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Think of the last time you purchased an item. Chances are you didn’t buy the first product you laid eyes on – you probably spent some time researching and interacting with companies, perhaps even on multiple devices. Same goes for banking and insurance, or any other type of service.
This is the way most consumers behave nowadays. Research suggests that nearly a third of consumers go through three touchpoints with a business before a purchase, and another third go through four to six. And that might be conservative. According to a study led by Google, if we count all the possible research and interactions before and after a purchase, touchpoints may be anything from 20 (for candy) to 500 (for flights).
That’s why if you want to use an omnichannel approach effectively, and deliver excellent customer experience across all those touchpoints, you need to understand and map the customer journey.
The customer journey is the collection of interactions, touchpoints, and experiences that customers have with your brand up until purchase – and beyond. In other words, it’s the full customer story.
If we’re talking B2B, the customer journey definition will also include the complexities of multiple decision-makers, budget approval, and more touchpoints and interactions with various people or departments. For example, the customer journey map may go into more depth on shortlisting options and providers, post-sales support, and relationships with account managers after the sale.
Simply put, it’s the process of creating a view of all the steps customers go through to buy your products or services. This may extend to after-sales experiences. The process may start with compiling data in documents and spreadsheets, and then visualizing the data with the help of software.
Companies that have built a customer journey map see a staggering 81% increase in customer satisfaction, based on a 2018 report. The same research indicates other benefits including reduction in churn and complaints, and increase in Net Promoter Score. These benefits are the reason that two-thirds of the companies surveyed in this study said they use customer service mapping – and that number was expected to rise.
Each one of the customer journey stages is an opportunity for you to stand out from your competitors by providing the right service at the right time. For example:
|A customer walks into your store |
and starts perusing merchandise.
|Opportunity for staff to help them |
find what they’re looking for in a friendly manner.
|A customer checks out your |
website looking for a particular product.
|Opportunity to make your site simple to navigate and products easy to find via filters, attractive UX, etc.|
|A customer buys your product and tweets about it on their social media.||Opportunity to engage with them and send promotional discounts to keep them dedicated to your brand.|
|A customer has an issue with a product they bought from you and contacts customer support to return it.||Opportunity for a hassle-free return and refund process to encourage them to give you another chance.|
|A customer downloads your app on their phone.||Opportunity to help them complete every action via mobile without needing to change devices.|
Many more scenarios apply to multiple steps in the customer journey. Each person will go through different steps in a different order, so you need to truly understand customer behavior to plan for a good experience before and after purchases.
Sync with other leaders in your company. Eighteen percent of companies indicate that customer journey mapping is led by multiple stakeholders, the second biggest group after “Head of Customer Experience” (35%). Furthermore, when multiple stakeholders are involved, 92% of companies report positive or extremely positive impact of mapping on customer experience. This means, the help of others might make your life easier and it’ll have a positive impact on your goals.
So, as the leader of the program, make sure you collaborate with other departments. For example, you may need to talk about data: a CS leader might need the marketing department's help in understanding customer behavior on social media.
Also, getting buy-in from the very top is critical. The CEO, and generally the C-suite, may have deep insight into the customers. And, if they support the process, you can more easily get the resources you need to complete it (e.g. buying visualization software).
Finally, the process of customer journey mapping may seem tough to get right. But, remember that your goal will be to understand your customers’ experience, not get every single detail about their interactions correct. Focus on understanding their pain points and feelings and the process will seem less frustrating.
Here are a few actions you can take to map your customer experience journey:
Literally. Try buying one of your company’s products or services as if you were a consumer who’s only slightly familiar with your brand. Research online, click on ads, use the website product search, add products to your cart. Do this from mobile, desktop, and tablet.
While going through this exercise, note down the steps and touchpoints. Where did you go first and what did you do? Where would you go next if you were an actual customer? Here's a list with common touchpoints:
Also, note important points: what are the journey milestones? Which part of the process feels like a hassle? What’s missing that would make a customer’s journey easier?
If you want to get into customers’ minds, just ask them. About half of companies that map customer journeys use customer feedback solutions.
For example, you could prepare a short survey and offer a coupon or a small discount to those who complete it. You can use Google Forms, SurveyMonkey, or other survey tools. Questions could include:
Another (often better) way is to conduct customer interviews or collect their feedback directly. Your customer support team is invaluable here since they have access to customers on a regular basis. Invite frequent buyers and ask them to recall and describe the steps they took to buy your products.
54% of companies say their biggest obstacle to “leveraging data is fragmented or siloed data.” If different systems hold data from different customer interactions, then it’s nearly impossible to have an accurate view of the customer journey.
To get rid of data silos, try customer service software which offers a unified customer view (UCV). With a UCV, you can keep data from your interactions with customers, and their behaviors, demographics and information, in a single, easily accessible place. This way, you can map the customer journey more accurately – in fact, much of what you need is already displayed in the UCV.
Also, it’s useful to use customer journey analytics. On average, companies that use customer journey analytics solutions report a “slightly more positive impact of their journey mapping.” This is because data is more reliable than the subjective experiences of customers.
This is a vital part of any customer experience strategy. You can create the customer journey map without paying attention to personas. But, if you do follow the persona road, you’ll have a greater opportunity to truly get into your customers’ minds and understand their wants and needs.
Based on the information you have collected, build personas of the types of customers usually interested in your business. These are the so-called “marketing” or “buyer personas” which are based on the purchasing habits, demographics, values, and goals of your customers.
For example, if you sell design software, your personas may be graphic designers, project managers, creative directors, architects, etc. Make the personas as detailed as possible based on the information you have. Then, you can build a customer journey map for each of the main personas you’re interested in.
In order to map the customer journey, use a generic rubric as the backbone of the customer experience. This usually revolves around the following stages (which can be even more granular depending on a business’s needs):
This is just an example; you can choose a different system, like separating the consideration and research stages, merging decision and purchase, or adding stages like onboarding, after-sales customer relationship, online advocacy, and so on.
Pay particular attention to the last stage “Use.” An article published on Harvard Business Review calls this “OOBE” or out-of-the-box experience. This emphasizes the importance of understanding what the customer does or must do to use the product after purchase – and where they might stumble.
By using the information you’ve collected, start listing actions each persona might take. For example, according to research, 82% of smartphone users “consult their phones on purchases they are about to make in-store.” That means people on the consideration or research stages might start on mobile and end up at a physical store to purchase.
While you’re drawing the customer journey map, consider also the customers’ possible:
Go into as much detail as you like. You know best how much information you need to visualize.
Here’s a basic customer journey map example for one of the personas purchasing a laptop for business use (your personas might be less or more generic):
When adding in visits to physical locations, switching from mobile to desktop, thoughts, and motivations of the customer, and so on, the customer journey can become very complicated. This diagram may be complex, but each point should be well-thought-out and easy to decipher.
For each pain point, find possible solutions and formulate a strategy to implement them.
Creating the customer journey map takes time, so a dedicated visualization tool can make it faster. For example, you could evaluate tools like:
Mapping the customer journey takes time and effort. But, if anything is worthwhile, it is understanding your customers and what they want. Only then can you offer service that stands out and turn your customers into enthusiastic advocates of your brand.