In the current climate CX has become a top priority, as companies work to meet shifting customer demands and customer journey maps are a critical part of delivering on those demands.

The customer journey refers to all of the touchpoints and pain points a customer experiences as they interact with a brand, while a customer journey map is a visual representation that illustrates each of those touchpoints and pain points. Improving the customer journey map is one of the keys to crafting an exceptional customer experience.

While the customer journey map is a valuable tool for enhancing the customer experience, it also affects the bottom line of brands. Year-to-year research on businesses that use customer journey maps was conducted by the Aberdeen Group. They found that brands that use customer journey maps have an average sales cycle that is 18 times faster, with 56% more revenue from their up-selling and cross-selling efforts, and a 54% greater return on their marketing investment.

This article will look at 5 ways the customer journey map can be improved for a greater understanding of your customers’ behavior, while eliminating the pain points in their journey.

Understand the Phases of the Customer Journey

David Repczynski, VP of customer success and support at ScienceLogic, shared his thoughts with CMSWire on the phases of the customer journey. “As a software product company, the phases of the customer journey follow their experience from planning their IT infrastructure strategy to placing trust in a chosen solution, through to unlocking all of the product capabilities and deriving the expected business value to help their business grow. The closer aligned we are with our customers’ needs and moments that matter the most to them while helping them achieve their business goals for their reasons, the more likely we are to deliver higher customer satisfaction, loyalty and growth.”

Brand Awareness Phase

The customer journey has five distinct phases, and it begins when a prospective customer initially becomes aware of a brand. This awareness may have come through a Google search engine results page, TV ad, billboard, radio commercial, YouTube ad, social media--pretty much anywhere a brand may be recognized. In order to be successful, brands must analyze their data to determine which tactics have been the most cost-effective for bringing awareness to its customers, especially if it is relying on paid advertising.

Consideration Phase

The next phase in the customer journey is when a prospective customer is considering whether or not to make a purchase from a brand. This is the point where they are gathering information and comparing prices, and reading reviews and feedback from those who have done business with a brand. They will be reviewing the information that is provided on the brand’s website, social media presence, and other sources to determine if the brand’s products, services or solutions will fit their needs. This is when a brand may be able to offer an incentive for signing up to a newsletter or providing an email address in exchange for a discount. This is also when it is extremely important for a brand’s website to provide easy-to-access information about its goods or services, to engage the prospective customer, and to make them feel that they are uniquely important to the brand.

Purchasing Phase

Next, the prospective customer enters into the purchasing phase of the customer journey and becomes an actual customer. This is a very important phase of the journey, as it is also the part of the journey where the customer may be very close to making a purchase, and has added items to a shopping cart, but then abandons their cart at the last minute. This provides brands with an opportunity to learn why a customer decided not to finish the purchase process. Was the checkout process too complicated? Were they required to enter information more than once? Were they not able to use their preferred payment method, such as Paypal? Did they have questions about the product or service that could not be answered by the information that was available on the website or app? Would a live chat mechanism on the site have prevented the loss of sale? Once again, it’s time to look at the data by looking at sales tracking data, Google Analytics, and other information provided through a CRM, for example. It’s also the time to follow up with an email to the customer to see if a problem can be resolved and the purchase completed.

Retention Phase

The next phase, assuming the purchase was completed, is retention of the customer. This is when it’s important to continue to engage the customer through targeted, personalized emails and other marketing channels. By offering discounts, updates, promo codes and relevant, personalized offers, customers may be enticed to make additional purchases. This should not be done too often, as it can result in customer fatigue. Customers may, at this point, be perturbed to the point where they begin to ignore a brand’s marketing efforts. As before, this is also a time to look closely at the data to see which marketing techniques are most effective.

Brand Advocacy Phase

The final phase occurs when a customer becomes an advocate for a brand, encouraging others to become customers through feedback, reviews and social commenting. At this point they have become loyal to the brand, and continue to make purchases from time to time. This is when a customer loyalty program, and/or a referral program can provide extra incentives to the customer, as the brand has recognized that the customer is a VIP, and is very valuable to them.

“Understanding the phases of the customer journey is obviously important. But where many companies fall down is how the different phases of the customer journey come together. A sales person may over-promise on a new feature that is yet to come online on a platform just to get a new customer to sign up. Then the onboarding staff needs to clean up the sales person’s mess and walk back the promise as it is still a year out in development,” said Robert Kagan, customer experience and journey mapping professional at 3D Apartment. “This could lead to increased churn. Or at the least, create animosity between the workers in different company divisions,” Kagan explained.

It’s important to optimize the customer experience so that each phase of the customer journey is exceptional. By removing any pain points that have been discovered, and continually working to improve the experience, a brand is able to convert prospective customers into customers, simplify the purchasing process, retain the customer, and convert them into advocates for the brand.

Create Customer Personas

Customer personas are semi-fictional characterizations that are used to segment the target audience into groups of customers with similar needs, attributes and qualities. Personas allow a brand to more effectively target its customers through more relevant copy, and provide the information that is vital to create a more optimum product or service.

Repczynski related how ScienceLogic approached the creation of customer personas. “When journey mapping, one absolutely needs to consider customer personas (i.e, technical champion, executive buyer, user, etc.), because they may have different desired business outcomes and perceive their experience with SL differently,” Repczynski explained. “Using design-thinking principles, we focused first on the technical champion because of how critical of a role they play in the success of our product in their organizations. Specifically, for each persona it is ideal to understand their role, motivations, how they relate to each journey phase, their personal goals, a description of the typical type of person they are, what are their success criteria, emotional state and interests, personality type, communication preferences, things they do not like/frustration hot buttons.”

With customer experience in mind, leaders don’t have to be reminded that it comes down to focusing on the fact that customers are just people much like themselves. “Yes, we’re a software company, but this is people business. If one subscribes to the notion that people do business with people they trust and know, then the better we can accommodate any sort of relevant preference genuinely and empathetically, the easier it will be for us to deliver a superior customer experience.”

Some personas are based on demographic information such as age, geographic location, gender, level of education, marital status, employment status, annual income, etc. Others are based on more specific information, for example, does the customer have pets (which would be applicable if the brand sells dog food) or is the customer into sports (which would be applicable if the brand sells sporting goods or sports memorabilia).

The demographic data that is used for creating customer personas comes from various channels, such as survey results, user profile information, social media details, real time website activity, contact details, VoC campaigns, and information collected by a third-party, among others.

Kagan recognizes that each customer is unique, and personas are a way of personalizing the marketing experience. Marketers need to understand that not everyone’s customer journey is the same. Organizations need to ensure they are personalizing them for each persona. “A mom and pop store might use the same software solution as a bigger company but how they interact with each and at what times in their journey as a customer will look very different,” said Kagan.

The key is to always add value to your customers’ experience, he added. “The more you can know about a customer group to better align the customer journey to them, the better... A drug store chain treats an elderly person who primarily uses their pharmacy very differently than a tech savvy millennial that runs in for snacks on a regular basis. And for good reason,” Kagan said.

Adeline Heymann, associate vice president of loyalty experience strategy at Kobie, discussed how vital customer personas are for brands. She said that "Persona creation is a great way to make sure you’re connecting the right messages to the right people and putting your end user at the center of your decision making. At a baseline, persona creation is fundamentally grounded in data because it incorporates user interviews, voice of the customer and emotional motivations. Consolidating multiple sources of data and information into distinct personas helps marketers build the most credible and actionable strategic foundation for their customer journey map."

Map Out Each Touchpoint From Awareness To Advocacy

The specific touchpoints that each customer experiences are important for understanding how the customer journey can be improved. Touchpoints include every interaction that a customer has with a brand, including advertising, search engine results, a brand’s social presence, a brand’s website, the product browsing experience, the shopping experience itself — including using the shopping cart, entering personal information, the collection of credit card information — all the way through product shipping and receiving, product support and customer service. It also includes any in-person interactions they may have with a brand’s brick-and-mortar presence.

“Touch points help create a positive customer journey. Some companies have gone so far as to color code their customer journey map to show positive and negative touchpoints. This allows them to work on the friction in those areas where a touchpoint is actually a pain point,” Kagan pointed out. “The key question all along the customer journey is — how does this interaction add value to my customer’s journey with our company? If it does not then it should not be a touchpoint. A company might have great educational material about their product. But emailing a video or article once a week to a customer could become off-putting to the customer. A customer might find more value if they were simply informed that there was an educational library on the site to use as needed. The key is to connect with your customer around what is important to them and not push your own agenda.”

Learning Opportunities

Since touchpoints include the awareness phase, how has the customer become aware of the brand? Did they see an ad on Facebook that they clicked through to arrive at the brand’s website, or did they search Google for a specific term, and then click through to the brand’s website?

Next, it’s time to look into the decision-making phase. If they left the website, what page did they leave from? Were there problems on the page, did it not provide enough information, or did they leave because perhaps they thought the price was too high compared to competitors who sell the same product? How many steps did they have to take to find the product or service they were looking for? How can the brand simplify the process? What could be done to make it easier for them to decide to purchase from the brand?

The process continues through each phase, determining all the touchpoints, and asking questions that are designed to enable a brand to enhance each touchpoint so the entire experience becomes exceptional from start to finish.

Map Out Pain Points

The pain points are the negative, frustrating or annoying interactions that a customer has with a brand. Although the goal of a customer experience initiative is to craft an exceptional, personalized, emotionally fulfilling experience, given all the variables that come into play, it is possible that a customer may have a bad experience somewhere in the process. Learning about any possible pain points provides brands with an opportunity to resolve any problems and eliminate the pain points.

Heymann explained that “Customer journey maps create a chronological sequence that uncovers pain points and customer needs and draws on the personas to help to visualize and build common understanding. To get started, identify the distinct phases of the map and chart out the level of detail needed at the very beginning. I like to build swim lanes for mindsets and emotions as a complement to data-identified pain points. The business value comes from using the maps as a reference point for internal teams: when you see how your work connects to a journey it helps uncover internal collaboration opportunities and thus positions your brand to better serve customers in the future.”

How harmful are pain points to a brand? According to a Gartner report on customer experience, the most recent experiences that a customer has with a brand stand out in their mind for three months, and heavily influence their decision to continue doing business with the brand. That’s why it is imperative to discover and map out the pain points in the customer journey.

Kagan related his own experience with a business that resulted in a pain point. “A real life example happened to me concerning a business software solution company that was advertising on the radio over Memorial Weekend. It was a SaaS-based software and they were touting three free months if you signed up now and gave out an 800 number. I called the number and got a recording. ‘We are out of the office right now. Our office hours are Monday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM. Please try us back then.’Their marketing department and the customer success team were not on the same page and an opportunity to get a new customer could have been squandered.”

According to Kagan, there will always be pain points in the customer journey as companies are always evolving, adapting and growing. As a result of this there will be friction in even the best laid plans. “VOC initiatives are a great way to become knowledgeable and understand customer pain points. Some companies create Facebook groups for their customers that are moderated by employees. Some companies have conferences where they come up close and personal with their customers and get feedback on their products/services. Others send out surveys or even sponsor charitable events to interact and get the pulse of their customers. It all goes to insure that a company is discovering pain points as soon as possible and eradicating them,” he explained.

Visually Display the Customer Journey Map

A customer journey map is a visual representation of the customer journey that shows two things: how a customer moves through and experiences each phase of the customer journey. This is done for each customer persona that has been created. The personas provide insights on the specific steps that a customer goes through by focusing on the goals of the customer as they progress through each phase of the customer journey. By understanding what each persona wants to accomplish as they progress through the phases of the customer journey, it becomes easier to determine if they are able to accomplish their goals. If there is a roadblock or pain point that is preventing them from reaching their goals, it should be eliminated.

It’s also worth noting that there are many types of journey maps, including those for B2B and B2C businesses, user experience, and more. In this article, we are focusing on B2C customer journey maps, but the same principles apply to other types of journey maps.

The customer journey map is not being created to be a work of art, but rather, it is a tool that is used to help identify areas of the customer experience that can be improved upon. As such, it does not have to be fancy, and can be created using a diagram or flowchart tool such as Microsoft Visio or LucidChart, or tools specifically designed for the creation of customer journey maps.

The Norman Group even provides a free template for the creation of a customer journey map. The top features a specific user, scenario, and corresponding expectations or goals. The middle shows high-level phases that consist of user actions, thoughts, and emotions. The bottom features opportunities for improvement, insights, and internal ownership. Once the customer journey map has been created, it should be displayed in a location where all employees can see it.

The customer journey map is not just conceptual, explained Repczynski.“It's one of the primary artifacts dictating our CX Transformation Roadmap priorities. We do have an actual visual map and yes, it can be printed in large scale formats… It's important to not just say, but show our customers in meaningful substantive ways that we’re acting on our promise and doing what we say.”

Final Thoughts

The customer journey map is an essential tool that is used to help create exceptional customer experiences. By clearly understanding the phases of the customer journey, creating customer personas, mapping out each touchpoint and pain point, and creating a visual representation of the customer journey, brands can eliminate pain points while ensuring that every touchpoint that occurs within each phase of the customer journey leaves the customer feeling emotionally fulfilled, satisfied, and happy.