An effective customer journey map should describe a customer’s journey in a useful way, it should reduce complexity, and it should be accurate. But with most popular models failing those criteria, what are the alternatives?

TCQ: Say hello to yet another business acronym

In 2020, three academics published the results of a meta-analysis of 143 customer experience papers within the Journal of Service Research.1 The goal? Identify comprehensive, but simple nomenclature that any academic or practitioner can understand and use.

The output? TCQ. To help explain the acronym, we’ll use US TV-show The Office, as a simile.

T stands for touchpoints. Touchpoints reflect moments of contact between a brand and its audience. Those moments aren’t always controlled by the brand. Sometimes partners or customers themselves control them. A touchpoint for Dunder Mifflin could be when a prospect evaluates the business compared to other vendors like Danny Cordray.

C stands for context. A person can experience a touchpoint very differently due to the context in which their interaction takes place. The meta-analysis uncovered four types of context: Individual, social, market, and environmental. During the pandemic environmental context would have been a concern for Dunder Mifflin as working-from-home reduced demand for paper.

Q stands for qualities. These reflect how someone experiences a touchpoint and the research uncovered five: Participation level, dimensionality, timeflow, valence, and ordinariness. Remember Michael’s Willy Wonka idea? That touches on ordinariness as it was an extraordinary experience for the customer Blue Cross of Pennsylvania.

In summary, customer journey models are formed through touchpoints (T) which are embedded in a broader context (C) and marked by a set of qualities (Q). If you’re interested in this model, you could use the Hankins Hexagon below to visualize it.2



The Messy Middle: Embracing the complexity

In the summer of 2020, Google published research analyzing how people decide what they want to buy and who they want to buy it from.3 The methodology recruited people to complete 310,000 simulated shopping tasks, analyzed search data, and summarized a comprehensive literature review.

Diagram, schematic

Description automatically generated

The model contains six distinct stages:

  1. Exposure: Your awareness of the brands and products in a category. This captures the role of brand advertising in building mental availability before someone is in-market.
  2. Triggers: An event that puts someone into market. For Dunder Mifflin customers, triggers could include running out of paper or unhappiness with an existing supplier.
  3. Exploration: An expansive activity. At this stage people add brands, products, and category information to mental portfolios or “consideration sets.”
  4. Evaluation: Inherently reductive, at this stage people narrow down those options from the exploration stage. 
  5. Purchase: $$$ time.
  6. Experience: The experience a customer has with a product or service is a feedback loop into exposure.

Is your current map still serving your brand effectively? It might be time to consider some alternatives.


1 – Journal of Service Research: Moving the Customer Experience Field Forward: Introducing the Touchpoints, Context, Qualities (TCQ) Nomenclature 

2 – Smart Marketing: The Hankins Hexagon 

3 – Think With Google: Decoding Decisions. Making sense of the messy middle