Understanding what customers are thinking and feeling is a big part of creating a memorable customer experience. Customer journey mapping is one important way businesses learn how to be there for customers at every step of the way.
What is the customer journey?
A customer journey is the sum of all experiences a customer has with your brand. It takes into account every interaction from discovery to purchase to ">loyalty and beyond. The customer journey documents the entire customer experience, including how they feel about your brand at every stage.
This journey forms customers’ understanding and their perceptions about the business or service provider, according to Zoe Koven, Senior Director of Customer Advocacy at Zendesk. Some also call it the buyer's journey or customer lifecycle.
The customer journey isn't linear - it's an infinite loop. That means once you've earned a customer, they are continually evaluating your brand and deciding whether it's worth their investment. It also means you have an opportunity to win back customers who have dropped out of the customer journey.\
Customer journey stages
Customers become aware of the product or service. Awareness spreads through word-of-mouth and advertising.
Now that you have the customer's attention, they are weighing all of their options. The interest stage of the journey is where promotions can help move customers to the next stage in the journey.
The customer has decided to take action and purchase from your company. At this stage, you haven't yet earned their loyalty, but they are willing to give you a try.
Customers receive the product or service and begin to use it. At this stage, you can offer workshops and knowledge base articles to help your customers optimize their experience with your product or service.
If the product "wows" the customers, the brand begins to earn their loyalty. This is when customers become brand ambassadors - essentially advertising for you. At this stage, you can reward and retain your customers with loyalty programs, exclusive content and VIP promotions.
“When you start following the customer journey, you need a common language that describes where the customer is,” Koven says. “This is why a lot of companies say customers are in an evaluation stage or a buy stage instead of ‘They’ve been with us for five years.’”
Customer journey example
Shawna, a potential customer, hears an ad for a skincare subscription service a while listening to a podcast.
She goes to the company's site to learn more, clicking on the about page and company philosophy, as well as their social media handles.
Shawna sees a promotion for first-time subscribers and decides to give it a shot.
After much anticipation, her first box arrives. She’s impressed with the range of products included in the shipment and spends the next several weeks testing them at home.
Shawna also wants to try more products that haven’t been tested on animals. She searches the help center for information but decides to talk with a customer service agent to talk it through.
Shawna's customer experience has been positive, and she's decided the service has eliminated the pain point of having to go shopping at a store. She tells a friend about the company.
Understanding customer journeys is essential. One way to achieve that understanding is by creating a customer journey map, which helps all teams in the business provide the right experiences at the right time.
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map is an outline of customers’ arc or path with the company.
It can be very broad, showing where, when, and how each organization within the business contributes to the customer experience. Sales would be pretty close to the end of the customers’ journey; a billboard on the side of the freeway might be closer to the start of it.
A customer journey map can also be very granular: think of the tiny journeys that a customer takes from receiving a sponsored Instagram post to making a purchase within the hour.
Why all businesses need a customer journey map
Businesses need a customer journey map to understand their customers better and improve their products, services, and experiences. After all, it’s hard to be there for someone when you don’t know what they are thinking or feeling, what bothered them, or what made them happy.
Customers aren’t always shy about sharing what they’re thinking or feeling, but customer journey mapping helps companies read between the lines and fill in any gaps.
“I would argue that any business that has more than 100 or 200 employees has a more convoluted customer experience unless they create a customer journey map”
Zoe Koven, Senior Director of Customer Advocacy at Zendesk
Mapping the customer journey is all about seeing the business from the customer's perspective, to build better relationships with them over time.
Take financial services, for example. Customers shopping for financial products and services tend to conduct a lot of research before talking with a representative 1:1. With a topic as personal and important as personal finance, customers have shown that they like to take their time learning about the many products and services at their disposal.
Giving customers room to discover helpful content in a knowledge base, the community, or blog is necessary and appropriate at this part of their journey. Hitting them with aggressive pop-up requests to chat with a representative is probably not necessary or appropriate at this point in their experience.
There are lots of benefits for customers when a company creates a customer journey map. But there are lots of internal benefits, too.
Everyone in a company works on projects and initiatives within a team, and those teams are organized into groups: customer service, customer success, customer advocacy, marketing, sales, and more. This helps everyone stay organized, but it can have a negative effect on the customer experience.
“You can fall into a trap, feeling that your world is the only world that the customer experiences,” Koven says. “And it means that you can sometimes be blind to how your piece of the puzzle interacts with the rest of the puzzle. The journey map allows you to understand what customers are experiencing, so that you can have a more holistic view of where you fit in to make sure that it’s cohesive for the customer.”
Everyone in an organization has a part to play in creating the customer journey map. Let’s go into how cross-functional groups can come together to make it happen.
How to create a customer journey map
Take these steps to create a customer experience journey map:
Gather a cross-functional team.
Identify the brightest group of people in the company, across functions and representing multiple touchpoints with customers. Breaking internal team silos to bring these representatives together is an essential first step. At that point, everyone is ready to see what the whole puzzle looks like, not just their piece.
Hold a working session.
Start the working session by asking a big question: “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 online 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, without mapping the entire funnel beforehand, 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.
Define the patterns and arcs that emerge.
This is where the brainstorming turns into a structure. There will still be a ton of detail or items people were unsure how to categorize. But you’ll see a pattern emerge, and those triggers and customer touch points with your brand will help to define the customer journey.
Add naming and milestones.
Add names to each of the categories. From the working session, it may become clear that the suggested categories don’t make sense. Or that a completely new category is necessary. Then, add milestones. How does the customer graduate from one phase to another? Do they move freely between phases or move mostly in one direction?
Incorporate where different stakeholders and teams fit into the journey.
Go back to all of the steps above: How do each of the people in the room and the teams they represent help the customer in each stage? How do they use their skills and influence in the company to get the best outcomes for the customer and the business?
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 map examples
The map itself doesn't have to be a literal map—though that is common. Popular shapes include:
- A pathway that resembles a physical journey
- A funnel, similar to the marketing or sales funnel, like 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
Just as customer journeys vary from person to person, so can customer journey maps.
Customer journey maps can be very broad and organization-wide. But they can also get very granular. One organization or team can have many smaller customer journey maps used for specific teams or initiatives.
- A UX customer journey map, which focuses on the customer’s scrolling behavior, click behavior, or saved items on an ecommerce website, to name a few.
- A “day in the life” customer journey map, which takes into account different factors outside of the company or industry.
- A “future state” customer journey map, which imagines what customers will be experiencing in the future, perhaps after a big product launch or update.
The customer journey mapping process is the same as above, just completed on a smaller scale.
Customer journey management
A common question is: Which team "owns" customer journey management? It depends:
- Marketing, by the nature of the organization's role in the business, does a lot of journey mapping already, Koven says
- Some larger businesses might have centralized "centers of excellence" to manage customer journey mapping on a global scale
- Other companies might have entire customer experience organizations, given their role in securing renewals and expansions
The "owning" team may 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, the entire company is responsible for ensuring the customer journey map best represents the customer experience.
Why creating a customer journey map is worth it
Embarking on the customers’ journey helps ensure everyone gets what they need out of the relationship. Customers feel like their experience working with a business is coherent, Koven says—and she doesn’t just mean email marketing or promotions. That means many different people and teams, like salespeople or customer success folks, arrive at appropriate parts in the customer experience.
“It helps customers feel like the company knows them-that the way they contact them is contextual, based on their experience and level of personalization based on who they are and where they are with the business,” Koven says.