Every company wants to understand what makes buyers 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 churn.
A customer journey map starts with a consumer who has an unmet need.
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.
In this guide to customer journey mapping, you’ll find:
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map is a visual representation of the various stages a consumer goes through during the duration of their relationship with a business.
Customer journey maps differ from other visual tools (like sales funnel diagrams) because they’re highly customer-centric. They emphasize the customer’s needs and feelings at every touchpoint.
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 may be the beginning of your customer journey map.
Many businesses even create separate customer journey maps for particular 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 who make purchases online.
What are the benefits of customer journey mapping?
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. A customer journey map helps you see your brand from the consumer’s perspective, empowering you and your support team to identify areas of improvement.
Better understand your customers
The journey mapping process lets you take a walk in your buyers’ shoes. You experience everything customers feel and think along the way, as well as the roadblocks they meet. A good map also highlights customer goals and how you can help them accomplish their objectives.
Take financial services, for example. Consumers shopping for products and services in this industry tend to conduct a lot of research before talking to a representative because financial decisions are particularly personal and consequential.
Understanding this customer need, a financial sales team might take a more hands-off approach when trying to engage potential customers. A constant stream of 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 or company blog.
Improve the customer experience
Customer journey maps are a great way to organize the various forms of customer feedback you receive and turn insights into action.
Say many online shoppers are abandoning their carts at the payment screen instead of checking out. You send out a customer survey and find that your website’s payment software is inadequate. Now that you’re aware of the problem that’s preventing buyers from taking the next step outlined in the journey map, you can improve the payment system and increase sales.
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.
Encourage cross-functional collaboration
When you map out the customer journey, each team understands what stage they’re in charge of and what actions they need to take to guide the consumer to the next step. Marketers know they must target potential customers with advertising to increase awareness. Support agents know they must answer customer queries post-purchase.
Every department plays a distinct part, but the map highlights how everyone is working toward the same goal: improving the customer experience. With a shared objective, employees across the organization will likely feel connected and motivated to work together.
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
By breaking down the customer journey into distinct stages, you can better understand the buyer’s needs and frame of mind at every touchpoint. Different companies use slightly different language to describe their customer stages. The first stage could be Awareness, and the last stage could be Loyalty—it all depends on your particular business.
For an ecommerce brand, the steps in the customer journey could look like this:
A touchpoint describes an interaction a consumer has with a company, whether that’s through a website, social media app, or employee. Touchpoints influence customer perception and also present opportunities to improve customer service.
For an ecommerce business, the first touchpoint could be an Instagram ad. Another touchpoint could be the landing page the customer goes to once they click on the ad.
Show who owns what stage of the customer journey and what they’ll need to do to move the customer forward. For example, marketing might own the Interest stage of the journey. And their role would be to drive the customer to a service page using ads or social media posts.
Not all teams will have a role at all stages, but they should understand what the customer is experiencing at each phase.
Pain points and opportunities
Pain points 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. A pain point for a buyer on an ecommerce website could be a complicated ordering process.
The gaps you discover while building out your customer journey maps are opportunities for improvement. You can retain or win new customers by removing difficulties. For example, simplifying a complex ordering process can lead to more purchases.
Actions and emotions
Actions and emotions refer to what customers do and how they feel every step of the way. Emotions can be graded on a numeric scale or be described using words or emojis.
For example, your customer might be excited to buy new shoes from your online store, but they get frustrated when they can’t find their preferred payment option. The action they take could be reaching out to customer support or looking for an alternative.
How to create a customer journey map
Customer journey mapping is a collaborative exercise. But before you start, it’s important to have a clear process that you plan to follow. Take these steps to create a great customer experience journey map with your team members.
Every map should be tied to a business goal. Do you want to learn why and how customers buy from you? Do you want to find out how to improve the overall customer experience? Clearly define the end goals before creating your map so you can secure leadership buy-in and enhance the effectiveness of your map.
Gather a cross-functional team
If you’re creating a map that addresses the entire customer journey, you’ll need representatives from multiple teams—such as marketing, sales, customer success, and engineering. These departments interact with the buyer at certain stages. Their unique understanding of the customer journey will help you put together a comprehensive map.
Create customer personas and identify their goals
A customer persona (or buyer persona) is a fictional representation of your average customer. Your customer persona forms the foundation of your map; you base each stage on their actions and behaviors during the buying process.
If you provide services or products for one customer persona, you’ll need to create separate maps for specific types of buyers. Otherwise, you risk alienating customers with a different path to purchase. If you have a lot of segments, begin by building a map for your most common customer types or consumers who buy your most valuable products. You can make maps for other buyers later.
Start by doing your research. Look at the segments in your customer service software to get a clearer picture: Who are your existing customers? Who is your target audience on social media? What types of customers are on your email list?
After creating customer personas, the next step is to determine what they want to achieve. Ask yourself: Why is this consumer buying from us? What problem are they trying to solve?
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 nudges someone from Interest to Purchase or from Experience to Loyalty? These are the critical moments your company has to get right.
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.
3 customer journey map examples
Customer journey maps come in different formats. Tailor your map to visualize the present state of your customer journey, or create a map of the journey you’d like to provide.
Current-state customer journey map
A current-state customer journey map shows what buyers think and feel while going through the existing journey. This type of map is used to find gaps in the customer experience and brainstorm solutions.
Day-in-the-life customer journey map
A day-in-the-life map outlines what happens throughout your customer’s day. It accounts for the various forces that impact consumers outside of their interactions with a brand. If your target demographic is working parents, for example, you might place an ad for a kid-friendly podcast that families listen to on the ride to school.
Future-state customer journey map
A future-state customer journey map illustrates what buyers will experience during the ideal consumer journey. Future-state maps are used to imagine the possibilities of a perfect experience and provide a North Star for your teams to work toward.
Customer journey mapping best practices
Customer journey mapping is complex. With so many different customer segments and layers of information, your team can easily lose its way. Use these tips to stay on track.
Update your map regularly
A customer journey map is never finished. It requires regular updates to stay in tune with evolving customer needs and changes in your business.
So, when is a good time to review your map? Consider evaluating it when:
- A new trend causes a change in consumer behavior
- You roll out significant product updates
- You discover a new customer segment
Delegate the duty of keeping your maps up-to-date to a specific team member or group of people.
Involve your customers
The customer journey isn’t about you—it’s about your audience. Keep your mapping customer-centric by including your buyers in the process.
Speak directly with customers on the phone to get their input. It’s best to book a call with a customer-turned-advocate who has used your product or service for some time.
Ask them questions like:
- How did you discover our product or service?
- What problem were you trying to solve?
- What roadblocks did you face in the buying process?
- How would you rate the support you receive post-purchase?
You can also gather customer feedback indirectly via surveys, social media comments, and reviews.
Improve the customer experience every step of the way
With so many touchpoints to track, mapping the customer journey can be challenging. And delivering a consistent customer experience is even harder.
Use customer service software like Zendesk to identify and meet customer expectations at every stage of the journey. Zendesk provides insights into customer behavior and helps you predict their actions, ensuring you’re one step ahead. You can provide proactive support at each stage and prevent customers from leaving.