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.
Table of contents:
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey is the path a person takes to move from general awareness to prospective customer to (in the ideal scenario) brand loyalist. A 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.
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.
Customer journey map template
The customer journey map includes additional details within each phase (which I'll discuss in more detail later) to help you strategically plan your customers' touchpoints and move them closer to a purchase.
This customer journey map template is separated into five stages along the leftmost column, with guiding questions to help plan the customer's experience in each stage.
Below, we'll walk through each part of the customer journey map and how to use it.
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." Or 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.
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 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 to develop touchpoints to fill this gap and prevent losing potential customers at a key milestone.
Stages of the customer journey
The customer journey map can be split into five phases: awareness, consideration, conversion, retention, and brand loyalty.
Customers can't decide whether or not they want your product if they don't know that 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.
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.
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 pushing a potential customer to open an account
A seasonal campaign highlighting why a product is perfect for a particular holiday, celebration, or event
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 what they need are all key components to improved customer retention.
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.
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 lead data from customer interactions and have them collated in your CRM tool.
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."
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?
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 activity 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.
Customer journey mapping example
To put it all together, here's an example customer journey map for a gym.
Researches local gyms online
Compares membership options
"I can't go up a flight of stairs without getting winded; I need to get my health and fitness on track."
"I wish I knew someone who could recommend this gym."
Social media pages
Success stories on social media in a front-and-center location, like a saved Instagram Stories collection or a pinned post
Views gym's social media
Visits gym's website
Views membership pricing page
"This gym looks clean and modern from the photos."
"I hate calling the gym, but I'd like to learn more about personal training or class options."
Free trial request pop-up
A live chat box on the gym's website for prospective customers to ask questions about the facility or membership options before visiting
Visits the gym to take a tour
Meets with a membership consultant
Potentially signs up for free trial
"The staff was friendly and it was easy to sign up."
"I wish I could see what classes they offer and weekly schedules without having to visit the gym."
Free trial sign-up
Gym access card
A mobile app where members can track their progress, access class schedules, book personal trainer sessions, and receive personalized workout recommendations
Visits the gym regularly
Participates in classes
Engages with personal trainers
Potentially pays for membership after free trial ends
"Maybe I should compare options again."
"I wish I knew someone who could work out with me."
Personal trainer consults
Email reminders about upcoming end to free trial
Personalized offer encouraging renewal
Community-building events like workshops or challenges to foster a sense of community and support among members and staff
Refers friends and coworkers
Promotes the gym on social media
Regularly visits and attends classes
"My coworker would love this gym since it's so close to work."
"I love that teacher. I'm going to try some of her other classes."
Social media engagement
Potentially provides a testimonial for gym
A loyalty rewards program for members' continued commitment and engagement that offers exclusive discounts, merchandise, or access to premium services
Your customers' spending habits, interests, challenges, and problems are always changing, and your customer journey maps should adapt along with them. But with so much data to track, it's a good idea to connect your insights to CRM software. Then you can automate your CRM to create specific, valuable experiences for your customers without breaking a sweat.
This article was originally published in May 2021 by Nick Djurovic. The most recent update was in August 2023.