Do you know what your customers see and do before they purchase from you?

Today’s customers see your brand’s ads, interact with you on social media and explore your website before they buy from you. All these interactions – from the first ad impression to every “Please help” Tweet customers send – define your customer journey. To keep up with it all and better inform your social media marketing strategy, create a customer journey map.

Let’s explore what a customer journey map is and how it can help your brand:

What is customer journey mapping?

Example of a customer journey map by Starbucks

A customer journey map is a visual representation of each point of interaction one of your customers has with your company. You can style the map like a flowchart, timeline, table or even on sticky notes.

Going through the process of making the map is a beneficial internal exercise. Along the way, you might find pain points or touchpoints you didn’t know existed. A basic customer journey map will include the buying stages (and support touchpoints) a customer goes through.

More detailed maps include:

  • actions your customers take
  • good and bad emotions your customers experienced
  • departments involved in customer touchpoints
  • content types you serve your customers
  • solutions to pain points

What is a customer touchpoint?

A touchpoint on the customer journey map is the point of interaction a customer has with your brand. It doesn’t need to be a two-way interaction. Seeing a social media ad, getting a branded newsletter and asking a friend for a product recommendation are all touchpoints.

Touchpoints are often accompanied by emotions and actions the customer might experience. When someone asks for product recommendations, your brand might be mentioned. You might not serve that recommendation to them directly but the customer still gets introduced to you.

Why should brands use customer journey maps?

Creating a customer journey map helps brands in many ways. The exercise places importance on both the creation process and the final result. Once you’re done, multiple departments can use the map as a guide for future content creation, to inform your social customer care strategy and improve messaging across every touchpoint.

Graph showing actions brands can take to get consumers to buy from them over a competitor and stats by age group.

According to the Sprout Social Index, Edition XIX: Breakthrough, 51% of surveyed customers believe that the most memorable brands on social respond to customers. The same percentage agrees that responding to customers in a timely manner will get them to purchase from the brand over a competitor. The customer experience is more important than ever.

These maps put the customer first. And with the support of social media market research, they also help brands in other ways. More benefits of the customer journey map include:

  • Provides an overview of the resources your customers use. This helps determine the ROI of customer-centric engagement and service.
  • Identifies content gaps. Pain points without solutions are an excellent source for content ideation and development.
  • Identified inefficiencies. Maybe some processes are repetitive or some solutions cause more friction. You won’t know what’s not working until you map it all out.
  • Generates marketing campaign ideas. With your personas and journey map in hand, creating a marketing campaign is so much easier. You’ll have mapped out motivations and stages to align campaign ideas to.

On Unread, our social team talked about using social media for the customer journey in the auto industry. Watch the video below to hear their discussion on touchpoints, customer experience and how legacy brands are going beyond traditional tactics like targeted ads to tell their story:

How to create a customer journey map

Now that you understand the benefits  of creating a customer journey map, it’s time to get started on your own. Here are six steps to help you build a journey map unique to your customers and your business needs. Plus, keep reading for examples and templates to get started.

1. Set your goals

What do you want to get out of this process? And why does it matter to your business? Knowing your goals sets the stage for how you go about assembling your map.

Some examples of goals include:

  • Identify the top three customer pain points. Use these pain points to create content.
  • Understand customer interests and motivations so you can develop better products and services.
  • Total up the cost of customer interactions so you can set a better social media budget.

2. Decide on a customer journey map type

There are several different customer journey maps and each one has its own advantages. When you decide which map to work with, you know which details to focus on.

These are four of the most common types of customer journey maps: current state, future state, day in the life and service blueprint. We’ll go further into detail on each one later on.

3. Create and define your customer personas

Which customers will you focus on? It’s difficult to map a customer journey if you don’t have a customer in mind. Customer personas are fictional characters that represent each of your target customer groups. They’re detailed with everything from demographics to interests to buying behavior.

Example of a blank user persona type template by Xtension

If you’ve already created social media personas to understand your audience, then you’re more than halfway there. But if you haven’t, then Xtensio’s template or HubSpot’s persona tool will be useful for you. To really get to know someone’s purchase decisions and shopping processes, interview existing customers.

Pro tip: if you have distinctively different personas – such as, if you serve both a B2C and B2B market – then you might want to set up different customer journey maps.

4. Break it down: touchpoints and stages

A social media funnel maps the customer journey from awareness at the top of funnel down to advocacy at the bottom of the funnel.

The customer journey map is divided into stages that usually fit within the funnel illustrated above. To begin with, list out the stages. Next, list out the main customer touchpoints that exist for your company. When you’re done with both lists, place the touchpoints into the different stages.

To get even more detailed, assign department owners to each touchpoint. You can identify where certain social media channels fit into the mix. And, you can assign predicted emotions or sentiments to different stages of the journey. It’s up to you how detailed you want the map to be.

5. Test and identify pain points

To confirm your customer touchpoints, you probably checked in on various departments and spoke to customers. This is great work but you need to take another step further: test it out yourself. Go through the customer journey from the viewpoint of the customer. Ensure that the map you made is accurate and take note of where the pain points exist.

6. Make changes and find solutions

So your map is complete. What’s next? You need to find or create solutions to the pain points you identified in the previous step. Now’s the time to check in on the goals you established in step one and make the moves to smooth out the journey. Give yourself time and space to implement some of the solutions, whether a quarter or six months, and check back in on the map to update it.

4 Types of customer journey maps and examples

Let’s take a look at the four most common customer journey maps and examples of each.

1. Current state

Example of a customer journey layer map from Bright Vessel.

Current state customer journey maps are like an audit. You document how your customers experience their buying and service paths in your company’s current state. These are especially helpful to establish a baseline for your customer service experience.

In the example above, every stage, step and touchpoint are color-coded to visually represent the correlation. To take it one step further, each touchpoint is identified to a department. This is a great example to see just how collaborative a customer journey is in an organization.

2. Future state

Example of a future state customer journey map from wcig.

Future state customer journey maps follow the same format as current state maps except they represent the ideal journey. You can use them alongside your current state maps to identify painpoints and areas to improve. The WCIG map above is a great example of how a map could look in illustrative and educational form.

3. Day-in-the-life

Example of a day-in-the-life customer journey map by UX360

Day-in-the-life customer journey maps outline one of your persona’s schedules as they go about their day. The interactions may or may not involve your company. Creating one of these maps helps you identify the best times and areas to interact with your customer.

4. Service blueprint

Example of a service blueprint customer journey map created in Miro that a bank might use.

A service blueprint customer journey map focuses solely on when you provide customer service. It ignores components like ads that might exist in other maps. The above map from Miro was created with a bank in mind. You’ll notice how this map is only about a customer’s visit to the bank. This type of map helps brands look at individual service areas and interactions. It’s a macro version of the current and future state maps.

Get started with customer journey map templates

Creating a customer journey map doesn’t have to be overwhelming. There are plenty of free and paid templates out there to help you create one of your own. If you think you’ll need more guidance or many maps, there are companies that offer special software to design your own map. Here are a few options to help you build your first journey map or improve your existing maps.

A blank template of a current state template, provided by Bright Vessel.

Current state template, provided by Bright Vessel.

Example of a customer journey map and persona template by Moqups.

Customer journey map template by Moqups.

Another example of a cervice blueprint template by Miro.

Service blueprint template by Miro, a software program that you can use to create all sorts of customer journey maps.

Screenshot example of a customer journey mural map template by Mural, a planning tool.

Customer journey map template by Mural, a planning tool.

Screenshot example of UXPressia's customer journey map online tool.

The above example is created by UXPressia. The company’s customer journey map online tool is made specifically to create presentation-ready customer journey maps.

Now that you know all about customer journey maps, it’s time to set off and make your own. Are you starting your customer research from scratch? Check out these research methods to understand your customers.