The customer journey map is almost a mythical creature. There is no one map. In fact, there is not even a single map for any given business. The customer journey is too complicated to allow that. It might be more accurate to say that a business owner needs a map to find a way through the maze of customer journey mapping.
Even so, creating your own customer journey map can pay big dividends. It helps you figure out how a shopper becomes a customer and then, ideally, an advocate that creates more customers. Once you have charted that path, you can figure out how to make it as easy as possible for more customers to follow.
What is the customer journey?
The customer journey is every step a customer takes to achieve a goal with a company. A typical journey would begin with the customer gaining awareness of the business and end with post-purchase messages from the company, like a thank you note. But the journey also could involve joining a loyalty program or signing up for a newsletter.
Have you ever dealt with a company that seemed to want to make it hard for you to buy something, or at least didn’t much care if you did or not? Did that make you want to skip that brand and check out its competitors? Or perhaps after you made a purchase, the company did things to sour the customer experience and make it unlikely that you would recommend them to your friends, such as hounding you with texts, emails, and social media posts?
Those examples of negative customer journeys show why mapping can be a valuable exercise.
What is customer journey mapping?
Customer journey mapping acts as a visual aid to help the members of a business understand their customers’ experiences. It’s a way to determine customer motivation, the key interactions that can result in a sale, and the points of friction that might drive away business.
Creating such a map is a complex undertaking that requires goal-setting, research, open internal communication, and follow-through. You might find it necessary to chart maps for different parts of your operation because the interactions with your customers are so varied and complicated, and your goals are multi-faceted.
Start by having a clear business goal in mind. Examples of goals are:
- What can I do to encourage consumers to refer my business to others?
- Do I have the right personnel assigned at key touchpoints?
- How can I keep people from bouncing out of my website before I make any sales?
Many samples of customer journey mapping are available on the internet. Keep your goals in mind to help you decide which is right for you. Post-It notes might do the trick, or you might want to use sophisticated infographics.
The important thing is that the people in the business think hard about its customers. Who are they? What drives them? What do they see when they look at your business? Methodically consider every step they take, everyone they interact with, every marketing message they see and hear.
The phases of the customer journey
Before talking about making a journey map, we need to consider the phases of the customer journey. Different experts define them differently. Basically, they are distinct phases of the consumer journey.
Some marketers identify four stages:
- Awareness stage: A customer begins searching for the answer to a problem and encounters your brand for the first time.
- Consideration stage: The consumer researches your brand and your competitors. He or she is visiting your websites, review sites, and other informational sites, examining ads and marketing material, and perhaps visiting stores.
- Decision stage: The consumer is done researching and is ready to commit.
- Retention: Your customer is evaluating his or her experience with you. What are you doing to create brand loyalty through customer service?
Some sources identify five stages: Awareness, acquisition, adoption, assimilation, and advocacy. A similar five-stage way of looking at it is: Awareness, education, sample, purchase, and refer.
The important thing is to use the stages as a frame for looking at each step of your customer journey. If your goal, for example, is getting the right personnel assigned at key touchpoints, you should look at how each stage of the consumer journey can contribute to that goal.
The path to successful customer journey mapping
Once again, there is no one way to develop a customer journey map. Hubspot, a leading developer, and marketer of software for marketing, sales, and customer service, lists an eight-point process for journey mapping.
Other experts offer six-step strategies. Seven steps is a popular target. But there are six crucial steps that they all seem to agree on:
Without data, journey mapping will do little more than confirm the mindset inside your company. Now is the time to get customer feedback. Learn about the decision-making process of your customers and the ones who go to your competitors.
Interview customers directly and in-depth, if possible. If you can’t, talk to the workers who deal directly with consumers. Conduct surveys and questionnaires. Send them to customers by email. (A small reward will boost participation.) Brick-and-mortar businesses can survey visitors in their shops, healthcare clinics, beauty spas, and other stores.
Look at your social media analytics and your website’s usage metrics. Perform a Google Analytics goal flow report and behavior flow report, and run user testing with your product.
You need the answers to questions like this:
- What problems are they trying to solve?
- How did they find your website or company?
- How long do they typically spend on your website?
- Was the site or app easy to navigate? Did they ever need customer support? How helpful was it?
- What competitors did they look at?
- What sets your brand apart from others? Why did they choose (or reject) your product?
- Have they ever gone to your website to buy something, then decided not to? Why?
- What do they like about your company? Do they find things that frustrate them? Can they suggest improvements?
2. Identify personas
Use the research to identify your core customers. Go all-in to develop buyer personas. Give them names and attach a photo to these blends of demographics (like gender, income, age, occupation) and behavioral profiles (including shopping habits and motivations).
If you are a B2B company, compile similar profiles on the businesses that matter most to your sales. Each buyer persona will have a different type of customer journey. It’s recommended that you focus on the one or two personas that have the most impact on your business.
3. Find the touchpoints and pain points
A touchpoint occurs any time a consumer interacts with your brand. Some touchpoints, like referrals and online research, are not even under your control and occur before the consumer has any direct contact with you. They can happen online, in person, over the phone, or through marketing efforts.
First, identify the phases or stages that best describe the customer experience (CX) at your business. Consider each persona as they go through each phase of the journey. This mapping process is best served by involving as many people from your business as possible. No one person can think through all the variations that come into play here.
To help find touchpoints, imagine that you are a customer and must figure out what to do if you want to find a product or service that you need, or have decided to buy something from your company, or need help and have questions after the purchase.
Pain points, also called friction points, are just what they sound like. Expectations are not being met. The consumer journey is rocky here, and your customers are frustrated. Maybe shipping prices are too high. The wait times in your call center are too long. The login process is too demanding. Pain points push buyers toward your competition. Analyze how your customers are reacting to them and what you can do to smooth the path.
You might be surprised by how many pain points your research turns up throughout the phases of the journey. It might be best to focus on the most important one or two to attack.
4. Take the journey yourself
Researching, brainstorming, and mapping are valuable exercises. Now take what you have discovered and go on the customer journey yourself. Test the findings by pretending that you are a customer and go through every phase. For example, pretend to be a potential customer searching for a product or service you sell.
If your company doesn’t show up until the second or third page of Google results, you might consider a content performance platform like rellify, which helps companies produce relevant content that naturally ranks high in search engine results.
Have new employees do this exercise as well because they are able to bring a fresh perspective. This exercise will give you greater insight into the level of pain and frustration your customers are experiencing. It also can help generate ideas about what departments are falling short and what resources you need to fix the problems. The insights gained here make it easier to prioritize, too.
5. Prioritize and fix
Some touchpoints have more impact than others. Are you seeing a big drop from one phase to another? Are customers finding a nuisance or a roadblock that stops a purchase?
The main goal is conversion: Getting a response to your call-to-action that turns a looker into a buyer. Identify the biggest conversion problem and fix it. It can be better to address one touchpoint at a time because it allows you to measure the success of that one change.
A blog post at medium.com recommends setting these priorities: put retention first, followed by getting new customers into your funnel, turning customers into active users, getting them to buy more, and getting them to become advocates for your business.
6. Revisit and revamp
Customer journey mapping is not a one-and-done exercise. Write into your journey map your plan for regularly reviewing the work, perhaps on a quarterly basis. Identify personnel who are responsible for working through the prioritized list of fixes for the pain points and for measuring the success of the measures taken.
Keeping the map alive as a work in progress will not only help you find ways to improve results but also be good for morale. No one likes going through a painstaking process like customer journey mapping only to see it fall by the wayside.
Customer journey mapping can be as rewarding as it is difficult. In the digital age, the path from consumer interest to a sale is too complex to manage by the seat of your pants.
The mapping process is a powerful tool to help anyone in e-commerce build a more successful business.