Pat Reese, Chief Media Strategist, Rooster Strategic Solutions

Marketing, more than most departments, loves its buzzwords, and many of them are vague to the point of meaninglessness. Thought Leadership. Paradigm Shift. Content Marketing. Ideation. Stop me if you’ve heard these. To many, Journey Map fits into this same “I don’t know what it means but it sounds important” category. That’s a shame, because done well, a journey map is a spotlight that illuminates bad practices and helps improve your customers’ experiences with your company.

What is a journey map? Simply put, it is a visual picture of the steps a current or potential customer takes in purchasing your product or service. By mapping this journey you can reduce complexity and remove roadblocks to make future journeys easier, more satisfying, and ultimately, more profitable. Because it’s a simple picture, you can share it with your entire organization to ensure that everyone is on the same page in improving the overall customer experience, which is becoming more and more critical every day; studies show that the customer’s experience with your company is now the most-important factor in determining whether or not they purchase, leapfrogging price and product quality.

It’s not rocket science, but there is more than a little science behind the process, and learning a few tips will help make it easier to reap the benefits, which are many; in addition to improving overall customer satisfaction, a good journey map can help reduce marketing costs, identify new customer bases, improve the satisfaction scores of your employees, and put all your actions in context as opposed to looking at your marketing plan in silos, such as web tactics vs. social media vs. the sales team.

Here are a few pointers to get you started:

  1. Gather the right data. Most companies have vast amounts of customer data in various databases, desk drawers, and filing cabinets, so compiling what you already know is the best place to start. Sifting through customer satisfaction scores, web analytics, call center metrics, key performance indictors, and anecdotal stories from your sales teams will help you narrow down the type of customer whose journey should be mapped.

The best information comes directly from your customers. If you don’t already include a post-sales survey as part of the transactional process, you should – a recent Gallup study showed that 13% of customers complete post-sale surveys, and when the companies in the study offered a $5 gift card as an incentive, the figure jumped to 20%. Whether you’re a bricks-and-mortar-only group or sell exclusively on the web, consider hiring “mystery shoppers” to navigate the sales process and report back on their experiences. Keep in mind that your goal is not to map out what your current process is designed to do, or what you think it should do, but what it actually is – and from the customer’s perspective.

  1. List all the touchpoints. Some interactions with your company are obvious, such as your website, e-mail campaigns, paid digital and social, and visits to your store or to customers by your sales teams. Other not-so-obvious touchpoints should also be included: referrals, trade shows and meetings, and post-sale service and returns are also valuable interactions. List all these touchpoints in as much detail as you can under columns that correspond to your sales funnel, i.e. Awareness, Interest, Consideration, and Purchase. Some touchpoints will appear in more than one column. For instance, customers may see your product for the first time in a social post, and will use the same social medium to reach out to you with questions or complaints after the purchase.
  2. Paint the picture. This is typically the hardest part because there’s no single correct way or universal template to use. Trying to include too much detail will paint an overwhelming, incomprehensible picture; too few details will render your map equally ineffective. I tell my clients to start with a simple spreadsheet that lists the sales funnel activities at the top with the touchpoints below each column. Then draw lines from touchpoint to touchpoint, with bolder or colored lines to indicate the journey that the majority of your customers take, based on the data you gathered. This alone will make it clear where you should focus your priorities, as well as showing the touchpoints that aren’t driving intended results. You’ll want to flag those areas where potential customers abandon the process; for instance, if you see a trend where customers learn about your product through an e-mail campaign, click on the link to visit your website, use its online tools to compare competitive products, and then log out, you’ve identified something very valuable.

When your spreadsheet is completed and the touchpoints linked, you may want to bring in a professional designer to make it look more like an infographic and less like a spreadsheet. Retain as much detail as you need in order to ensure that all your employees – including those outside of marketing – can easily identify three things: the most common journey across the funnel, the most common touchpoints in this journey, and those touchpoints that don’t commonly lead to a final sale.

Make sure everybody in your organization gets a copy, and that everyone knows what it is and what it means. Be prepared to use the insights from the map to prioritize changes that can make the journey easier and less complex for your customers, or to identify touchpoints that can simply be eliminated.

Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Starting with what you believe the process is, instead of what the customer actually experiences.
  • Staying inside departmental swim lanes, i.e. the web team, the sales team, etc. Customers see you as one company.
  • Assuming that it’s a linear process. It’s not, so be prepared for the lines of your map to bounce all over the place, and even circle the map a few times.
  • Getting stuck in the weeds. You don’t need to include every web page, or indicate where the customers parked when they visited your store. You’re trying to paint a picture that everyone in your company can understand.

And remember, you’re not done when the picture is completed and passed around the office – you’ll want to continue to map the changes you made and use updated maps to determine if these changes were successful.

I hope you agree that a journey map isn’t just another piece of marketing jargon, but is a treasure map to help make your processes easier and more profitable. If you’d like further assistance on how you can start or modify a journey map, I’d love to have a discussion.