Editor’s note: Updated November 2018.

I know I’m showing my age here, but how did people live without maps on their phones? I’m serious; if I can’t find a business on Google Maps, it basically doesn’t exist to me.

In fact, how did people live before maps in general? Sure, the stars were an aesthetically pleasing guide, but can you imagine using a couple of space lights to determine where you were at all times? Plus, during the day, you’d basically just follow the sun and hope it took you in the right direction. Sounds like a stressful experience to me.

That’s no way to live a life, and it’s certainly no way to run a business.

Operating without a user journey map is like trying to walk across the U.S. without an iPhone, a paper map, a compass or the stars: You’re blind to the steps you need to take in order to reach your destination. A map helps you determine where to go based on your destination. In this metaphor, that target is a thriving business, and the landscape is the path customers take from discovery to satisfaction.

Besides, who wouldn’t want to be the Lewis and/or Clark of their business?

This could be you.

The user journey map: A guide to success

A user journey map charts the relationship between your customers and your company. Think of it as a timeline of touchpoints told from the customer’s point of view.

This map can showcase the entire journey in detail – from prospective client to the end of the partnership – or it can highlight a specific part of this flow. At minimum, it’s best to have a map of the sales process and an outline of the overall customer experience, and you can further break down additional parts (such as onboarding or upselling) as necessary.

Long story short: You can create an experience map for pretty much any stage of the journey, but focus your energies on creating the maps for the most influential customer interactions with your product or service first. Keep your marketing and sales goals in mind to make the experience count for every customer.

For example, a B2B software company may want to map out how a client will train employees on its software. This helps the company identify aspects of the user interface that confuse people who weren’t involved in the sales process. A company that provides insurance solutions, on the other hand, will probably choose to map a different part of the customer journey.

A user journey map charts the relationship between your customers and your company.

Creating a customer journey to give your business direction

A business succeeds by providing a great user experience, which is accomplished by understanding the customer. User journey maps give your business clear guidance on converting prospects, turning initial users into long-term customers, having a successful partnership and any other experience you outline. The map is a powerful tool that aligns your business to the way your customers think, helping you answer the following questions:

  • What do my customers want?
  • What do my customers not want?
  • What do they need that they don’t think to ask for?

You can’t expect to have a successful long-term relationship with your consumers without open communication. In that sense, a tried-and-true method to get in the mind of your customer is to go straight to the source. Conduct face-to-face interviews with customers for first-hand insight into their thoughts on the experience with your company, product or service.

With this information, you can modify any aspect of the customer experience to improve their satisfaction. You can add something to your sales process, remove a certain step during onboarding or anything else the map highlights to enhance the customer experience.

In addition, a proper map identifies who in your business is responsible for the customer’s satisfaction at each touchpoint. Who is supposed to be present when the customer makes a purchase or signs a contract? Who’s in charge of a digital asset’s performance? The map provides clarity for each stage of the user experience and keeps the right employees accountable at every customer encounter.

Creating a customer journey to guide them to your destination

From the user’s perspective, a map turns their journey from a 2000+ mile excursion to a breezy walk in the park. They encounter all the right things at all the right times: supportive customer service, helpful account managers, informative salespeople and so on.

What’s more, a map means customers are less likely to run into what they don’t want, such as confusing jargon, useless content or futile interactions surrounding your product or service.

In short, user journey maps accomplish a lot within a small amount of space. To show what I mean, let’s look at some successful examples from other companies.

What a user journey map looks like

One thing I haven’t yet touched on but is critically important is the fact that user journey maps are visual tools. They aren’t long text documents; they’re organized charts with graphic elements to help you parse important insights as quickly as possible to keep moving toward your goals.

Let me show you what I mean:

Dapper Apps

Via conversionxl.com.

 

Dapper gives us a great example of a simple yet visually appealing user journey chart. We see the different stages of the journey along the top row, from the research stage to the final sign-off. The left column contains insights into the customer as well as the company’s response. It’s a short but sweet way of seeing all the information you need to know.

Leadfeeder

Via conversionxl.com.

 

Leadfeeder’s customer journey map shows how detailed your company can get. There’s a lot of text here, but it’s all well-organized into different sections. The map also contains some interesting internal metrics such as topics, keywords and KPIs that are important to conversion.

Step by step: Creating your user journey map

Maps can be misleading: the end result is the product of a lot more work than you might expect. Creating your map requires a lot of research, but lucky for you, we’ve already talked about the first step in this process: creating personas.

Step 1: Create your personas

As we discussed, personas are the blueprint for content development. Yet, that’s not all they can or should be; personas can also play a role in journey mapping and product or service development. In all of these instances, personas help you identify exactly what your audience is looking for, resulting in a more personalized and targeted customer experience.

For user journey maps, your personas also help you understand the customer’s emotions at each point of contact, which will influence both what you should do and how the customer will react at the next touchpoint.

Customer personas that result in a good journey map should describe the following topics:

  • Name: This is a simple way to easily differentiate personas. Have fun with it!
  • Age group: There are a lot of inferences to make based on someone’s age. A millennial manager may be more Twitter savvy than a Boomer executive, for example.
  • Title: A person’s position is very helpful for determining their goals and motivations at each stage of the user journey.
  • Superior: Like a job title, a person’s superior clues you into their most pressing concerns. Do they report to a manager, director, executive or shareholder?
  • Expertise: Having an idea of what your audience knows tells you what you will need to explain versus what is understood at each step of the customer journey.

We’ve got an in-depth guide about how we created Brafton’s personas, but here’s a quick recap:

Check your website’s analytics to see who comes to your page. How old are they? What do they look at? How long do they stay on your site? How many convert? Keep in mind that your analytics are just a small segment of the people who interact with your product or service. The customers who actually use your product or service may not be the people who visit your website.

This is why you must also analyze your current customers, filling in the gaps from your analytics review. What sort of questions do customers have for your support department? What requests have they made? How do they answer your customer satisfaction and experience surveys?

Finally, what specific customer pain points must be addressed in the solution you create? What pain points might the solution accidentally introduce? (Avoid the latter when developing your product or service!)

A user journey map helps you create content for each stage of the buyer journey.

Step 2: Go beyond the details, hit the motivations

Now you’ll want to identify what each of your personas ultimately want and need. Don’t ask what the company they work for is doing; ask what the people inside it do. How does your product intersect with their job?

Furthermore, how does each persona’s way of thinking shape their ideas about the solutions they need? When presented with a problem that your product can solve, what immediately springs to the persona’s mind, and what do they not realize they need?

Finally, what specific pain points must be addressed in the solution you create? What pain points might the solution accidentally introduce? (Avoid the latter when developing your product!)

Step 3: Build your timeline

Put your personas aside for a second and think generally about each time a client (not an individual person but a business entity) interacts with your business. It helps to think broad and gradually get more specific rather than to try and list each step of the multifaceted process in order.

Outline the major stages of whichever journey you’re mapping (remember earlier, when we talked about mapping the entire partnership versus a specific aspect of it?) and really examine the experience of going from an unaware customer to satisfied client.

To demonstrate, let’s create a map of the discovery experience, chronicling the times before, during and after a customer learns about your company. You can technically get as granular as you’d like, but there’s no need to go overboard. In fact, you want only as many steps as you can easily interpret after a glance or two at your map.

For this example, we’ll keep things simple at three stages. Look at each and determine which of your personas will interact with your business during that point of the process. Then, list their motivations, problems and actions followed by your response at each stage.

Before discovery During discovery After discovery
Persona Linda, head of a local accounting branch of a major corporation. Linda again. Hi, Linda! Melody, CFO, relies on input from Linda but ultimately makes the final decision.
Motivations Linda’s company scored a great deal with a tablet provider, which is awesome as an increasing number of employees are working out of the office. However, her department’s current software is only available on desktop. Her team needs something with more flexibility. Linda’s in the researching stage now, and she needs to review your company’s potential to ensure your software is right for her team. Melody believes new accounting software, in addition to being tablet friendly, will reduce errors and boost the department’s productivity.
Problems They need something new immediately, but there are a lot of options out there to look through. Linda needs to convince her CFO that this is the solution the company needs. But before that happens, she herself needs convincing that you’re the best option. Melody doesn’t have time to research different products herself, so she relies on advice from Linda. She’s also concerned about the cost of new software, especially a large payment upfront.
Actions Linda relies on industry websites and other professionals to give her recommendations. She has no time to review every single software option’s website. Linda learns about your company from AccountingWeb.com, reads your content, agrees to a demo and schedules a time to meet with her CFO. Melody agrees to a meeting with Linda and your company’s sales team.
Response Your business needs to make sure its content is exactly where Linda is looking. Write guest posts for accounting websites, attend trade shows and use satisfied customers to act as influencers. Use your content to convince Linda that your company can provide what she needs. When she gets in contact or provides her email address, personalize your marketing efforts and organize a meeting. You need to bring your A-game. It’s time to speak at an executive level. If all goes well, you’ll have a new customer!

Ta-da! It’s a user journey map! Admittedly, this is an incredibly bare bones one, but it has the idea we’re going for. Here are a few things to keep in mind to help punch up your map:

  • What does the research show? Make sure the personas, motivations, problems, actions and responses are based on data, not your assumptions.
  • How will we design this? User journey maps are great as a visual tool, allowing you to the etire process in a concise, memorable way.
  • How will your persona’s emotions or feelings change during each stage? For added visual oomph, use a line chart like Leadfeeder to view the highs and lows from the customer perspective.

If you want to make a map similar to Leadfeeder’s, Nielsen Norman Group has a great template you can look at.

Via nngroup.com.

 

Zone A outlines the persona (1)  and the situation (2) , while Zone B outlines the customer journey (3) and lists the actions (4), thoughts (5) and emotions (6) of the persona at each point. Zone C’s content varies based on your goal, but it could describe potential business opportunities (7) and list who is responsible for each (8).

Examining your efforts

While your maps illustrate the experience, customer journey analytics brings in the data to interpret these interactions. The idea is to monitor and analyze the customers’ experience at all points of contact, gaining insights into how people interact with your company, product or service through a combination of channels and touchpoints.

Journey analytics can pinpoint the most important customer journeys, helping companies prioritize the ones that meet goals such as increasing revenue or improving customer experience. These analytics report real-time insights, which means you can see how user flows and experiences change over time.

With this priceless information, you’ll know when and where to engage with your target customer for the results you want to see.

Ready to get started?

Tools for user journey cartography

Put away your compasses (both types, please!). Use this list instead to help you create your journey maps:

For analytics platforms and user research, try:

These tools are made to help you design the map:

If you’d rather just plug in some text, here’s a journey map template from customer experience consulting firm Kerry Bodine & Co. You can also use Nielsen’s template above.

Tying the journey to your content

This is a content marketing blog, so of course I’m going to add in a note about content. Isn’t it great when two of your business tools can work together? Talk about a satisfying experience on your end as well.

A user journey map makes it much easier to ideate content for each stage. It gives you clear issues to address as well as insight into the audience’s frame of mind at every touchpoint.

Think of the earlier example with Linda during the discovery period. She’s currently reading a guest blog post your company wrote for AccountingWeb. Your map will help you determine what that blog post is about (and, therefore, what topics to pitch to similar websites or explore on social media for other prospects to read).

We’re essentially working backward here. We know that Linda (or someone like her) needs a mobile-ready accounting software solution, so we’ll create content with titles like:

  • Why your business needs a more flexible accounting solution
  • How mobile devices can increase productivity among accountants
  • 3 things your accounting software must have

Customers interact with your business, product or service in different ways during each stage of the map. Their motivations, both emotional and business related, fluctuate over time. Keeping yourself aware of these changes not only helps you create a satisfying customer experience that still aligns with your goals, but also allows you to design content tailored to other prospects at all points of interaction.

Autumn Green is a Brafton writer living in Chicago. She thought she wanted to be an artist growing up, but her time in college taught her that writing is much more fun. On the weekends, you can find her browsing museums or buying cookbooks.