What is Customer Journey Mapping? How It Works, Challenges, Benefits, and More

A Definition of Customer Journey Mapping

Customer journey mapping is a diagramming technique that enables companies to visualize the path a customer takes from the first exposure to a brand or company through the final purchase – sometimes including the post-purchase experience as well.

It’s a flexible technique, allowing marketers to use several tools and graphic visualizations to illustrate the entire customer journey or focus on a particular line of business, product or service, or path to purchase. It’s become an increasingly popular tool for businesses as the number of touchpoints that a customer may experience throughout the buying journey has grown, meaning marketers must work harder to create a consistent experience across a variety of channels and touchpoints.

How Customer Journey Mapping Works

The customer journey mapping process involves gathering a vast amount of data about the buyer or prospect from a multitude of sources such as:

  • Customer surveys
  • Social media and website analytics
  • Interaction analytics
  • Other call center metrics, such as sentiment scores
  • Product and service reviews
  • One-on-one interviews with buyers
  • Employee feedback (customer service reps, sales reps, etc.)

Because the point of journey mapping is to visualize the buyer’s experience, maps are often in the form of an infographic. After gathering this information, it’s combined into a structured format and then broken down into graphics (charts, graphs, icons, and other elements) that are used to visualize it on the map itself. There are many templates and tools marketers can leverage to create a customer journey map. Whatever tools you use, the goal is to identify the key interactions a customer (often a particular buyer persona) has with your brand from the moment of first exposure through the final buying decision and beyond.

A timeline view is one of the most popular formats for customer journey maps, allowing marketers to identify the key touchpoints, states of mind, actions, and goals and motivations of a buyer at specific intervals or points in time. According to UX Mastery, there are several essential elements that should be represented in any customer journey map:

  • Buyer Persona – The motivations, pain points, needs, and other characteristics of the target buyer.
  • Timeline – A specified time interval from the point of first exposure to the point of sale (or beyond) and the distinct phases that exist throughout the journey, including awareness, consideration, decision, purchase, and post-purchase.
  • Emotion – The buying experience is an emotional roller coaster, and you’ll want to represent the shifting emotional state of the target buyer at various stages throughout the process so that you can determine if your marketing messaging and interactions with prospects are adequately addressing that emotional state.
  • Touchpoints – The actions of the consumer in interacting with your brand at different stages and points in the journey.
  • Channels – Where the touchpoint interactions are taking place (social media platforms, retail stores, call center or customer support, mobile app, etc.).

Often, marketers will gather this information in a spreadsheet (such as this template from the Content Marketing Institute) or worksheet, then identify the best way to visualize the journey after having a comprehensive view of the information that should be presented.

Challenges of Customer Journey Mapping

Customer journey mapping is a valuable process, but it’s not exactly a simple one. The data-gathering process can be complex, and aggregating data from a variety of sources (particularly when you’re combining anecdotal and quantitative data) can be challenging. That’s why technology such as sentiment analysis can be so helpful in the journey mapping process – it can turn otherwise siloed and even subjective data into quantitative, usable metrics that are easy to visualize, measure, and act on.

Some marketers end up complicating the process by attempting to map the journey of every buyer persona in a single map. Doing so makes it difficult to leverage the map for its true purpose: experiencing the journey through the buyer’s eyes. Because your company likely has at least a few different buyer personas that make up your target audience, and those personas have different pain points, different needs, and may take a different path to purchase, trying to visualize the journey for every buyer in a single map can lead to a cluttered and confusing result.

Instead, develop a map for each of your target buyer personas. You’re likely creating different content and leveraging different mediums to reach those customers, so it makes sense to create a stand-alone visualization focusing on a single buyer’s experience. If you need to visualize multiple buyer personas in a single map to gain a bird’s-eye view, consider a customer experience map. While some people confuse the terms, a customer experience map aims to include every possible touchpoint through which a buyer – any buyer persona – may interact with your brand. A customer journey map, on the other hand, focuses on the journey of a single customer and the specific path they take to purchase.

Benefits of Customer Journey Mapping

Customer journey mapping helps marketers gain a better understanding of the buying experience from the customer’s perspective by tying a buyer’s pain points and actions to specific needs. Doing so has a multitude of benefits such as:

  • Visualizing the buying experience through the eyes of your customers
  • Identifying shortcomings and opportunities for improving the customer experience
  • Enabling marketing, sales, and customer service teams to work together to create a consistent experience across touchpoints and channels throughout the entire buyer’s journey
  • Uncovering opportunities for engaging customers at key pain points through content, brand interactions, and exposure

In other words, a customer journey map empowers businesses to better meet the needs of their prospects and customers, gain a competitive advantage, and reach key prospects with more relevant messaging that addresses the pain points they experience at specific stages in the buying process.

Have you tried your hand at customer journey mapping? What are your top tips for success?