by Mary Branscombe

Tips and tools for effective customer journey mapping

Nov 07, 2019
Business IT AlignmentIT Leadership

Customer journey maps are a popular tool to improve customer experience. Hereu2019s how to get the most from them alongside techniques such as customer journey analytics.

Understanding customer priorities isn’t new. But customer experience is increasingly seen as a key business opportunity, beating data-driven marketing and social engagement in Adobe’s latest Digital Trends report.

Customer surveys are ubiquitous, but capture a tiny fraction of interactions — if customers bother to fill them in at all. Worse, they tell you nothing about potential customers lost along the way: Up to 84 percent of potential online retail purchases are abandoned before checkout. You can’t rely on what customers say; what matters is what they do.

Mapping customer and user journeys is a good way to rectify that. By analyzing each stage customers and users go through when interacting with your organization, you can get a better sense of what your customers are doing, what they’re trying to achieve, what they might expect and whether you deliver that, as well as what obstacles they might encounter and whether they’re likely to have a positive or negative experience in that interaction.

Moreover, a customer journey map makes it easier to see whether your existing strategy matches the customer journey or if you’re wasting time and money on the wrong initiatives. While only a third of companies have a formal process for it, doing journey maps well can drive faster sales cycles, reduce customer service costs, improve referral revenue, and provide higher returns on marketing investment and better employee engagement. And with customer experience a top issue for CIOs these days, IT plays a key role in establishing and making the most of customer journey maps.

Anatomy of a customer journey map

To fully understand the flow of how your customers engage with your organization, you need to know that your customers’ journey starts well before any purchase, explains Tom Treanor, head of global marketing at Arm Treasure Data.

“You need to include research as an essential part of the buyer journey. A key part of this is knowing who is visiting your site, what pages they are visiting, what resources they are downloading or interacting with and if they are opening and clicking emails,” he says. “In addition, you need to know what other sites or resources they use to help them decide, such as review sites, in-person events, store visits or services vendors. All of that should be included in the journey as well as establishing key milestones such as, downloading an app, engaging with customer support, making a first purchase or using a product or service for the first time.”

While each customer journey may be unique, there are key stages that most customers go through, from discovery to purchase and retention, and these should be documented, Treanor says.

It’s important also to consider the various channels customers might use to interact with your company — including your website, mobile app, social media, email or phoning a call center — and work toward unifying them.

“Channels are often treated individually, meaning that your mobile experience may not be delivering the same message as your email campaign to that same person. [They] all need to be aligned and leverage the same customer data to provide a true omnichannel experience for the customer,” Treanor points out.

But a customer journey map isn’t meant to be comprehensive, he warns. “As you pull in data and begin to visualize the customer journey, it’s natural to want to capture every single detail. Just remember the goal is to create a useful abstract; an at-a-glance look that hits the key touchpoints,” he says. “Part of the goal is to identify key areas to focus on in terms of improving the journey, which can help improve the key metrics at that stage.”

Supplemental tools

Other tools can help round out your view of how customers engage with your company, such as service blueprints, which show the systems and processes in your organization that are involved in customer interactions; experience maps, which model how customers experience your products and services; and empathy maps, which track what customers see, do, think and feel when trying to achieve something. 

“Empathy maps are good to better understand your key buyer personas and blueprints,” Treanor says. “Experience maps are valuable to dive more into where things might be breaking down in order to take action on redesign.”

All these maps can help you spot problems and pain points in customer journeys, especially if you match the maps with data using customer journey analytics tools, which give you a broader, more detailed view of customer behavior.

“The path a customer takes from point A to point B is often a key source of truth when trying to decipher what they loved, what they hated — and ultimately, where they may have gotten stuck navigating the labyrinth,” says John Walls, senior director for customer success EMEA at Zendesk.

Because journey maps simplify a variety of possible paths down to a single representative one, analytics are essential to segmenting customer groups and recognizing patterns in how they’re communicating with you so you can identify the most significant paths out of the wide variety of approaches that customers take in the real world. That way you can have personalized customer journeys that draw on common patterns.

It’s important not only to base customer journeys on real customer behaviour, rather than what you believe customers will do, but also to  think beyond what a successful interaction looks like for your organization — a sale, a renewal, a support call you can mark as closed. Instead, you must consider what the customer counts as success, which might be knowing quickly that you’re not relevant to them, or not having to make a support call at all.

Zendesk’s Pathfinder, for example, lets you see whether customers have visited a help center article or community forum before or after they raise a support question. “It enables us to solve customer problems faster by understanding what customers have already interacted with. It also allows businesses to learn where they can improve their self-service if customers open tickets frequently after viewing certain forums and articles,” Walls explains.

Don’t expect customer journeys to stay static either, Walls warns. “As customer expectations continue to change, so should your customer journey planning — it’s important to have an agile approach to iterating your customer journey. A/B testing can help you to quickly identify efficiencies in your customer journey and see where you can continue to improve.”

“The biggest error businesses tend to make is designing a prescribed set of steps based upon what a segment or group of ‘similar’ customers did — maybe as long ago as weeks or months. They then have to hope that every other customer will act in the same way,” warns Lee Whittington, customer experience specialist at Pegasystems.

You can also combine techniques to understand how much you can change. Trying to decide whether they could retire an old version of an app in favour of a new version that incorporated more accessibility, the Customer Insights Research team at Microsoft found that while customers said in interviews and surveys that they couldn’t use the new app because it was missing important features from the old app, they were using the new app anyway. Looking at clickstream data more carefully showed that many customers were actually using both versions of the app, because they really did need the features that were only in the older version. Dropping support for that would have meant losing those customers.

Connecting maps to metrics

Maps are valuable for creating marketing strategy but building them is an opportunity to involve more than the marketing team, Treanor notes. “Your organization is probably already moving to break down silos, share information between departments, and consolidate data to help shape the customer experience.”

Doing so will help you connect customer journeys to what the business cares about without losing sight of what the customer cares about. Here, metrics are key, and your focus on metrics needs to be right.

For example, focusing on metrics that key on what your call center costs you, such as average handle time or even first response time, will help you see whether your handling customers quickly, but it says nothing about satisfying the customer. “Voice of the Customer” metrics like Net Promoter Score are also widely used, but they’re rarely tied to business metrics such as revenue, ROI or even customer lifetime value and churn.

Organizations often collect both performance metrics and marketing analytics focused on revenue generation such as most-visited webpages, types of products consumed, and which ads are resonating best, explains Buddy Brewer, general manager for client side monitoring at New Relic.

“But too often, decisions are made without seeing both sets of data together,” he says. “By not getting a holistic view of the entire stack, technology leaders and teams often struggle to determine their ROI of their efforts, like how much revenue was generated for the company after increasing content loading time.”

Real-time user monitoring will show you the most common paths users take, as well as the most popular pages on your site or what marketing messages customers respond to, but those metrics are useful only when you can see them as part of the whole picture and use them to make better business decisions.

Although you can build customer journey maps as simple graphics, marketing automation tools often include mapping tools, which simplifies combining maps and analytics. For example, Dynamics 365 Marketing includes customizable customer-journey templates that present buys with content and actions based on how they engage, and feed into dashboards with “interaction insights.”

“This helps marketers understand which content or action constraints or enables buyers to advance in their journeys,” says Microsoft’s Dina Apostolou, global director of product marketing for business applications. “Every customer and every customer’s situation is different, and the same customer situation changes over time. A template gives you a solid start, but the ability to interact with the customer throughout their journey — to determine what is working and what isn’t — and then making adjustments during the path can keep your journey on a productive track even when it’s veering off what you may have anticipated.”