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How to create a customer journey map for your digital CX

Without knowing the steps your customers have taken to achieve their goals, how can you holistically improve their experience?

Sure, you can take a stab at improving one or two features, still it’s more valuable to first have a map to understand the context of where those features sit in relationship to the customer’s journey — allowing you to remove the friction across the entire experience.

And, when that happens, you’ll not just have a customer, you’ll have an enthusiastic customer who compels others to want to become a customer as well. See how this works? The process boils down to understanding the journey and empathizing with your customer, followed by improvements that genuinely make a difference in shaping their experience for the better. 

According to Salesforce, 80% of customers now consider their experience with a company to be as important as its products and services.

Now a digital customer journey may seem trivial — you offer a product or service and they buy it. But look more closely and you’ll see that the digital customer journey is more nuanced than that. And under that “nuance” is often the levers to a better customer experience.

In his book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, Brian Solis offers a way forward:

“People increasingly share their experiences with companies and products in our connected economy, and we can either be active participants in creating and nurturing desired experiences or spend more and more time trying to react or make up for bad experiences.”

So what is a digital customer journey map exactly?

A digital customer journey map is a visual representation of the interactions a customer has with your brand across all digital touchpoints. Whether your customers interact with you via your website, email, social media, or other channels, mapping the digital customer journey helps ensure customers don’t slip through cracks.

In short, it’s a diagram that illustrates the steps your customer(s) take when interacting with your website or app as they purchase or use your products or services.

What’s an example of how this plays out?

Freshdesk puts it this way:

A common customer journey for a SaaS customer might start with them seeing an ad for your product on a website. A few days later, they see a tweet advertising a new blog post that you wrote. They read the blog and sign up for your newsletter. The next month they click through a marketing email to set up a free trial. After using the software for a few days, they are hooked! They talk to sales to sign up on an annual plan. But disaster strikes and they run into a bug when they upgrade. The customer starts talking to customer support to fix the bug.

Customer Journey Maps can look very different

There are many different ways to do customer journey maps, but here’s an example from Shopify that gives a good overview: (Click image to see large version)

Customer Journey Map image

Example 2 Here’s a sample journey map template from the Nielsen Norman Group. (Click image to see large version)

Customer Journey Map image

The Rail Europe Experience Map below is relatively well known, and you can see that it covers the entire journey from research to post-travel. (Click image to see large version)

Customer Journey Map image

This customer journey map is more complicated, but it lays out every action involved in the customer experience, including those of the customer and employees. By analyzing how each of these factors influences the customer journey, you can find the root cause of issues and pain points.

How to create a customer journey map

Start with Empathy

Empathy is our ability to see the world through other people’s eyes — to see, feel, and experience things as they do. And while none of us can fully experience things the way someone else does, we can get close if we try.

Seek first to understand, then to be understood.

Empathy, as explained by IDEO, is a “deep understanding of the problems and realities of people…”

To understand people’s problems and realities, the key steps to start with empathy are:

  1. Observe: Identify who the target customer is and observe their behavior as they interact with your website or app.
  2. Gather: Ask “how” and “why” questions as you observe their interactions, trying to get to the core of their motivations.
  3. Generate: Using data, analytics, and observation generate insights around roadblocks and pain points those customers run into.
  4. Reflect: Taking the information you’ve gathered, reflect on how you can improve your customer’s experience in a way that both makes it a delight to buy your product or service but also helps your organization grow. 

Create Buyer (User) Personas

Now that we are developing empathy for our customers, we need to understand who’s experience we’re making a map for. To do that, you’ll want to create personas. 

In brief, a persona is a fictional customer based on real user research. Having a clear persona is helpful in reminding you to direct every aspect of your customer journey map towards them.

Customer personas are handy tools for thinking about your target customers. Personas help provide context and direction about who your most important customers are and how they interact with your brand. A strong customer persona should include

  • Key characteristics like name, age, and demographic
  • Frequent tasks or activities
  • Pain points they experience
  • Their goals
  • Their wants and needs
  • Any form of device, browser, or technology considerations

I aim to generate around three personas for every customer journey map. Sure, you may have more than three types of customers, but this helps you rigorously focus on your most important ones.

Here’s the template that I created and use, feel free to copy and use it for yourself. You can even use this buyer persona tool from HubSpot to fill out the details of each persona.

Map the Stages & Channels

A journey map categorizes touchpoints into two primary categories, 

Stages and Channels:

  • Stages: These include things like the discovery, shopping, purchasing, and post-purchasing. You may have two stages or a dozen — it greatly depends on your own unique customer journey. 
  • Channels: Some examples of channels would be your website, retail store, customer service, email, or mobile. Channels should map across your journey map, with each channel represented in each stage.

Map the touchpoints

With your personas in hand, you’ll want to start mapping the touchpoints under the relevant stages and channels. Touchpoints are all the places that your customers can interact with you. These include things like your website search, product detail pages, email newsletter, online chat, social networks, online advertisements, etc.

This is an essential step in creating a customer journey map because it gives you insight into what actions your customers take to engage with your products and services.

Touchpoints of Friction & Delight

Now that you’ve mapped the touchpoints of a customer’s journey to stages and channels, you’ll want to do another pass and identify which touchpoints create friction or delight for customers. Essentially, where are there obstacles and where do things really shine.

To do this, look for areas that might be frustrating, confusing, broken, inconsistent, off-brand, or downright irritating. This could be pricing, content, functionality, colors, fonts, flows, processes, information organization, names of buttons, messaging, speed, intuitiveness, etc. 

On the other hand, identify which areas are already delightful for each persona. This could be personalized messaging, responsive customer service, fast loading pages, seamless sign-up process, frictionless checkout. 

When you find a touchpoint that is painful or delightful, you’ll want to mark it as one or the other. If using sticky notes, simply use a red and green marker, with red for painful touchpoints and green for delightful. You may even want to use a third color to represent touchpoints that are just average — those can be opportunities for delighting customers as well.

Review through the lens of your competition

This is an optional step, but I’ve always found at least a few gems when looking at the same journey through the lens of the competition. Take 2-4 of your competitors and try to navigate the same steps as your journey. While you do that, look at it from your persona’s perspective to see what your competition does well and where they fail. This often reveals opportunities and inspiration for how to improve your own customer experience.

Tap into your data

While doing all of this, it’s vital to tap into data and analytics. Take a look at your analytics platform to see where people are abandoning a purchase, the top exit pages, or the pages with the highest bounce rates. Look for patterns and anomalies as both can provide useful insights.  (click image for a larger version)

Use behavioral analytics

As I wrote in my article “What Is Behavior Analytics?”, you can use tools such as HotJar or FullStory to view heatmaps, scroll maps, and interaction recordings. Those will help increase your understanding of the specific behaviors your customers use to engage with each touchpoint of your website.  (image: scroll map on left, heatmap on right)

Ask Customer Support for insights

A Customer Support team can often be a goldmine of customer inquiries, complaints, and requests — exactly what you need to target in on the issues of your CX.

To get started, have a conversation with your 1-3 top Customer Support agents, asking them the above items to gain those valuable insights. You may want to provide them a heads-up with the questions in advance so they can be better prepared.

Prioritize the touchpoints you need to improve.

Congratulations, you now have a solid foundation to work from. It’s best to start small in the beginning and prioritize the most critical areas for improvement. To do this, I recommend the MoSCoW method — which stands for Must, Should, Could, and Won’t. So ask yourself, what improvements must we have that are critical to our success? What should we have that aren’t vital but will add significant value? What could we have but only provide small value? And which ones won’t we do for now because they aren’t a priority (for now at least).  

The best way to organize this is to take a whiteboard and draw four columns, one for each of the MSCW sections. Then start placing your friction sticky notes from the journey map within each relevant column. You can even sort them vertically with the most urgent improvements at the top. If you don’t have a whiteboard or sticky notes, there’s always digital tools like Google Sheets or Trello that will help digitize this process. Here’s an example of how that can look from Victoria Duong’s article.

Execute On Your Findings

All this analysis will help you uncover what your customers care most about. Now it’s your job to serve them the content, products, and offers in line with their desires, and in a way, that is a delightful experience for them.

Now that you have these insights, it’s time to start making improvements. I recommended that if you’re part of a broader organization, you may want to tackle some easy ones to start to get some quick wins, which can get everyone excited about the progress.

And no matter how big or small the improvements are, they will be effective since they’re directly correlated with customer pain points. Rather than blindly trying to make changes in the hopes they’ll improve the customer experiences, you can have confidence they will. And, with the help of your visual digital customer journey map, you can ensure those needs and pain points are always addressed.

Your map should be a constant work-in-progress. Reviewing it every quarter will help identify gaps and opportunities. And remember to frequently use your analytics along with customer feedback to find those pain points.

The great thing about this approach is that you can repeat it over and over again, each time gaining more and more insights into how to improve your customer’s experience.

Final Thoughts

It’s never been more critical to understand the nuances of your customer’s journey with buying services or products being more complex than ever due to so many channels and competitors.

However, if you want to grow your business, take a deep look at your customer’s journey — and not just once but on an ongoing basis. This will set you apart from your competition while fostering an environment to create long-term customers that are champions of your brand — creating an experience your customers love instead of loathe.