How to Create a Customer Journey Map for Your Small Business

by Robert Izquierdo | Published on May 18, 2022

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Customer journey mapping acts as the ideal tool to gain insight into how to improve your business for clients. Learn step-by-step how you can map the customer journey for your company.

Are you interested in the story of a customer’s experience with your company?

This is your opportunity to learn about the elements that contributed to a customer’s purchase of your solutions -- and how it (hopefully) led to a long-term relationship. It’s also your window into the ordeals suffered by your clients that prevented additional sales. This is the power of a customer journey map.

Overview: What is customer journey mapping?

Customer journey mappings outline the steps a customer takes to achieve a goal with your company, such as making a purchase. These steps are then documented in a visual diagram outlining a typical experience with your company.

The customer journey map documents every client-facing interaction the customer has with your business from start to finish. It begins when a customer researches a solution to meet their needs, then moves to discovering your company, considering your offerings, purchasing your product or service, and finally, becoming an advocate for your brand.

A customer journey map should be done whenever you’re developing a new product or service, looking for ways to improve your current processes to better serve your customers, or seeking insight into boosting sales and marketing results.

Creating a customer journey map is usually an eye-opening experience. When I talked to car dealerships about the customer journey related to car buying, the dealers had preconceived notions that the consumer relied on the dealership to decide on a car. Dealers hoped to influence consumers to buy the cars they had on their lot.

In reality, most consumers performed their research online and determined the desired car long before visiting the dealership. In fact, car buyers typically visit fewer than two dealerships before buying. This behavior relegated dealerships to simply providing test drives and acting as a fulfillment center. It also meant dealers had to carefully consider the types of cars they purchased, or they could be stuck with the vehicles.

A customer journey map affords these types of insights -- and provides other benefits as well.

What are the benefits of customer journey mapping?

Creating a customer journey map takes time and effort, but the benefits more than make up for this investment. Here are some of the key benefits of a customer journey map.

1. Create the right solution

Investing in a customer journey map at the start of a project can save time and money later because it helps to create the right solution for your customers.

Perhaps you’re building a new product or service. In that process, you might have ideas about the steps customers take when making a purchase or otherwise using your offering. A journey map validates this, and if your ideas are flawed, having the map can prevent spending time, money, and energy on a process or product that confounds customers.

2. Improve your business

A journey map identifies areas of opportunity for your business, which makes it a great tool to evaluate how your company can improve.

For example, customers may be performing more steps than necessary to achieve a desired outcome, such as signing up for an account on your website. They may accept the steps as necessary, but streamlining the process reduces drop-off from customers who gave up, thereby increasing sign-ups and improving customer satisfaction.

3. Enhance marketing and sales

By deeply understanding the client journey, you can be more effective with your marketing and sales efforts. You’re in a position to better evaluate the value of marketing vs advertising activities, and even the impact of your positioning strategy across different buyer personas (the various customer types that match your company’s offerings).

This is possible because the mapping shows at what point customers tend to require the help of a sales or customer service rep, or the best moments to employ various marketing channels, such as providing a sign-up form for a newsletter. You’ll also be better able to meet the needs of your customers because you’ll know what’s turning them away and which digital marketing tips or B2B marketing strategies are working.

How to create a customer journey map

The creation of a customer journey map is straightforward. It boils down to the following five steps.

Step 1: Decide on the objective

The first step is to define the goals of the exercise. What are you trying to achieve by mapping out the customer journey? Is it to understand the path to purchase? Is it to determine the right marketing tactics to use at each stage of the sales funnel?

As part of this, determine the type of user journey map you’re interested in building. Is it about capturing the current state of your processes in order to improve them? Is it to understand a day in the life of your customers? Are you trying to visualize a future state for a product or service you’re building?

Figure out your goals before diving in to ensure you have clarity of purpose and the resources required to achieve your goals. This also prevents the creation of a customer journey map that doesn’t align with your goals.

Tip: Once you’re clear on what you’re trying to achieve, obtain the same information about the customer segments involved in the journey you’re mapping. To help with this, complete a buyer persona for each type of customer going through the journey. This serves two purposes: You identify the characteristics of the customer you want to reach out to as well as the marketing tactics required for each stage of the journey.

Step 2: Learn the customer workflows

Next comes research. Any internal ideas of what the customer journey looks like must be validated with research data to avoid bias.

Here are some ideas for performing this investigation:

  • Customer interviews
  • Surveys
  • Talking to internal customer-facing teams
  • Ethnographic research where you observe a customer actually walking through the steps in the process you’re trying to understand (this is the ideal research method)

List each of the touchpoints where a customer comes into contact with your brand. Assemble these touchpoints in the order in which they occur. These will be used to build your customer map.

Tip: Put yourself in the shoes of your customer, and walk through the user journey. Ask yourself how you would discover your company’s offerings, where to go to learn more about your company’s solutions before making a purchase decision, the steps to make that purchase, and how you encounter the business again after the purchase.

Step 3: Identify customer challenges

Now that you understand the steps of a customer’s path when interacting with your business, it’s time to step back and determine pain points, roadblocks, or other challenges faced by the customer throughout that path.

You can identify these areas by scanning your journey map for places where a customer must walk through multiple steps to achieve their goal, talking to customers and customer-facing teams within your organization for feedback on these pain points, and analyzing data about your customers’ behaviors, such as why people are dropping off your website during the checkout process.

For example, I worked with a company involved in generating employment applications through its website. The company was paid based on the number of applicants it sent to recruiters.

However, there were so many steps in the application process that most applicants dropped off halfway through it. By performing a journey map and identifying unnecessary steps while still adhering to employment laws and regulations, we were able to reduce the number of steps to the point of more than doubling completed applications.

Tip: It’s easy for a business to fall into a company-centric approach with the user journey, meaning you execute the mapping based on the workflow you believe customers should follow and not the ones they’re actually doing. This makes you miss the challenges your customers come across. A better approach is to identify touchpoints where you can improve your education to the client. The key to doing this is to build an inbound marketing strategy that draws customers to you.

Step 4: Diagram the journey

Once you know the components of the customer journey and the associated pain points, document each step taken by the customer in a visual diagram, highlighting where challenges exist. Include not only the steps taken and how (for example, on a social media site), but also the rationale behind the actions.

The journey usually starts with how a customer becomes aware of your product or service. Then it moves into the research done to learn more and make a purchase decision, such as visiting your company website. Combining this mapping exercise with marketing KPIs allows you to measure the impact of any changes you make to the customer journey.

Tip: The customer journey is often non-linear. Customers can end up at the same goal through entirely different steps. So, be sure your visual diagram captures these various paths.

Example of a customer journey map showing different client's customer journeys highlighting good and bad experiences.

This customer journey map example outlines the steps taken by each type of buyer persona, including a red highlight for the areas requiring improvement. Image source: Author

Step 5: Continuous updates and improvements

Be prepared to revisit your customer journey mapping at least every six months to a year, and especially after significant process changes or new offerings are added. Think of it as a living document that evolves as your company grows and changes.

Through continuous updates and improvements to your customer journey mapping, you can repeatedly enhance the approach to your operations and marketing, such as learning if the software used with email marketing strategies is truly the best email marketing software for your company to obtain the desired results.

Tip: You should be completing regular research into your customers, such as through feedback surveys. Incorporate questions that provide insight into the customer journey map as part of these activities to streamline the research process.

Final words about customer journey mapping

No standard journey mapping template or design exists to diagram a customer journey because they can vary a great deal based on what the client is trying to achieve, your industry, and your objectives with the mapping.

That said, just like you employ CRM software to manage your customer data or a content management system to build your website, you’ll want to use customer journey mapping tools to help you build your visual diagram. Use an approach that makes sense for your mapping, whether that means creating it in a spreadsheet, a slide presentation, or on a whiteboard.

Once you’ve captured the customer journey on a visual map, you’ll have a tool tailored to your business that provides insights into how you can deliver the best experiences for your customers.

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