How to use journey maps to make your customers happier

Finding new customers can be expensive. So it’s worth investing some time in keeping the ones we’ve already got.

But what if we didn’t just keep our customers? What if we turned them into passionate, loyal, vocal advocates?

In her book I Love You More Than My Dog* , Jeanne Bliss writes about companies who are able to create these armies of fans. Businesses like Zappo’s and Trader Joe’s intentionally create a great experience for their customers. If you read the book you'll realised there's no magic recipe to do this. Each company does things quite differently - from the norm, and from each other. To achieve the same kind of result, you need to work out what makes your customers tick.

Step one: do your research.

Customers give away information all the time about what they like and dislike about the products and services you offer. Make sure you’re listening.

Be open to feedback. Ask for it often. Take time, now and then, to do a deeper exploration of what's working and what isn't. Look at what your customers say about you - and about other businesses offering similar services. If this is a new thing for you, I’ve listed 15 ways to find out what customers want in this article.

Step two: create a journey map for your customer

A journey map describes how the customer interacts with your business, from the customer's point of view. It's a good way to collate all your customer research and use it to improve things for your customers.

What makes a journey map different from other business modelling techniques is that it’s drawn from the customer’s point of view. It's about their experiences, thoughts and feelings. Not your intentions.

This is why you need to start with the research. Without it, you're mapping out what you meant to happen, not what your customers do. They might not follow the path you expected them to take. They might interpret information differently to how you meant it. They might even have a completely different starting point than the one you thought they had.

A model customer journey needs a model customer

Usually, we create journey maps for a fictional customer. This character is often referred to as a persona, and represents a particular type of real customer.

Personas may be fictional, but they're built of real data. Your experience and research will tell you what types of customer you have. You might need more than one persona, to represent all your customer groups.

For instance, imagine you own a bike shop. You might want a persona to represent parents buying bikes for their children. You might want another persona for experienced riders looking for a new high-performance bike. These two groups have different needs and expectations. Create personas and journey maps for all your important customer groups, so you can check your service from different angles.

It’s possible to get a bit carried away creating personas. Some people like to give them photo identities, full names, and complete life histories. I don’t think that’s necessary. The important thing to understand is why are they here? What has brought them to your business? What do they want and need?

You might also want to add details that would affect their experience. For instance, what technology they like to use, when they tend to interact with you during their day, and how much time they have to spare. Sketching in a bit of biography can help to bring these things out.

Be careful about making stuff up just to make your personas feel more realistic. Is their taste in music really relevant to how they interact with you? If not, leave it out.

Once you’ve worked out who is going on this journey, it’s time to start mapping.

Start with the beginning - and the end.

For any kind of business model, whether it’s a journey map or a flow chart, I like to fix my start and end points first. Then at least I'll know when I can stop!

You might choose to map the whole lifetime of your customer, where they buy from you many times. If this feels too much to take on for your first map, try starting with something shorter. Maybe a first-time customer buying one thing.

But: make sure you include the whole journey. Not just the transaction part where they buy something. This map is about your customer’s point of view. How did they start on the journey that ended up with them choosing to do business with you?

If you're able to help them before they even arrive in your store, they're much more likely to arrive at your door. So map every single step they take on the way.

Map the rest of the journey

Once you’ve marked the start and end of the journey, dot in all the points between. Every decision they make, every step they take - not just the ones that involve your business.

Imagine our customer looking for a new bike. They might start by looking for reviews about the latest bikes on the market. They might look at magazines, or visit cycling forums. They might start looking for bike shops near them, that stock certain kinds of bike. Again, they're likely to look for reviews and recommendations. They might do some research into maintenance services, or the tools they might need to maintain it themselves. They haven't even walked into your shop yet! But everything they have done so far is an important part of buying their new bike.

Your research is essential here, and creating the journey map might reveal gaps that you need to fill. How much do you really know about how or why customers choose you?

For each step on the map, note what the customer did, and how they did it. Then add a second note about what the customer thought and felt at that point. This should also come from your research, not your imagination.

Generally, I put dots on a line for each interaction. I put the what and how underneath the dot, and thoughts and feelings above the dot. Here’s an example of one I did for a mum trying to plan a birthday party for her children.

You can see the line wanders up and down. This is a technique for showing the emotional state of the customer - up is happier, down is sadder. This can be a good way to get other people to understand how difficult the current experience is, and persuade them to improve things. If you’re just working on your own business you might not want to bother with this. Colours, happy and sad faces, or just the words you use, can be enough to remind you of what you found in your research.

Paul Boag uses a different framework for his journey maps, as he explains in this article on customer journey mapping. He’s also got some good tips for doing this exercise as a group.

All the time, keep reminding yourself to stick with your research. You’re mapping out how your customers actually experience your products and service, not how you meant it to be for them. If you really haven't got research to draw on, you could try bringing your customers in to make the map with you. This article from the user research folks at UK Government Digital Services explains how they to about it.

Step three: make things better

Once you’ve mapped out how things are, step back and reflect.

Where are the highs? And the lows? Which parts are testing the patience of even your most faithful customers? How can you fix those issues?

Don’t just stop at fixing the rough patches.

Are there points in the journey where you currently leave them hanging? Could a well timed follow up email turn a good experience into a fantastic one? What special touches could you add to make your service superb?

There’s also lots to learn from your own experience. Next time you're pleasantly surprised by someone else’s fantastic service, stop and think. What did they do differently? How could you apply that to your business?

Have you tried making journey maps for your customers? I'd love to hear how you got on, in the comments.

* This post contains affiliate links on which I earn a small commission at no cost to you. I only promote products that I have used myself and would recommend to a friend.