A customer experience mapped out on a whiteboard with string and printouts of apps, maps and websites.
PHOTO: Alvaro Reyes on Unsplash

A customer experience journey map illustrates all of the touchpoints a customer has with a brand as they weave through the marketing funnel across all of the brand’s channels. And this map is key to improving customer experience.

You can inform your organization's entire decision-making process by learning what customers want and need. But mapping isn’t something you only do once — you should optimize and refine these maps continuously to adapt to changes in your customers, the market as a whole and your company.

This article will look at how brands can successfully create and implement a customer journey map, including best practices, tips for success and a step-by-step guide.

Best Practices for Customer Journey Mapping

Dave Dabbah, CMO of Robocorp, an automation software provider, views the customer experience journey map as a way to visualize a product or service from the customer’s point of view.

A map lets brands focus on how customers experience a product or service. This information can help companies better connect with consumers on an individual level and improve brand reputation.

One mistake that brands tend to make, however? Not focusing enough on the customer. “Remember that the customer journey map is about the customer’s perspective, not your product,” said Dabbah. “Keep this fact top-of-mind when you’re building one out.”

In his former position as CMO of CleverTap, Dabbah said they focused on five elements of customer journey maps: 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.”

  • Personas: General groups of customers based on demographics and psychographics.
  • Actions: What the user does at each touchpoint.
  • Timeline: The process of going through the touchpoints and phases of the journey.
  • Channels: Which of the brand’s channels the customer is currently on for any given touchpoint.
  • Feelings/Expectations/Questions: The emotional state the customer is experiencing at any given touchpoint.

Let’s break it down a little further.

Personas

Personas are where we try to figure out who the customer is and their interests. “This is laying the initial groundwork for the relationship,” said Dabbah.

You’ll want to use data and feedback from existing customers and prospects to build these personas. You can also use tools, such as lookalike audiences, to widen your pool of information. Lookalike audiences analyze your current target audience and find other people with similar demographics, interests, etc.

Use surveys that hone in on customer goals and expectations and ask questions about purchase intent and customer support. Once you've established a number of personas, narrow your focus to the most common or relevant ones to create the most useful map.

Actions

Now it’s time to assess what actions your customers take. How do they behave across various touchpoints? What content do they interact with? Do they reach out for help to understand a product or prefer to conduct their own research? How many steps does a customer take, from learning about your product to making a purchase?

Understanding the motives and emotions behind each action your customers take is also important. What is the problem each action is trying to solve? What pain point is each action addressing?

Take a look as well at when your customers stop taking action. For example, when do they abandon a shopping cart? At what point do they click away from a video? Here you may discover obstacles keeping customers from moving forward.

Timelines

The next step is to analyze the timeline the customer operates on. When are they actively engaging with the product or service? Do they prefer brand communications in the morning or the evening?

Make sure you look for customer interactions across all touchpoints to understand customer timelines. “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.”

Channel Engagement

The focus then shifts to channel engagement. Marketers should pay close attention to the channels customers use to interact with their brand.

“If they prefer in-app engagement, hit them there,” Dabbah recommended. “If they are active on the website, make sure to provide lines of communication with a chatbot, hotline number and/or contact box.”

It's easy to focus solely on your website. But remember that customers will interact with your brand across multiple channels, including:

  • Social media
  • Third-party review sites
  • Email
  • Messaging apps
  • SMS

Google Analytics can reveal how potential customers reach out to you, allowing you to determine which channels matter most to the customer journey.

Feelings, Expectations and Questions

Finally, and most importantly, carefully consider the customer’s feelings, expectations and questions to understand why they did or didn’t purchase a product or service.

“Did the product fall short, or was the buyer experience poor or inconsistent?” asked Dabbah. “This is where opening up channels for customer feedback is key. Find out how you could have done better. Improve your future communications and show them you’re listening.”

Jill Grozalsky Roberson, senior director of product marketing at Sitecore, said customer experience journey mapping is essentially about a brand putting itself in its customers’ shoes.

“They need to be empathetic and work to truly understand their customers long before they try to market or sell to them,” she 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 understanding and empathy a brand has with its customers, the more it can improve the customer’s experience. By mapping the customer journey, brands can determine what their customers actually want rather than what brands think they want. This accuracy can reveal 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,” said Roberson. “Ideally, every company should imagine the customer journey from their customers' points of view and try to bring them to life.”

Related Article: The Key to CX Success? Planning the Entire Customer Journey

Practical Advice for Customer Experience Journey Mapping

Each company’s customer journey maps will be unique to the brand, its products and services and its customers. Once you master the mapping process, the next step is to make sense of the insights and analytics gained, as the data from customer feedback is useless if you don’t understand it.

Here are a few key points to focus on when digesting data:

Eliminate Unneeded Interactions

Think of the customer effort score (CES) that’s part of every voice of the customer (VoC) program. How hard does the brand make it for the customer to do business with them? Is the process so frustrating or lengthy that customers give up and leave? Are there extra steps within the journey that you can eliminate?

Focus on the Negative and Positive

The pain points in the customer journey are not likely to be forgotten, as they create a negative emotional connection. Eliminating or reducing 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,” suggested Dabbah. “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.”

Build Upon Successes

Again, creating a positive emotional connection can leave a customer feeling they made a wise purchasing decision. It provides them with a positive emotional experience, which enhances customer loyalty and increases the net promoter score (NPS), turning customers into brand advocates.

Reduce Omnichannel Friction

The customer experience journey should be consistently exceptional across all of a brand’s channels. For instance, say a customer places an order on a brand’s mobile app and then calls customer service. Their experience should move from one to the other without the need to reenter information.

Dabbah said that “companies need to be aligned and consistent in their presentation and messaging on every single channel. Customer journey maps can help businesses pinpoint any channels that are causing friction, where customers get stuck or stop interacting with the brand altogether.”

Optimize Time Spent at Each Stage

If the customer has to spend more time than they’d prefer on any given task, it will affect the customer effort score, which looks at how easy it is 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.”

Expert Tips for Successful Journey Mapping

Journey mapping can look different depending on your industry, brand, products and services and even physical location. However, there are a few tips from experts that can apply to most journey mapping strategies.

Embrace Emotions, Start Early

A 2021 Iterable survey revealed that 76% of US and UK respondents are more likely to purchase from a brand they have an emotional connection to — a number that increases with younger generations (85% among millennials and 90% among Gen Zers).

Dabbah suggested attempting to gauge customer emotions when they interact with your brand or product. “Are they positive, negative or mixed? How is your content making people feel? Tap into customer emotions and adapt as needed.”

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

Speak Directly to Customers

Jim Tincher, founder, CEO and journey mapper-in-chief at HeartoftheCustomer, a customer journey mapping consultancy, claimed that 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.”

Look at Similarities, Dig Into Data

Sara Mehldau, director of user experience at Acelab, told CMSWire that a customer journey map is a tool 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.”

According to Mehldau, understanding your customers is critical to accurate journey maps. “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.”

Related Article: Connected Customers, Connected Data, Connected Journeys

Customer Journey Mapping: Step-by-Step

There are seven basic steps to creating a good customer journey map. Let’s dive into each of them.

1. Research Your Audience

This is where Tincher’s advice will pay off. By speaking directly with customers, brands can obtain genuine feedback about experiences throughout the touchpoints in the customer journey.

Seek to understand customers’ emotions and goals. “What are [customers’] experiences?” asked Dabbah. “What do they like and dislike? What are their opinions?”

2. Build Your Personas

We are not talking about micro-segmentation here. Instead, you want to find the brand's main types of customers. Dabbah recommended separating customers based on demographics, lifestyle and preferences.

“This doesn’t need to be too in-depth,” he said. “Ideally, separate customers into two to four categories that accurately represent them.”

3. Identify Persona Pain Points

Consider a customer who cannot locate a particular paint color in a brick-and-mortar hardware store. Might they want to use the brand’s mobile app to find it instead? Will they get frustrated and go to a competitor’s store?

By identifying pain points, brands are in a better position 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. Map Out Journey Touchpoints

Recognizing and understanding all of the touchpoints along the customer journey is vital. Without this understanding, a journey map won’t be able to truly impact customer experience.

Map out all of the stages of the customer journey (brand awareness, consideration, purchasing, retention and brand advocacy) for each persona. Determine what each stage involves for each persona.

A teenage customer might see an ad on social media, visit the website and make a purchase online, for example. An middle-aged customer, on the other hand, might get an email, visit the brick-and-mortar store to make a purchase and then call customer service.

“Identify every single time a customer segment touches your brand,” said Dabbah. “It’s essential to know where customers can potentially engage.”

5. Optimize Your Interactions

Ease of use and convenience are two of the biggest drivers of sales and loyalty. The less effort a customer exerts, the more likely they will do business with a brand. Better still, the more likely they will continue doing 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. Find the Insight

The goal of customer journey mapping is to improve customer experience (and, with it, increase return on investment). The actionable insights it brings are often jewels hidden in plain sight. Look for 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. Revise Based on Insight

As with any customer experience initiative, the process is iterative and never ends — additional improvements are always possible. Reevaluate the data, talk again with customers and continue to improve the customer journey for each persona.

“It’s essential to adapt and improve — your product and company will only benefit from it,” said Dabbah.

Reap the Rewards of Customer Experience Journey Mapping

Customer journey maps are useful tools for understanding how customers act and feel. They track people as they move through all the brand’s touchpoints on each channel. They also enable companies to eliminate pain points while improving customer experience.