Building valuable relationships with customers has always been critical to success in business.

Today’s service and reward economy — think Starbucks: consistent service and rewarded behavior — has elevated consumer expectations, and that creates a difficult challenge for most organizations.

Creating a customer journey map is a great way to understand and reshape your customer experience. We’ve successfully implemented this process across companies of all sizes in multiple industries, from health insurance to consumer product goods, software and hotels. The following initial three steps will help you chart the full range of touch-points between customers and your company to drive increasingly positive brand experiences, consistently, and across the customer lifecycle.

Step 1: Discovery

In order to seamlessly advance your goals, the discovery process needs to take place across all divisions of your company, from sales and marketing to IT and operations. Gather together to uncover all areas that “touch” the consumer, whether in person or through many possible communications channels, including phone, email, direct mail, and your website. During touch-point analysis with one company, we uncovered that they were communicating with consumers over a hundred times in a year, and the priority messages were getting lost in the shuffle.

Step 2:  Insights

Work with as much internal and external data as you can to create a full picture of the customer. You can find many insights with your own internal customer data, but when coupled with industry research, including lifestyle, attitudinal and behavioral dimensions, it creates a richer and more complete picture — and often uncovers surprising, counterintuitive insights. Research can be simpler than you think. We found tremendous online data for an eye care company, eliminating the need to conduct our own proprietary research.

Step 3: Competitive Analysis

Conduct a thorough review of your market space to determine and assess the strategies and tactics of your competitors. Also consider including data on companies in other verticals that provide extraordinary customer experiences.  Understanding what your competitors promise (or don’t), and learning from outside your industry can help you determine what you can own in your vertical.

The first three steps in customer journey mapping create a blueprint for change.   Reflecting on how people come to know and experience your brand — and why you may be delivering a fragmented experience — takes honesty and vulnerability from your leadership team. I hope these initial steps will help your organization lay the groundwork for a more consumer-centric culture.

The next steps, which I’ll share in a future article, help you build towards new customer experiences and results. Re-aligning your communications and interactions to the needs and interests of your customers while consistently reflecting your brand’s core values is a significant undertaking. And it’s well worth the effort. You are only a few more steps from converting prospects to customers more efficiently and effectively, increasing retention rates of your most valuable customers and driving unified, positive experiences across the customer lifecycle.