The proliferation of digital technologies over the past decade has lead to fundamental changes in the way customers and vendors interact with each other. B2B and B2C consumers have become more proactive than ever, benefiting from technologies that enable them to hunt down exactly what they want when they want it.
But to keep up with their customers, companies have had to scramble to anticipate a would-be buyer's next moves and position themselves in their path as they navigate the journey to the point of purchase. This approach can lead to successful results, but is reactive, and therefore, risky.
In our world where the lifetime value of a customer accrues over years, companies need to be more proactively engaged than ever in not only acquiring, but also retaining, and growing their customer relationships. To be successful, companies need to create rich journey maps to help them guide their customers along their journey.
The goal for companies should be to use new technologies, processes, and organizational structures to proactively lead - rather than just follow - customers on their journey. Companies that figure out how to make the entire customer journey compelling, enriching, and engaging will be able to earn trust and loyalty. They're also more likely to solidify a meaningful competitive advantage in their markets. But figuring that out is about more than just buying a bunch of software and looking at the data it spits out.
I think the best way to get started is to grab paper and a pencil, sit down with your teammates in sales, marketing, account management, support, and product, and sketch out your ideal customer journey map. Journey mapping can set you up for success in figuring out what tools and processes you will ultimately need to implement to manage and grow your customer relationships.
Getting Started with Journey Mapping
A journey map (or experience map) is a diagram that clearly illustrates the steps and stages a customer goes through while engaging with your company.
I should point out that a single, one-size-fits-all journey mapping template does not exist, but I’ve included links to a few good examples at the end of this article. Because every industry and every business model is different, every company – even close competitors – will have a different journey map. Also, as Adam Richardson points out in his Harvard Business Review article, Using Customer Journey Maps to Improve Customer Experience, “for any business, the more customer touchpoints, the more complicated – but necessary – a map becomes.”
Take a quick look below at the abbreviated map for a product I use to keep track of my taxes, insurance, and financial assets called Zoku Vault. It was heavily influenced by work done by the good folks at Adaptive Path. We’ll refer to Zoku Vault’s journey map to illustrate how to build one in this article.
One important thing to keep in mind is that your journey map needs to be comprehensive, covering the entire lifecycle of your customer and / or products. To that end, what you see in the Zoku Vault example is that its journey map breaks the customer experience down into several key parts: Guiding Principles, Customer Journey, and Opportunities, each of which is made up of several components.
I think one of the greatest benefits to experience mapping is that it helps companies to examine the customer journey from multiple perspectives. I always recommend beginning by looking at the journey through the lens of your company. Why? Because clearly articulating the guiding principles of your business and then structuring the ideal journey around them makes it much easier to architect an experience for your customers that you will be able to support and sustain in the long run.
As indicated in its map, Zoku Vault is trying to provide more than just a software service to its customers. The company strives to be a trusted partner and aspires to treat users with “class, dignity, and respect” in every encounter. Whatever your company’s core values are, slapping them in the header of your map makes it easier for your customer-facing teams to keep them in focus and ask better questions while planning the journey. Speaking of which…
For Zoku Vault, the stages that make up the customer journey are Discover, Subscribe, Implement, Monitor, and Execute. However, laying out the journey requires more than simply labeling the stages a customer will pass through along the way.
To begin with, for each stage and every customer touchpoint, it is essential to identify not only what your product(s) should be doing to support the journey, but how your teams should be acting as well. Looking at the Discover and Subscribe stages of Zoku Vault’s journey map, we can see that the company is primarily focused on educating prospective customers and providing them with a simple and intuitive sign-up workflow. A well-scripted user experience at every stage leads to higher customer satisfaction and is solid gold for your business over the long haul.
Do you see how the journey map also includes sections highlighting what the customer should be doing, thinking, feeling, and experiencing at every stage? These are core considerations for any journey map. Perfecting the user experience and engagement formula throughout the customer lifecycle is so important that you want to spend as much time as possible tweaking it. And the best way to get all the information and insights you need to do that is through direct customer engagement and research.
I’ve found that broad-based surveys miss the critical details that can make or break the customer journey so, instead, I suggest a combination of context-based observation, and in-depth ethnographic and psychographic customer interviews. Spending quality time with your customers to listen to their needs and wants is the single best way to learn. Customers are more than happy to map out their ideal journey for you, you just need to be ready to listen and respond.
Zoku Vault’s customer research seems to indicate that their ideal customers are concerned about how to organize their finances and take care of their families should they become incapacitated or pass away. They are anxious to address these issues and are looking for simple, convenient solutions that give them peace of mind.
Take a moment to look at the rest of the map and take note of how the things customers are doing, thinking, feeling, and experiencing change across each stage of the relationship. Do you think Zoku Vault is missing anything obvious? Are they emphasizing the wrong elements of experience? Why do you think they weighted the experience factors the way they did at each stage?
Because the Zoku Vault team has clearly identified their buyer persona and understands what they are thinking, feeling, and want to experience, it is much easier for them to architect products and processes that directly address those things. Does it mean the product and customer journey are flawless? Of course not. But, it does mean that the company can be more scientific in tweaking its message and products over time to continually address important customer needs at every stage of the relationship.
Value Creation Opportunities
One element of the customer journey that is often overlooked is opportunity mapping. I don’t know why most people leave it out but I don’t think you should. This section of the journey map highlights the opportunities to impact and influence customers that should naturally surface as part of their journey. A customer journey map that is functioning as designed should spit out opportunities all over the place!
I like how Zoku Vault categorizes its opportunities by lifecycle stage. More importantly, I appreciate that the opportunities it has identified aren’t just about monetizing me as a customer. As written, Zoku Vault is seemingly only interested in helping, educating, and partnering with its customers; it never mentions sales or revenue. Zoku Vault obviously wants to sell me, or my employer, a subscription to their service. However, they are focused on conveying the value their service provides me along the journey rather than obsessing about the revenue they can extract for that value.
In other words, they know that once they’ve got me, they’ll never lose me if they follow their guiding principles and continue to deliver a user experience that addresses what I’m thinking, feeling, and doing.
Naturally, you never want your customer’s journey to come to an end. Carefully designing a journey map that is compelling, enriching, and engaging will help you to earn trust and long-term loyalty, leading to a profitable and rewarding relationship.
I started this article by highlighting that in our digital economy, companies have been scrambling to keep up with their customers. It feels more difficult than ever to successfully acquire, retain, and grow customer relationships. This is precisely why customer journey mapping should play such an important role in every business.
As with most things in life, there is no perfect customer journey. Every organization needs to experiment and figure out what works best for its people, products, partners, and customers. That said, the framework outlined here is a good place to start. I included a link to a template for the map I used in this article as well as a few other sample journey maps below to help get you started.
Happy journey mapping!