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3 Extremely Complicated Steps to a Customer Journey Map that Actually Works

Customer Journey Map

Customer journey maps have the potential to be the best tool your marketing department has – or a colossal waste of time. There are plenty of articles out there that will tell you how to build a customer journey map in “3 easy steps.” Those don’t work, at least not by our standards.

If your customer journey map isn’t moving you towards more conversions and awesome retention rates, it’s a waste of paper.

The way most people do customer journey maps looks like this: Bring your ‘best and brightest’ into a room for three hours, play “this is who we think our buyer personas are,” “this is what we think they’re feeling,” and follow it up with “these are where our touchpoints are.” In other words, it’s “brainstorming” with insufficient research. You’re not creating a map, you’re having an office party. And the customer journey map is the party game.


Do I sound harsh? Good. Because customer journey maps done wrong really burns my biscuits.

They have so much potential to be useful.

Actionable. Energizing. Even inspiring.

But to be truly useful, you have to approach them from the foundation of research, grounded in real, verifiable customer data. And that’s the step too many people miss, because it’s just not as much fun.

Forget fun – this is marketing strategy.

When a customer journey map does its job, it becomes a tool that lets you (and your marketing team) visualize your relationship with your target customer from first eyes-meeting-across-a-crowded-room encounter to mutually fulfilling partnership.

It shows the most likely places to meet your target, what they need there (depending on which stage of the sales funnel they’re in), what they get there currently, and where mismatches in expectations and desired outcomes may be losing them.

If this sounds like I’m describing more than just a customer journey map, you’re absolutely right.

This definition is much simpler:

“a customer journey map is merely an illustration or diagram of all the places (touchpoints) your customers come into contact with your company online or off.”

To make your journey map actionable, it can’t be merely an illustration of touchpoints. It has to illuminate the relationship, in its entirety. It has to pay attention to not only where prospects are, but what they need – and how to give that outcome to them in a way that moves them closer to your desired destination.

This journey map will become your visual cheat-sheet to understanding your customer on a deep, meaningful, actionable level.

It’s not simple. But there are three steps.

Step 1: You wouldn’t plan a road trip without research…

Research is where we always start; and if you’ve created your Buyer Persona (the right way) already, you’re mostly there. You’ll want to base persona research on your current ideal clients: Those who’ve bought from you, love what you do, and recommend you to their colleagues and friends.

The persona creation process answers these questions:

  • Who is my ideal customer?
  • What do they want, in life, at work, at home?
  • What do they need?
  • What are they trying to accomplish?
  • What goals drive their behavior?
  • What are they looking for that I can provide?

You’ll get those answers through qualitative research – voice of customer data – that gets to the heart of behavioral drivers, concerns and expectations.

Oh, did I forget to mention the standard demographic data points? Age, sex, marital status? No, I didn’t forget. They’re just not as important unless you’re selling Viagra. Focus on what matters for your customers.

Qualitative research can be done a number of ways, but each method has its limitations, which is why I recommend using several. Not just surveys, mining user reviews, or recording customer service chats and conversations – but those in addition to customer interviews whenever possible.

As Genuinely founder and CEO Mack Fogelson explains about their own customer journey development process:

“Most companies are making assumptions about their customers based on what they think they know vs. actually talking to their customers 1:1. Their maps then become an accumulation of biases and inferences vs. what their customers actually need.

What they’re missing is the underlying motivators that cannot be seen in demographic or psychographic data. Our customer journey maps open up the Thinking/Feeling/Doing in each stage of the customer journey, across the sales funnel.

Customer journey mapping requires you to actually speak with your customers. Not just digitally through surveys or other methods of collecting data. 1:1. Face-to-face.

Good customer journey mapping requires collection of all of the data you have about your *actual* customers, not just a stereotypical persona.” – Mack Fogelson, Founder & CEO,

Whichever method you use, when questioning current customers (always a good place to start), ask about early stage touchpoints they experienced, with questions like:

  • Where did you first see our brand? (And give them options, depending on where you’ve placed advertisements)
  • When you first saw our ad, what did you think we could do for you? (Open ended question)
  • What initially prompted you to visit our website? (this is where you’ll uncover potential influencers and other touchpoints you might not even be aware of)

And any other questions you can think of that will give you an idea of not only where they first find you, but also what they want when they do.

We’re pulling double duty here. It’s not just about finding the “where” but also the “why?”

We also want to start to piece together a timeline that takes us from that first touch point to first conversion. This may be difficult for people to answer (memories just aren’t that good), but to get a ballpark answer, ask:

  • “How long did it take you from first seeing our brand to making your first purchase?”

You may want to give them a multiple-choice response option and a free response option, just in case they’re kind enough to expand on exactly what their journey looked like.

But this is asking a lot. If you’re going to ask your customers to take this much time with you, you’d better offer them something good as incentive.

From this research, you can build out your buyer persona into a genuinely useful tool that points you in productive directions for future marketing decisions. And from there, you can widen the scope of your research to people who fit within your target parameters. Cubeyou is particularly good for finding early touchpoint opportunities (ie. where specific consumer demographics hang out – including what they read, watch and do in their spare time).

Using all of this information, you can begin to place markers on your map.

“Customer journey maps get a bad rap, much like personas. That’s unfortunate because when done properly, they can be very enlightening in terms of your customers’ needs and pains. Journey mapping helps articulate information in a simple, memorable way so that everyone is on the same page about: customer goals and expectations, customer experiences, optimization opportunities, and internal ownership.

When proper research is conducted (the narrative needs to be fact, not fiction), having up-to-date customer journey maps for your various experiences can be useful, especially for large companies. It’s meaningful to visually map out phases of the buying cycle, emotions, touchpoints, channels, etc. along each journey.

That said, be aware that linear funnels are idealistic. Most customer journeys are much more complex and, well, messy. Be sure you’re mapping accurate journeys instead of your idealistic linear funnel.

Overall, customer journey maps range from helpful to totally useless, depending on how data-driven and realistic you are.” – Shanelle Mullin, Shopify

Qualitative research tools for you to consider:

Step 2: Charting the course to conversion

We’re going to start our chart with a goal: Move the customer down the sales funnel. No, we’re not mixing metaphors (map? Funnel? What?), because we’re using both at the same time.

Don’t be afraid to add dimensions to your customer journey – it can make it an even more useful tool. Georgiana Laudi, Digital Strategist says she adds KPIs at each stage, and doesn’t stop there:

“At Unbounce, I reorganized the entire department to match our customer’s journey, and called it the Customer Journey Tribe. It’s not something usually done in marketing, but it’s a popular approach for structuring dev teams.”

And, from my Customer Success perspective, I’d also recommend adding Customer Success milestones, so you know exactly where, when and how prospects and customers are finding value with your brand (yes, Customer Success is typically associated with SaaS, but believe me, e-commerce customers have to be successful too!).

But let’s not overthink this right now. Let’s just start by drawing your map in the shape of a funnel.

e-Commerce Customer Journey Map
e-Commerce Customer Journey Map

This is, clearly, simplified for the sake of explanation. But what you see is a customer journey map with touchpoints overlaid onto your typical sales funnel.

The Target Customer doesn’t know who you are, until they reach a touchpoint – but because you’ve done your Buyer Persona research, you already know what they want and need (maybe even before they do). This gives you the power to make that first touch point count by making them problem-aware (at the earliest stage) or solution-aware (their pain can be fixed!).

That first touchpoint might be an ad on Facebook, a banner ad on their favorite niche blog, the recommendation of a brand advocate or influencer, etc. Some of those you have direct control over, like ads. Others you have indirect control over, like providing great user experiences to guarantee yourself positive recommendations from your customers on user review sites.

The target customer then becomes a prospect. They’re interested. You’ve given them a reason to think that you can provide what they’ve been wanting, searching for. They come to your website – the next touchpoint possibly – and what do they find there?

Hopefully something that brings them closer to their ideal outcome.

If you’re an e-commerce site selling wine, maybe that’s a quiz they can take that leads them to wines they’d most likely love (BrightCellars does this brilliantly).

e-Commerce Customer Journey Map - BrighCellars
e-Commerce Customer Journey Map – BrighCellars

In fact, quizzes are a great way to immediately raise engagement, and it can be as simple as having the lead fill in their measurements and filtering results by what clothes will fit best. Use your imagination!

This touchpoint is very important. They may have heard of you before, but this is where they finally meet you and form a strong impression. That impression either bounces them off the page, or leads them further down the funnel towards conversion.

At each of these stages, using your customer research, chart:

  • What they know (ie. what funnel stage they’re in).
  • What they want (ideal outcome).
  • How to bring them closer to that ideal outcome using the touchpoint you have.

“For me, it’s about identifying my customer’s motivations, desires and intent and using that knowledge to build a better customer journey. I use_their_words, I optimize the colors, font, copy, images and entire content according to what I learn from customer interviews, surveys and emotional targeting research (emotional SWOT, customer awareness mapping, competitor research, etc.)” – Talia Wolf, GetUpLift

Your customer journey map can also show you where problems in your funnel are happening – because problems tend to happen around touchpoints.

If you find that customers are falling “off the map” around a specific touchpoint, it’s time to bring out the customer journey map again to help you find the reason why.

  • Perhaps they’re dropping out during the post-opt-in email campaign.
  • Or, perhaps you notice that your website pageviews are high, but as soon as they find your product page, they bounce out.
  • Or it could be that they do buy, they convert, but then they call your customer support and never buy from you again.

The question becomes: What aren’t they getting – that they need – to move down the funnel?

And this is where conversion optimization practices like customer surveys, UX research and A/B testing can really help to demystify the situation.

Step 3: Confirm your hypotheses

Even with research, your customer journey map is really a series of educated guesses – aka. hypotheses. And hypotheses are made to be tested.

Once you have your map, you’ll start finding potential opportunities to optimize experiences at each touch point. And this is where you can confirm your guesses about your user, and about what will move your user, with A/B or multivariate testing.

And that’s a whole other post – or five – which you can read here.

Learn more about A/B testing.

Conclusion: Customer journey maps are great – unless they aren’t

Customer journey maps, when done well, serve multiple functions. They:

  • Empower you to identify and understand customer needs, so you can improve customer service, experience and UX.
  • Save money on touchpoints/ads that don’t work, and show you where to spend money on touchpoints that work best.
  • Unearth opportunities to differentiate products.
  • Increase conversions drastically.
  • Improve retention and build your brand reputation (because customers are getting what they need).
  • Create brand advocates who create even more touchpoints and conversions!

But when we talk about customer journey maps, we have to acknowledge that most aren’t used this way.

Too many customer journey maps (and their respective “How to” articles) focus more on what the company wants customers to do, rather than on helping customers achieve their ideal outcomes (even if that ideal outcome is finding a gorgeous prom dress that makes a 17-year-old feel like Cinderella). They tend to be too focused on acquisition, and not enough on retention (did you notice how my sample funnel went beyond conversion? Brand advocacy and retention is important for every business!). Essentially, they’re focused on the company’s success, and not the customer’s.

I come from a Customer Success background. I believe that if you lead the customer towards achieving their ideal outcome, and don’t disappoint on delivery, you will win their loyalty.

To do that, of course, you have to know your customer really well.

And that’s not nearly as simple as “X marks the spot.”

Published by

SaaS Consultant & Customer Success Evangelist. Founder at Authentic Curation. Moderator at @ProductHunt & @GrowthHackers. Previously: Growth at @Inboundorg. INFJ.