Five Lessons I Learned While Designing My First Customer Journey Map
As a marketing researcher, I help brands develop strategies to attract and retain customers. To that end, I have conducted countless brand positioning studies and concept tests, as well as your typical what-does-this-mean-to-you-personally? qualitative interview, yet never had I ever designed a journey map… until this year. A journey map is the visual representation of the sequence of steps customers take to interact with products or services—from discovering the brand to switching and returning and beyond (Tincher & Newton, 2019). Earlier this year, I leveraged the technique to guide customer communications.
Now, you may be thinking, “Why would you need a journey map to craft communications?". Here is my answer in the form of another question—have you ever seen different ads from the same company that seem to contradict or compete with each other? When this happens, it is a clear sign that teams, often working in silos, have lost sight of the big picture. However, customers never experience messages as one-offs, but as part of one big interconnected narrative that shapes their perceptions of a brand. Mapping the customer journey is the best way to fully grasp how a brand, as a whole, shows up to the world.
At its core, journey mapping helps companies identify critical points of friction that cause customers to leave a brand. Effective maps guide efforts toward optimizing high impact moments, thereby unlocking significant revenue potential. As an example, journey mapping allowed T-Mobile to learn that frustration around contracts and data overage fees was pushing customers to switch providers at an alarming rate. By eliminating these frustrations, the company went from losing a million customers a year to adding a million customers per quarter.
The secret to a successful journey map is simple: show everything from the customer’s vantage point. That is, visualize the journey the way the customer experiences it, not the way you think they experience it. For instance, the start of a journey is definitely not at the moment someone subscribes to a service but way earlier, perhaps while enjoying brunch and suddenly their friend cannot stop raving about the new app they downloaded.
Here are the five most valuable lessons I learned while designing my first journey map:
Not a one-size-fits-all
You should plan on designing multiple maps to represent different types of customers. If your company has a segmentation model, definitely reference it and design one map for each of your high opportunity segments. In the absence of segmentation, you can always use some basic profiling such as first time vs. repeat, regular vs. occasional, or early vs. late adopters.
Having several maps will reveal key differences across groups. In an era of information overload, people expect solutions that are personalized to their specific needs. Understanding differences in customer preferences will enable your organization to design more targeted approaches to drive retention.
Get the journey phases right, then add layers
Journey phases are the building blocks of the maps. They chart the path the customer follows; if these are off, the rest of the components will fall apart. Most categories include research, consideration, purchase, trial, post-trial, etc. Be sure to adapt these to the category you are researching. Then start layering some information, such as:
What problem is this customer trying to solve for?
How and where do they interact with the product or service?
How do they feel before, during, and after each interaction?
When layering, use diagrams and colors to visually represent the peaks and valleys in customer sentiment. This will make for a more nuanced map that will inspire organizational alignment.
Ditch the notion of an end
While on paper you may represent a journey as a linear path, in real life, journeys are in fact loops. The Semisonic song I used to listen to as a teen that goes, “every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end” rings true in journey mapping. Efforts at later stages should prevent customers from switching, becoming latent, or worse, exiting completely.
Big data has made it possible for companies to expertly curate information, making discovery and trial more effortless than ever before. With the widespread availability of behavioral data and predictive analytics, customer journeys have become much more fluid, continually teetering between active and passive engagement. This gives brands the upper hand to nudge customers into the journey rather than waiting for them to make the first move.
Design for efficiency and speed
The simpler the process is for a customer to learn about, select, order, and generally experience a product, the better the company’s chances are at minimizing churn. While a brilliant copywriter may take pride in a quirky and well-articulated, yet long list of instructions, no one will want to fit that type of reading into their weekend plans.
Today almost everything is digitized, however there are still many occasions when customers carry the onus of initiating contact when they need help. Automating actions to the point of making them invisible (think single sign-ups, syncing information from existing accounts, providing recommendations based on past behavior, resolving issues before they become complaints, etc.) is critical to building the long-lasting habits that drive customer loyalty.
Challenge the status quo
The business decisions that stem from journey mapping are just as important as the map itself. Once you have rallied the troops to begin the important work that follows, it is very easy to overcomplicate things by focusing on individual projects rather than the single integrated strategy that will create customer delight.
Push back on busywork that deviates and distracts from the overall goal of driving retention and keep advocating for holistic solutions that fully enhance the customer experience, not band-aids.
I have always been a big picture kind of thinker; maybe that is why I find journey mapping so alluring. There is something deeply satisfying about placing seemingly disparate pieces of data on a board, taking a step back, and then noticing the patterns that form.
Tincher, Jim, Newton, Nicole (2019). How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer? Paramount Market Publishing, Inc.
About the Author: Breyda Ortega
A mixed-methods corporate researcher, Breyda Ortega oversees marketing research at Cruise, a self-driving car company in San Francisco. She combines her background in statistics, psychology, and neuroscience along with a natural ability to “read” people to guide strategic business decisions. She currently serves as QRCA’s Qually Award Vice Chair.