We all know how fierce and dynamic today’s business world is. Companies out there are striving to “ride the wave” of the market and constantly improve their products and services. However, channeling all possible efforts and resources to satisfy customers’ needs can never be entirely successful, unless you focus on truly understanding those needs first.
You’ve probably also heard of the term data-driven approach and how important it is for the decision-making process when defining strategies and action plans. While having data is certainly important, the key thing to remember here is to use it mindfully. Always apply data to contexts, try to look at the bigger picture and form valuable insights to make informed decisions. Information is powerful, but mastering the right ways to use it requires as much intuition and talent, as time and practice.
So how can we use data to dive into the customers’ minds, understand their actions, motivations, and needs? How can we immerse ourselves into their experiences so that we analyze, empathize and come up with valuable insights? If you ask yourself these questions too, maybe it’s time to try out customer journey mapping.
What is a Customer journey map?
In simple words, a customer journey map is a visual representation of the interaction between a customer and a business. The map breaks down the customer journey into different phases and outlines the key touchpoints with the business along with the related actions, emotions and pain points.
Journey maps should always be created to support a known business goal. Because of the specifics of each business, its strategies, goals and customer relationships - no two journey maps are the same. However, you can probably find these key components in most, if not all of them:
Persona or target group
To be most accurate and efficient, every journey map illustrates the experience of a specific customer or customer group. If you don’t know your actual or prospective customers well enough, you’d better start your research first. Mapping a customer’s entire journey and experience with your business requires deep understanding of his goals, motivations, desires, personality, pain points and needs. Basically, details matter here and the more you know, the better.
For the purpose of the article, let’s take an example considering a scenario of a person looking for an online training program. We have defined the persona and her profile:
In order to dive into the specifics and get valuable insights, journey maps are divided into a few relevant stages, depending on the goals of the customer during each one of them. It’s up to you to define the detail level of the stages - whatever works for your case. The ultimate goal of your journey map can help you make the decision.
Returning to our example persona - her whole journey can be divided into the phases shown below:
- Awareness - Jane becomes aware of her need/desire to join in a virtual language course. This is the 1st possible touchpoint with the business.
- Consideration - She is evaluating her options.
- Purchase - Making the choice and purchasing the course / training program.
- Learning - The course itself and the whole learning cycle.
- Experience & sharing - Her post-learning experience and behaviour. This phase is very important when evaluating customer loyalty.
Key features that define each phase of the journey
A few key features* characterize each stage:
- Actions & motivations
Actions show what the customer is doing during each stage. Defining them along with the motivations behind is the starting point and our guiding element for most other features.
Actions can be associated with thoughts. Here we try to imagine what is going on in the customer’s mind and usually represent it with quotes. “This search takes forever...”, “I need a solution fast.”, “Oh, finally something useful!” ... you get the idea.
- Emotions / feelings
The customer’s predominant mood usually changes during each stage. It can vary from positive to neutral or negative. These emotions often refer to specific pain points and can give important insights for possible improvements.
Touchpoints are every single place and point of interaction between the customer and your business. Think of all your communication channels and how the customer does or might engage with them.
- Pain points / challenges
What are the pain points and the biggest challenges of the customer? There are some blockers during his journey that prevent him from completing a desired action and that’s what we need to address first and foremost.
Up to here, we try walking a mile in the shoes of our customers. Now, we shift the focus internally. How might we improve the customer experience by addressing the specific needs and pain points during each stage? This feature helps us use the insights gathered and turn them into ideas and action plans.
- Internal ownership
This segment can be very useful if the goal of your journey map is to better align your teams or departments when approaching customer needs. Visualising the whole customer journey can play a crucial role when assigning ownership of touchpoints, breaking silos and creating an organization-wide vision.
* You can choose which features to include in your journey map and how to mix and match them, depending on your case and context. The look can also vary a lot. Just remember there is no right or wrong here - choose whatever works for you.
Now that we defined all components a journey map can have - let’s go back to our example scenario of the online training program. You can see how the finished map might look like in the image below:
Let’s follow what happens to our persona during the learning stage of her journey:
- Her actions include watching videos, doing homework, tracking learning progress, asking questions, etc.
- During this phase, her emotions generally vary from being curious to confused or excited.
- If we take one of her main pain points - it’s hard for her to get direct feedback on her personal learning level …
- … Then it gives us a clear opportunity for improvement: “Divide the course duration into smaller milestones and reward achievements.”
As you probably notice now, once the journey map is created, it could (and should!) be visualised in a proper way so that it helps the team understand and address customer problems and pain points. Keep in mind that journey maps are as dynamic as the business environment and could be updated or improved anytime. They are a powerful tool for storytelling and creating a shared vision and only you know what their value is for your business, your team, and your customers.
Should true customer-centric businesses adopt journey mapping as a practice?
Let’s first have a brief moment and think together what true customer-centric companies look like. Certainly, all businesses value the experience and work for the wellbeing of their customers. It’s practically why they exist. But how many of them consider customers as the driving force for growth and value their input enough to structure the business and processes accordingly?
Businesses can achieve great customer experience by looking at their customers’ whole journey, by anticipating their needs and being there for them every step of the way. Here shines the power of journey maps - they can help companies improve significantly their customers’ experience simply by making the effort of visualising these steps. Actually, journey mapping is maybe not that simple, but in the end, it’s worth the ride. Empathizing with your customers and channeling your energy into making their path smoother can only open new horizons for your business... Better go and embrace them!