Customers play all sorts of roles in business, so it's no surprise that businesses are generally moving toward a customer-centric model. As the co-founder of Digital Dot, a digital marketing agency, I've seen this shift up close. And with customers becoming increasingly tech-savvy, increasingly engaged, and increasingly demanding, businesses need to adapt—and so do marketers.
This is where customer journey mapping enters the picture. It can help you acquire and retain customers in an always-changing landscape so you're always one step ahead.
What is customer journey mapping?
Customer journey mapping is about creating a visual map of customers' journey with your brand, starting from their very first impression. A customer journey map visually illustrates how your customers navigate throughout your touchpoints: promotional material, social media channels, your product itself—you name it.
As an example, think of any recent purchase you've made, and try to trace your journey back.
When and where was your first contact with the product or service?
How many channels of communication with the company did you have available?
How was the contact you had, if any? Was it personal or formulaic?
Were your problems, if any, solved? If so, were they solved in a timely manner?
What do you now know about the brand besides the product or service itself?
Of course, every customer is different. But you can't create a customer journey map for every single one—and you don't need to. Instead, you can segment your audience and then create customer personas. Then you only need to create a map for each persona.
And making separate maps for each persona is key. One of our clients was focused on two personas that were formed from their two main segments: stay-at-home moms and retirees. When they added a third persona, college students, they didn't create a new map. In doing so, they neglected to consider the role social media played in college students' early phases. This created a blind spot, and when we suggested they create another customer journey map for this third persona, it all became clear.
The benefits of customer journey mapping
Purchases are no longer a simple process of seeing a product or service and buying it: there are endless touchpoints a customer has with your product or service. And that's why you need to create a customer journey map—to be sure you've accounted for all those touchpoints and how they affect your customers. Here are the main benefits you'll get from your customer journey map:
Touchpoint optimization. Through a clear understanding of how each of your touchpoints performs, you can adjust them individually with more precision. Many problems don't need holistic approaches but hyper-specific solutions.
Pain point insights. Speaking of problems, pain points can also be recurring and specific. Mapping your customers' journey can help highlight specific pain points for you to address.
Enhanced customer experience insights. Through customer profiling and a better overview of all the touchpoints that make a journey, you can acquire more precise and actionable customer experience insights.
How to create a customer journey map
Once you have your personas, your customer journey map can take a variety of forms. It might be a basic table with a few columns, or it might be a flowchart showing each step of the process—or something in between. If you go the simple route, you'll need to just break the journey down into phases. Here are the common phases found in a customer journey map, but you can adjust as needed, depending on your business model.
Sometimes called "discovery," this is when your customers learn who you are. It's all about how easy it is for a customer to hear about your business—after all, there's little point in analyzing how customers react to your material before ensuring they get to see it. This is your brand awareness step, and includes everything from paid advertising to SEO to press mentions.
First impressions can make or break a journey, so you need to think about your customers' first reactions to your brand in this stage.
Sometimes called "research," this is when your customers learn more about your product or service to decide if it's right for them.
Your leads have options (your competitors), and they're considering lots of them. How you present yourself to potential customers—including highlighting your unique selling point—is a key touchpoint. If you discover that many customers fail to engage after the first contact, that's often a sign that your presentation is lacking.
Also involved in the consideration phase are all of your marketing channels. Consider how you present both your product or service and your brand—customers want to know the brand they're buying from, not just what they're buying.
Sometimes called the "decision" stage, this is when your customers bite the bullet and make a purchase or sign up. Do you make it easy to do so? Do people abandon their carts or stop responding to emails after making an initial inquiry?
What happens after someone becomes a customer? You want to retain customers, so be sure you don't stop at the conversion phase. Think about everything post-sale, including onboarding new customers, offering great customer service, and even getting them to become brand advocates.
You can create customer journey maps from scratch, but there are lots of tools and templates available to use as well. Here are a few tools our clients have found helpful:
HubSpot's templates offer distinctions among different journey stages and delve into psychographics by considering the persona's thoughts and feelings throughout the journey.
Lucidchart's templates also divide the journey into distinct phases, expanding them to onboarding and advocacy after the purchase. The map focuses on persona emotions driven by pain points, and possible solutions are suggested underneath, for a more consolidated visual representation.
Mailchimp's customer journey builder is much more customizable, but of course focuses on the email marketing side of things—if that's your primary mode of communication with customers, it's a great starting point.
It's not one and done
Customers are always changing. That's why constant customer analysis, through surveys, engagement, and collected data, will need to inform your customer maps over time. New data on customers' spending habits, interests, and other trends will need to factor into your approach, and your customer journey maps will change as your customers change.
Your customer journey maps will be strategic assets toward a customer-centric approach to business, so be sure they're just that—strategic. Your whole company needs to be aligned on these maps. Consistency is key.