“You can have the greatest product in the world,” says Mikkel Svane, CEO of Zendesk, “and you can have the greatest service in the world, but if you don’t provide a great customer experience you’re not going to survive.” Why? Because in today’s marketplace—regardless of what you sell—experience is your product: before, during, and after a purchase. Mapping and understanding your buyers’ journey is the first step to putting yourself in their shoes to create remarkable experiences. It also helps you improve every touchpoint—from awareness to advocacy.
Let’s walk through the what, why, and how of customer journey mapping.
We’ll also include a template you can use, plenty of examples along the way, and tools for tracking success. Of course, the first question is …
What is a customer journey map (CJM)?
A customer journey map is a template for all the ways someone might discover, research, evaluate, purchase, buy again, and then become an advocate for your product or service. Customer experiences are emotional. Technology can certainly help, but it’s what people see, think, feel, and even smell when they buy from you that matters. A study by the Aberdeen Group found companies with customer journey strategies achieve:
- 18X average faster sales cycle
- 200% increase in employee engagement
- 3.5X higher revenue from customer referrals
- 10X improvement in the cost of customer service
How to map a customer journey
The two customer journey templates below detail how each stage of a map unfolds. First, here’s a linear template you can download as a PDF and fill out. We’ll cover step-by-step instructions on how to complete it within each section further on. Second, it’s also essential to consider the holistic picture of how the different parts feed into each other.
Customer experience should be folded into every step because journeys are cyclical—one happy customer’s experience influences the next. It’s not just new customers that are influenced by current customers. Mapping also applies to the second time a customer buys from you. How are they treated again? How will that affect their lifetime customer value? But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Phase 1: Awareness
It all starts with a need: someone experiences a real-world problem—a pain point—or becomes aware of something they’re missing that could make life easier, better, or more enjoyable. Try to see your customers’ emotional buying journeys from their perspective. Journey mapping is vital to this process. Consider what’s at stake for your customer. Why do they need your product or service, both practically and emotionally?
As a test case throughout, let’s say we’re florists and that our primary customer persona is “Eleanor the event planner.” She’s in her mid-twenties, lives in a big city, and has a bachelor’s degree in English literature. Eleanor works in a creative field as an administrative assistant and is making an entry-level salary: roughly $43,000 a year. What does she need? Eleanor is looking for a local florist to help her decorate her first office event—a baby shower for a colleague. The stakes are high because Eleanor has aspirations of becoming an event planner and wants to impress her boss, who leads the event planning team.
Keep in mind, Eleanor doesn’t just want flowers.
She wants them to say something about who she is as a smart and savvy employee. As her vendor, you’ll need to consider how you can impact Eleanor’s overall post-purchase satisfaction. How does she find out where to turn to meet this need?
Phase 2: Search
Normally, shoppers turn to search engines or recommendations from a friend. In Eleanor’s case, she takes three initial steps: First, Eleanor enters “Florist” into Google. Second, she talks to colleagues in her office. Third, she mentions it on Facebook and Instagram. (You can create your version of this process using the template.)
As a result, she gets multiple recommendations, both online and offline. (Phases five and six in the customer journey diagram will help you here. Eleanor will get those recommendations from happy and loyal customers.)
If a customer can’t find you via local online search, you’re not getting their business.
Google calls the discovery and research phases of the customer journey the “zero moment of truth.” RetailDive recently reported that 87% of shoppers begin their product research online. Also, Forrester found that 71% of consumers use a search engine at the beginning of their buying journey—to discover new products and services—and 74% during the consideration and transactional phases.To be found, your first step is to create a business listing on Google. The search engine giant allows you to set up a free profile so you can be discovered both on Google Maps and Search. Eleanor conducts a Google Maps Search for three places nearby that were highly recommended to her:
After creating a Google business listing, your next step is to convince customers to write reviews. According to BrightLocal, 91% of consumers trust online reviews as much as they would a personal recommendation.
Phase 3: Consider
Once a customer has discovered your product or service, it’s time to stand out from the rest. This is the first moment of truth for a customer. In P&G’s words, it’s their “a-ha moment when confronted with the product and alternatives in real life.”
Here’s how Eleanor might approach the consideration phase:
- She visits each company’s site, Pinterest, or Instagram page
- She checks out online reviews looking for the highest number of stars
Eleanor chooses a local florist whose Yelp and Google reviews are top-notch and has e-commerce capabilities in case she wants to order online later. For her first purchase, however, she wants to speak in-person with a salesperson anyhow to ensure they understand what she needs. On a lunch break, she visits the storefront. It smells lovely, and the fresh and beautiful flower displays make her feel like the store owners are very creative. The shopkeeper is friendly, knowledgeable about creating bouquets for events, and makes her feel welcome. The shopkeeper recommends a few beautiful arrangements based on her budget. She also mentions she’ll give Eleanor a 20% off coupon for her next purchase. Eleanor loves the shopkeeper’s professionalism and bouquet suggestion. She feels good about buying. She also wants that 20% off deal.
Let’s break those last few paragraphs down into lessons you can apply.
The decor or design. What story do you want your product displays and overall ambiance to tell your customers? Also, how can you help them find what they need quickly and easily? You want to leave a lasting first impression. If you sell online, the same rules apply—only you have to be even more creative in how you tell your brand story and merchandise your products. You can’t rely on all five of your customers’ senses to drive an emotional response. That’s where best-practices from other small business websites come into play. Free WiFi in-store. According to RetailDive, 71% of shoppers use their phones to research products in a store. The easier it is for customers to research their options in-store and use their phones while they wait, the more likely it is for them to spend more time and money there. Special offers. Even if you don’t have a physical sales presence, you can still offer free or special discounts to first-time customers to sweeten the deal. For example, many online retailers offer customers a 10% off coupon code for email sign-up. Knowledgeable and helpful salespeople. Nothing is more of a turnoff than a salesperson who ignores you or provides little value during a customer’s interaction with your brand—at any point in the sales cycle. Consider incentives to get your staff to provide exceptional customer service.
Phase 4: Purchase
The purchase or transactional experience of a buyer’s journey is their second moment of truth. This is where they interact with your business as well as your competitors.
Back to our persona’s journey …
- Eleanor returns the next day to buy bouquets
- The shopkeeper offers her a free cup of coffee and biscuits to enjoy while she waits for her order
- The bouquets are beautiful: they look exactly like what Eleanor had imagined
- They also each come with a free vase that matches the decor of the baby shower—the shopkeeper threw them in for free without telling Eleanor as a surprise
- Eleanor gets her 20% off coupon which is printed directly on her receipt
- She is also delighted with the quick and easy transaction when she pays using her company credit card on a POS terminal
- Eleanor walks away feeling extremely satisfied with the florist and her overall shopping experience
- Everyone in the office, her boss especially, gushes about the flowers, decor, and her hard work on the event
- Eleanor feels like a winner and is very grateful to her new favorite florist
So far, the florist has done everything right—from a welcoming environment, having insights about events, putting the customer at ease, offering a deal that’s easy to redeem, and making the transaction quick and painless. Naturally, buying something online can be more of a hassle. But not if you avoid the most common e-commerce mistakes and ensure mobile payments, in particular, are smooth and easy. Long checkout forms or multiple checkout screens can frustrate customers. The same goes for unexpected shipping charges. If you sell your products or services online, read up on how to reduce shopping cart abandonment by optimizing your checkout.
Phase 5: Loyalty
If a customer makes it this far in their buying journey, they’ve reached the third moment of truth. In other words, they’ve become a loyal customer and want to buy from you again. When their second and third purchase experiences are satisfactory, they’re also likely to give referrals to other customers and advocate for your brand online.
Let’s look at how Eleanor gets there:
- Eleanor goes back a month later to buy flowers for Mother’s Day and uses the 20% off discount card
- She also wants more free coffee and biscuits
- The shopkeeper creates yet another beautiful bouquet, using Eleanor’s mom’s favorite flowers, and throws in a free mother’s day card as another sweetener
- She gives Eleanor a loyalty card to get a free bouquet after she buys eight more
- Eleanor’s transactions are tracked in the shopkeeper’s loyalty rewards program via the store’s POS system
- That way, the florist knows where Eleanor is at all times in her buying journey and can offer other special discounts and promotions to keep Eleanor as a loyal customer
- Eleanor is hooked on the flower shop and keeps going back so she can eventually redeem a free bouquet
Depending on your budget and resources, you can start small or go big with loyalty programs. The simplest and most cost-effective option is a printed card that you can stamp or mark with a pen for each purchase a customer makes. There are tons of custom print shops who can produce a card for you. Simply search for them online—your own “zero moment of truth.” You can take it a step further with the POS integration example I mentioned earlier. Many businesses incentivize their customers to provide referrals. According to Heinz Marketing and Influitive, that’s important because 60% of companies have faster close rates when they have a referral program in place. Likewise, 71% achieve higher conversions from contact to customer.
Phase 6: Advocacy
In the advocacy phase, the buyer’s journey comes full circle. Eleanor’s friends and family might move through a similar journey with the flower shop as she did. Here’s how the story repeats itself:
- Eleanor loves her second and third bouquet purchases and writes a Yelp review to recommend the shop to others
- The shopkeeper sends Eleanor a thank you email and offers her another coupon and special discount if she refers a friend to the shop
- Eleanor’s mom also loves the Mother’s Day flowers and brags about them with a photo on Facebook: “I have the best daughter ever!”
- Her mom’s friends post comments, asking Eleanor where she got those gorgeous flowers
- Eleanor posts a reply and mentions the store by name
- Her mom’s friends and personal friends see the post and begin buying from the store
- Now, the flower shop is also a winner
It’s not a secret that positive buying experiences boost sales and retention. Nor that negative reviews send customers elsewhere.
Below are examples of Instagram posts from Mother’s Day. Notice how the happy customer worked the shop into their posts. Both florists were also monitoring Instagram for mentions and replied to the posts to build a rapport online.
What’s the value of a loyal customer and advocate like Eleanor to your business? And how do you track and measure how your customers make their way through their buying journey? Let’s look at that next.
Tools to measure and track your customer journey map
Revenue lift is an obvious first clue. However, you should set-up a baseline and ongoing list of small business metrics to follow regularly. Those can include increases in:
- Customer satisfaction via reviews
- Customer retention rate and repeat buyers
- Shares on social media and anecdotal word of mouth
- Net Promoter Score (NPS), which rates how likely someone is to refer others
Create a schedule to check results regularly. Monthly or quarterly is a good starting point, depending on how much time you have. Finally, share positive results and reviews with your team internally. It’ll help boost morale and motivate staff to keep up the great work. While you’re tracking all of the results above, it’s helpful to also look at how far customers made it to each part of the journey. Then, track how many continued to the next phase and so on. I mentioned a few tactics that the florist used with Eleanor earlier:
- As a first-time customer, she received a 20% off coupon
- When she redeemed that coupon, she received a loyalty card
- Further down the road, she received a “refer a friend” special offer
- Eleanor also later writes a review and mentions the shop on social media
Each of these tangible aspects of her journey can be tracked so you know how to treat your own Eleanor each time she comes in. When designing your strategy, think about how you can set up a similar approach.
Creating a customer journey map
If you want positive reviews and lifelong customers, remember to let their emotional experiences guide you. Mapping your customer’s journey helps to clarify their needs and optimize the user experience at multiple touchpoints. Begin with a buyer persona and identify opportunities each phase. Start simple and invest in more complex strategies and software as your business grows. After defining your metrics, set a regular cadence for measuring and evaluating what’s working and what isn’t. Then, tweak your plan as you learn more.