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11 min read

Customer journey mapping 101 (with free templates)

By Amanda Pell · June 7, 2022
Hero image of a man at a coffee shop, holding a credit card while on the phone, with a computer in front of him

When I was a kid, I remember watching my parents switch between different credit cards to get the best rewards for a particular purchase. They almost always pulled out the American Express first because (as they explained to me) the base reward rate was higher than even the sector-specific perks offered by other cards. Twenty years later, when I decided to get a high-end credit card, Amex was the first one that came to mind.

Customer journey mapping is the process of planning out people's awareness of and relationship to your brand, starting with their very first impression—even if, as in my case, that impression is made a full decade before they can actually use your product.

What is a customer journey map?

The customer journey is the path a person takes to move from general awareness to prospective customer to (in the ideal scenario) brand loyalist. The customer journey map is a visual document that traces this path through all of the interactions, or touchpoints, a person will have with a brand.

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Think back to any recent purchase of your own, and try to trace your own customer journey:

  • 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 individual—and you don't need to. Instead, you can segment your audience into customer personas and create a map for each. 

The customer journey vs. the user journey vs. the buyer journey

What's the difference between the customer, user, and buyer journeys?

The customer journey is split up into two parts: the buyer journey and the user journey. The buyer journey covers everything up to the point of purchase. After that point, the customer becomes a user, and all of their experiences are part of the user journey. 

Benefits of customer journey mapping

In a world where there are multiple high-quality options for just about every product on the market, brands need to foster long-term relationships with their customers to prevent them from being poached by competitors who offer a better customer experience.

Here are the main benefits of the customer journey mapping process:

  • Touchpoint optimization: With a clear understanding of what your touchpoints are and where they occur, you can track and adjust them based on how they perform.

  • 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.

  • Improved product development: Thoughtful and intentional journey planning creates more opportunities for meaningful customer feedback, which gives businesses better information to improve their product.

Stages of the customer journey

The customer journey map can be split into five phases:

  1. Awareness

  2. Consideration

  3. Conversion

  4. Retention

  5. Brand loyalty

Awareness

Customers can't decide whether or not they want your product if they don't know it exists. In the earliest phase of the customer journey, a business's goal is to reach the individual and, ultimately, attract them to the brand.

For a small- to medium-sized business, the work of this stage involves reaching out directly to consumers via channels like advertising, SEO, and social media. For a household name like American Express, this stage is dedicated to ensuring the impression their brand makes is a positive one. 

Consideration

Once potential customers are aware of your brand, the next phase they enter is called "consideration" or "research." This is when the customer's perspective shifts from simple awareness of your brand's existence to an understanding of the value that you have to offer them. 

During this phase, the brand's goal is to design touchpoints that demonstrate to the user why their product can solve a problem or improve an experience that's specific to that person. This can be done using guides and how-tos, partnerships with other brands, and ads that portray a customer problem being solved.

Some businesses also include a mini-stage called "Intent" or "Onboarding," when the customer has decided they're interested in the product and is testing it out. The company's goal in this stage is simply to provide an exceptional user experience—they want to make sure the product works as intended and the customer's questions and requests are handled well.

Conversion

A business can identify customers that are primed for conversion based on behavior in the consideration stage. Someone who signs up for a newsletter isn't a hot sales prospect quite yet, but when they start opening more emails and spending more time on the site, that's when brands know they're ready for a conversion push.

Types of conversions vary depending on the type of business and industry. Examples of conversion pushes include:

  • An abandoned cart email pushing a browsing shopper to complete a purchase

  • A physical mail offer encouraging a potential customer to open an account

  • A seasonal campaign highlighting why a product is perfect for a particular holiday, celebration, or event

Retention

When a conversion is successful, a potential buyer becomes an actual customer. The goal in the retention stage is to demonstrate to the customer why they were right to make their purchase, and set them up to make more purchases or renew services in the future.

The retention stage is also where the user experience or user journey begins. The company's job in this phase, then, is to provide the best possible user experience. Easy installation, frictionless customer service, and—this part should be obvious—a product or service that works well and provides the user with what they need are all key components to improved customer retention.

Brand loyalty

In the final customer journey phase, users go from run-of-the-mill satisfied customers to active advocates for your business. 

You can encourage brand loyalty by offering exceptional customer service, referral programs, and loyalty discounts and exclusives.

Keep in mind: a customer doesn't need to be a zealot for your company to be an unintentional brand advocate. One of the biggest reasons I made the decision to apply for Amex's high-end card is because my best friend has it. She didn't specifically recommend it to me, but I became interested after experiencing a lot of the card benefits vicariously through her. 

Customer journey map template

The customer journey map follows the five phases of the customer journey, but it also includes additional details within each phase to help you strategically plan your customer's touchpoints and move them closer to a purchase.

This is the actual customer journey map template that the folks at Zapier use. You can see that the map is separated into the five stages along the leftmost column, but then each stage has a number of different fields to fill in to help plan out the customer's experience in that stage.

Below, we'll walk through each part of the customer journey map and how to use it. Make a copy of the template to follow along.

Parts of a journey map

If you're already familiar with journey mapping, you can start filling in the template right away. Otherwise, here's a quick walkthrough of what goes in each section.

What is the customer doing?

In this section, you'll jot down the main things that the prospect, lead, or customer is doing during this stage. For example, if you're a personal trainer, an awareness stage key step might include something like "Prospect wants to get in shape." If you offer an email newsletter app, an expansion and advocacy stage key step might be "Customer upgrades their plan." 

Each stage will likely have more than one key step or milestone—that's good. You should be specific enough to be able to create touchpoints, content, and marketing campaigns geared toward each milestone.

What is the customer thinking?

Next, put yourself in the customer's shoes and think about what questions they might have at each stage. In the awareness stage, it might be things like "How can I do X better?" or "What is [your product name]?" In the consideration phase, questions like "Is this worth my time/money?" or "Will this help me solve my problem?" will come to the forefront. 

Where and how could the customer encounter our brand?

After you've outlined what your customer is thinking at each stage, align each question with the relevant touchpoint that could address each concern. (For SaaS products like Zapier, most of these touchpoints are going to be digital, which is why we call this column "Related Pages/Content.")

Not all existing touchpoints will be a part of the planned customer journey. For example, I seriously doubt that American Express's customer journey map includes a milestone labeled "Customer gets a free ride because her friend has an Amex card and gets $15 in Uber cash each month." However, each question must have at least one touchpoint that directly and specifically addresses the customer's needs and questions at that point.

What touchpoint opportunities are missing?

When you have a question or milestone that doesn't have a corresponding touchpoint, you've found a gap in your customer journey. That means that customers at this stage are going to be left with unmet needs and unanswered questions, and may look more seriously at competitor products as a result. It's essential that you develop touchpoints to fill this gap to prevent losing potential customers at a key milestone.

Advanced customer journey mapping tips

Everything we've covered up to this point will only get you as far as a basic customer journey map. That doesn't mean, however, that your customer journey map will be good. Once you have the basic journey mapping structure down, you'll want to take steps to continually improve your map's effectiveness.

Survey your customers and customer teams

When designing touchpoints and determining where and how customers interact with your business, don't guess—your existing customer base is a valuable resource you can tap for a firsthand customer perspective. You can incentivize customers to participate in surveys and fill out feedback forms by offering discounts and perks in exchange.

Talk to your customer-facing employees, too. The people who work directly with customers day-to-day will have more accurate information about how to interact with them.

Automate customer data collection

High-quality, premium experiences are defined by their high level of personalization, and that personalization is only possible if you have information about your customer. It's not possible to sit there and take notes on every person who interacts with your brand, but it is possible to automatically collect data from customer interactions and have them collated in your CRM. 

Set up your contact management platform to automatically tag contacts with information like gender, age, products they've bought, events they've attended, what types of emails they open consistently and what emails they regularly ignore, whether their purchases indicate that they have pets or children, and so on. The more information you have, the better your customer experiences will be.

Tweak for B2B, B2C, and SaaS industries

The nature of the customer journey is different for SaaS, B2B, and B2C companies. A B2B company's interactions with prospects might include in-person conferences, while a SaaS company's touchpoints will be mostly digital. Companies that sell to consumers will need to think through individual people's experiences in a way that B2B companies don't. A company whose products are designed for emergencies will need to think through crisis scenarios instead of day-to-day customer experiences.

Tweak your customer journey categories to fit your company, product, and industry. Using a generalized or poorly-fitting customer journey map will result in vague and unhelpful interactions with your brand.

Create multiple maps for different journeys

When people refer to the customer journey, they're typically talking about the overarching journey from awareness to brand loyalty that we outlined above. However, you can map any part of the customer journey and experience. 

  • Do you target college students? Replace the five stages with four academic quarters, and map their experience over the course of a year. 

  • Is your product designed to be used in the car? Map the customer journey through each hour of a long road trip. 

Zooming in to create detailed maps of different aspects of the customer journey will help you create even more specifically tailored customer experiences.

Types of journey maps

The template above follows the standard stages of the customer journey, but it's not the only way to do your customer journey mapping.

Two other commonly-used journey maps are the "day in a life" journey map and the customer support journey map. We've provided the key elements of both below, as well as customer journey map templates for each.

Day/week/month in the life map

The best way to map mini-journeys within the larger customer experience lifecycle is with a "Day in a Life" journey map. This map plots the same things as the general customer journey map—key milestones, questions, touchpoints, and gaps—but over a particular period of time instead of over the course of the entire relationship. 

This map includes space for you to record the buyer persona's name, occupation, and motto, but these are really just shorthand for key persona characteristics. If you're selling baby diapers, for instance, your persona's occupation would be "parent," even if the person in question is also an accountant. 

The "motto" should be a condensed version of your persona's primary mindset with regard to their wants, needs, and pain points. The motto for an expecting first-time parent might be, "I'm excited but nervous—I have to make sure I'm prepared for anything."

Template for a "day in a life" customer journey map

Use the column headers to set your time frame. If you're marketing to expecting parents, the time frame might be the nine months of a pregnancy, or you might map an expectant mother's experiences through a single day in her third trimester. At each stage, ask yourself the same questions:

  • What is the customer doing?

  • What is the customer thinking?

  • Where and how could the customer encounter our brand? Alternatively: how could our brand provide value at each stage?

  • What touchpoint opportunities are missing?

A day in the life customer journey map will not only help you zoom in to develop more tailored experiences, but it will also give you insights into what might be useful to add or improve in your product or service.

Support experience map

One of the most common, and most significant, customer/brand interactions is the customer support journey. A frustrating customer service experience can turn someone off of your brand and product entirely, while a particularly impressive experience can immediately convert a regular user into a brand advocate.

This journey map is a bit different in that it doesn't just map touchpoints; it maps functional interactions between the customer and customer service representatives as well as the behind-the-scenes activities necessary to support the customer-facing team.

This map starts when the support ticket is opened and ends when the customer's issue is resolved. The top row of the map is simple: what is the customer doing at each stage in the support process?

Template for a customer support process journey map

​​Next, you'll record the corresponding actions of your customer-facing, or "frontstage" team. This includes both employees' actions and the systems engaged in the support process. For example, if the first step of your customer support process is handled by a chatbot or automatic phone system, these will go in the technology row. If the customer moves forward to request to speak with a representative, then the second stage is where your "employee actions" row will come into play.

Finally, the bottom row is for behind-the-scenes activities performed by employees who don't interact with the customer at all. For example, if the customer representative needs to get information from another department to answer the customer's questions, the other department's involvement will be recorded in the "backstage actions" section of the map.


The goal of customer journey mapping is to create increasingly specific and valuable experiences for your customer in order to make lasting positive impressions that draw people closer to making a purchase.

Since customers and their preferences are always changing, teams that continuously collect customer data will be able to craft the most effective customer journeys. As your customers' spending habits, interests, challenges, and problems change, your customer journey maps should adapt along with them.

This article was originally published in May 2021 by Nick Djurovic.

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