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A customer journey map is a simple idea that has become overly complicated.

At its core, a customer journey map tells the story of a customer’s experience. It begins at initial contact, develops with engagement and forms a long-term relationship between a brand and its customers. It identifies key interactions and defines the various feelings, motivations and expectations that a customer might have at each touchpoint. The ultimate goal is to teach companies more about their customers in order to market better, sell faster and serve more effectively.

Today, only five percent of marketers have mastered the ability to adapt and predict the customer journey and understand how to drive more value. In this blog post, we will look at why our current understanding of customer journey mapping is flawed, and how to fix it.

Why so many companies fail to master the customer journey

Back in the 90s, customer journey mapping was relatively easy. Someone heard about a new shop, visited the store, bought an item and took it home with pleasure. This customer journey followed the classic discovery, engagement, conversion and reward flow.

Along came social media, email marketing, mobile and online shopping, online ads, billions of blogs and so on, coupled with passive research and cart abandonment, and suddenly the customer journey isn’t linear, clear or predictable. When there are so many touchpoints, channels, products and services to engage customers, it’s no wonder that only three percent of the top 150 senior marketing executives in North America and Europe believe they are realizing their customers’ full revenue potential.

The other issue revolves around research. Executives, product managers, customer service managers and marketers alike could turn to Big Data to uncover patterns in customer behavior from millions of data points, but data fails to capture the human experiences and feelings of customers. Far too many companies include every possible stakeholder in the mapping process, but forget to invite those who have the answers: their customers.

Bringing customers into the customer journey mapping process

Customer journey mapping should always start with an understanding of who your customers are. This requires developing personas that accurately represent the shared needs, preferences and demographics of your target customer groups.

Research during this phase should be both analytical and anecdotal. While data helps uncover different audience segments and personas, real customer feedback adds context, personality and feeling where data can’t. Many brands use customer intelligence platforms like Vision Critical to get to know who their customers are, find the similarities and differences among them and map out accurate customer personas. For example, 31 percent of CMOs say that they provide better customer experiences largely due to the accessibility of customer intelligence data.

Customer journey mapping should always start with an understanding of who your customers are.

Ask for customer feedback to help uncover the main goals, thoughts, feelings, expectations and opinions of your personas. Customer insight is especially important when certain personas expect varying levels of service. For example, customers who are young professionals might represent a growing target market that prefers mobile chat customer service, whereas an older generation of customers might prefer traditional call centers. Instead of assuming how customers want to engage with your brand, ask them directly.

Smooth out your customer journey with customer feedback

Gathering customer feedback is an often overlooked step during the mapping process, yet it’s essential in helping you identify and understand the key interactions that target customer groups have with your brand.

Once you’ve established customer personas, find the real people behind them and ask for their feedback at every stage of the journey. At the awareness stage, for example, you should know the actions that target customer personas are taking (or trying to take), and how they differ from other personas. Use feedback to discover what customers are doing at each stage and how they move along the customer journey.

The same goes for uncovering touchpoints and key channels along the customer journey. Use customer feedback to find out how people got to your site and moved within it. For example, at the awareness stage, perhaps younger customer personas tend to find your brand from social media, blogs and search, whereas others may have discovered your brand from email, direct search and case studies. Customer feedback, coupled with data, will help you map this out.

Tap into the emotional side of the customer journey

Every touchpoint in the customer journey must also consider the questions, feelings, challenges, actions and motivations that target personas may have. Customer experience pros (or marketers, for that matter) can’t assume they’ve covered all potential touchpoints or understand how customers feel throughout the experience without research and stories to support claims.

Customer feedback can help you discover the motivations throughout the journey as well. Ask questions like, ‘What motivates you to move from research to purchase?’ or ‘How do you feel while you’re researching?’ and ‘How does that change as you decide to purchase?’.

Use customer insight to uncover—and eliminate—barriers in the journey. Find out if there are any issues that would prevent customers from moving to the next stage. This could include confusing language, unclear value propositions or barriers to purchase such as cost, implementation, buy-in or process. Feedback is especially valuable here because it could bring entirely new or overlooked issues to light.

Find your engagement trigger points in the customer journey

Map out areas of strength and weakness, and identify trigger points. These trigger moments are when consumers are most likely to reach out, require help, or have a defining brand experience. For example, for a utility company, customers are most likely to engage with the brand during moving or starting a service, paying bills, or when they experience service disruptions. Use customer feedback to bring your customers’ trigger points to the forefront and find out ways to make the experience easier on your customers.


Final thoughts

Creating a comprehensive customer journey map doesn’t have to be a mind-bending lesson on how well you understand the flow from path to purchase. Instead of trying to do it all yourself, bring your customers into the process and ask for their feedback. Afterall, they didn’t always know about your brand and had to become a customer somehow.

Remember that customer journey maps are subject to constant change and should evolve with your brand and customer experiences. Continue to engage your customers to adapt your understanding of them and their journey.

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