wheel of a ship
PHOTO: Joseph Barrientos

$1.6 trillion: That’s not the GDP of a nation. According to Accenture, it’s the amount of money businesses in the U.S. lost in 2017 due to customers switching to their competitors because of poor customer experiences (CX).

As competitive pressure increases, businesses need to set themselves apart — and a superior CX will do the trick.

Of course, it’s no small feat to deliver top-of-the-line service to every single customer at every touchpoint. It’s hard enough to just launch a website for the masses with no segmentation, let alone optimize for each phase of the customer journey. But it’s a challenge that companies can’t ignore. To start optimizing the customer experience, it’s critical to know your audience. Start with personas, then develop journey maps and validate your work with research and data.

Getting Started With Customer Journey Maps

McKinsey found most customer interactions occur across multiple moments in time, so it makes sense to develop a snapshot of this process. Customer journey maps use data from many sources to provide a representation of customers’ interactions with your business across departments and time. These visual representations go beyond just supplying touchpoints: they show the organic nature of the customer-business relationship by providing greater visibility into how customers engage and how user content needs vary by segment to help marketers place the right content at the right point in the journey.

And the great thing about customer journey maps is that whether you have one or 100, you are still gaining valuable insights. Customer journey maps often start on a persona-by-persona basis and get more granular for microsegments as you learn about the intricacies of your customers.

So, how can you get started building your own customer journey maps?

Get on a Schedule

The most important part of developing customer journey maps is making them routine. Set aside time for your marketing team and stakeholders to create the initial customer journey maps and be ready to revisit them. Customers, market conditions and your business itself are in constant states of flux, so the customer journey maps you created last year may no longer be valid.

Use the Power of Data

Each stage of your customer journey maps should include important aspects of a customers’ interactions. Consider both motivations and emotions when users engage with your site. What types of actions are they taking when they move around your site? What content are they reading? Did your last email blast pop or flop? Are there barriers keeping customers from getting what they need (i.e. too much jargon)?

Your maps should incorporate as much customer information as possible, because data helps you measure customers’ responses to your content. The most important part of this data should involve leveraging the voice of the customer, which can be used to create better methods to serve customers.

Related Article: Why Your Voice of the Customer Data Isn't Actionable (and What to Do About It)

Evaluate Your Work

With journey maps for target segments done, it’s time to take a look at pain points. Are millennials clamoring for an app but your website isn’t optimized for the right browsers? Are you sending out email blasts that get zero response? Are your blog posts hitting or missing the mark? Being able to see the whole process of interacting with your business will help you create better, more targeted solutions.

Strike a Balance

As you continue to strive for one-to-one personalization, there is always the question of how to balance persona-based segmentation with the demand for personalized customer journeys for every single user. When you are evaluating your work and identifying new needs for customers, make sure to prioritize one-to-one personalization for high-value segments that require more nurturing. Everyone deserves a personalized customer journey, but only some truly need it and data will help reveal who those customers are. Balancing where you personalize is also important. Email is a great vehicle for delivering a personalized feel and guiding users to the next steps in their journeys via content and links, so that should be a high-priority effort that may deliver a better return on your investment than website personalization would.

Related Article: Do Customer Journeys Get Marketers Where They Want to Go?

Removing Assumptions From the Process

With this work done, it’s time to test and remove assumptions from your content. Failing to test is like paying for a meal and then leaving before you eat it. Maybe it was good, but you won’t know until you try it.

A lack of testing can cause a mismatch between what you deliver and the users’ needs. Poorly designed sites result in frustration, decreased interaction and lost business. (Additionally, they can powerfully impact your brand image: A study that Ebiquity conducted for American Express found that 95 percent of disgruntled customers discuss their poor experiences with others.)

In light of new information, you need to optimize journeys and tweak them to better reflect reality. Are there areas where you still need to improve? Is your content correctly placed, or do you need to move it to improve its effectiveness?

Optimization of your journey maps means you will need to make refinements. To optimize, you need to dive into engagement and conversion metrics to get to the heart of your customers’ needs. You’ll need to update personas or your idea of your typical customer. Your tests may have identified gaps, but not all gaps are bad. In fact, they may lead you to engage with a brand-new type of customer.

Becoming a Pathfinder

Customer journey maps are the lens into the customer experience, and they are essential for modeling, measuring, validating and ultimately optimizing the customer journey. By helping you visualize interactions between your business and your customers, clearly highlighting the touchpoints, gaps and potential areas of growth, customer journey maps help ensure that you are addressing customer needs and building your brand image and loyalty while decreasing costs.

As author Michael LeBoeuf once noted, “A satisfied customer is the best business strategy of all.”