How to map the consumer journey

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Want to improve – or even transform – your customer experience and drive more sales? It all starts with understanding your consumer – and every step of their journey.


 Every customer who uses your products or services is trying to solve a problem.


To deeply understand that problem, it’s vital to know as much as possible about that customer; their point of view, needs, wants, likes, frustrations, and (most importantly) how they engage physically and emotionally with your brand.  


The best way to do that? Take a walk in their shoes – and map their journey. 


What is a consumer journey?


A consumer or customer journey maps out the process that your customer follows to achieve a business goal, and records every touchpoint they have with your brand along the way. 


In today’s ever-evolving, increasingly digital world, this journey is likely to be a multichannel process, with myriad possible interaction points – from social to email, website, display ads, out-of-home marketing and good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth. It’s rarely, if ever, linear. 


Why is mapping a customer journey important?


Most businesses find that their consumer journey goes in cycles, or back and forth. In other words, shoppers move from one touchpoint to another and sometimes backwards. 


While this lack of linearity makes it difficult to map, it also highlights why creating customer journeys is so crucial. 

that’s the way customers actually experience your company!

- Celia Romaniuk, managing director at Fjord and Accenture Interactive.


“It’s important to be able to see the end-to-end journey; to understand the experience from start to finish, rather than just spot points along that path,” explains Celia Romaniuk, managing director at Fjord and Accenture Interactive.


“This is for two reasons: firstly, that’s the way customers actually experience your company! They might dip in and out at various points, but it needs to feel like one joined experience to them – so we need to design it that way.


“Secondly, it helps your company come together to see the whole experience rather than focusing too narrowly on their own department. After all, again, this is what the customer actually experiences.”


What’s the difference between a consumer journey and the customer experience?


Simply put, you use the consumer journey to improve and transform your user and customer experience. Look at it this way:


●  User experience (UX): Often refers to the experience people have when they directly use or interact with your service or product

●  Customer experience (CX): Encompasses the entire user experience, journey and beyond – it’s every interaction, big or small, a customer has with your brand over a lifecycle

●  Consumer journey (or customer journey): Visually maps out the customer experience


“You can’t design a good user experience without understanding and mapping out the customer journey,” says Philippe Hong, founder of UX agency Raw.Studio. “It’s an essential part of the discovery.”

What is included in a consumer journey map?


“There are different types of customer journeys – it depends on your business [objectives] and how you attract your customer,” explains Hong.


You could map one complete consumer lifecycle – from initial brand awareness to loyal fan – or multiple consumer journeys based on key business goals. For example:

  • A first-time customer journey 
  • A repeat purchase 
  • Upgrading in some way

Keep in mind, if you’re only focusing on the ‘purchase journey’, you could be missing valuable moments. Brands that strive for loyal fans, rather than simply one-time customers, go deeper with their customer journeys and consider key moments such as:

  • Subscribing to emails
  • Joining a membership/loyalty program
  • Lodging a complaint
  • Communicating with customer service

Whichever journey you map, it’s important to include:


The conversion process, including all touchpoints – from when they hear about your brand to when they book or make a purchase. Don’t forget organic interactions, such as seeing your shopfront on their way to work.


User actions and key events. Include all actions a customer takes during each stage of the journey, such as asking a friend, searching for reviews online, following you on social media, comparing you to a competitor. Plus, include the key events, like making the final decision, what type of payment they’ll use and whether they call or complete the process online. 


Emotions and motivations. Customers have a reaction at every single touchpoint, even if they’re blasé. However, negative emotions create friction, while positive emotions drive engagement. It’s important to consider emotions at every step as these encourage – or discourage – a sale.


Pain or friction points. Anything that makes it difficult for the customer or could lead to frustration – website 404 errors, glitches with your website contact form, difficulty getting through to customer service – should be included.


Opportunities and threats. Is there an earlier point in the journey where you could convert them, such as offering a first-time discount? Or, vice versa, is there something that threatens to turn them off your brand for good, like a bad review?


Quick reminder: what’s a customer touchpoint?


A touchpoint is any interaction a customer (or potential customer) has with your brand where they could form an opinion – from your marketing to organic interactions. 


Deliberate touchpoints, like social media or TV advertising, are easy to identify, but you should also consider less-obvious ones such as Google Business Reviews


So… how do businesses put themselves in their customers’ shoes? 


“Start with the customers you know about already,” suggests Romaniuk. “Who are the people actually using the business, product or service? And if you don’t have direct contact with them, who are the people closest to them? For example, sales people or customer service teams – what are customers saying to them?”


Collect as much voice of customer (VoC) data as possible and use it to build your personas and map your journey – we’ll explain.


Understanding voice of customer (VoC) data


VoC data is a research strategy that helps uncover what customers think of your business, product or service, using VoC surveys. 


“VoC surveys are extremely useful to gather and collect feedback from the customers,” explains Hong. “It’s the best way to understand what they like; what they don’t like.” 


VoC data informs your consumer journey. For instance, if customers repeatedly complain that your website booking system never retains their information – that’s a friction point in your journey. 


But, as Romaniuk points out, “Surveys themselves are not enough. They are great, and tell us lots of things, but they don’t really illuminate the ‘why’. 


“Why was something good or bad? Why is something not good enough, or better than expected? Think of yourself having a conversation with customers – like any conversation, a quick interaction might get you good top-level insight, but it’s only after a longer discussion over time that you can really understand someone else’s perspective.


“It’s seeing the customer perspective, in a deep way, that opens the doors for new kinds of innovation.”


How can I gather VoC data?

  1. Surveys: website, phone, email 
  2. Digital and social listening: social media, online forums, blog comments, Google Reviews, product review sites, anywhere a customer can leave feedback online   
  3. One-on-one interviews 
  4. Focus groups  


Understanding customer personas


Customer personas are fictional but accurate archetypes that represent your target consumers. They include demographic information such as age, gender, job, education, family status, hobbies, communication preferences (the more info, the better), as well as why that person interacts with your brand. 


The more lifelike you make your persona the better; use photos and give your personas a name.


For example, a beauty brand might have ‘Ruby the Regular’, who is 25 years old, works full-time in retail, and buys a product from them every week.


How to physically map a customer journey


“It depends on your time, budget and skills,” says Romaniuk. “You can start very simply by just doing it on the wall with post-its and butcher’s paper. You can put it in a spreadsheet, or visualise it in a more sophisticated way and make it into a beautiful poster.”


However you do it, Romaniuk advises that it’s more important “to think about what you want the journey to show, and how you will represent it”.


Four ways to map:

●  Post-it notes 

●  Excel spreadsheets

●  Infographics 

●  Digital tools (like Miro or Custellence)


The key? Ensure it makes sense to the people in your business who will use it to create solutions – and solve your customer’s problem. 


Isabel Sandercock-Brown is a content marketer and writer who has written for a range of brands.

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