Every company wants to understand what makes customers come to their business—and what makes them leave. Customer journey mapping is a simple yet powerful way to gain those insights.
A customer journey map frames customer behavior as a story, providing a visual overview of the experiences that consumers go through when interacting with a company. Much like the plot of a romance movie, a customer journey map starts with a consumer who has an unmet need, which leads to a fateful encounter with a company, and concludes either with a long-lasting relationship or customer churn.
By making a customer journey map, you can see how your storyline tends to play out—where you’re succeeding and where you’re losing customers. From there, you can identify opportunities for improvement and come to a better understanding of why customers choose your company in the first place.
What is a customer journey map?
Customer journey map definition: A customer journey map (sometimes abbreviated as a CJM) is a diagram that shows the various stages of a customer’s interaction with a business. CJMs differ from other visual tools (like sales funnel diagrams) because they’re highly customer-centric, emphasizing the customer’s feelings and needs at every touchpoint.
While customer journey maps share some overall commonalities, there are wide variations in what they examine. The same company can use multiple maps for different purposes. They can vary in their scope, too. A customer journey map can be very broad, distilling a customer’s entire lifespan with the company into a few simple steps. This diagram can also be very granular: Think of the tiny journeys a customer takes from seeing a sponsored Instagram post to making a purchase within an hour.
Mapping the customer journey is all about seeing the business from the customer's perspective in hopes of earning long-term loyalty.
Customer journey maps can also have different endpoints, depending on what aspect of the customer experience you’re trying to study. Say you’re just interested in what drives customers to make a purchase. A freeway billboard may be the start of the journey, and a visit to your store would be close to the end. But if you’re studying long-term relationships with customers, the initial sale is only the beginning of your customer journey map.
Many businesses even create separate customer journey maps for specific customer personas, as different demographics interact with brands in different ways and for different reasons. A comic book store, for instance, would have unique customer journey maps for casual readers who wander in off the street and for collectors making purchases online.
Why businesses need a customer journey map
Any company that cares about customer satisfaction needs a customer journey map. After all, it’s hard to improve your operations when you don’t know what your customers are thinking or feeling—specifically, what bothered them and what made them happy.
Customer journey maps are a helpful way to organize the various forms of customer feedback you’re already getting and turn insights into action. For example: If many online shoppers are abandoning their carts at the payment screen, that indicates the site’s payment software is frustrating or inadequate.
Crucially, customer journey maps don’t just tell your company what you’re doing wrong—they also highlight the areas where you excel. If you get a wave of new customers on the back of an Instagram campaign, that shows you’ve found a channel worth pursuing.
Any company that cares about customer satisfaction needs a customer journey map.
Mapping the customer journey is all about seeing the business from the customer's perspective in hopes of earning long-term loyalty. Shifting this perspective—from a purely transactional way of looking at customers to one that prioritizes your relationship with them—can help you improve their overall experience.
“You can fall into a trap, feeling that your world is the only world that the customer experiences,” says Zoe Koven, senior director of innovation within Zendesk’s Customer Advocacy team. “The journey map allows you to understand what customers are experiencing, so you can have a more holistic view of where you fit in to make sure that it’s cohesive for the customer.”
While your company is likely already considering these types of issues, the visual element of the customer journey map makes it easier to see how the pieces fit together. Likewise, mapping is a good tool to help companies scale—the bigger you get, the more paths customers can take. “Any business that has more than 100 or 200 employees has a more convoluted customer experience unless they create a customer journey map,” says Koven.
“The journey map allows you to understand what customers are experiencing, so you can have a more holistic view of where you fit in to make sure that it’s cohesive for the customer.”Zoe Koven, senior director of innovation at Zendesk
Take financial services, for example. Customers shopping for financial products and services tend to conduct a lot of research before talking to a representative because money decisions are especially personal and consequential.
Understanding this customer need could inspire a financial company to take a more hands-off approach when trying to engage potential customers. Hitting them with aggressive pop-up requests to chat with a representative is probably not necessary or appropriate at this point in their journey. Instead, the company might offer helpful content in a knowledge base, community forum, or company blog.
Customer journey mapping is designed to create better experiences for customers, but making a map can benefit your company internally, too. Mapping the customer journey breaks down operations silos between teams and forces every part of your organization—from marketing to customer support—to consider their impact on the customer journey.
Now, let’s break down the elements of the customer journey and how to incorporate them into a customer journey map.
What is the customer journey?
Customer journey definition: A customer journey—sometimes called the buyer's journey or customer lifecycle—is the sum of all the interactions a consumer has with your brand, from discovery to purchase and beyond.
The customer journey isn’t linear—it’s an infinite loop. That means once you’ve earned a customer, they’re continually evaluating your brand and deciding whether it’s worth their investment. It also means you have an opportunity to win back customers who’ve dropped out of the customer journey.
5 customer journey stages
By breaking down the customer journey into distinct stages, you can better understand the customer’s needs and frame of mind at every touchpoint. Different companies use slightly different language to describe their customer stages (one brand’s “interest” is another’s “consideration”), but the basic concepts are the same, regardless of the business type.
Customers learn about your product or service through a word-of-mouth recommendation, seeing an advertisement, or doing their own research.
You have the customer’s attention, and they’re considering buying your product or service. At this stage, the customer might be reading reviews, comparing prices, or hunting for a promotion to sweeten the deal.
The customer has decided to take action and make a purchase. This isn’t the end of the line, though! For one thing, a customer can decide to buy something and then change their mind because of poor UX. They may also have an unsatisfactory experience with the product or service and never become a loyal customer.
Customers receive the product or service and begin to use it. At this stage, customer support becomes very important. Make it easy for customers to address any issues, whether it’s by talking directly to a representative or using self-service resources, such as an FAQ page or a tutorial video.
If the product or service “wows” customers, your brand begins to earn their loyalty. If customers like you enough, they’ll become brand advocates who spread the word about your company. At this stage, reward and retain your customers by providing loyalty programs, offering promotions, and above all, continuing to deliver a product and user experience that meets expectations.
Elements of a customer journey map
No two customer journey maps are exactly the same because no two companies are the same, but there are a few key elements that appear on most maps:
- Customer journey stages or steps: Break out the stages, from awareness to loyalty (or however your business defines its stages).
- Touchpoints: All the interactions the customer has with the company are known as touchpoints.
- Departments responsible: For example, marketing might own the interest stage of the journey.
- Pain points: These describe the problems that customers are facing (which is why they want your product or service) or the issues they experience while working with your company.
- Opportunities for improvement: This one is pretty self-explanatory, right?
- Customer experience: This doesn’t refer to what customers are doing, but rather to how they feel. Emotions can be graded on a numeric scale or be described using words or emojis.
Customer journey map examples
Let’s tie it all together and look at a customer journey map for an online skincare subscription service, with Shawna representing a customer persona.
Don’t feel confined to using a map—you can get creative with your company’s customer journey map. There are other visual representations that allow for varying degrees of detail.
- A pathway that resembles a physical journey
- A funnel, similar to the marketing or sales funnel, such as this one:
- An intricate slide that takes many different outcomes into account—including customer churn and reconsideration, like this one:
Different types of customer journey maps
As we’ve mentioned, customer journey maps can be very broad and involve stakeholders from across the organization, or they can focus on specific teams or customer interactions.
- A UX customer journey map focuses on the customer’s behavior within a website or app to better understand what increases engagement and sales and what makes customers drift away. The UX team could draw on Google Analytics data—such as click behavior, bounce rate, and time on page, to name just a few metrics—to inform this map.
- A “day in the life” customer journey map takes into account different forces that impact customers outside of their interactions with the brand. This can be useful in designing marketing and support tactics that meet your customers’ overall needs. If your target demographic is working parents, for example, you might place an ad on a kid-friendly podcast that families listen to on the ride to school.
- A “future state” customer journey map imagines what customers will be experiencing in the future, perhaps after a big product launch or update. This can anticipate how a change in your product will impact your customer journey and proactively locate any pain points.
The customer journey mapping process is the same for all the types mentioned above; it’s just completed on a smaller scale.
How to create a customer journey map
Customer journey mapping is designed to be a collaborative exercise. But before you start, it’s important to have a clear process in mind that you plan to follow. Take these steps to create a great customer experience journey map.
Gather a cross-functional team
If you’re creating a broad map that addresses the entire customer journey, you need representatives from multiple departments. Start by getting buy-in from leadership, and emphasize the importance of breaking down silos and hearing new perspectives. They can then pass this on to their departments and send representatives who are motivated and enthusiastic.
Hold a working session
Start the working session with your cross-functional team by discussing the customers whose journey you’re trying to understand. Ask people to empathize with these customers’ pain points, drawing from their own experiences and data.
Start by asking: “Where does a customer’s experience with our company begin?” Is it the first time they type a question into a search engine and see the company as a result? Or is it when they scroll past an ad for jeans and start thinking about buying a pair?
Use these questions to start a dialogue and agree on where the very top of the funnel is. Next, let everyone share what they think are the customer’s next steps in the experience. Acknowledge that not everyone’s next steps will be the same at this phase. Account for both good and bad experiences—opportunities for customers to be delighted and opportunities for them to leave.
Define the patterns and arcs that emerge
This is where the brainstorming turns into a structure. You’ll start to understand who has ownership over every touchpoint and which parts of the journey tend to lead to good or bad outcomes. There will still be plenty of details people are unsure how to categorize, and at this point, you’re just throwing ideas onto a whiteboard. Keep going until you’ve reached the “loyalty” phase (or however you’re defining the end of your customer journey).
Identify the major milestones in a customer journey and separate them from less important interactions. How does the customer graduate from one phase to another? Do they move freely between phases or move mostly in one direction? What moves someone from interest to purchase, or from experience to loyalty? These are the critical moments your company has to get right.
As you go along, fill in each of the bullet points from the template provided earlier, but save “opportunities for improvement” for last.
Identify opportunities for improvement
You’ve spotted the most important moments in your customer’s journey and identified the pain points that might cause them to have a bad experience. From here, brainstorm areas of improvement.
Go back to every previous step: How do the people in the room and the stakeholders they represent help the customer in each stage? How can they use their skills and influence in the company to get the best outcomes for the customer and the business?
This is where having a cross-functional team comes in handy—even if a problem is mostly related to one department, the solution doesn’t have to be.
To return to the skincare subscription service from our customer journey map example, let’s say deliveries have a tendency to arrive late due to supply chain issues. Your logistics team might not be able to speed up shipments, but they can let support know when they’re running behind. Support agents can proactively let customers know and offer a discount on their next order.
Not all teams will have a role at all stages, but they should understand what the customer is experiencing in all of them.
Customer journey management
A common question that comes up after the exercise is: Which team “owns” customer journey management? The short answer: It depends.
- Marketing, by its very nature, already does a lot of customer journey mapping to determine the most effective methods for moving customers through the sales funnel. So, in some cases, it makes sense for marketing to be in charge of maintaining the customer journey map.
- In B2B contexts (where the pool of customers is smaller than in B2C contexts), the customer ops department can keep track of the customer journey and use their on-the-ground insights to inform their work.
- Other companies might have entire customer experience teams that are dedicated to maintaining loyalty and securing renewals and expansions.
The “owning” team should be responsible for regular check-ins on the accuracy of the journey map or customer journey analytics, among other KPIs. Though one team may be accountable for updating the customer journey map, the entire company is responsible for upholding the commitment to customer experience and keeping that holistic understanding in mind.
Creating a customer journey map is worth it
Offering an excellent customer experience has become a competitive advantage and a major focal point in every industry. In the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2021, 63 percent of CX managers reported that their company prioritized CX more than they did a year ago. Despite this focus on the customer, individual departments often lose sight of the bigger CX picture while focusing on their area of the business.
Customer journey mapping breaks down these silos, according to Koven, and creates a more cohesive experience for the customer. By this, she means that many different people and teams (such as salespeople or customer success folks) arrive at appropriate parts in the customer experience and understand their role as part of a larger narrative.
In the long term, a solid customer journey map can result in customer loyalty, generate an increased level of customer trust, and provide valuable insight into customer behavior across touchpoints.
“It helps customers feel like the company knows them—that the way they contact them is contextual, based on their experience and on who they are and where they are with the business,” Koven says.