Do you know what distinguishes a good customer experience from a bad one? A good customer experience isn’t a luck of the draw. It’s what happens when you listen to your audience, think about their needs, and create a plan to deliver value. If you want to achieve better business results, creating a customer journey map can help you take ownership of the customer experience.
The importance of good customer service
You know how bad customer service stories go. You’re interested in a new phone or utility provider, and the sales rep is the most attentive person in the world — at first.
And then you buy the product and run into an issue. Suddenly, you’re met with automated answering machines and mind-numbing hold music. And when you finally speak to a person, all you get are empty apologies, annoying upsell pitches, or “there’s nothing I can do.”
Within a few short interactions, the customer journey can go from positive and uplifting to colossally bad. In fact, if you were to visualize it with a diagram, your experience would look a lot like a stock market crash. Would you want to use the company’s services again? Nope. Would you recommend them to a friend? No way. Would you leave an awful review encouraging people to stay away? Most likely.
The customer experience begins as soon as a person starts thinking about something they need. But the journey isn’t over after the purchase either. Customers continue to form opinions about your business after they buy from you, and they play a crucial role in bringing new buyers. Not only do negative interactions drive your customers away, but they also make it difficult to rebuild your business’s reputation.
So without further ado, we’re going to demystify the process of improving the customer experience.
What is a customer journey map, and why do you need one?
A customer journey map is a visualization of the customer’s end-to-end experience — from their initial research to the sale and beyond. This useful tool charts the motivations behind a purchase and the touchpoints where your business can influence customers. When your business provides software, technical equipment and interfaces, or a subscription-based service, we often refer to this diagram as a user journey map.
A map takes into account the feelings, wants, and goals of your customers at each stage of their buying journey. With this information, you can tailor your marketing efforts to reach people with timely and relevant messaging. In return, your audience is more likely to subscribe, buy, share, and generally be more receptive to your brand offerings.
If you aren’t actively managing the customer experience, you’re creating countless opportunities for something to go wrong. On the other hand, when you cultivate good customer service, your business reaps the rewards.
- You build a positive reputation and lasting brand loyalty.
- Customers keep coming back and refer others to your business.
- Sales and conversions become consistent, leading to steady growth.
Taking an objective look at your own processes is understandably difficult, but businesses of all sizes can benefit from it. With research and preparation, you can create a customer journey map that helps you identify and solve problems without wasting resources.
Caution ahead: some common misconceptions
Some people will immediately start overcomplicating their map until the process itself becomes too overwhelming to complete. Why? They think they have to map every single, teeny, tiny element of every customer’s journey. But let’s face it, that’s both impossible and unhelpful.
Instead, it’s better to think of your map as a portrait of core customer segments. You’re mapping out typical decisions they make and the emotions or thought processes driving everyday purchasing decisions.
Sure, not every single customer journey will follow the route you create. But the majority of customers will behave similarly, and you’ll have the insight to serve those customers really well.
What are the advantages of customer journey mapping?
The customer journey map is advantageous for several groups within an organization. It helps copywriters tailor their messaging to address crucial customer needs and questions. The marketing team is better equipped to plan their schedule and make contact at the right time in the user journey.
You wouldn’t want to bombard your customer with ads for products or services they already have (*cough* Amazon *cough*). Similarly, you don’t want to inundate someone’s inbox with aggressive ‘buy now’ emails when a gentle invitation to sign up to the newsletter or check out the YouTube channel may be more appropriate.
Sales representatives learn which customer interactions are high priority, making it easier to de-escalate problems. And for the UX designer, a good user journey map informs their website, software, or app design. Designers are able to develop a conversion funnel that seamlessly carries the visitor from the homepage to the call-to-action.
Four steps to success
The process of creating an effective customer journey map can be broken into four steps.
1. Research customer motivations
To understand the customer journey, you need to explore the highs and lows of the current customer experience. Remember, the goal here is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
You want to entice people to use your product or service and leave them feeling confident in their purchases. Two types of research can help you do this: analytical and anecdotal.
Analytical customer research
Analytics tools are one way to figure out how people use your product, service, or website. By collecting data, you can identify patterns in customer behavior. Focus on answering questions that clarify the customer’s path to a conversion. For example:
- What research does a customer perform before contacting your business?
- How many times does a customer engage with your brand before buying?
- What are common touchpoints where you have an opportunity to shape customer opinions?
- What marketing channels are most effective at reaching customers?
- Why do customers visit or leave your website?
- Which website pages lead to the most conversions? The least?
Social media sites offer a variety of analytical tools you can use to find out more about customer habits. Remember, though, it’s easy to misread the results. For instance, when a person spends a long time on a page, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re enjoying what they’re viewing. They could be frustrated, stuck, or comparison shopping. The next step adds substance to your analytical research.
Anecdotal customer research
Every company should know the answer to one vital question: why do customers ultimately choose your product over others? If you have no idea, you’re probably losing a lot of business. The best way to clear up this issue is to get feedback directly from customers.
Voice of Customer (VOC) feedback, such as surveys, interviews, focus groups, and workshops, is a simple but powerful way to get information from buyers. Craft questions that give you insight into a customer’s lifestyle, priorities, motivations, and challenges. This will help you fill in critical categories on the customer journey map.
2. Identify customer segments
After gathering data, you’ll notice that most of your audience fits into distinct groups. Customer segments are groups of buyers who share similar characteristics or purchasing habits. These shared traits often include age, gender, geographic location, culture, occupation, family status, economic status, etc.
People are motivated by different things. Parents, for example, frequently have priorities and shopping habits that differ from childless adults or retired seniors. Some customers care about status or self-improvement, while others crave memorable, engaging experiences.
The level of specificity among customer segments usually depends on the cost and niche value of the product. A luxury skincare brand has to spend more time on customer segmentation research than a grocery chain. Why? Because everyone needs food, but only a portion of the population is motivated to buy luxury skincare.
3. Define the customer journey
Using the customer segments you created, you can draft profiles of the types of buyers you want to target. Ideally, you’ll have a separate customer journey map for individual customer segments.
Think about the common motivations, choices, and barriers that characterize these segments. Then, plot out the most important customer journey stages for each segment.
Do they start the buying process with online research or word-of-mouth referrals? Which marketing channels are most effective for making contact with these customers? What factors have the most influence on their buying decisions? What prevents customers from following through on a purchase?
4. Set goals
Reflect on what you want your journey map to achieve and how you’ll accomplish those goals. Speak to other stakeholders (i.e., managers, customer service reps, analysts, clients) to get everyone on the same page. At this point, you should be able to finalize your customer journey maps.
How to create a customer journey map
There are two types of customer journey maps, those that focus purely on touchpoints and those that define the specific experiences of each touchpoint. The latter is more detailed, and therefore, more useful. It’s worth spending time fleshing out these details if you want to get the most out of this exercise.
The types of customer touchpoints vary depending on your business or organization. For example, the sections below are totally relevant for a clothing store but not for a university looking to recruit students.
Once you’ve figured out your customer journey phases, identify the key experiences for each touchpoint. This is where you get to use all that customer data you gathered. Remember, this will be different across your key customer types.
- Objectives: what does the user want at this particular stage?
- Questions: what do they want to know?
- Behaviors: how is the user interacting with you at this point?
- Emotions: how are they feeling at this stage?
- Weaknesses and strengths: how has the organization let the user down? Helped them?
- Influences: what will shape the user’s decision at this stage?
How to use a customer journey map
Next, put all your findings in a layered diagram. You can use a grid, a timeline, an infographic, a flowchart — the choice really is yours. But bear in mind that it should be neat, clutter-free, pared-down (no one wants a novel in graph form), and attractive.
You can even present your map as a storyboard, video, or short film if you want. Just make sure it’s easy to understand and clearly outlines the customer’s needs. Check out these awesome customer journey map examples for inspiration.
Some metrics you may want to present in your customer journey map include:
- Emotional assessments of customers at specific stages or touchpoints in their journey
- KPIs measuring the importance of a specific touchpoint
- Net Promoter Score (NPS) or other customer loyalty measures.
The data you collect should reveal the health of your customer experience at each stage of the journey now and in the future. You can then use this to form actionable plans based on customer experience.
Your journey map should be purposeful, actionable, and measurable. Identify pain points in the user journey, and then establish a plan to iron them out. Consider how much it’ll cost to fix major problems compared to the long-term business value of delivering a positive user experience.
Another key purpose of a customer journey map is to identify opportunities for growth based on customer experiences. Use your visualizations to pinpoint moments when the customer is more receptive to upselling.
And last but not least: look to your customer journey map as a source of continuous improvement. Create a digital diagram that you can quickly adapt as you evaluate customer needs in the future. Invest in cloud-based diagramming software that allows you to collaborate with a team and make updates in real-time. That way, you can create and share crisp, visually striking customer journey maps with ease.
This post was originally published on January 15, 2019, and updated most recently on December 28, 2021.