Tracing the customer journey is cut and dry. Somebody wants something, and they buy it. Easy enough, right? Unfortunately, the customer journey is rarely such a direct route.

No matter how straightforward it might seem (customer wants product, customer buys product), your customers will run into touch points along the customer journey that will influence whether or not they decide to buy your product or use your service.

Your role is to consider each of these touch points and how your customers interact with and react to them. If you don’t, you risk a poor customer experience and losing customers along the purchasing journey.

Consider this analogy about your seemingly routine daily commute.

You leave the house on your way to work. As you open the front door, you see a newspaper at your feet. You pick it up and skim the front page as you make your way to your car. You turn on the radio and pull out of the driveway, listening to your favorite morning show count down the top 40 hits on your local radio station. You make a quick pit stop at the coffee shop, where you run into your friend Nancy. You exchange a few words before making your way back to the car, passing billboards and storefronts as you arrive at the office to start your day.

What in theory is a short five mile drive is actually full of external stimuli that can have an impact on the rest of your day. What is the news headline that day? Is the radio station playing your favorite song? Is Nancy an ex?

Your customer journey can be thought of in the same way, full of factors that influence your customer’s purchasing decision. That’s why it’s important to map it out so that you can account for anything that might throw them off course.

In this article, I’ll go through:

What is customer journey mapping?

Customer journey mapping is the process of going through every touchpoint that your customer may encounter on the way to buying your product, from the moment they start thinking about making a purchase, up until after they’ve forked over the dough.

It might even start before they have your specific brand in mind. Customer journey mapping is intended to help you get a grip on the customer experience so that you can improve upon it.

Unlike misappropriated business jargon, customer journey mapping is a little easier to understand. It actually involves a visual representation of the customer journey, whether that be in the form of a tree map, a table, or a flow chart (just to name a few).

This visual representation shows every interaction —or potential interaction— that your customer may have had with your company, but also with people outside of your company that could have influenced your customer’s purchasing decision. Here are just a few examples of customer journey maps:

It doesn’t matter how you decide to map your customer’s journey; the important thing is that you document every stop along the way. The first thing you need to ask yourself is, “who are my customers?”

Start with buyer personas

If you could think of your ideal customer, this would be your buyer persona: a generalized customer or client that essentially “ticks all of the boxes” of how you’d want your customer to behave. Knowing who your customers are is the first step to knowing how they’ll act along the journey.

A report from Gartner (available to clients) advises to:

“Develop compelling, fact-based personas that provide useful decision-support data that will encourage informed journey map decisions. The right personas will help those involved with journey mapping identify discrete journeys and touchpoints, singular needs and vital CX opportunities.”

To create a buyer persona, start by using customer analytics and voice of the customer data to get a better idea of who your customers are and their sentiments about your brand or product.

  • CRM data: Look through your contact database to get a rough profile of your current customer base.
  • Surveys and feedback forms: Ask customers directly about your product, or capture data to get the demographic info that’s most important to you.
  • Interviews: When surveys aren’t enough, interview your customers with more in-depth questions. Go through your customer database and pick out some of your most loyal customers to get insights into their motivations for using your product or what makes them feel like satisfied customers.
  • Social media monitoring: Use social media monitoring tools to see who’s talking about your product online and what they’re saying.

Where does the journey take you?

The customer journey takes you on the same path that your customer takes when purchasing your product. It can be thought of in four main stages, with touch points throughout (both big and small) that affect the final outcome (whether they purchase your product or not).

While some are beyond your control, others can be influenced by your organization.

Let’s say you own a small B&B in the Catskills. I’ll use this example to show you how the customer journey mapping process might go, and point you towards the questions you need to ask during each stage of the process.

Research: How your customers find you

A customer journey map often starts at the research stage. This is where a customer has recognized a need for something.

A couple has decided to take a romantic hiking trip to the Catskills and are looking for a nice place to stay. They turn to their friends, review sites, and Google to do a bit of research about what types of accommodation–and at what prices– are available. They ask friends who are frequent hikers in the area, check websites like TripAdvisor or Airbnb for options, and Google “hotel Catskills” to see what’s out there.

Google search results showing hotels in the Catskills.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • How does your site rank in Google?
  • Will consumers be able to find your location by searching “hotels Catskills” or similar queries?
  • Do you have paid search campaigns set up for certain search queries?

Compare: How your company stacks up to competition

Once your customer knows which options are available, they’ll start comparing your product against others in the market. They’ll use the same sources (friends, review sites, online search) to do this comparison, but they’ll also check websites (including yours) to see what best caters to their needs. They might even reach out to you during this stage to ask questions, depending on the complexity of the product or service on offer.

The Catskills couple have decided on a hotel over Airbnb. They want something which offers a bit more amenities than a self-serve Airbnb and check TripAdvisor to compare star ratings and reviews of different hotels and B&Bs in your area. They find your B&B, and like what it has to offer. To ensure that they’ll have free parking and a hotel room that overlooks the hills, they call you to inquire about the amenities.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you well-reviewed on TripAdvisor or other online review sites?
  • What’s your website’s online experience like?
  • Do you offer special promotions or deals through third-party websites?
  • Are your customer service reps prepared to answer questions about your B&B and its amenities?

Purchase: How smooth is your purchasing process?

At this point, your customer has decided to go with your product. They’ll make the purchase, whether online, in person, or over the phone. You’ll want to make the purchasing experience seamless, regardless of which method your customers are using to foot the bill.

The Catskills couple have decided on your B&B and book online. They book through your website and immediately get a payment confirmation sent to their email, which they’ll print and bring with them when they arrive at your hotel.

Questions to consider include:

  • Do customers have multiple booking options?
  • Does your online payment portal offer a seamless experience?
  • Are there any potential bottlenecks in the booking process that might leave customers to abandon mid-purchase?

Post-Purchase: How was the overall experience?

Post-purchase involves not only the experience that your customer has with your product, but also how they choose to talk about it after. It’ll include any post-purchase support requests related to your product or service too.

During their stay, the Catskills couple used room service twice and called to request extra towels. Once they returned home, they got an email thanking them for their stay with a link to write a review on TripAdvisor. They also told their friends about what a great stay they had at your B&B.

Questions to consider include:

  • Did you send a post-stay email to get feedback from your clients?
  • Do you offer loyalty or rewards programs for return visitors?
  • Do you offer discounts for recommendations to other potential visitors?

Using your customer personas, you should follow the journey as you’re mapping it out to make sure that you’re not missing any stops.

While the journey will vary for every individual company, you’ll be able to follow a similar trajectory as you go through the same process that your customers would.

X marks the spot

Customer journey mapping may seem like a neverending trek, but once you go through the process, you’ll have a much better idea of how your customers find you, and what makes them come back. Remember to start with buyer persons, and then continue on through the research, compare, purchase, and post-purchase stages to get the full aspect of your customer’s trajectory.

From there, you’ll have a distinct route that you’ll be able to direct your marketing, sales, and customer support teams towards. These teams will be able to work together to create a customer experience that’ll result in more sales, advocacy, and loyalty than a journey-less path.

To get you started on the customer journey:

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