I had a disappointing experience this weekend that I hope can illustrate all the ways an entrepreneur or innovator must think about his or her customer and the customer's journey or experience.  First the story, then the insight.

My wife and I visited our son who is in college in Boston.  We had a few hours before our flight home so we decided to visit the Museum of Fine Arts.  We took our small carry-on bags with us, planning to go from the museum to the airport.

The ticketing process went well, but then our experience went into a nose dive.  We wanted to check our coats and baggage. I stopped at a long line that was backed up almost to the museum entrance to sort my gear.  I told my wife that we needed to find the coat check line.  "We're in it" she said.  This was a line stretching from almost the door of the museum well back into the hall. 

After being in line for 15 minutes we finally approached the window.  As we put our bags on the counter, the woman running the window said: "You have bags you need to go to the other window".  After standing in another, albeit shorter line, we passed our bags in and went on our way.

The problem? Everyone coming to the museum with coats or baggage has a really terrible experience.  Given the weather in Boston, that means many museum visitors have a less than satisfying first impression of the museum.

Understanding the customers' experience

In the grand scheme of things, ignoring the hassles of a coat check process may seem like small potatoes for a large museum, but it illustrates an important point.  Too many organizations emphasize the things they believe are important - product features, specific channels, packaging, and so on but often overlook or neglect small but important components of the process or experience.

In the case of the museum, one of the first activities most attendees engage in (coat checking) is not well-planned, not conducive to a great trip to the museum, and the people running the museum probably don't give the coat check a second thought.  Yet it's the first real experience or interaction a person has after entering the museum.  Think about the let down - museum goers have managed to get bundled up to come to the museum to see a great new exhibit, and finally made it through the rain and snow, only to be delayed by a poorly thought out coat check process.  This really robs the experience of a lot of energy and enthusiasm.

Understanding the value of the total experience

OK, what should the museum do - and what should entrepreneurs and innovators learn from this mistake?  Everyone should pay attention to the entirety of the customers' journey and experience. The museum did a good job in the ticketing step but lost a lot of credibility in the coat check.  This means that people who are excited and ready to see the exhibits are left fuming (and I do mean fuming) in line, with easy line of sight to key exhibits.

Innovators and entrepreneurs need to do a better job thinking through the entirety of a customer's experience, end to end, and understanding key touchpoints.  Then you must also understand where your current service or capability meets or exceeds customer expectations and where you fall short.  The customer experience journey is a great technique to use to improve the overall experience.  Think through all the aspects of the journey and how to maximize each step (obviously within expectations and budget) so that your customers come to love not only your product or service, but the totality of the experience. 

Understand the use and experience of your offering through the eyes of a customer.  What's it like to search for and learn about your offering?  Is your website helpful?  What's it like to acquire and use your product or service?  Does your customer support response match your product and service promise?  What are the key touchpoints that may rob your product or service of some of its appeal, in the same way a terrible coat check experience distracts from the enjoyment of the museum?  Understanding these interactions and touchpoints helps build a more valuable and credible customer experience.