Of all the business tools available to online retailers, customer journey maps are one of the most valuable.
If they’re not already a big part of your business strategy, you’re likely losing out on sales.
Customer journey maps clarify and develop important parts of the customer journey. They allow you to stand in the shoes of your customers, enabling you to improve nearly every aspect of their experience.
They also provide you with the kind of high-level overview you need to target customers with the content and touchpoints that will move them down your sales funnel.
Customer journey optimization, based on mapping, leads to more conversions, revenue, and long-term loyalty.
What Does “Customer Journey” Mean?
The term “customer journey” refers to the sum-total of all experiences that an individual customer has with your brand.
There isn’t one customer journey. Rather, your store’s “customer journey” or “average customer journey” represents all the possible interactions that an individual might have.
These interactions can be split up into higher-level stages common to all customers, irrespective of their unique experiences.
What’s the Difference Between “Customer Journey” and the “Buyer Lifecycle”?
The terms “customer journey” and “buyer lifecycle” are often confused. It’s not uncommon to hear marketers and business people use them interchangeably.
But they’re separate concepts and it’s essential to understand the distinctions.
The key difference is that the customer journey is understood from the perspective of the customer, while the buyer lifecycle is understood from the perspective of the business.
The customer journey encompasses all the customer-facing experiences that visitors to your online store will have.
Here’s a quick overview of the different stages of a typical eCommerce buyer lifecycle:
- Impressions – The first stage of the buyer lifecycle begins when a customer encounters your brand. They might click on a Google Shopping ad, receive a referral from a friend, or see an ad on their social media feed. Impressions might be the result of outbound or inbound marketing.
- Acquisition – In this stage, potential customers are actively interacting with your store, either on your site or via a storefront on an app like Instagram. They might visit a product page or bookmark an item for later, for example.
- Conversion – When a potential customer makes a purchase, they enter the conversion stage. Usually, this stage relates to first-time purchases, but it also accounts for inactive or returning customers.
- Loyalty – The loyalty stage accounts for existing customers that are actively making repeat purchases.
- Advocacy – When a customer becomes an “evangelist” for your brand, they enter the advocacy stage.
It’s essential to keep in mind that the buyer life-cycle corresponds with different stages of the customer journey.
What Is a “Customer Journey Map”?
A customer journey map is a visual representation of all possible experiences customers might have with your store. It also accounts for the sequences in which these experiences commonly occur.
Customer journeys may consist of start-to-finish experiences that culminate in a purchase or brand evangelism, or they might constitute one-off interactions with your brand that don’t go any further.
The key thing to keep in mind is that a customer journey map accounts for all possible types of experiences, big and small, from the perspective of the customer.
It is an essential part of your eCommerce toolkit because it helps you improve your customer experience in a very direct way, and ultimately boost conversions and revenue.
Where a visual representation of a buyer lifecycle or sales funnel allows you to track the progress of customers through pre-defined stages and target them with certain types of content, a customer journey map enables you to see through the eyes of your customers and tailor content and optimize the way it’s delivered.
What a lot of retailers fail to realize is that individual customer journeys can be hugely diverse. There are many touchpoints, all the way from impression to purchase, through which customers can interact with your store and brand. And because customer journey maps need to account for all of these touchpoints, they can be very complex documents.
Customer journey mapping is the process by which businesses step into their customers’ shoes and chart all the possible experiences they might have.
Why Is Customer Journey Mapping Important?
So why exactly is customer journey mapping so important?
Here’s a quick rundown of the main reasons:
- Shows you how customers are interacting with your business – There’s always a risk that retailers will view the customer journey from the perspective of a company, through an analytics dashboard, rather than in a felt, customer-facing way. Customer journey maps enable you to step straight into the shoes of your customers and potential customers and see how they’re interacting with your business from their perspective. Insights will arise from this process that you might not have expected.
- Highlights what customers need and when they need it at different stages of the sales funnel/buyer lifecycle – Crucially, customer journey maps show gaps in the user experience. This enables you to create content and touchpoints that are currently missing at certain stages of your buyer lifecycle. It might be that visitors need to speak to a customer service representative to solve a problem, for example, but this option isn’t available. Similarly, you might not be offering enough social media purchase channels in the decision stage.
- Shows how your value proposition matches the reality of the customer experience – Because your customer journey map incorporates information about the level of satisfaction associated with each of your touchpoints, it enables you to see how well your value proposition, the mix of benefits your store uniquely offers, matches up to the actual experiences of your customers. It might be, for example, that you offer free same-day shipping, but that most customers are frustrated because they do not receive their items when expected.
- Clarifies needs and pain-points – To create a customer journey map, you need to be absolutely crystal-clear about your customers’ needs and pain-points. The research phase of putting together a customer journey map involves building detailed customer profiles which will uncover a range of needs and pain-points, across the whole customer experience, that you might not have considered. Because customer journey mapping is an ongoing process (maps should be updated on a quarterly or even monthly basis), you will become aware of new pain-points as they arise.
- Helps you to identify high-level issues with the customer journey (i.e. are things happening in the right order) – Customer journey maps comprise both general and specific stages. Sometimes, there will be high-level errors with your customer journey. You may be forcing customers to jump from consideration to decision too quickly, for example, by showing decision-focused touchpoints at the consideration stage.
- Highlights shortcomings in your current customer journey – Very few businesses have perfect customer journeys. Customer journey maps show you exactly which touchpoints are missing, underdeveloped, and underperforming. Customer journey maps should include satisfaction ratings for each stage of your existing customer journey based on feedback and analytics data. Equally, viewing customer experiences in the context of business goals and KPIs will highlight any obvious areas that require further input and development.
- Clarifies optimization and development priorities – Along with highlighting problems, customer journey maps can also be used to set priorities. You can see which goals, KPIs, and stages are the most important and allocate resources to the associated touchpoints.
- Enables you to target resources for maximum returns – Once you’ve prioritized areas for development and optimization, you can see which touchpoints are most in need of improvement and, crucially, which are likely to have the most significant impact on your bottom line. This enables you to make tangible, revenue-driven decisions about which aspects of the customer journey to focus on as part of your broader optimization strategy.
Top 5 Best Customer Journey Mapping Tools
Because customer journey mapping tools are essentially diagram-creation apps, they tend to be relatively inexpensive. You should consider investing in one if you haven’t already.
Here’s a quick rundown of the best tools on the market.
- Salesforce Journey Planner – Salesforce journey planner is part of Salesforce’s broader “Marketing Cloud” package. It has a range of features for creating customer journey maps and changing parts of your current customer journey, with several features geared directly at online retailers. It has powerful analytics functionality and integrates with a range of other apps to deliver experiences based on your customer journey map. Pricing is available on request.
- Smaply – Smaply is a straightforward and easy-to-use tool for creating visual presentations of customer journeys, buyer personas, and stakeholder maps (for monitoring the needs and relationships of stakeholders). It has a range of features that enable collaboration and company-wide communication. The business plan is $100/month.
- SuiteCX – SuiteCX provides a range of features in addition to mapping and visualization tools. Business users receive suggestions for improving parts of their existing customer journey, while analytics integrations allow for a data-based approach. SuiteCX also offers regular training webinars and workshops. Pricing is available on request.
- cx/omni – cx/omni is a fully-fledged customer experience management solution that includes customer journey mapping tools. The platform has a broad range of features for gathering feedback, generating insights from analytics, and monitoring KPIs and customer relations metrics. Pricing starts at $29/month per user.
- Touchpoint – Touchpoint is an intuitive web-based app for creating customer journey maps and analyzing customer behavior. It is built with collaboration in mind and is ideal for those retailers looking for a straightforward and scalable solution. Pricing is available on request.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when approaching customer journey mapping. Customer journey maps are complex documents that take time and research to build.
It’s essential, however, not to overlook this vital document. It will inform virtually all of your customer-related processes as an online retailer, with the power to improve and streamline your whole customer experience.
But there’s an important point to keep in mind.
Customer journey mapping is an ongoing process. Maps should be updated regularly – quarterly or even monthly. And testing, the basis of any successful and adaptable customer journey, needs to occur alongside this process.
Now, time to get to work on your customer profiles.