What is a Customer Journey Map? [Free Template Download]

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Creating a customer journey map can help you design better products and services and improve your relationships with customers. We recently ran one of our services through the customer journey mapping process. Read on to find out what we learned and download a free customer journey map template.

A customer journey map is a tool for building an educational narrative that follows customer interactions with your brand. Sometimes used for service design, these maps can help you empathize with how customers feel when they interact with your products and services. By going through the journey mapping process, you can 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 client’s experience. This can be used to drive improvements to an existing service and identify areas where a digital product might help improve a customer’s experience.

In 2015, Mightybytes began offering green web hosting and basic website maintenance as a bundled service to our customers. As with any new service, we hit a few minor road bumps and learned many things when we rolled out the service to new and existing clients. We remain committed to a high level of support and service to our customers, so these hiccups, however minor, were unacceptable. At the end of 2016 we started a customer journey map to help us identify areas for improvement.

How Customer Journey Maps Improve Customer 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. This should then of course 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 whereas customer experiences are often ongoing, especially if a company has crafted ongoing services to support their products. During your customer journey mapping process, be sure to identify opportunities where you can 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.

Customer Journey Maps Step-by-Step

For our customer journey mapping sessions, we incorporated a combination of brainstorming and whiteboard sketching exercises to give more depth to our map. The following is a breakdown of the steps we took that can help you create your own customer journey map.

Step 1: Gather Research

To kick off the process, we took into account specific feedback received from customers enrolled in our hosting/basic maintenance service, which we had captured over time since launch. We also researched competitive intelligence to get a sense of what other agencies and web hosts were doing with similar services. For this process, we clearly understood our customers and had lots of feedback from them, so we skipped a commonly employed user persona exercise that can sometimes plays a helpful role in defining customer wants or needs. Other potentially helpful research methods can include informal customer interviews or more formal surveys. 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 for understanding your customers.

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.).

We created a list of touchpoints that started with the time we first discuss our service with customers in the business development process all the way through to scenarios where they might close out the service with us. For each touchpoint we also defined the most commonly used communications channels. We used 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 our customer journey map, important touchpoints and channels were first defined in a group whiteboard exercise.

Step 3: Empathy Mapping

Using the touchpoint timeline, we then ran empathy mapping exercises, meant to help us 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 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 us about upgrading their hosting package?
  2. Are they calling because our recommendations fell short for some reason?
  3. Are they confused when we discuss the difference between support and maintenance?
  4. Do they ask questions about maintenance emails we send out every other week?
  5. Are their questions technical in nature or do they relate to how we communicated a specific task or feature?

After answering these questions as a group, we wrote down single words or short phrases on sticky notes for each touchpoint to describe how a customer felt during the interaction. We then followed these up with aspirational words to describe what we hoped our customers would feel at each touchpoint. We then placed the sticky notes in columns under each touchpoint. This encouraged conversations about areas of repetition and possible relationships between the word groups that could help us determine how to improve interactions during each touchpoint. If the discrepancies between actual and aspirational emotions were significant, we marked them as priority items for our affinity diagram.

Step 4: Solutions, Opportunities, and the Affinity Diagram

The above steps served as the foundation for creating an affinity diagram, which is a brainstorming exercise meant to define potential solutions to a problem, uncover opportunities, and group them together into common categories. You can create an affinity diagram with stickies and a whiteboard or, if you would like to cut down on paper use, a tool like Trello works well too.

Mightybytes hosting affinity diagram in Trello
We used Trello to map out our affinity diagram (and save on ink/paper), but a spreadsheet or whiteboard and stickies could work well too.

By reviewing each channel and touchpoint as well as the feelings associated with them, this process should focus on solutions and uncover ample opportunities for improving your product or service. To create an affinity diagram relevant to your customer journey map:

  1. Note discrepancies between actual and aspirational feelings for each touchpoint. Discuss each in detail with your team.
  2. Define potential opportunities for fast improvement by identifying those discrepancies which can be easily or quickly fixed.
  3. Devise several solutions for each touchpoint to help transition negative opinions into positive experiences. If possible, estimate how long each might take.
  4. 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 the most egregious discrepancies—the areas where customers are potentially most frustrated.

While identifying the low-hanging fruit will help you make quick fixes, which will no doubt be appreciated, put most of your effort into those areas where the largest gap exists between customer frustration and customer satisfaction. Fixing these problems will likely have the biggest impact in keeping customers happy for the long term.

Step 5: Creating the Final Customer Journey Map

Taking cues from our Trello board, we then created a visual representation of the entire customer journey which includes all of the above steps: research, touchpoints, channels, feelings, and solutions from the affinity diagram. 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 bulk of our map focuses on solutions and opportunities over time (the template for this is available for download at the end of this article).

Digital version of a Customer Journey Map for our Hosting and Maintenance Service

How Customer Journey Maps can Drive Digital Products

While customer journey maps can be used to improve all existing products and services, because Mightybytes is a digital agency, we also include a discussion during the process about whether (or how) a digital product could improve customer satisfaction in the defined touchpoints. For instance, if one of your organizational goals is to increase donations, you could map out the entire journey a customer follows as she goes from first learning about your organization to hopefully becoming a regular donor. 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 our own customer journey map, we defined as many as 50 potential improvements to our hosting and basic maintenance service during this process. 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. We also intend to keep our clients involved in the process to guarantee we stay on track with continued improvement.

While the low-hanging fruit mentioned above may provide quick fixes to simple problems, often the best solutions defined during this process will 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. Follow Tim on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.