What Is A Customer Journey Map And Why Are They Important?

December 5, 2018

a man on his customer journey

We hear plenty of talk about breaking down organizational silos. And it’s a worthwhile goal. After all, your customers shouldn’t suffer a poor experience simply because of your organizational structure. But to understand how to more meaningfully align to their customers, companies need to first create a customer journey map.

Just as many say “content marketing” will someday evolve to simply be called “marketing,” some say “customer experience” will soon become the way of doing business. According to Ann Lewnes, EVP and CMO of Adobe:

The term ‘customer experience’ won’t exist in the organization of the future. It will be so deeply entrenched in a company’s product, process, and culture that it will be synonymous with the brand and represent the only way to do business.”

As Lewnes shared a year ago, the term customer experience (CX) will be trivial in the coming years because every smart company will begin to think customer first. In fact, CX consulting firm Walker declared that customer experience will overtake price and product quality as the key brand differentiator by 2020. The chart below shows the relative importance of three key elements to business strategy both today and in 2020 per Walker’s survey.

Source: Walker, Customers 2020

That’s why Walker says B2B companies must know their customers inside and out to effectively compete in 2020. As the firm explains, “This breadth of concrete knowledge will lead to a ‘pure, complete understanding of the customer’ “…allowing companies to “confidently develop proactive strategies to meet and surpass customer needs.”

No wonder Shiva Mirhosseini, Aetna's VP of marketing technology and digital experience, recently said that she sees her role as simplifying customer experiences and enabling the outcomes and experiences those customers want. To do that, Aetna's marketing team has evolved from being “masters of the pipeline to becoming customer evangelists.”

By viewing the customer experience as a strategic initiative, you too can position your company for future success. But, while many companies grasp the strategic importance of CX, they struggle with how to effectively deliver an indispensable one. Enter the customer journey map, a core tool in your overall CX strategy.

What is a customer journey map?

The customer journey map is a tool to visualize the experience of interacting with your brand from the customer’s point of view. This map is critical because it forces you to look at how your customers actually experience your brand versus how you think they do. By better understanding your customers, you can better deliver on their expectations.

According to Blake Morgan, a customer experience futurist, “You must invest in becoming an experience-led business, which means optimizing every customer touch point. By understanding the customer journey, B2B companies can stay a step ahead of the customer to lead them on the path for a great experience and quality product or service.”

Benefits of mapping your customer’s journey

Understanding and empathizing with customers lays the groundwork for meaningful interactions and successful business outcomes. It also provides a tangible framework for CX initiatives.

Customer journey maps enable better experiences

As you study all phases of a customer’s journey with your brand, you’ll be able to isolate where you aren’t meeting expectations or where you are outright alienating prospects and customers. CEB asked thousands of senior executives at companies around the world to describe the B2B purchase process in a single word. The responses included “hard,” “awful,” “painful,” “frustrating,” and “minefield.” In many cases, these horrible processes are the result of disjointed moments in time that lead to an inconsistent and frustrating customer experience.

By addressing these shortcomings, you can ensure better experiences that empower your prospects and customers to interact with and purchase from your company as they desire. That can translate into faster sales cycles, and more satisfied, loyal customers who make follow-on purchases.

Customer journey maps pave the way for your customers to better achieve their goals

It goes without saying that you want your customers to succeed. To do that, you need to understand their experience by mapping the customer journey. This provides insight into what is – and isn’t working – well for them. According to CEB:

Customers encounter predictable impediments at each buying stage. Suppliers should anticipate and remove these…”

Though CEB is speaking specifically about the buying stages, the same philosophy holds true across the entire customer experience.

By understanding the customer experience – both as it is and the ideal state – you can create, adjust, and enhance touch points to ensure the most effective, efficient buying and service process. As a result, your customers will be better able to achieve their goals, from their pre-purchase through their post-purchase experience, with your company.

Customer journey maps give your company much-needed context

Chances are, if you don’t understand the customer journey, you don’t know your customers well enough. If that’s the case, how can you be certain you’re even engaging the right people in the right companies with the right messages and offers? In an age when hyper-personalization reigns supreme, a shallow understanding of your customers doesn’t suffice.

By creating a customer journey map, you will gain an invaluable and essential view of your potential and existing customers. This more complete picture positions you to realize a better return on your marketing investments, and equips everyone in your company to better engage with prospects and customers.

Customer journey maps position your company to drive better results

A 2018 customer journey mapping report shows that 67% of customer experience professionals surveyed across the globe are using, or have used, customer journey mapping. Moreover, almost 90% of those using customer journey mapping said their program is delivering a positive impact, the most common one being an increase in customer satisfaction. Lower churn, fewer customer complaints, and higher NPS were also among the top impacts.

Common missteps when creating a customer journey map

As your company embarks on creating a customer journey map, keep in mind these common mistakes:

Getting stuck in the inside-out perspective of the customer journey

CEB has found that conventional journey maps usually cover four main buyer steps: awareness, consideration, preference, and purchase. CEB calls this the “customer purchase-from-us journey” because it is grounded in a biased view that the buyer will purchase from the company.

Instead, CEB advises that companies think of the typical purchase journey across three phases: early, middle, and late. This approach forces you to understand the experience from the time the buyer is figuring out whether their issue needs to be solved and is then considering different ways to solve it. As CEB says, “Your goal is to uncover struggles that customers would have with any supplier,” not just your company.

Just remember: The customer journey should extend to include the experience with your company post-purchase.

Taking too narrow a view of the customer journey

Whether you are purpose-driven or profit-driven, your company has to be focused on how  prospects and customers interact with the brand across five major touch points:

  1. Your website
  2. Your outbound marketing
  3. Your sales team
  4. Your customer support team
  5. Your major brand presences on owned channels like LinkedIn

As the Boston Consulting Group says, “Companies need to understand how customers are using digital and mobile channels for research in order to effectively guide their purchase journeys...customers expect not only richer online engagement but also multimedia and interactive content...Companies need to invest in technology, data, and analytics to improve insights into customer buying behavior and help provide more relevant, personalized experiences and content to buyers.”

At the same time, don’t try to create a customer journey map with input from one or just a few customers. You need input from enough sources so you can detect patterns. These patterns will guide your understanding of where customers are enjoying the least amount of friction in the journey – and suffering through the most.

Overlooking all the participants in the customer journey

Today’s B2B buyers tend to purchase in teams averaging 6.8 participants according to CEB. But they aren’t all involved at the same time. It’s critical to account for each persona’s engagement during the journey, making sure you clearly understand who is involved and what they are doing when they are on the scene.

Whether you present it as a single customer journey featuring different players throughout, or you create unique journey maps for each stakeholder, you need to account for the various personas. If you don’t get this granular, your customer journey map will end up being a superficial tool that provides little value.

Know your customer: How to research to create a journey map

To understand the customer experience from the outside in, you need to talk to your customers. If you’ve already developed buyer personas, start with those. Done well, these should capture many of the details you want to translate into a customer journey map. However, if your personas are lightweight, you’ll need to conduct more research to fully understand the customer experience from end to end.

Remember to ask questions that help elicit responses providing a complete view of the journey, whether your company is involved or not. In other words, understand each step from the customer’s point of view, starting with the process before your company even enters their mind. While you can interview a combination of prospects and customers, be sure you are talking to people who fit your ideal customer profile so irrelevant input doesn’t warp your view.

Though it might seem counterintuitive, you also need to understand your internal process and employee perspective as they relate to the customer journey. After all, the only way to fully capture the true experience is to document it from every angle. Your internal research will play a major role as you identify opportunities to improve the customer journey experience.

Tips for creating a customer journey map

You can avoid minefields and create effective journey maps by following these tips:

Start with the end in mind: Whose journey are you mapping and why?

While you don’t want to bias your view of the customer journey, you do want to be clear about why you’re creating a customer journey map. Most organizations use them to identify gaps and friction in the experience for their buyer personas so that they can try to eliminate or reduce these. Customer journey maps can also guide departments across the organization on why and how they should break down their silos.

Capture the entire customer journey while highlighting essential moments

Capturing the experience from the customer’s perspective is incredibly important – and valuable. You want to understand the journey through their eyes, but across the touch points where they interact with your company (and your competitors and any other relevant third parties). You’ll likely uncover many insights simply through the process of documenting the journey as the customer describes it. Be sure to understand the needs and goals of every buyer stakeholder (i.e., persona) at each point, and the specific actions they take.

Just as it’s critical to understand the full journey, it’s important to pinpoint critical moments that often result in make-or-break decisions for your customers (some call these “moments of truth”). In other words, figure out the moments that lead to your customers walking away and the ones that persuade them to stay the course.

Account for logic and emotions during the customer journey

Keep in mind that people making business decisions and purchases experience emotions during the process. Who wouldn’t feel a bit of trepidation and anxiety when spending thousands – sometimes millions – of someone’s else’s dollars? No wonder CEB research shows second-guessing occurs in more than 40% of completed B2B purchases. You need to account for customers’ logic and emotions in your journey maps to develop an accurate portrayal of their experience. Including customer quotes can help bring the emotional side of the journey to life.

Make the map actionable: Empower people across the organization to influence the journey

Remember the reason you are developing a journey map. Assuming you want to make use of the insights to change processes and outcomes for the better, you need to activate the journey map. As Annette Franz, CEO of CX Journey Inc., says:

Journey mapping is a creative process that allows you to understand – and then redesign – the customer experience. The output is not just a ‘pretty picture;’ once the map is developed, it is meant to be a catalyst for change.”

Translate your findings into a visual representation while striking a careful balance. Without enough detail, a journey map is not useful. However, too much detail can overwhelm people and make it hard to understand where to focus. Consider developing a high-level version of the map that provides an overview at a glance, along with with a deeper-dive version that provides enough detail for people across the organization to take action.

Mitch Belsley, a CX consultant and Chief Experience Officer, recommends simplifying these journeys into an experience storyboard that everyone can understand. He describes it as an easy-to-read CliffsNotes version of the customer journey you want your customers to experience.

While the map is meant to express the experience from the customer’s point of view, be sure to flag areas that present an opportunity for your company to change the experience for the better. Ideally, these get converted into action items assigned to the appropriate departments and people.

Once it’s ready, socialize the journey map throughout your organization. Perhaps you present it to your executive team and a select set of customers before rolling it out to the whole company. You should meet with key stakeholders from all departments to determine how to activate the journey map findings through process changes.

Make the journey map measurable by grounding outcomes in business metrics

As part of identifying opportunities to improve the customer experience, outline the potential impact of each improvement. By associating these impacts with business KPIs and metrics, everyone can more easily determine which changes to prioritize.

Another reason to align customer journey improvements to business metrics is to help prove the value of a CX focus. If your company can, for example, increase contract renewals and customer satisfaction ratings while reducing manual steps in the contract renewal process, it’s a win-win for customers and the business.

Customer journey map examples

Map touchpoints, barriers, and motivators to one persona

Map customer moments of truth, perceptions, risks and opportunitites 

Create your map around one crucial customer experience 

Using Linkedin to improve the customer journey

There are plenty of solutions at Linkedin -- for both sales and marketing folks -- that can help facilitate a seamless customer journey:              

Use LinkedIn Pages to effectively communicate with your target audience

You want to master the customer experience at every touch point. We make it easier with your free piece of real estate on the world's largest b2b network: your LinkedIn Page. You can share a range of content on your LinkedIn Page, making it an effective way to communicate with your target audience where they’re already engaged in a business mindset.

Use LinkedIn Website Demographics to understand your site visitors

Remember: You want to deliver an indispensable experience even before someone becomes your customer. Using the Website Demographics analytics tool, you can understand the types of companies and LinkedIn members engaging with your website. Based on this understanding, you can shape your content strategy and update your website UX to guide prospects through a personalized experience aligned with each visitor’s industry, role, or other relevant characteristics.

Use Sponsored InMail to share helpful content or suggestions with select customer segments

Similarly, you can use Sponsored InMail to send personalized messages directly to prospects and customers who are LinkedIn members. Sponsored InMail messages are only delivered when members are active on LinkedIn, and one out of every two members opens a Sponsored InMail. So you can be confident that your helpful content and suggestions will be seen by the specific segments you’re trying to reach.

Use Sales Navigator Notes & Tags to keep track of customers’ interactions with your company

Though your customer journey maps represent the overall journey, you want to deliver the best possible experience to each individual customer. One tool that can help is Sales Navigator, with its Notes & Tags feature. Using this, you can keep track of each customer’s objectives and pain points, positioning you to seamlessly facilitate their journey to purchase and renewal.

Use LinkedIn Elevate to share product-related information with customers

Once they purchase from you, the most meaningful part of the experience begins for your customers. Your focus at that point should be helping them use your product or service effectively and successfully. With LinkedIn Elevate, your employees can easily share helpful how-to and product announcement information with their social networks on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Weibo (to name a few).

With customer experience the ultimate differentiator, it’s wise to get serious about customer journey mapping. Dedicate time and effort to creating your customer journey maps and improving the experience for your customers, and you and your customers will enjoy the payoff. While they revel in a more consistent, seamless experience with your company, you will see better business outcomes.

To take the next steps in delivering an indispensable customer experience, visit The Art of Winning hub