- A customer journey map is a marketing tool that visually represents the journey customers take to reach a purchase decision, including the touchpoints and stages throughout that path.
- Customer journey maps help brands get the average consumer’s perspective to create a personalized research and buying experience.
- The customer journey mapping process takes stock of your assets and customer touchpoints, provides optimization opportunities, reveals gaps, and lets brands deliver value to consumers wherever they start their journey.
If you’re a marketer for a billion dollar retailer, you probably know your customers pretty well. No doubt you have dozens of buyer personas that describe when they wake up, their favorite foods, and where they shop. But, do you have a customer journey map?
Customer journey maps allow you to get a better understanding of the customer’s perspective so you can craft a more personalized shopping experience. The more you understand your customers, the better you can serve them and the more likely it is that they’ll come back again and again.
Read on and uncover the what, why, and how of customer journey mapping.
The traditional customer journey
At a high level, the customer journey is traditionally broken down into three stages:
- Awareness – The person is aware of a problem or opportunity, but they need more information so that they can fully understand the issue and specifically name it.
- Consideration – The person clearly understands the problem/opportunity. They are now thoroughly researching options so that they are aware of different methods for addressing the issue.
- Decision – The person is making a final decision as to which product/service to purchase.
The above describes the old customer journey, one that struggles to reflect the real customer lifecycle. It’s becoming outdated. With the advent of search intent-derived consumer insights and newer understandings of human behavior, updated models are required.
Today’s realistic customer journey:
- Acknowledges that journeys are non-linear, with consumers entering at many different points
- Divides consumers into two categories: the 95% researching, and the 5% who are ready to buy
- Better reflects consumer behavior and aligns with today’s customer needs
- Leverages touchpoints and assets to deliver substantial value at each step of the journey and before asking for a transaction
To get the most out of this article, we recommend checking out Rethinking the Buyer’s Journey for a full discussion on the real path consumers are taking.
What is a customer journey map?
Customer Journey Map
A customer journey map is a visual guide illustrating the customer’s experience. It pinpoints key moments, showcasing customer needs and emotions, while also identifying brand touchpoints, gaps, and areas of friction.
Journey maps are like roadmaps for your customer personas. They go beyond demographic information and help marketing team members and stakeholders walk in your customer’s shoes. As a result, you’ll set more customer-focused business goals, and create a more seamless omnichannel experience.
Journey maps also give marketing teams a customer-centric visualization of how your target audience thinks. They encourage you to ask important market research questions like:
- What caused them to identify a frustration, problem, issue, need, or new goal or opportunity?
- What do they do when they realize this problem/opportunity?
- Where do they turn?
- What sources of information do they use?
- Where do they visit online?
- Whose advice do they seek?
- What frustrations do they encounter along the way?
- What are their questions at each step of the journey?
Think of all the different ways prospects experience your brand in real-time: email, social media, video, search engines, your website, TV, etc. The customer journey map helps you take stock of all these different customer touchpoints, optimize them, and fill important gaps.
Get Terakeet’s free customer journey map template below!
Customer Journey Map Template
Create better journey maps to reveal consumer needs.
Benefits of customer journey mapping
Creating a customer journey map is one of the most important visual tools brands can leverage to connect with their customers, truly understand their needs, treat them like real people, and ultimately, detect gaps and friction points that damage conversions.
Reveals audience insights
Customer journey mapping reveals how different types of customers move through your marketing funnel, which helps brands understand their customers’ needs in order to improve the user experience for each demographic. It also creates opportunities to optimize your marketing strategy across your buyer personas.
For example, millennials will interact with your company differently than Boomers. C-Suite executives have different priorities than small business owners, and each will take different steps before arriving at the purchasing decision.
Journey mapping unlocks the many paths to a purchase that your audience travels on, and lets you optimize with deep audience insight in the driver’s seat.
When you understand the customer journey and have a map in place, brand marketers can zero in on each individual touchpoint or asset to ensure that each delivers a unique value to consumers. With each touchpoint optimized, brands establish a network ready to help consumers reach solutions and achieve customer satisfaction.
The value provided at each engagement gives consumers what they want, building the relationship way before they’re ready to buy. This helps boost the trust needed for transactions and puts the brand in the forefront of the consumer mind into the future.
All the effort of customer journey mapping pays off because it enables marketers to connect with consumers at all journey points. This eases friction points, and removes roadblocks that could lead to lost sales, increased churn, or a poor reputation. As a result, you’ll shorten the buying cycle, improve conversion rates, and increase customer retention.
Creating a great customer journey is the key to authentic connections. When you make authentic connections, the KPIs and metrics that indicate success necessarily move in the right direction.
How to create a customer journey map in 7 steps
This is how you can create a customer journey map (plus a few high-performance upgrades):
1. Set your goals
Before launching a journey mapping project, it’s important to have clear goals and objectives.
Determining your goals and measurement metrics will likely involve a cross-departmental team in order to understand the relevant needs of the project. What are you trying to improve? How will you measure it? What is your current conversion rate? Answering these questions can guide the process.
2. Define audience segments and buyer personas
First, define your audience segments based on the different types of customers that you serve. Then, create buyer personas within those segments.
If you sell consulting services, you may have one segment for healthcare clients, another for financial services, and yet another for technology. Or maybe you segment your audience by the number of employees or geography.
Perhaps you instead segment your audience by age group — an ecommerce fashion brand may target pre-teens, teens, and women separately. Or, if you’re a fashion brand like Athleta, you target by activity — yoga, running, hiking, cold weather training, tennis, golf, swimming, etc.
Once you segment your audience, build personas of your ideal customers in each segment. Here are some examples of buyer personas to get started.
Obviously, persona information will vary depending on whether you’re B2B or B2C and the price of your product/service. Some information you may want to include:
- Age range
- Income / revenue
- Job title
- Job to be done (JTBD)
- Pain points
- Products desired
- Features desired
The objective is to thoroughly understand your ideal customers. When you have clarity on what they want and what their struggles are, you can create a customer journey that resonates with them, guides them through the process, and moves them to take action.
3. Identify customer pain points with empathy maps
The next step in creating your customer journey map is to clearly identify customer pain points at each step of the journey.
In the initial awareness stage, what are they feeling? What frustrations are they experiencing? What is motivating them to start exploring solutions to their problem? Do they need a certain type of educational content?
During the consideration stage, what information do they need? What is keeping them from moving forward?
In the decision stage, what is hindering them from pulling the trigger? Do they have sufficient comparisons with alternatives? What are their fears, and how can you alleviate those fears? Have you provided them with sufficient social proof and assurances.
During the retention stage, gather Voice of the Customer feedback such as a net promoter score (NPS) from long-term customers.
Remember, the buying process is both factual and emotional. People’s decision making is based on a combination of concrete information and subjective emotions. To truly understand your customers, deploy an empathy map to address both types of potential roadblocks.
4. Use search intent data to deeply grasp customer desire
“How do I find out what questions and searches potential customers are performing?” you might ask.
The answer: search intent data from what we call the world’s most honest focus group — Google.
The searches of millions of users are available to marketers to really understand consumers, their motivations, and how to help them solve their biggest pain points.
Consumers who need to find solutions go to Google and seek out exactly what they want. Search-derived consumer insight answers the what and lets brands prepare a journey that aligns.
Brands that strategically leverage this revealing, honest customer data can use it at every point across the customer journey map to deliver what people want. Then tools like the MACH-6 can be used to provide structure to customer journey touchpoints through your network of assets (more on that in step 6). This builds authentic connections and ensures your map actually reflects reality.
Boosting customer engagement
At each step of the customer journey, you need to have specific, effective ways to engage with your audience. You need to be able to speak to relevant pain points, thoroughly answer questions, and help prospects take the next step in the buying journey.
There are dozens of ways to engage your audience. You need to choose the ones that will best serve your potential customers in contextually relevant ways through their journey. At each step in the customer journey map, determine what the potential customer wants or needs most and how you can provide that for them.
It’s about creating the best possible customer interaction by delivering on customer expectations. Search intent data makes this achievable.
5. List the customer touchpoints
What are customer touchpoints? They’re all the different ways a prospective customer interacts with your brand during their journey. This includes, but isn’t limited to:
- Your website
- Third-party websites
- Social media
- Search engines
- Review sites
- Product demos
- Sales team interactions
- Customer support/customer success interactions
Include each touchpoint in your customer journey map. Seeing the different touchpoints gives you insight into the different steps customers take before finally making a buying decision.
By understanding their state of mind at each step in the customer journey, you can uncover psychological triggers that can help them feel more confident in taking the next steps. You can then optimize each brand touchpoint, or even reduce the number of touchpoints required.
When identifying touchpoints, focus primarily on ones where people take action. Whether they click on a Google search result, interact on social media, or respond to an email, look for all the different ways your audience takes action.
Once you have a list of actions, determine the underlying motivations and reasons at each step in the journey. Then, look for ways to reduce the number of actions a person must take along their customer journey to increase conversion rates.
Questions throughout the customer journey
It’s also important to identify the questions potential customers ask at each touchpoint in your customer journey map. Confusion, jargon, and uncertainty can hinder prospects from moving forward in the buying journey.
Document the actual questions running through the minds of your prospective customers at each step of the journey. Do this, and you’ll likely be ahead of many of your competitors.
If you don’t know the questions they are asking, start interviewing them and conduct surveys. You can also get insight from live chat sessions, your salespeople, and support teams. Even better, use search intent data — see step 5.
The more questions you can answer at each touchpoint, the less friction potential customers will feel and the more likely it is that they’ll move on to the next phase of the journey.
6. Organize your touchpoints by degree of control
The MACH-6, an asset organization tool, can help you arrange your touchpoints across the customer journey in a more strategic manner. Instead of a big list of brand-owned and unowned properties, the MACH-6 arranges touchpoints based on degree of brand control.
You start with your owned assets, those you fully control, move into those you manage, then focus on those you merely influence.
Using this framework, you can assess all the assets you have, where they land on the MACH-6, and determine what linkages are missing, need development, or require optimization.
6. Re-assess your current state customer journey and develop your future state
Next, determine how your current journey looks. This will help find gaps, friction points, and alignment opportunities.
Start with an audit of your current traffic sources and referral channels. This data is available in analytics platforms. Where are your consumers coming from? Social? Organic search? It’s likely a mix of many sources.
Assess the existing touchpoints that support the journey your audience is on. Take inventory of everything you have — corporate site, blogs, social media accounts, and more — and map it out.
When you know what your asset landscape looks like, you reveal the areas that miss the mark, and the assets that need refinement—more on that next.
7. Finalize your customer journey map
Next, create a final blueprint for your customer journey map. Based on the above you now understand your consumer and what they want, you know how to solve their pain points, and most important, you know where you’ll deliver solutions across the customer journey.
Use all of that for your mapping process and you’ll create a strategic customer journey map that reflects how real consumers behave in the modern digital marketplace.
How to get the most out of your customer journey map
Anyone can create a customer journey map but there are a few ways to ensure your map actually works, and actually represents reality. Here’s how:
Achieve audience alignment with search intent – a reminder
Customer journey maps are only as effective as the data you use to build them. If you misunderstand what people want and fumble that moment of value delivery it erodes audience alignment. Each time you serve something the consumer does not want, is not asking for, or is not ready for, this erosion strengthens. With the wrong approach, it’s easy to produce a misaligned map.
For this reason — we want to reiterate — search intent data is the key to truly understanding real people and helping them in real ways. That’s what alignment looks like.
Create a consistent, superior customer experience
A major goal of creating a customer journey map is to ensure that you provide a superior digital customer experience (DCX) from start to finish. Set this as a central goal from the jump, along with your business goals.
A user journey map clarifies each step a customer takes so you can make them as pleasing and painless as possible. Outstanding experiences leads to more customers, orders, and revenue.
Need proof? Look no further than Amazon.
Known for their obsessive focus on the customer’s experience, they’ve spent billions to make online purchasing as easy as possible. One-click ordering, free two-day shipping, ultra-personalized recommendations — the list goes on and on. The result of creating such a fantastic experience is millions of customers and hundreds of billions in revenue.
Focus on authentic consumer connections and the rest will follow
Obviously, brands want to create a customer journey that results in leads and transactions. And while this may define the ultimate success of your efforts, reaching that goal requires a focus elsewhere; a focus on building authentic consumer connections.
From start to finish, brands that build customer journey maps around a reception marketing paradigm and customer-centricity achieve bigger wins when it’s time to buy. So rather than building some linear, basic map aimed at making sales, create one to make connections with consumers by providing upfront and consistent value.
Customer journey map example
For example, let’s look at Ember, which sells temperature-controlled coffee mugs. What does their customer journey look like and how should they engage their audience?
- A potential customer realizes how often they have to reheat their coffee because it gets cold.
- They become frustrated and Google terms like “coffee warmer” or “how to keep coffee hot”.
- They find lists of hacks to keep their coffee warm, including cup sleeves, scarves, lids, and metal coffee beans. However, there are few mentions of Ember or temperature-controlled mugs.
- They don’t find Ember in the first two pages of Google organic results.
- Ember is included in the product ads in the search results. But banner blindness causes most people to scroll past the ads.
- Ember could use interactive assessments to discover when users search for hot coffee (at home on the weekends, while at the office, etc.).
- Where Ember does better is in the middle of the content marketing funnel. After coffee lovers discover Ember, they check out the brand.
- This is where Ember’s videos make a difference. Ember’s videos cover everything from product introductions to recipes to the brand’s focus on “putting time back”. Some videos have thousands of views, while others have millions.
- While on the Ember website, the brand shares its purpose, commitment to exceptional design, and its technology. On the product pages themselves, they seal the deal with video, customer reviews, product details, a CTA for the help center, and a FAQ.
The evolution of customer journey maps
Customer journey maps are still a vital tool in the modern marketer’s arsenal, but as we’ve noted above, things have changed and continue to evolve.
The biggest learning over the past several years is that traditional marketing models have simply not kept pace with the consumer. Nor have interruptive techniques. And, as discussed, even the way customer journeys look has changed, making it more difficult than ever to build authentic connections.
With this in mind, by augmenting the standard customer journey map with a few new elements — owned assets, search intent, and the MACH-6 — they become more effective in the context of today’s consumers.
This approach builds your strategy on a strong owned asset optimization (OAO) foundation, one in which:
- You really understand your consumer and their needs
- You have a sophisticated touchpoint network to deliver solutions
- You are prepared to deliver value when audiences actually want it
We recommend reading the following article to see how these three elements create a marketing paradigm shift, and how your brand can capitalize on it:
Owned Asset Optimization (OAO) | The Foundational Guide
May 1, 2023