What is a Customer Journey Map? [Free Download]

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Graphic illustration of emojis depicting emotional states in a customer journey map.

Creating a customer journey map can help you design better products and services and improve your relationships with customers. Read on to find out how and download a free customer journey map template.

A customer journey map can help you build educational narratives for customer interactions with your organization. Often used in marketing and service design, these maps help teams empathize with how customers feel when they interact with your products, services, and organization overall. 

By going through the journey mapping process, you’ll learn from customer experiences and make product or service improvements to better meet their needs. The map also provides a helpful visual representation of elements that influence a customer’s experience. This can be used to drive improvements to an existing product or service and inform new experiences.

How Customer Journey Maps Improve Relationships

Customer journey maps can be applied broadly to a customer’s overall experience with an organization, they can focus on a single product or service, or, if you really want to get granular, you could hone in on a specific feature (though that might be a pretty quick exercise).

By identifying potential weaknesses in your service or interactions where your customers are particularly frustrated or angry, you can then chart a clearer path toward improvement over time. In turn, this should lead to happier customers.

If you also involve your customers in this process, they will undoubtedly appreciate your commitment to their satisfaction and happiness over time. Sounds pretty straightforward, right?

Crafting Circular Customer Journeys

By default, customer journey maps tend to be linear. However, customer experiences are often ongoing, especially if a company offers subscription-based services to support their products. The customer journey mapping process will help you identify opportunities to re-engage and delight customers by improving services and experiences throughout their life cycle.

In other words, think about your sales and marketing efforts as a flywheel instead of a funnel. You’ll have more opportunities for mutual success this way.

Adding Impact to the Customer Journey Mix

Additionally, customer journey maps offer a great opportunity to help customers make more responsible or sustainable choices during their interactions with your organization. This can be done in many ways. Here are a few:

  • Choice architecture that helps them identify more sustainable options.
  • Showcasing local or more ethically sourced products.
  • Allowing customers to filter based on different sustainability criteria.

When you identify customer touch points and emotional states in the journey mapping process outlined below, be sure to ask yourselves whether there are also opportunities to improve social or environmental impact in the process. Just don’t let this get in the way of providing an intuitive and meaningful experience for them.

Customer Journey Maps Step-by-Step

Customer journey maps are best created in a collaborative workshop setting. For this workshop, we incorporate a combination of brainstorming and whiteboard exercises to give more depth to the map. Use the five steps below to create your own customer journey map.

First, Who to Invite?

If possible, customer journey mapping workshops should be done in a group of about five to eight people. Include too many people and the workshop can become unwieldy or hard to manage. Invite too few people and you might not have diverse enough perspectives.

Either way, make sure to include the right stakeholders in the mix. Ideally, you want a blend of organizational decision makers, marketers and researchers, and customer representatives.

Step 1: Gather Research

To kick off the process, collect specific feedback from customers. You might have this already. You might also need to collect it via stakeholder interviews or other research methods. Also, competitive intelligence will help you get a sense of what others in your industry are already doing.

Customer personas can sometimes plays a helpful role in defining customer wants or needs. However, these are usually based on assumptions or broad characteristics.

Choose a research method and amount of work that you feel will produce the best results without wasting time or producing unnecessary data. This will provide a solid foundation to better understand your customers’ specific wants, needs, or problems.

Step 2: Touchpoints and Channels

To produce useful insights that will help you better understand why customers might be dissatisfied or frustrated, first define two things:

  1. Touchpoints: the specific interactions customers have with your brand (contacting customer service, listening to a sales presentation, and so on).
  2. Channels: the methods by which communication happens (emails, phone conversations, social media, in-person meetings, etc.).

Create a list of touchpoints that start with the time a customer first interacts with your organization through to scenarios where they might close out the service or stop using a product. For each touchpoint, define the most commonly used communications channels. Use a whiteboard to sketch out the timeline for these touchpoints and included channels through which that contact occurred.

Whiteboard Customer Journey Map Exercise for Mightybytes Hosting and Maintenance
For this customer journey map, important touchpoints and channels were first defined in a group whiteboard exercise.

Step 3: Empathy Mapping

Using the touchpoint timeline, conduct empathy mapping exercises. These can help you better understand a customer’s mindset during the interactions defined above. The goal of these exercises is to get a well-rounded understanding of how customers actually feel during specific interactions and cross-reference those with how we hope they will feel.

A common visual representation of this process is described in Solutions IQ’s post What is an Empathy Map? During this process, obvious discrepancies arise. These are where your opportunities lie.

During this discussion we asked common yet specific questions, like:

  1. What is the client’s tone of voice when they call about our product or service?
  2. Are they calling because our recommendations fell short for some reason?
  3. Are they confused about something in particular?
  4. What kinds of customer support questions do they ask?
  5. Are their questions technical in nature or do they relate to how you communicate a specific feature or benefit?

After answering these questions as a group, write down single words or short phrases on sticky notes for each touchpoint to describe how a customer felt during the interaction. Next, follow these up with aspirational words to describe what you hope customers will feel at each touchpoint. Place the sticky notes in columns under each touchpoint.

This encourages conversations about how to improve interactions during each touchpoint. If the discrepancies between actual and aspirational emotions are significant, mark them as priority items for an affinity diagram.

Step 4: Solutions, Opportunities, and the Affinity Diagram

The above steps serve as a foundation for creating an affinity diagram, which is a brainstorming exercise meant to:

  1. Define potential solutions to a problem.
  2. Uncover opportunities for improvement.
  3. Group ideas together based on commonalities. 

Mightybytes hosting affinity diagram in Trello
Card-sorting tools like Trello or virtual whiteboards can help you group common themes or ideas from your journey map.

Reviewing channels, touchpoints, and feelings should uncover ample opportunities to improve your product or service. To create an affinity diagram relevant to your customer journey map:

  1. Discrepancies: Note discrepancies between actual and aspirational feelings for each touchpoint. Discuss each in detail with your team.
  2. Opportunities: Define potential opportunities for fast improvement by identifying those discrepancies which can be easily or quickly fixed.
  3. Possible solutions: Devise several solutions for each touchpoint to help transition negative opinions into positive experiences. If possible, estimate how long each might take.
  4. Grouping: If applicable, group similar solutions together to identify efficiencies or places where you might get the most traction with one solution across multiple touchpoints.
  5. Prioritize: Make the most egregious discrepancies, where customers are potentially most frustrated, your biggest priorities.

Identifying the low-hanging fruit will help you make quick fixes, which will no doubt be appreciated. However, understanding where the largest gaps between customer frustration and customer satisfaction exist will likely have the biggest impact. Ultimately, this will create more happy, long-term customers.

Step 5: Creating the Final Customer Journey Map

Finally, create a visual representation of the entire customer journey which represents all of the above steps:

  • Insights from your research
  • Touchpoints
  • Channels
  • Feelings
  • Potential solutions

How you visualize a customer journey map will depend on the product or service you hope to improve. Some customer journey maps rely heavily on statistics, infographics, and data visualization. The map below focuses on solutions and opportunities over time with brief descriptions of each. You can download a blank version of this template at the end of this article.

Digital version of a Customer Journey Map for our Hosting and Maintenance Service
A customer journey map for one of Mightybytes’ services.

How Customer Journey Maps can Drive Digital Products

Customer journey maps can be used to improve all existing products or services. Because Mightybytes is a digital agency, we also include discussions about whether (or how) a digital product or service might improve customer satisfaction in the defined touchpoints. 

For instance, if one of your organizational goals is to increase donations, mapping out the entire journey a customer follows as they go from first learning about your organization to becoming a regular donor should reveal numerous useful insights.

By isolating each touchpoint along the journey, and the channels in which they take place, you can review your customer’s story in detail and accurately determine the exact moments where their experience might be improved by a digital solution—in this case perhaps a more streamlined donation form or clearer calls-to-action in emails, landing pages, or in your mobile app.

Final Thoughts on Customer Journey Maps

These maps are most useful if you maintain or revisit them over time. For the customer journey map above, we defined as many as 50 potential improvements to our hosting and basic maintenance service. While we won’t execute all of these ideas, the list was long enough and the ideas in it strong enough that we chose to revisit the map on a regular basis to ensure progress.

More importantly, incorporating real customer feedback in the process and repeating that process over time helps to guarantee we stay on track with continuous improvement.

While the low-hanging fruit mentioned above may provide quick fixes to simple problems, the best solutions froom this process may take extensive time and resources to implement. To improve its usefulness, your customer journey map should be considered a living document maintained and updated as problems get fixed, new touchpoints are added, or customer experiences change. Make it a weekly, monthly, or quarterly priority to revisit yours. Your customers will appreciate your efforts.

Free Customer Journey Map Template Download

You don’t have to be a designer to create customer journey maps (though obviously we think it helps). If you want to map your own customer journeys to share with your team, we created this free, downloadable PDF of our customer journey map template.

Customer Journey Map Template Download
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Tim Frick founded Mightybytes in 1998 to help mission-driven organizations solve problems, amplify their impact, and meet business and marketing goals. He is the author of four books, including Designing for Sustainability: A Guide to Building Greener Digital Products and Services from O'Reilly Media. Connect with Tim on LinkedIn.