How to Create a Customer Journey Map

To learn more about your customers' wants and needs, put yourself in their shoes and follow their path.
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Creating a customer journey map can help you get a better understanding of the process your customers go through when evaluating a purchase decision. (Photo: MicroOne/Shutterstock)

For every destination, there is a journey. As a small business owner, learning how your customers get from points A to B along their path to purchase can help you improve their experience with your brand and create loyal customers for life.

Creating a customer journey map can help you get a better understanding of the process your customers go through when evaluating a purchase decision, explained Casey Curtis, director of client services at digital marketing agency Wheelhouse DMG. Plotting out each interaction a customer has with your brand can uncover ways you can improve your customer experience and identify purchase hurdles.

Here are six tips from Curtis for mapping out the customer journey for your small business.

Get multiple perspectives

A customer journey map outlines your typical customer’s experience with your business — from their first interaction with your brand, through purchase, and hopefully toward a long-term relationship. Curtis said to get a full picture of your customer experience, seek input from various employees who interact with the customer at different points along their journey. This will help minimize bias and keep you from overlooking important details.

A restaurant, for example, should include the valet, hostess, waiter, sommelier, manager and even the head chef to help map out the customer journey, she said. “Each of these people play a large part in whether the customer enjoys their dinner. These folks hold a lot of insight into areas of your customer journey that cause friction and will have ideas for improving the process.”

Casey Curtis

Casey Curtis, director of client services at Wheelhouse DMG, suggests researching customers’ top priorities in order to make the path to purchase as easy as possible. (Photo: Casey Curtis)

Define your customer

To understand their path to purchase, you must identify who your standard customers are, said Curtis. You’ve likely already created target personas as part of your business plan, but it’s important to revisit these characterizations occasionally over time and adjust them as your business and clientele evolve.

“You can’t be everything to everyone,” so think about the customer journey from the perspective of the customers you want and those best served by your business, she said. Knowing their top priorities and most common challenges will help you make the path to purchase as easy as possible.

Related: 3 Things Business Schools Teach that Every Owner Should Know

Begin at the beginning

When mapping out your customer’s journey, Curtis said to start with the first interaction your customer has with your brand. While it sounds obvious, it’s not as simple as it seems.

Take a hotel lobby for example. Does your customer’s engagement begin when they walk through the doors, or when they pull up to the valet? It may begin on your website with the booking process, or when customers begin researching hotels and reading reviews.

“This is one of the hardest parts of customer journey mapping,” she said. Her suggestion: map out customer interactions with your brand from the earliest point possible. You can always go back and make changes later.

Related: How to Execute a Customer-Centric Marketing Strategy

Create an emotional timeline

The next step, said Curtis, is to create a timeline of a customer’s typical interactions with your brand, mapping each touch point along their journey and trying to understand what the customer is feeling at each stage.

“Maybe they’re excited at the prospect of a new experience or product purchase. Maybe they’re worried they’ll make the wrong choice. Maybe they feel embarrassed by a lack of knowledge. If you can empathize with your customer, you can figure out how to calm concerns and reduce friction,” she said.

Remember, the consumer journey is not always linear. “There are numerous entry and exit points along the way,” she said. Understanding the full journey and all possible points of interaction allows you to design the customer’s experience in a way that ensures they receive a consistent and satisfying experience — no matter where they join in.

Focus on high-friction areas

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Improving a customer touchpoint can be as simple as refreshing your store layout. (Photo: By Sorakrai Tangnoi/Shutterstock)

“After you’ve mapped out the touchpoints and customer emotions, you’ll want to step back and look at the high-friction areas,” advised Curtis. “Brainstorm how you can improve these touch points.”

Improving a customer touch point could be as simple as creating a FAQ or brushing up on your email skills. Or it may require a more in-depth approach, such as updating an internal process or refreshing your store layout.

“The best thing you can do for customers is make the path to purchase as easy and enjoyable as possible,” she said, so find creative ways to provide an optimal experience for each guest.

Don’t stop at the sale

“Your customer’s journey isn’t over when the cash register closes,” said Curtis. “A customer can be a transaction or they can be an advocate for your business.” All businesses benefit from repeat customers, so think of how you can ensure your customers are happy and keep coming back.

“Your customer’s journey isn’t over when the cash register closes.” -Casey Curtis

“Think of it as good business karma. Do the right thing for your customers and they’ll do the right thing for you,” she said. “Creating an exceptional experience at each touch point has a snowball effect. A happy customer leaves a glowing review, refers a friend and becomes return business.”

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