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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > October 2017

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Vol. 37 No. 8 — October 2017

Tackling the Omnichannel Experience With Customer Journey Mapping
by Darlene Fichter and Jeff Wisniewski

As our users move among the channels in which we are now present—the physical and virtual worlds, the face-to-face, or the human/computer interface—we should be working to make the transitions between channels as frictionless as possible.
Whether it’s the web, smartphones, Facebook, or the Internet of Things (IoT), library web managers are learning about new technologies and helping libraries adopt and adapt new tech to create great services. Sometimes, changes are obvious, while others evolve over time. Take smartphones as an example. When library users switched to smartphones, libraries built mobile sites or mobile-friendly sites. While it’s true today that not all libraries have mobile-friendly sites, there’s nary a web manager who doesn’t know that being mobile-friendly is essential. 

But something else happened along with the introduction of smartphones and tablets. Users went from having one internet-capable device to having multiple ones, both at work and home—some constantly in hand. This has created an interplay among users’ devices, locations, and channels, resulting in a need to rethink services and service delivery in libraries. Your users are experiencing the library in physical spaces, in digital spaces that you own (such as the library website), and in digital spaces that you don’t own (including social media and vendor websites)—and may possibly not like.  

Libraries are aware of the multichannel environment and are responding by trying to create content once and reuse it across channels. This is a great first step. But our users are demanding more. They are charging ahead and expecting experiences that cater to their device capabilities and location/channel. Users want services that simplify and optimize their experience in using the library so they can move as frictionlessly as possible back and forth in the omnichannel environment.  

Let’s look at a simple example. While riding the train, Joe receives an email notice that a book is due soon. On the spur of the moment, Joe browses the library’s mobile site and searches on his phone. Before he finishes, the train arrives at his stop. Later that evening, he opens his laptop and goes to the library. What is Joe’s experience like? Option A: Joe has to start over from scratch. Option B: Fortunately, the library recognizes Joe is back and shows options for his last search results and selected items. This example shows how using the library is about all of the users’ touchpoints and how they fit together (or not).

While businesses have made deep investments in designing with the new landscape of devices, as well as locations and channels, in mind by creating omnichannel experiences, libraries haven’t started or have just taken first steps. Part of the reason libraries are slow to tackle omnichannel design approaches is due to existing organizational structures and processes for service design. Most libraries have teams focused on a specific project (such as renovating spaces, designing new programs for adult tech training, improving the discovery layer, or redoing the library website). Each of these focuses on only one aspect of the customer’s experience.  

Many libraries, for many of their digital services, are in “just make it work” mode. They’re legacy systems that don’t talk to other systems or old, custom-developed solutions that can’t be ported to new systems—and the list goes on and on. Just making it work is essential. It’s functional. But what about making it compelling or delightful? We’ll never know where we are on this spectrum unless we put ourselves in the users’ shoes and experience our products and services—online and off—from their perspective.  

Another reason libraries may not be moving as quickly as businesses is a lack of resources. Some libraries are struggling to make their content mobile-friendly. Others haven’t redistributed their resources from traditional brick-and-mortar services to online/digital delivery, even though online visits outstrip physical ones for most libraries. While making additional resources magically appear is not in our toolbox, we can use existing ones to build teams that are effective in designing for omnichannel strategies and services. It’s about getting the right people in a room and communicating to them in a powerfully simple way about the hurdles, frustrations, and delights of users interacting with our products and services.  

Bottom line: Libraries must focus on the experiences and expectations of users by designing seamless, consistent, and elegant services in an omnichannel environment. Where do we start? A great first step is to take a page out of the business playbook and use customer journey mapping.

What’s a Customer Journey Map?  

According to Adam Richardson, “A customer journey map is a very simple idea: a diagram that illustrates the steps your customer(s) go through in engaging with your company, whether it be a product, an online experience, retail experience, or a service, or any combination. The more touchpoints you have, the more complicated—but necessary—such a map becomes” (“Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience,”   Harvard Business   Review, Nov. 15, 2010;

To build a customer journey map, choose a specific goal to work on, such as an increase in the usage of collections. Next, describe a specific scenario about the usage of collections that will shed light on the process. Pick a scenario that resonates with your stakeholders and involves a number of steps.  

Identify who is having the journey and what he or she is trying to do. Stick to one person who is representative of a group of users. If you want to focus on increasing usage of ebooks, you might define the “who” as Brenda, a 25-year-old. She received a Kindle as a present and now wants to read ebooks on her device. Flesh out details about Brenda—her knowledge of the library, computers, ebook-borrowing procedures, and so forth—by drawing on your user research to make her representative of a customer segment. If you have created user personas, use them here.  

Next, convene a group of staffers from across the library who are involved with collections, whether they serve the public directly or work behind the scenes adding or creating metadata records, fine-tuning search and discovery systems, creating information architecture, developing content, designing mobile platforms or websites, and so forth. Maybe, if there’s an interplay between the online and the physical realms, your building manager needs to be at the table as well. The cross-departmental nature of the group is critical. The idea is to be holistic as opposed to atomistic and user-centric as opposed to organization-centric.

As a group, tell Brenda’s story about finding ebooks. Describe her journey, and make note of each step she takes. What is Brenda doing and why? What is she thinking? When she takes a step, how does she feel about what happens? As you take notes, identify touchpoints, such as when Brenda interacts with the library, as well as the channel she uses to connect (in person, website, social media, live chat, etc.).  

Finish the data-gathering by recording any insights or aha moments. As a group, review the journey and identify gaps and areas of friction. Where was it frustrating? What could we do to help? What might we do to delight Brenda? Identify ownership for the gaps and each step in the process.  

Next, map out the journey visually. Identify the steps and emotional responses. By mapping the journey, you have a powerful way to share your insights across the organization. You have a story to tell and a visualization to show.  

A More Structured Dive: Zones A, B, and C

A journey map usually contains three sections. The first is information about the person and the task at hand. As we said previously, the person is often based on a user persona, and the activity is centered around an area you’ve identified as one in which you’d like to either confirm that the process is frictionless or you suspect isn’t and want to identify where you need to make improvements. This area is usually referred to as Zone A.  

Zone B details the journey itself: the person’s interactions with your people, products, and services, online and offline, over the entire course of the experience. This includes the “what they’re doing” and the “how they’re feeling while doing it.” Zone B should also contain some sort of clue as to where a particular interaction is taking place, online or off, in person or via telephone. Which of the ominchannels is the one where the interaction is occurring?

On the map (on page 7), these are smartly represented graphically, with either photographs of people or icons representing phone, email, and the like. Visualizing it in this way has the advantage that it enables you, with a quick scan, to be able to identify any particular channel in which there are either good or bad experiences. If all of the phone interactions are negative, for example, that might be a clue that assessing phone help in general might need a deeper dive, independent of this particular journey.

This brings use to Zone C, the insights area. This is where you communicate insights about what can be changed to reduce or eliminate friction around the various touchpoints. Here, you should identify the internal owner of the particular changes. This helps to turn the process from simply a generically interesting exercise into a real work plan. This section is your action plan to improve the journey, so it’s a critical component. However, a 2016 survey of user experience practitioners identified this area as one of the least often included in the map, which represents a wasted opportunity (

Why Do Customer Journey Maps Work?

Customer journey maps are successful for several reasons, all of which can be summed up with, “because we’re human beings.” Journey maps work because they tap into humans’ visual nature, tell a story, and frame the experiences in an emotional context. Customer journey maps use a language that we all understand—the language of emotions. On the map, these usually are represented visually with either smiley, neutral, or frowny faces and are colored green, yellow, or red. Simple and powerful.  

Additionally, the maps are holistic. For example, say that your library loans out air quality monitors. If you focus on one aspect of the process, such as the checkout process, it might be easy to overlook the fact that users are sometimes frustrated that when they get the device home and are anxious to get started, they have to wait for 15 minutes while the device updates its firmware. An effective map tells a story—sometimes good, sometimes bad—in a way that is highly intuitive, data-based, and compelling. Including the Zone C action plan also takes the mapping beyond only identifying the problem areas to charting out solutions to those problems. As our users move among the channels in which we are now present—the physical and virtual worlds, the face-to-face, or the human/computer interface—we should be working to make the transitions between channels as frictionless as possible. Customer journey maps are a great tool to help us do that.

Darlene Fichter  ( is a librarian at the University of Saskatchewan Library. She is interested in usability and user experience design. She is a columnist for Online Searcher magazine and a speaker about usability, web design, and new technologies.

Jeff Wisniewski 
( is the web services and communications librarian for the university library system at the University of Pittsburgh, where he maintains the library system’s public website and staff intranet, coordinates technical support for the university-wide ETD program, project manages new technology initiatives, and coordinates all internal and external communication efforts. Wisniewski has served as a visiting lecturer in the school of information sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and has written for publications such as IRSQ, Online Searcher, and Computers in Libraries. He has taught numerous technology workshops and is a frequent presenter at web and internet conferences.