This pattern of concentration plus diversification can be seen in many other industries, from media to venture capital itself and is sometimes referred to as the hollowing out of the middle.

Given the drive to customer centricity (see the excellent short book on this by Peter Fader) what are some of the tools people are using to get deeper insights into their customers? One of the most important is customer journey maps. Customer journey maps emerge from the past decade of work in service design and are a visual way to show all of the touch points between a company and its customer from the first moment of awareness to the end of service. You can find examples of nine customer journey maps here.

Conventional journey maps focus on the emotional response of the customer (and often the employee providing the service) at each touchpoint. This is a good place to begin but it is not enough to shape a strategic response. People have been extending customer journey maps by layering in additional swim lanes that go beyond emotion to look at other dimensions of the customer experience. For example, Ibbaka has begun to use journey maps that layer in value and price (How does the customer come to understand, care about and receive value and how is this reflected in price?). Most of the work to date has been customer facing, but we all know that people are critical to delivering that value. Can we use customer journey maps to understand what we need from employees in order to deliver exceptional customer experiences?

One way to do this is to layer roles and skills onto the customer journey map. For each touch point, call out the roles engaged and the skills that each role will deploy. Below is an example for a business information system being sold to a company in the energy industry for use in supply chain management. The touch point is a product demo and the two vendor roles engaged are the sales representative and the sales engineer. The complete journey map would also indicate the customer roles engaged at this touch point, which could include the client side supply chain manager, a business analyst and a representative from procurement. Skills are called out using the standard TeamFit categories of Business, Social, Domain and Product. In this case, the Sales Engineer is not expected to have Domain knowledge.

The recommended process here is to build a conventional end-to-end customer journey map and then look carefully at the roles engaged at each touch point.

  1. Start with the customer, what customer roles are engaged at each touch point?
  2. Then add in the vendor roles for each touch point.
  3. Look at how the customer and vendor roles align across the touch points. Ask where there are continuities and disconnects. Any time a new role appears or a role drops out there is a knowledge transfer risk (this is true on both sides). These risks need careful management.
  4. Now find the skills needed by each role at the touch point. Look at the different skill categories you are using (the default categories on TeamFit are Business, Technical, Design, Tool, Social, Domain and Foundational) and pick the top two or three then find the skills that are most important to the touch point.

Once you have done this work to build the customer journey map and layer in the skills, how do you use it?

Tactically, make sure you have people with the key skills at play at each touch point. Use your skill management system to find the people you want engaged at each touch point.

Strategically, use the customer journey map with skills layered in to see if you have the skills you need to execute on a customer centric strategy. Find the skill gaps and develop a strategy to close them.

Long term, you can even think about the skills you want your customers to bring to touch points and put in place the customer training and support that will get them there. This sort of investment in your customers skills will make you a true partner and bind the deeply to your solutions.