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Customer Journey Mapping: 8 Steps to Plotting One Effectively

June 16, 2020
Roie Raitses
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A customer journey map plots the path your customers take as they interact with your company. It's a visual guide illustrating every touchpoint your customers might have with you as they explore your products and services — from the first ad to unboxing and beyond. 

Indeed, customer journey mapping helps you to craft a smooth, seamless customer experience and pave a clear path toward a lasting relationship.

Creating a customer experience journey map helps you to see what it looks like to engage with your company through their eyes. Remember, you know the ins and outs of your products and services. You've labored over every word of that advertisement. Your customers don't have all that context. An interaction that's clear to you may be confusing to them. A map brings those moments to the forefront so you can re-evaluate and refine each one.

So, how do you create a customer journey map? It isn’t a complicated process, but it does require some thorough work. Here's a look at why these maps are important, along with 8 steps to build yours.

Why You Need a Customer Journey Map

Once someone begins interacting with your company, there are many opportunities for engagement. We call these customer journey touchpoints. 

Each one can be a moment of illumination that solidifies your relationship with your customers and compels them toward the next step. Or it can be a point of frustration that drives them to the next off-ramp. If you don't know what those touchpoints are and what they look like for the customer, then you can't intentionally shape their experience.

Let's say you're selling high-end specialty coffee online and in brick-and-mortar cafés. Consider the many possible touchpoints that customers may have with your company. Some will find your home page via a Google or Yelp search for a "coffee shop near me." Others may be looking for a specific coffee that leads them to a product page. Some will stroll in from the surrounding neighborhood. If you've placed ads, others will find you that way. 

All of these are just initial touchpoints. We haven't even outlined the moments when they engage your staff, read your product pages, attempt to make a purchase, or try to brew your coffee at home. When customers have questions, they may call your shop, submit an online form or reach out on Facebook. Each one of these represents a potential touchpoint that will further define your relationship with your customers.

Consider the many different starting points for these customers. For one, the reference for coffee might be a daily cup of Folgers at home. Another customer might be a regular at Starbucks. Yet another may be familiar with companies such as Intelligentsia or Stumptown and know the difference between a washed and naturally processed coffee. 

Each of those customers has a radically different frame of reference for the high-end coffee you're trying to sell them. And if you haven't thought through how to engage with each one at every different step, you're likely to lose many of them.

How to Build Your Customer Journey Map

The process of customer journey mapping helps you to build every aspect of your company around the customer experience. It prevents the natural drift that often happens as businesses become increasingly focused on their internal operations at the expense of customer engagement. It's a critical business process that should be revisited regularly. If you're new to the process, here are the key steps to creating your map:

1. Decide What to Map

Depending on the complexity of your company and the breadth of your offerings, you only may have a handful of customer journeys to map or you may have hundreds. Some purchases may involve several subjourneys and some may be fairly straightforward. If this is your first time doing this exercise, choose one process to map that doesn't have too many twists and turns — but make sure it's one that's been causing some issues for your customers.

For Example

Suppose you sell cloud-based personal finance software. You have 3 different subscription packages with different features, from basic free expense tracking up to detailed budgeting and online bill payment services. The natural progression you're aiming for is to see your customers try the free expense tracking and then move to the premium, full-service package over time. However, you're seeing many customers move to the mid-tier package but not to the premium service.

It may be worthwhile for you to map the journey of these mid-tier subscribers who are moving up to the premium subscription compared to the journey of those who aren't. As you work through the steps below for each of them, you might find some key differences in those buyer personas. For the customers who don't move up, you may discover expectations that you aren’t meeting at certain key moments. 

Whatever you decide to map, this is just a starting point for developing your customer journey mapping skills. What you learn with this exercise can be applied to any customer journey with your company, no matter how straightforward or complex. 

Personas are based on extensive research and represent an idealized picture of your various customers.

2. Create Your Buyer Personas

It's hard to overstate the importance of customer experience for your brand. Besides being the best way to secure a sale and a long-term relationship with one specific customer, it's also your most impactful marketing tool, for better or worse. According to Qualtrics, 36.7% of customers will share directly about a good brand experience with a friend — and 33.7% will share about a bad experience. And that doesn't even account for social media sharing.

But how can you ensure your customers want to share their experience if you don't understand who they are and what they want? That's why you need to create buyer personas. These semifictional characters are based on extensive research and represent an idealized picture of your various customers. Depending on your business, you may have only a handful of buyer personas or you may have dozens.

There are 2 primary ways to create these personas. First, you can gather data from your existing customer interactions and transactions. Look at your website back-end to see how visitors are getting to your various pages and what they are doing when they get there. Capture important customer information through website or point-of-sale forms. Get feedback from sales and customer service representatives.

An even better option for gathering information, though, is to ask your customers directly. Invite them to take in-store or online surveys (with an incentive such as a discount or giveaway entry), and ask questions such as:

  • How did you hear about us?
  • What attracted you to our company?
  • Have you made any purchases with us? If so, what was the deciding factor?
  • Have you chosen our competitors for some products? If so, which ones and why?
  • Which of our products or services do you use? What do you like or dislike about them?
  • Do you usually shop online or in the store?
  • What do you like about interacting with our staff? What do you find frustrating?
  • What can we do to improve your experience?

Choose the questions that will help you create detailed pictures of your buyer personas. If you end up with a lot of them, then try to hone in on the ones who seem to interact with your brand the most.

3. Understand Buyer Phases

Not every customer is at the same point in their buyer journey when they begin engaging with your business. Some may be in the initial stages of awareness, while others are at the point of purchase and still others are long-time customers and advocates. Each of these phases comes with distinct motivations, questions and actions, and you should be prepared to meet your customers where they are.

Consider 3 different customers entering an Apple store. John is a long-time personal computer (PC) user, but recent frustrations have led him to consider switching to a MacBook. Susan is having issues with her iPhone and needs tech support. Dave is a long-time Mac user looking to upgrade to the latest laptop model. Each of them comes into the store with distinct needs and concerns.

The Apple store is designed to take those concerns into account and efficiently funnel John, Susan and Dave to the right employees to address their needs. If Susan ends up with a sales rep that only tries to sell her a new iPhone or John ends up talking to a team member who doesn't understand PCs, then the system isn't working. 

Whether online or in the store, your customer experience map should account for your various buyer personas — and the phases which those buyers may be in when they come to you.

4. Define All Touchpoints

Again, a touchpoint is any place where your customers interact with your brand or its products or services. These can be online or in person. They can be on your website or via social media, search engines or any number of other places. It can be difficult to capture every possible touchpoint on your map. According to Google, depending on the brand and product type, the number of touchpoints can range anywhere from 20 to more than 500.

A few questions can help you identify your customer touchpoints:

  • Where do people go when they have a problem or a need that your products can address? (E.g., Google search, consumer reviews, asking friends, etc.)
  • Where do they go when they discover your brand? (E.g., website landing pages, retail stores, Facebook page, etc.)
  • What steps do they take in the decision-making process once they arrive?
  • What do they do once they have made a decision? (E.g., steps in the checkout process, etc.)
  • What do they have to do when they bring the product home or start using your service?
  • Where do they go if they need product support?
  • What are the next steps they take if they want to engage with your brand again?

Don't rush this step. It's important to capture as many touchpoints as possible on your customer journey map. The more touchpoints you have plotted, the better you can evaluate and improve the journey as a whole.

You can discover pain points by evaluating customer flow on your website using tools such as Google Analytics.

5. Identify Pain Points

Once you have clarified all customer touchpoints, you then have to understand the difficulties they may face at any of those points. What prevents them from taking the next step? The survey questions you asked earlier should provide some answers.

Customers might be confused about where to get in line when they enter your store. Or they may have difficulty finding answers about your product on your website. 

You also can discover these pain points by evaluating customer flow on your website using tools such as Google Analytics. These tools can show you where customers are coming from when they land on your site, where they go when they get there and where they typically drop off if they don't complete a purchase. Look for drop-off trends and try to pinpoint the features of those specific pages that are causing issues for people. 

Understanding your pain points can help you refine what each customer touchpoint looks like so that it effectively guides customers on their journey.

6. Map Your Customer Journey

When it comes to actually building your customer journey map, there are 4 common options for the kind of map you create:

  1. Current state: This maps out the customer experience as it is today, which is useful for further highlighting pain points and planning for gradual improvements.
  2. Day in the life: This variation of the current-state model takes a broader view of your company's interaction with customers in the context of their day-to-day lives. This model can help you pinpoint needs that your company can address.
  3. Future state: These maps are a picture of what you want your customer interactions to be like in the future, whether in general or around a specific new product launch.
  4. Blueprint: These are just more expansive versions of either a current-state or future-state map. By adding all of the different components involved in the journey — from people to policies to technology — you can create a detailed blueprint of the entire existing or future journey and the systems involved in supporting it.

Choose whichever one of these customer journey map examples that best suits your business's needs at the moment. Once you've decided, create your map by outlining the various actions, motivations, questions and emotions of customers as they interact with your company at each touchpoint.

7. Take the Customer Journey Yourself

If you're going to create a truly customer-centered experience, you have to make sure you understand every step of the journey from their perspective. It's not enough to map it — you have to walk the path yourself.

Wear the hat of each of your buyer personas and walk through what they're experiencing at various touchpoints: 

  • What is it like when you walk through the door?
  • How straightforward is the process when you receive a promotional email and click through to the landing page?
  • How smooth is the checkout process?
  • How easily can you get questions answered once you've got the product at home?

Set aside your assumptions as a brand insider and approach it as if you had their level of expertise about your product. What barriers are you still encountering? What would it take to remove them?

8. Refine Your Customer Journey Map

Refining your customer experience is an ongoing process — one that is never finished. You'll make adjustments not only after taking the journey yourself but after watching customers take it and provide you with feedback. 

As you gather this experiential data, you may find barriers you hadn't accounted for or missing steps that need to be added to the map. The driving questions throughout should be: Where are my customers' needs unmet? What questions of theirs are still left unanswered? Where could their experience be improved?

It will go a long way when you can show your customers that you are paying attention to their feedback and responding to their needs. When a company takes that approach, it builds trust and strengthens its relationship with its customers. When the inevitable bumps come, they aren't enough to send loyal buyers elsewhere. They become reluctant to start over with another brand.

It takes a lot of work to see things from your customer's point of view. But the good news is that this work pays off if you stick with it. Dimension Data reports 84% of companies that focus on improving the customer experience see an increase in revenue. There are a lot of ways to waste your marketing dollars, but customer journey mapping isn't one of them.


Roie Raitses

Roie Raitses is Kantaloupe's founder and CEO. Roie combines his passion and tenacity for digital marketing with more than 20 years of experience founding and scaling successful businesses. When he's not growing great companies faster, Roie enjoys mountain biking and spending time with his wife and two daughters.

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