Customer Journey Maps: The Beginner’s Guide

No matter how much you optimize your website, your customers rarely take a straightforward path to your products. There’s a lot that happens on the journey from awareness to purchase. And that’s what customer journey maps are for.

In this guide, we’re going to cover what a customer journey map is and how to make one. Along the way, we’ll discuss a few ways you can improve your customer experience. We’ve also included a simple template you can use to start mapping your customers’ journeys right now.

First, let’s talk about what customer journey maps actually are—because it can be a little confusing.

What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map is a visual representation of how your customers move from awareness to purchase. In its simplest form, this is just a table, with the stages a customer progresses through across the top, and some things to help you understand each stage from their perspective along the side.

This is a tool to help you see the entire process from your customers’ point of view. The whole point of customer journey mapping is to understand your customers better, so you can do a better job meeting their needs at every stage of the journey. It’s a helpful practice to go through as you develop a customer-centric strategy.

For example, here’s a customer journey map an athletic shoe company might create for a high-school football player:

Customer Journey Mapping Example
Customer Journey Map Example

(It’s OK if this doesn’t feel perfectly clear right now. In the next section, we’ll explain more about what each section is doing.)

This example is pretty generic and may apply to more types of athletic-shoe customers than football players, but customer journey maps can be a lot more refined and specific than this, too. As you can imagine, a shoe company may want a range of maps to represent and understand their full range of customers. 

Someone who needs a wrestling shoe isn’t going to have the exact same motivations, questions, and needs as someone looking for football cleats or basketball shoes. There’s plenty of overlap, but while these athletes may be on parallel journeys, they’re completely different customers. The same goes for a parent shopping for their kid versus an athlete who can buy their own gear.

A customer journey map might also cover a broader range of steps and stages than you can directly impact. For example, an athlete will likely get recommendations from their teammates, their coaches, athletic trainers, or professional athletes. In that case, your journey map might help demonstrate why your business needs to develop relationships with influencers or create content that exposes your brand to people who affect the decision making process.

More elaborate customer journey maps also dig deeper into what your customers are thinking, feeling, and experiencing during each phase of the journey. You might want to indicate how important each possible action is to your customer.

You’ll notice that a customer journey map is not simply a path from one touchpoint to another. It’s not a flowchart of the paths a customer might take to buy your products. The customer journey is almost never completely linear, and there are infinite possible paths they could take. 

That sort of map might help you eliminate some barriers between you and your customers, but it won’t help you understand the overarching journey from awareness to purchase. Customer journey maps are about understanding your customers and putting yourselves in their shoes.

Now let’s look at how you actually make one.

How to create a customer journey map

Creating a customer journey map is an exercise in understanding your customers. Here’s a quick overview of the steps you might take:

  1. Create buyer personas
  2. Identify all your customer touchpoints
  3. Establish the phases your customers go through
  4. List potential motivations, problems, and aspirations
  5. Highlight current obstacles
  6. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes
  7. Streamline the customer journey
  8. Review your map regularly

Depending on your goals and how in-depth you want your map to be, your process might look a little different. As we talk through each of these, feel free to modify, add, or remove steps as you see fit.

1. Create buyer personas

Even if you only have one product or service, you likely serve a range of customers who have different desires, questions, and challenges. Buyer personas (also known as marketing personas, customer personas, or simply personas) are research-based profiles that represent specific slices of your customer base.

In the example we used above, the athletic shoe company might have buyer personas for each type of athlete they serve, or for broader categories of people who might buy their products, such as parents with young children, high school athletes, college students, etc.

You don’t have to do this step, but there’s a lot of overlap between personas and customer journey maps, and having personas will help you create more useful customer journey maps. Ideally, you want to develop personas for each of the main demographics your products attract. And every persona will have its own customer journey map.

Creating a persona requires you to synthesize everything you currently know about your customers and usually involves surveying current or potential customers. You’ll want to use sources like:

  • Feedback from customer service and sales reps
  • Website analytics
  • Ratings and reviews (we have a tool to help you with this, by the way)
  • Social media analytics like Facebook’s Audience Insights
  • Customer feedback surveys

As you identify major trends, you’ll be able to draw out unique insights about major types of customers. For example, you might learn that parents are most concerned about safety, but they also want their kids to feel like they look cool, while college athletes are most concerned about functionality and gaining a competitive edge. Those are insights that would belong on your customer journey map for each of those customer types.

2. Identify all your customer touchpoints

Anywhere a customer can interact with your brand is a touchpoint that could play a role in their customer journey. That includes every marketing channel you use (email, Facebook ads, Google Ads, a blog, social media platforms, print ads, billboard ads, etc.) as well as other places someone might encounter your brand, such as brick-and-mortar stores, your website, your retail partners’ websites, review sites, recommendations from people they know, etc.

If you’re most worried about optimizing your website, you may want to focus on digital touchpoints, but you can still learn a lot about your customers’ journeys by listing out every touchpoint, and those physical touchpoints may reveal gaps you can fill with specific pages on your website, sections of your product page, or content marketing.

3. Establish the stages your customers go through

Your product category will affect the phases someone generally goes through before buying your product. The example stages we provided above are pretty broadly applicable (Research, Comparison, Shop, Purchase), but depending on the niche you serve, your customers may have a process that includes more steps. 

Suppose your product category serves a particular kind of business, and your customers are administrators. Their customer journey would likely involve a stage where they have to advocate for the solution they believe will best serve their organization. Or if your product category is especially technical, a customer’s journey may need a stage for education, or selecting a local expert to install the product.

Just remember to think about the journey from your customer’s perspective. You should try to map out as many stages as you can. Some customers will skip stages if they have more relevant experience or expertise, if they get a recommendation from someone they trust, or if factors like urgency or retailer-specific perks carry the most weight for them. But if you map the most stages someone would typically go through, you’ll have a better understanding of more of your customers.

4. List possible motivations

At each stage of your customer’s journey, you’ll want to list their possible motivations. These could be aspirations they want to reach or problems they want to solve. As you work through each stage, these motivations should be specific to what is driving your customers at that moment. What’s going to lead them to the next stage?

Understanding your customers’ specific motivations will help you recognize what’s standing in their way, and what you can do to serve them better at each stage.

5. Highlight potential obstacles

As your customers progress on their journey, they’ll encounter barriers that can slow them down or end the journey altogether. This could be anything from a lack of content needed for research to high shipping costs, a poor return policy, or no ability to easily compare pricing or stock information.

For example, by not giving your customers the ability to see pricing and stock information from their favorite retailers, you’re forcing them to turn to Google or go to a retailer’s site, where they’ll search for your product (or worse, your product category), and be exposed to your competitors. With a well-developed customer journey map that understands your customers’ wants and expectations, you’ll be able to spot and address obstacles like these.

6. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes

One of the most important steps in customer journey mapping is to actually take the customer journey for yourself. Even if you’ve seen every page on your website hundreds of times, it’s completely different when you look at each step of the journey with a specific type of customer in mind, with their unique motivations, questions, and obstacles right in front of you.

Taking the customer journey for yourself will help you identify obstacles you missed, and just as importantly, discover possible solutions. 

Maybe your social proof isn’t clearly visible, so your customers miss it in the comparison phase. Or maybe you haven’t accumulated very many reviews on your website, but you have great ratings and reviews on Amazon, Walmart, or Home Depot which you could display. 

Or perhaps you have a suite of relevant resources you could interlink to help people stay on your site during the research phase. Or the content you have could use a call-to-action that points to a relevant product page, or a buying guide that leads people further down your marketing funnel.

7. Streamline the customer journey

Once you’ve put yourself in your customers’ shoes, it’s time to start brainstorming ways to improve their experience. Maybe you need to flesh out your website more. Or add key information to your product pages. You might need new solutions (like a where to buy widget or tool to import ratings and reviews) to eliminate steps and keep people on your product pages. Perhaps you need to develop partnerships with influencers or review sites in your niche. Or find a way to educate your customers about how to reach their goals or solve their problems.

Optimization is a constant process. But if you aren’t optimizing through your customers’ eyes, you’re going to have a hard time improving their journey.

8. Review your map regularly

As you make changes to your website, brick-and-mortar stores, and other aspects of the shopping experience, you’ll inevitably impact the customer journey. Depending on your industry, your customers’ needs and challenges may change, too. And as you enter new product categories, you’ll likely target new types of customers. So it’s important to make sure you regularly review your customer journey maps and consider whether you need to create new ones.

You should probably do a “light” review at least once a quarter to make sure your map is still an accurate representation of your customers’ experiences, and do a more in-depth review annually.

Customer journey map template

As promised, here’s a template you can use to start mapping your customer journeys. Your map doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t even have to be that visual (though it can be helpful to replicate this table on a whiteboard and use sticky notes to work through each step with a team). This simple table covers the basic stages a customer progresses through in a wide range of industries, and it includes the main things you’ll need to “get in your customers’ heads” enough to create a useful map.

Customer Journey Map Template
Customer Journey Map Template

The Research stage represents the point where your customers are just beginning to explore your niche. They may or may not already understand how your product category relates to their aspirations or problems. By the time they finish this stage, they should know what kinds of products they’re looking for, and perhaps even some of the biggest brands in your space. 

The Comparison stage is where customers dig deeper into the product category and begin exploring specific solutions, including you and your competitors. By the time they’re done here, they will likely have a strong preference for a particular product.

The Shopping stage is when customers choose where they’re going to buy. They’ll likely already have a preference for particular retailers, but you can support or inhibit their ability to make the choice that’s right for them. 

Some manufacturers don’t display their retail partners, or they just link to the homepage instead of their specific product page. Or they don’t display stock information, so their customers may wind up at a retailer’s site when that retailer is out-of-stock. Best practice: highlight multiple ways people can buy your products, even if it’s not directly through you, and provide up-to-date pricing and stock information so people can easily choose where and how to buy right on your product page. (Our software does this for you!)

The Purchase stage includes (but isn’t limited to) the checkout process. This is everything that happens after a customer has decided where they want to buy your products. If they’ve never purchased from you before, it includes account creation, where every click and every field chips away at your customer’s momentum. Major retailers often have an advantage over manufacturers here because they tend to have more repeat customers (so no account creation) and more buying options, such as buying online and picking up in-store (also known as BOPIS).

Your customer journey map may have more steps. Or there may be more information you want to gather about your customers at each stage, such as the specific actions they have to take, their familiarity with your brand, or the emotions they experience throughout the process. Your map can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be, but this should give you everything you need to create a useful one.

Streamline your customer’s journey

One of the biggest ways brands interfere with their customer journey is by not displaying information customers want in the comparison and shopping stages. They don’t display ratings and reviews from retailers. And they don’t link to product pages on retailers’ sites, show local buying options, or highlight pricing and stock information.

When you make customers overcome them, these hurdles cost you sales. But they’re easy for you to remove. At PriceSpider, our conversion optimization platform is designed to streamline your customer journey online. We’ve got solutions to display all the information your customers need to move from comparison to shopping to purchase.

Schedule a demo of the PriceSpider platform today. Or, download our free guide to learn more about how a where to buy tool improves the final stages of your customer journey.

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