Hiking is a great form of exercise. I personally love going on a little jaunt through the woods, following a trail around a pond, and landing back at my car in a reasonable amount of time. In fact, most legitimate hiking trails come with a starting sign giving you basic information on how long the trail is, terrain difficulty, and usually includes a cute little map of the surrounding area. When you start off on your adventure you follow a well groomed path, with signs which point you along the right direction as you go, reminders for how much you’ve accomplished and how much is left to do.

All of this information is aggregated and designed by helpful park management to ensure that everyone from casual walkers to experienced hikers know what they’re getting into so they don’t get lost along the way. We’ve all seen the news report of the hiker that went off trail and got lost in the woods for a week and nearly eaten by a bear. Not ideal.

The same guiding principles apply to SaaS companies. Teams map out the journey their customers go through with their product to ensure they have all the required tools and resources necessary to finish their product hike successfully. No one wants their customers to end up lost and calling up the support team for an emergency rescue from product failure. No one ends up happy and it’s more likely than not those customers are never returning to your product. In this post, we’re going to break down what a customer journey map is, why it matters, and how you can go about making one to help your customers stay on a safe product trail.

What is a Customer Journey

A customer journey is the experience that a customer has with your company. Everything from becoming aware of your company, chatting with sales, to signing a contract, implementing your product into their daily workflow, talking to support, renewing or upselling along the way, and becoming a loyal customer. It’s every customer interaction, across any channel, including every touchpoint and milestone, along the customer lifecycle.

What is a Customer Journey Map

A customer journey map is a visual representation of the customer experience with your product. It covers all the different touchpoints customers have with your product, whether it’s email, livechat, calls, social media, etc. The goals is to outline customer motivations, key interactions along their journey, and areas of existing and potential product friction. By understanding these events, teams can address current issues and make product improvements for a smoother customer experience. So how exactly does the customer journey relate to and impact customer experience? Let’s break it down a bit more.

Source: https://delighted.com/blog/guide-to-customer-journey-mapping

How does the Customer Journey Impact Customer Experience

Although they’re closely related, they’re not actually the same thing. The customer journey is based around what customers do at each stage of the lifecycle, whereas customer experience is based around what customers feel at each stage of the lifecycle.

How does this actually play out in SaaS? Let’s say you have a web design company. The act of a customer finding your company, doing a consultation, purchasing your services, and receiving a new website would be the customer journey. Finding the website easy to use, your consultation team insightful and attentive, and the finished website login coming with an appreciative email message making the customer feel valued would be the overall customer experience.

The touchpoints along the customer journey where goals are met and additional value can be created is how the customer experience is improved. Finding those touchpoints is done via customer journey mapping.

What is Customer Journey Mapping?

Customer journey mapping is the process of identifying key events along the customer journey to create a visual representation of the average customer experience with your company. The idea is to understanding what customers want to achieve and how they go about meeting those goals with your product along their lifecycle.

Journey mapping normally starts as an excel document highlighting touchpoints from first to last communications, general customer motivations, and known areas of product friction along the lifecycle stages.

There are four types of customer journey maps you can work with:

Current State

These are the most common type of journey map used by companies. They focus on what current customers are doing, thinking, and feeling as they engage with your product. You can use this type of map for driving incremental change and improvements since this journey tracks the existing relationship and pain point your customers have to your product.

Source: https://blog.treasuredata.com/blog/2019/08/15/how-to-create-four-different-customer-journey-maps-and-why-you-might-need-them-all/

Day in the Life

A day in the life map also covers the journey current customers take but focuses on one area of a customer’s life. This is a slighter wider lens than the current state because it includes everything a customer does in that specific area, with and without your product. So this highlights any generalized pain points around a process which you can use to create solutions for using your product.

Source: https://www.userinterviews.com/ux-research-field-guide-chapter/customer-journey-maps

Future State

This map is all about what customers in the future will think, feel, and experience using your product. Use a future state map to communicate your product vision, how that relates to your product roadmap and customer services, as well as future process improvements you plan to make to better the customer experience.

Source: https://www.brightvessel.com/how-to-build-a-customer-journey-map-example-pdfs/

Service Blueprint

Blueprint maps are a much more wholistic look at the customer journey. These start with a basic map for current or future customer journeys. From there you build out all the associated people, services, tools, and systems in place that are needed to support and achieve that particular journey. Blueprint maps can help identify imbedded structural issues with the existing customer journey or help design needed systems to support a future customer journey.

Source: https://blog.treasuredata.com/blog/2019/08/15/how-to-create-four-different-customer-journey-maps-and-why-you-might-need-them-all/

With tech advances and increasing complex products, the average customer journey is much more than just mapping point A to point B. Depending on the scope of your product, journeys may be a bit more time-consuming and harder to map, encompassing multiple communication channels and tools. With this in mind, mapping infographics has shifted to encompass multiple customer workflows and journeys for different product goals, using Excel sheets, post-it notes, and custom mapping software. But no matter how you decide to map out a customer journey, the most important thing is that your team can understand the finished product.

Why is Customer Journey Mapping Important?

Customer journey mapping is important because once you’ve identified what customers do to achieve goals, you can make improvements to the process. Whether you’re decreasing product friction, adding additional documentation, or implementing more direct communication channels, taking the time to understand and improve the journey will positively impact the overall customer experience. Here are a few examples of how journey mapping impacts your business:

Allows you to be more proactive

The customer journey map is essentially a roadmap to understanding the customer experience. It gives you insight into areas that are known to be a positive experience and others that may cause friction and frustration. Knowing these spots ahead of time allows your team to proactively plan for success.

For example, say you have a new customer that is completing onboarding for a build-your-own web design product. If your journey map shows that post-onboarding, customers submit a high volume of support tickets for one feature, it may be time to create new documentation and make sure your CSMs direct new customers to it prior to onboarding completion. That way, your team is providing a proactive solution to existing friction points to keep customers happy and drive product engagement.

Improves customer retention

One of the most important items to analyze through the customer journey map are events or stages that have a high churn rate or low retention rates. Churn is a reflection of the value that your product is providing to customers. It costs more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain one so you should always be working to improve the customer journey to retain the customer you already have.

So for instance if you have a low-paying tier and the majority of customers use the product for a few months and then don’t renew their contract, there’s a problem. It’s time to use the journey map to understand what customers are expecting of your product in that tier, what they actually receive in terms of functionality, and close any gaps that exist. Improving this experience would increase customer retention and likely provide opportunities for upselling to increase your overall customer lifetime value.

Creates a customer-centric process

A customer-centric approach to doing business focuses on providing a positive customer experience both at the point of sale and after the sale in order to drive profit and gain competitive advantage. This type of approach relies on identifying pressing customer needs or challenges and building the solution that resolves that pain.

A customer journey map provides that outline for where customer needs exist so that your team and company as a whole know what items to prioritize and focus on. There’s a massive benefit in that because customer-centric companies focus so heavily on creating the best customer experience possible, they typically see higher customer loyalty rates, lower churn rates, and higher customer satisfaction scores.

But how do you actually go about creating a customer journey map so you can reap all the customer-centric benefits? Let’s dive in!

How to Create a Customer Journey Map

The time and energy required for creating a customer journey map will depend on the scope of your product, the type of map you’re developing, and the customer segment you’re looking to understand. However, the basic process involves five key steps:

  1. Setting a goal for the map
  2. Researching the chosen persona to target
  3. Identifying the customer touchpoints for that persona
  4. Analyze the current customer journey you’ve mapped
  5. Make improvements to the customer journey

1. Set a goal for the journey map

Prior to starting the mapping project, it’s important to make sure the team is on the same page and has a clear goal they hope to accomplish and can come back to as they map out a customer journey. What are you trying to learn and accomplish? What aspects of the customer experience are you going to highlight? Which type of map are you going to use? Is there a one or multiple products involved? Who is the customer you want to understand?

2. Research the chosen persona

It can be helpful to base the journey around a buyer or customer persona that represents your average customer or a key segment of customer. Starting off with a targeted persona allows teams to follow one journey through the product and focusing teams around an explicit experience.

You can base the persona off of customer interviews or demographic data. The information should come from active customers so you can identify factors that influence their decision to engage with your product, buy it, use it, issues they’ve had with it, etc. The persona you build off this information should include age, industry, job title, professional goals, and product service expectations.

3. Identify the customer touchpoints

Once you’ve identified the type of map and general persona, it’s time to create a behavior line to follow. This is every interaction your target persona has with your website, product, and customer service teams. When are they engaging with your company and why? How often do they reach out, and via what channels? Is the frequency more or less than expected?

One note is that the number of touchpoints is going to vary widely based on your product and desired experience. More complicated, later stage products will likely have more touchpoints since there’s more product to research and learn about, while smaller, earlier companies will likely have less touchpoints because their footprint is inherently smaller. Neither is better than the other, just a difference of company stage and product development.

Finding the touchpoints allows your team to find new ways to make the customer journey more efficient. With all the online avenues for interactions, it’s important to account for options outside the most obvious: email, phone call, FAQ and support documentation, livechat, check-ins with CSMs, as well as your website, blog, reviews, marketing ads, and social media channels.

While writing out this long list of every touchpoint may seem daunting, it’s worth it. You’ll end up slimming it down later but you’ll realize pretty quickly just how much is being asked of your customers to navigate your product.

4. Analyze the current journey map

The key factors you’re looking to understand and pull out of that long list of touchpoints is related to the actions that customers are taking, the motivations behind those actions and what they hope to achieve, and finally, painpoints associated with those actions. If you can slim down the number of actions required to achieve one goal, you’re improving customer sentiment and increasing the chance of conversions.

Take a blog subscription as an example. Let’s say you have a customer that is on your website and their goal is to subscribe to your blog. If the only option for a customer to click the subscribe button for your blog is buried behind a number of web pages and then requires customers to fill out all their own demographic information, chances are they’re going to stop trying before they ever click subscribe. The number of actions required to achieve the goal is just too high for the payoff. You’re losing conversions that should be easy to obtain. The next step is to make improvements to the customer journey to smooth the experience and increase customer satisfaction.

5. Make improvements to the customer journey

After analyzing your map of the existing customer journey and finding areas for improvement, it’s time to take stock and determine how change can be implemented. What were the key pain and friction points identified? What potential solutions were identified? What resources or teams are required to provide each solution? Which items are considered to be the highest priority and most immediately impactful to the customer experience?

Going back to the blog subscription example from earlier, what does improvement look like? The number of actions to the goal of subscribing from the main was was identified as too many. You could include a “subscribe to our blog” at the bottom of the main webpage as well as in each blog post so that people navigating articles off google, have more direct access. Moreover, if conversion numbers from views to subscribes are still low, it may be worth lowering the demographic requirements on the actual subscription link down to just an email input. This way, prospective customers have less work for higher gain, your blog, and once invested in your blog are more likely to check out your product as a solution.

Once you’ve outlined the customer journey on the map you have your reference point to come back to. Your team should actually review the map fairly regularly, such as every month or quarterly, so that you can continually make improvements. As you receive new customer feedback related to different stages of the journey, update the map. It should act as a living document and guide-post for your company.

Conclusion

The customer journey is an ever-changing process. Just like park rangers have to clear trail paths throughout the different season and block off areas that are now longer accessible, you need to ensure easy access and product use for customers. The easier their journey with your product, the happier they’ll be. Happy customers are less likely to churn, more likely to renew, and even more likely to stay loyal to your company. Use a customer journey map to find the bears on your product trail and guide customers around them—we all just want to make it home in one piece.