Man holding a map overlooking  a river with a mountainous backdrop.

Customer Journey Mapping: A How-To Guide

13 minute read
Scott Clark avatar
A customer journey map illustrates all of the touchpoints that a customer has with a brand, and it’s a key to improving the customer experience.

A customer journey map illustrates all of the touchpoints that a customer has with a brand as they weave their way through the marketing funnel across all of the brand’s channels, and it’s a key to improving the customer experience. This article will look at how brands can create a customer journey map, and will include best practices, practical advice, success tips, and step-by-step details from brands that have successfully used a customer journey map to improve the customer experience.

Customer Journey Mapping Best Practices

Dave Dabbah, CMO of CleverTap, an SaaS-based customer lifecycle management and mobile marketing company headquartered in Mountain View, California, views the customer journey map as a way to help visualize a product or service — from the customer’s point-of-view — which enables brands to laser focus on how customers experience the brand’s products or services. He said that this information can help a company better connect with consumers on an individual level, as well as improve brand reputation.

Brands must keep in mind that the customer journey map is not actually focused on the product or service, but rather, on its customers and their point of view. “Remember that the customer journey map is about the customer’s perspective, not your product. Keep this fact top-of-mind when you’re building one out,” Dabbah said.

“At CleverTap, our customer journey map is focused on five elements: personas, actions, timeline, channels, and feelings/expectations/questions. This will vary based on your company, but aim to focus on the who, what, when, where, why, and how a customer interacts with your brand throughout the day,” Dabbah explained.

  • Personas: General groups of customers that are based on demographics and psychographics.
  • Timeline: This is the process of going from one phase to another, and moving through the touchpoints in the journey.
  • Actions: This is what the user does at each touchpoint.
  • Channels: This is about which of the brand’s channels the customer is currently on for any given touchpoint.
  • Feelings/expectations/questions:  this is about the emotional state that the customer is experiencing at any given touchpoint.

Personas are where we try to figure out who the customer is and what their interests are. “This is laying the initial groundwork for the relationship. Then, we assess what actions they are taking. How are they behaving on the app? What content are they interacting with? Do they often reach out for help to better understand the product? Behavioral insights are a goldmine when they can point out what content your customer actually values and will likely engage with,” said Dabbah.

The next step is to analyze the timeline the customer is operating on. When are they actively engaging with the product or service? Can we ascertain whether they prefer to be communicated with in the morning or in the evening? “This helps a marketer better understand when their message will land most effectively,” said Dabbah. “This is a crucial step because timely and relevant marketing creates a more dynamic experience for the user and prevents you from coming off tone-deaf or spammy,” he said.

The focus then shifts to channel engagement. Marketers should pay close attention to the channels where customers are interacting with their brands. “If they prefer in-app engagement, hit them there. If they are active on the website, make sure to provide lines of communication with a chatbot, hotline number, and/or contact box,” said Dabbah.

Finally, and most importantly, the customer’s feelings, expectations, and questions need to be carefully considered. This facilitates an understanding of why they did or didn’t purchase a product or service. “Did the product fall short, or was the buyer experience poor or inconsistent? This is where opening up channels for customer feedback is key,” said Dabbah. “Find out how you could have done better. Improve your future communications and show them you’re listening.”

According to Jill Grozalsky, product marketing director at Sitecore, a San Francisco-based customer experience management company, customer journey mapping is essentially about a brand putting itself in its customer’s shoes. “They need to be empathetic and work to truly understand their customers long before they try to market or sell to them,” Grozalsky said. “This can take shape through a number of sources, including analyzing data for patterns of behavior, mapping and analyzing the customer journey, or undertaking customer research where organizations interact with customers to understand their concerns and ideas.”

The greater the level of understanding and empathizing a brand has with its customers, the more it can improve the customer’s experience. By mapping the customer journey, brands are able to determine what their customers actually want, rather than just what brands think their customers want, revealing new insights. “With customer journey maps, brands can better empathize with customer needs and offer the right content, information, guidance, etc. when they need it — perhaps even in new and surprising ways. Ideally, every company should imagine the customer journey from their customers' points of view and try to bring them to life,” Grozalsky said.

Related Articles: What Is Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT)?

Learning Opportunities

Practical Journey Mapping Advice

Each brand’s customer journeys are going to be unique to that brand, its products and services, and its customers. Dabbah said that once the mapping template/process is mastered, the next step is to make sense of the insights and analytics that stem from the mapping process. The data is useless if you don’t actually understand it. Here are a few key points to focus on when digesting the data:

  • Unneeded interactions: Think of the Customer Effort Score (CES) metric that’s part of every VoC program. How hard does the brand make it for the customer to do business with them?
  • Negative experiences: The pain points in the customer journey are not likely to be forgotten, as they create a negative emotional connection. Eliminating or reducing the pain points in the journey should be one of the top goals of journey mapping. “Of course, focus on the negative experiences — it will be the best way to understand and fix major issues. However, don't discount the positive experiences. They can paint a clear roadmap of what is working and what a business can do to keep creating positive experiences,” Dabbah suggested.
  • Successes: Again, creating a positive emotional connection that leaves a customer feeling like they made a wise purchasing decision, providing them with a positive emotional experience, will help to enhance customer loyalty and increase the Net Promoter Score (NPS), turning customers into advocates.
  • Omnichannel friction: The customer experience should be consistently exceptional across all of a brand’s channels, and it should be seamless and effortless. For instance, if a customer is using a brand’s mobile app for an order, and then calls the customer service desk, their experience should move from one to the other without them having to reenter information or explain themselves again. “Customers will interact with a company across different channels, be it a social media account, a website, or a mobile app. Therefore, companies need to be aligned and consistent in their presentation and messaging on every single channel,” Dabbah said. “Customer journey maps can help businesses pinpoint any channels that are causing friction, where customers get stuck or stop interacting with the brand altogether. It can also reveal if any touchpoints are unnecessary or holding up the process.”
  • Time spent at each stage: The customer should never feel rushed, but if they have to spend more time than they would prefer on any given experience, it has an effect on the CES metric, which is a valuable indicator of how easy it was for them to do business with a brand. “As customers navigate a variety of digital experiences, understand the timing of their engagement with your brand, product, or service,” said Dabbah. “Was the process quick and easy? Are they spending an excessive amount of time on one aspect? Is there a correlation between time spent and product purchased? Timing data is a phenomenal indicator of how customers feel about your brand and can show areas to improve.”

Related Article: What Is Voice of the Customer and What Does it Mean for Customer Experience?

Journey Mapping Success Tips

The results of Iterable’s Holiday Quick Poll revealed that 83% of those polled said they were more likely to purchase from a brand with which they have an emotional connection. The results also indicated that those with higher incomes are significantly more likely to purchase from a brand that they have an emotional connection with — more than 50% of those making over $100K a year said they are “much more likely” to make a purchase when they emotionally connect with a brand. That’s why, as Dabbah suggested, “Try to gauge customer emotion wherever they interact with a brand or product. Are they positive, negative, or mixed? How is your content making people feel? Tap in to customer emotions and adapt as needed.”

It’s also vital to begin the process of customer journey mapping as soon as possible as the brand grows its customer base. “If possible, start customer journey mapping early. It will become difficult to keep track of customer behavior if your customer base grows into the millions. Understanding customer journeys early will help to smooth out pain points and improve the customer experience,” said Dabbah.

Jim Tincher, mapper-in-chief at HeartoftheCustomer, a customer journey mapping consultancy, and author of How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer? Using Journey Mapping to Drive Customer Focused Change, told CMSWire that actually speaking to customers one-on-one is even more important than creating customer personas. “You need to talk with customers individually. Journeys are different for each person, so using these consolidated approaches removes all the nuance and learning. It particularly prevents the change management that is so critical to success. It's critical to use customer immersion (interviews, other qualitative research) to truly understand your customers,” said Tincher.

Sara Mehldau, associate UX director, digital customer experience at Capgemini North America, a global leader in consulting, technology services and digital transformation shared with CMSWire that a customer journey map is a tool that is specific to each brand, and may come in all shapes and sizes. However, there are similar elements that all journey maps have in common, “including a customer or product user, a detailed scenario, multiple phases aligned to goals, and new opportunities. The more customer data you have, the more accurate the journey map will be. Data and site traffic analysis are great, but in-depth customer research, interviews, and even surveys will provide a more detailed and accurate representation of the journey,” said Mehldau.

Customer Journey Mapping: Step-By-Step

There are seven basic steps to creating a good customer journey map: research, personas, pain points, timeline, optimization, insights, and revisions.

  1. Researching your audience: This is where Tincher’s advice will pay off. By speaking directly with their customers, brands are able to obtain genuine feedback about the experiences customers have had throughout the touchpoints in their journey. Seek to understand the goals of the brand’s customers, which will help during the next step. “The first step is to research your audience,” said Dabbah. “What are their experiences? What do they like and dislike? What are their opinions?”
  2. Building personas: The KISS principle should be kept in mind when it comes to building personas. We are not talking about micro-segmentation here, rather, we are just seeking to determine the top two to four basic consumer personas that the brand has as customers. That way brands are able to create customer journey maps for each persona. “The next step is to separate customers based on demographics, lifestyle, and preferences. This doesn’t need to be too in-depth. Ideally, separate customers into two to four categories that accurately represent them,” explained Dabbah.
  3. Identifying pain points per persona: Consider a customer who is unable to locate a particular color of paint in a brick-and-mortar hardware store. Might they want to use the brand’s mobile app to find it instead? By identifying the pain points, a brand is in a much better position to be able to provide solutions. “Understand pain points — use the audience research data from step one,” said Dabbah. “How can your company or product solve these pain points?”
  4. Mapping the timeline and touchpoints: It’s vital to recognize and understand all of the touchpoints along the customer journey. Without such a deep understanding, a brand will be unlikely to successfully use the customer journey map to improve the customer experience. Literally map out the journey for each persona, through all the stages of the customer journey: Brand awareness, consideration, purchasing, retention and brand advocacy. Determine what each stage involves for each persona, such as a teenage customer seeing an ad on social media, visiting the brick-and-mortar storefront, going to the website, making a purchase, and then calling customer service. “Identify every single time a customer segment touches your brand. It’s essential to know where customers can potentially engage,” said Dabbah.
  5. Optimizing your interactions: Ease of use and convenience are two of the biggest drivers of sales and loyalty. The less effort a customer has to exert, the more likely they are to do business with a brand, and better still, to continue to do business with a brand. The less friction that occurs between touchpoints, the better the experience will be for the customer. “Now that you know how customers interact with your brand, make things easier for them. Fix the pain points,” said Dabbah. “Adapt your messaging to drive the desired outcome.”
  6. Finding the insight: The goal of customer journey mapping is ultimately to improve the customer experience (and with it, increase ROI), but the actionable insights it brings are often jewels hidden in plain sight. Look for areas where there are opportunities to create strong, positive emotional experiences. “Now, put it all together. What does the research on customers, pain points, and touchpoints tell you? What is the company journey telling you?” Dabbah reflected.
  7. Revising based on insight: As with any customer experience initiative, the process is iterative and never ends, as additional improvements are always possible. Reevaluate the data, once again talk with customers, obtain feedback, and continue to improve the customer journey for each persona. “Finally, use the insights and research of your customer journey map, and improve it! It’s essential to adapt and improve — your product and company will only benefit from it,” said Dabbah.

Final Thoughts

The customer journey map is a useful tool for gaining a thorough understanding of what a brand’s customers are doing and feeling as they go through each touchpoint in their journey across all of a brand’s channels. It enables brands to eliminate pain points, while improving the customer's experience.