Companies that want to improve their customer experience need to understand the intertwined and ever-evolving relationships among their internal employees, external partners, and customers. Forrester calls this complex set of relationships the customer experience ecosystem.

As I said in a previous post, to get a grip on your own ecosystem, you need to map it, co-create it, and socialize it. And when I say “map it,” I mean that you need to systematically uncover and document the ecosystem's hidden dynamics. 

Here’s a story of a company that did just that: English utility provider Southern Water. (If you live in the southeast of England, you don’t get your water without these guys.)

For a long time, Southern Water was handling about 50 water-meter installations per week, all at its customers’ requests. But a few years ago, the company decided to roll out universal metering street by street across the region, moving toward 500 installations a week.

To make sure that it could meet these demands AND deliver a great meter installation experience, Southern Water reached out to the Design Council in the UK.  The Design Council  introduced a customer-focused approach to Southern Water and, after an initial scoping phase, brought in multiple service design agencies with various areas of expertise. One of these agencies, a firm called Radarstation, documented how the meter installation process actually worked — who was involved and what those people did on a day-to-day basis.

Here’s just one piece of what it found: When a customer from one of Southern Water’s three districts would request a water meter, a back-office worker would break out a scheduling notebook to find out when a fitting crew was going to be nearby. Another guy would then approve the required paperwork and place it into a bin belonging to the right installation crew. And at the end of the work day, someone from each crew would swing by the main office to pick up the scheduling documents for the next day.

It turned out that the meter installation process had close to 70 steps. Some of these steps included direct interaction with customers (in the image below, these are marked with a red dot), and others happened behind the scenes. And except for two steps — one at the very beginning of the process and one at the very end — none of the people in this ecosystem actually worked for Southern Water. They were all external subcontractors.

This ecosystem wouldn’t have easily supported 500 meter installations a week. But by mapping its ecosystem, Southern Water was able redesign the meter installation experience and the ecosystem that was required to deliver it.

Just as Southern Water zeroed in on meter installation, to map your own customer experience ecosystem, you’ve got to zero in on a particular customer journey. Document what your most important persona does, thinks, and feels at each step of one specific painful journey, and note each touchpoint that the persona interacts with along the way. Then identify the sources of your customer's pain: all of the people, processes, policies, and technologies that affect the customer journey — those in plain view of the customer and, of course, those that happen behind the scenes.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to map your own customer experience ecosystem, please join my teleconference on Wednesday, August 17, 2011, 1:00 p.m.-2:00 p.m. Eastern time (18:00-19:00 UK time).