Companies typically look to their products and services to stand out from competitors. However, today’s expectations tell a different story, with 80% of customers saying that their experience with a brand is as important as its products. For instance, the modern shopper typically researches the product online before making a decision. They may also want some form of customer support in case they need to troubleshoot what they just bought.
Those aspiring to succeed should recognize that they’re not only in the business of delivering products but also customer experiences that meet (and surpass) expectations. To do this, companies must first analyze the customer journey, which entails examining how customers encounter and perceive everything they offer, not just the products they sell. Businesses can do this through a process known as customer journey mapping.
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map is a visual representation of a customer’s experience with a product or company, and it’s intended to articulate or surface how they move through stages of the customer journey. The insights gained from this exercise are then used to optimize or enhance customer experience with the aim of increasing conversion and meeting objectives that matter to the business.
Customer journey maps lay out all the touchpoints between the customer and the company based on a typical timeline or progression of events. This usually starts with how they first became aware of your brand, to how they reached out to explore your product and all succeeding actions the customer takes, whether they make the purchase or not. “Cradle-to-grave” journey maps could extend to after-sales support or even the termination of a service. Some journey mapping exercises only focus on specific interactions, such as a website visit or an in-store experience.
While in-depth customer journey maps could detail each and every touchpoint between the customer and the brand, businesses must focus on consequential moments when the interaction draws a reaction from the customer such as frustration, confusion, curiosity or delight. These are powerful moments in the journey — moments you could direct or “hack” to generate a desired action (e.g. scan the QR code or make the purchase) or deter an undesirable one (e.g. skip the ad or postpone the store visit).
Why customer journey mapping is important
When organizations develop journey maps, they open themselves up to opportunities they may not have even regarded as related to customer experience. According to the Aberdeen Group, businesses with a formal program to map and manage customer journeys benefit from an increased return on marketing investment (by 24.9% year-over-year) and reduced length in sales cycle (by 16.8%). Furthermore, by integrating customer journey mapping in your regular business operations, you can:
- Phase out ineffective touchpoints
- Develop a logical order to the customer journey
- Tailor marketing campaigns and experiences for specific customer segments and personas
- Optimize each marketing and sales channel
- Shift to a customer-focused perspective
- Better understand your operational data by seeing it come alive through your customer’s point of view
- Improve employee engagement and accountability by clarifying ownership of customer touchpoints
- Benchmark customer expectations versus the actual customer experience
- Break down silos between company departments in prioritizing a seamless customer journey
- Identify changes in customer behavior as they move through the conversion funnel
- Improve allocation of resources and investments by prioritizing the most productive interactions or touchpoints
How to create a customer journey map
There’s no one correct way to map the customer journey, and you’ll find a variety of templates that you can follow. However, the key factor in doing this exercise is to base your journey map on what your customers say and do. Therefore, it’s critical that you gather feedback, observe their actions and do your research. Here are six key steps to take when creating your customer journey map:
1. Bring in stakeholders from across key departments
Customer journey mapping requires input from a wide range of accountable stakeholders within an organization. While one department may lead the exercise, customer experience is a shared responsibility both in planning and implementation. Think of it this way: when a customer feels dissatisfied with any given touchpoint, they don’t specifically attribute it as the fault of marketing, IT or customer support. They associate the negative experience to the brand as a whole.
2. Begin with the clearest challenges in customer experience
Articulate specific problems, bottlenecks or pain points that need to be addressed. As you bring in more stakeholders into the journey mapping exercise, prepare to take on issues that you may not have originally considered. While the overall mission is to enhance the customer journey, begin with the most obvious and consequential problems.
3. Define customer personas
A customer persona is a representation of your typical customer based on market research and other data you’ve collected about them. To help you imagine how they encounter and react to touchpoints of your brand, create specific profiles for your personas such as age, income and other background information. Take the journey yourself in their shoes. Focus only on up to three customer personas that represent your core market segments.
4. Identify and organize customer touchpoints
Customer touchpoints are how and where customers interact with your company. Plot them into your journey map following the order of events they engage with your brand and products. Again, it would be ideal to base this progression of events on empirical data such as a customer survey or ethnographic research instead of relying on assumptions about how customers go through their journey.
5. Take note of customer behavior, challenges, and resources for every touchpoint
As you organize your touchpoints, include notes on customer behavior, particularly their initial impressions, observable reactions and actions taken. Identify challenges (e.g. pain points, friction, bottlenecks) based on what they say and what they do. As for resources, begin by identifying the accountable employees and departments for each touchpoint.
6. Map both the current customer journey and the ideal customer journey
Based on customer research and input from your colleagues, create a journey map that reflects an honest picture of your customers’ experiences at the present moment. Then, after consulting with stakeholders and getting approval from the relevant executives and decision-makers, build the customer journey map that you’d like to see.
Take action and make the necessary changes
Don’t allow this process to remain merely as an intellectual or business planning exercise. Now that you have a clear vision of how you want to move forward, take the necessary steps to build the ideal customer journey. Businesses should consider customer journeys as an ongoing strategic concern, not just a one-time exercise every few years or so. Leverage business analytics to keep track of progress, and review your customer journey maps on a regular basis.
A delightful customer journey is no longer a “nice-to-have”. In today’s digital landscape, focusing on customer experiences across touchpoints is mandatory to get people through the door, generate loyalty and build a brand that customers know they can rely on.