Hiking is a great form of exercise.
I personally love going on a little jaunt through the woods, following a trail around a pond, and landing back at my car in a reasonable amount of time.
In fact, most legitimate hiking trails come with a starting sign giving you basic information on how long the trail is, terrain difficulty, and usually includes a cute little map of the surrounding area.
When you start off on your adventure, you follow a well-groomed path, with signs which point you in the right direction as you go, reminders of how much you've accomplished and how much is left to do.
All this information is aggregated and designed by helpful park management to ensure that everyone from casual walkers to experienced hikers knows what they're getting into so they stay aware of the situation.
We've all seen the news report of the hiker that went off trail, got lost in the woods for a week, and was nearly eaten by a bear.
The same guiding principles apply to SaaS companies.
Teams map out the path their customers take with their product to ensure they have the tools and resources necessary to successfully finish their product hike.
No one wants a prospect to end up lost and call up the support team for an emergency rescue from product failure.
No one ends up happy, and it's more likely than not that those customers will never return to your product.
In this post, we'll break down what a customer journey map is, why it matters, and how you can make one to help users stay on a safe product trail.
Best of all, we put together some templates to help you blaze your own trail!
What is the path someone takes from never hearing about your company to becoming a power user, advocate, and growing LTV account?
The path they take is what we call the Customer Journey.
This includes everything from the initial awareness of your company to understanding your offering and how it benefits them through the sales and signing process, working with the success team, and expanding their product utilization.
You need to look at every interaction, across any channel, including every touchpoint and milestone, along the customer lifecycle.
A customer journey visualizes the journey described above and how people interact with your brand, product, and/or service.
At each stage in your map, you should ask these questions:
All touch points with your company - product, service, email, live chat, calls, social media, etc. - should be covered.
This exercise aims to outline their motivations, key interactions prospects have, and the existing and potential product friction areas that arise.
Although they're closely related, customer journey and customer experience are different.
The customer journey is based on what customers do at each stage of their lifecycle, whereas customer experience refers to what they feel at each stage.
How does this actually play out in SaaS?
Let's say you have a SaaS business offering a social media marketing tool for other businesses.
The act of someone finding your website, doing a trial and/or getting a demo from sales, purchasing the tool, and getting the value of it would all be part of their journey.
Finding your website informative and easy to navigate, your trial and/or demo providing you the experience of the product's value, and the onboarding process that includes customer service and success teams that makes them feel valued would be part of their experience.
Customer Journey and Customer Lifecycle are also closely related but distinct.
The lifecycle is a pre-defined set of stages that all users and prospects pass. It identifies their interactions with your company and product, from first becoming aware to expansion or churn.
This differs from a journey insofar as the former is a tool for statistical analysis (rates of conversion from one stage to the next), whereas the latter is a visual tool that helps teams build a better product experience.
The lifecycle will often dictate a lot of marketing strategy, especially when a Product-Led Growth GTM motion is in place.
These concepts will often look identical in touch points and stages, so having your Customer Lifecycle well-defined before creating your map will make the process much smoother.
As mentioned above, these two concepts are very similar, though they differ in how they are presented and for what purpose.
It is crucial, however, to ensure that the stages in your lifecycle align with your map.
There are several models for defining lifecycle stages - one being the "traditional" model and one emerging as the preferred option for companies that take a product-led approach.
The stages in the AARRR model differ in number and naming convention:
These two models differ in their ultimate goals. Whereas AARRR is focused on the end goal of increasing revenue, the traditional model focuses more on customer engagement and satisfaction.
The AARRR model has become favored with the advent of increased visibility into customer insights and product usage data.
Tools like Google Analytics were the predominant way of tracking behavior; these tools only looked at website engagement.
Today, product data can be tied with other customer data in the CRM, billing, and other systems to create a more robust and actionable model for segmentation.
Four types of maps are most often utilized when customer journey mapping:
This is the most common type of journey map used by companies. They focus on current customers' actions, thinking, and feeling as they engage with your product.
You can use this map to drive incremental change and improvements since this journey tracks the existing relationship and pain point your customers have with your product.
A day in the life map also covers the current journey but focuses on only one area of a customer's life.
This is a slightly wider lens than the current state because it includes everything a customer does in that area, with and without your product. So this highlights any generalized pain points around a process you can use to create solutions for your product.
This map is about what future customers will think, feel, and experience using your product.
Use a future state map to communicate your product vision, how that relates to your product roadmap and customer services, and future process improvements you plan to improve the customer experience.
Blueprint maps are a much more holistic look at the entire customer journey from the customer's perspective.
These start with a basic map for current or future customer journeys. From there, you build out all the associated people, services, tools, and systems in place that are needed to support and achieve that particular journey.
Blueprint maps can help identify embedded structural issues with the existing customer journey or help design needed systems to support a future customer journey.
With tech advances and increasingly complex products, the average customer journey is more than just mapping points A to B.
Depending on the scope of your product, journeys may be a bit more time-consuming and harder to map, encompassing multiple communication channels and tools.
With this in mind, mapping infographics has shifted to encompass multiple customer workflows and journeys for different product goals, using Google docs, post-it notes, and custom mapping software.
But no matter how you decide to do it, the most important thing is that your team can understand the finished product.
Customer journey mapping is important because you can improve the process once you've identified what customers do to achieve goals.
Whether you're decreasing product friction, adding additional documentation, or implementing more direct communication channels, taking the time to understand and improve the journey will positively impact the overall customer experience.
Here are a few of the benefits:
The customer journey map is a roadmap to understanding the customer experience. It gives you insight into areas known to be positive experiences and others that may cause friction and frustration.
Knowing these spots ahead of time allows your team to proactively plan for success.
For example, say you have a new customer completing onboarding for a build-your-own web design product.
If your journey map shows that post-onboarding, customers submit a high volume of support tickets for one feature, it may be time to create new documentation and ensure your CSMs direct new customers to it before onboarding completion.
That way, your team provides a proactive solution to existing friction points to keep customers happy and drive product engagement.
One of the most critical items to analyze through the customer journey map are events or stages with high churn rates or low retention rates.
Churn is a reflection of the value that your product is providing to customers. It costs more to acquire a new customer than to retain one, so you should always be working to improve the customer journey to retain the customer you already have.
For instance, if you have a low-paying tier and most customers use the product for a few months and then don't renew their contract, there's a problem.
It's time to use the journey map to understand what customers expect of your product in that tier, what they actually receive in terms of functionality, and close any existing gaps.
Improving this experience would increase customer retention and provide opportunities for upselling to increase your overall customer lifetime value.
A customer-centric approach to doing business focuses on providing a positive customer experience both at the point of sale and after the sale to drive profit and gain a competitive advantage.
This approach relies on identifying pressing customer needs or challenges and building the solution that resolves that pain.
A customer journey map provides an outline of where customer needs exist so that your team and company know what items to prioritize and focus on.
There's a massive benefit in that because customer-centric companies focus so heavily on creating the best customer experience possible, they typically see higher customer loyalty rates, lower churn rates, and higher customer satisfaction scores.
The time and energy required to create a customer journey map will depend on the scope of your product, the type of map you're developing, and the customer segment you're looking to understand.
However, the basic process involves five key steps:
Before starting the journey mapping project, it's important to ensure the team is on the same page and has a clear goal they hope to accomplish. With this goal in hand, the relevant stakeholders can continuously return to it throughout the mapping process.
To define your goal or goals, ask some of these questions:
It can be helpful to base your journey maps around a persona representing your average or a key customer segment.
Starting with a targeted persona allows teams to follow one journey through the product, focusing teams on an explicit experience.
These personas can be created based on interviews or demographic data, but the information should come from active customers only so you can identify factors that influence their decision to engage with your product, buy it, use it, issues they've had with it, etc.
The end result of this should include age, industry, job title, professional goals, and product and service expectations.
Once you've identified the type of map and general persona, it's time to create a behavior line to follow.
This is every interaction your target persona has with your website, product, and customer service teams.
When are they engaging with your company, and why? How often do they reach out, and via what channels? Is the frequency more or less than expected?
One thing to note is that the number of touchpoints will vary widely based on your product and desired experience.
More complicated, later-stage products will likely have more touchpoints since there's more product to research and learn about, while smaller, earlier companies will likely have fewer touchpoints because their footprint is inherently smaller.
Of course, neither is better or worse; it's just a difference between the company stage and product development.
Finding the touchpoints allows your team to find new ways to make the customer journey more efficient. With all the online avenues for interactions, it's important to account for options outside the most obvious: email, phone call, FAQ and support documentation, live chat, check-ins with CSMs, your website, blog, reviews, marketing ads, and social media channels.
While writing out this long list of every touchpoint may seem daunting, it's worth it.
You may end up slimming it down later, but you'll realize pretty quickly how much your customers are being asked to navigate your product.
The key factors you're looking to understand and pull out of that long list of touchpoints are related to:
If you can slim down the number of actions required to achieve one goal, you're improving sentiment and increasing the chance of conversions.
Let's say you have someone on your website whose goal is to subscribe to your blog.
If the only option for them is to click the subscribe button for your blog is buried behind a bunch of web pages and then requires customers to fill out all their demographic information, chances are they're going to stop trying before they ever click subscribe.
The number of actions required to achieve the goal is too high for the payoff.
You're losing conversions that should be easy to obtain.
After analyzing your map of the existing customer journey and finding areas for improvement, it's time to take stock and determine how change can be implemented.
Going back to the earlier blog subscription example, what does improvement look like?
The number of actions to the goal of subscribing from the main was identified as too many. You could include "subscribe to our blog" at the bottom of the main webpage and in each blog post so that people navigating articles off google have more direct access.
Moreover, if conversion numbers from views to subscribers are still low, lowering the demographic requirements on the actual subscription link down to just an email input may be worth lowering.
This way, prospective customers have less work for higher gain, and your blog, and once invested in your blog, are more likely to check out your product as a solution.
Once you've outlined the customer journey on the map, you have your reference point to come back to.
Your team should review the map fairly regularly, such as every month or quarterly, so that you can continually improve.
As you receive new feedback related to different journey stages, update the map. It should act as a living document and guidepost for your company.
There are many customer journey mapping tools out there, but there's no need to invest significant resources to create a completely functional one for yourself.
Leveraging free tools like Google Sheets or Slides works just fine.
To make things easier, we've put together a set of Customer Journey Map templates for you that takes all the insights we've gone through above and lets you plug in your own answers.
This set of templates takes each of the four types of maps discussed above and provides a customer journey map example for you to work with.
Take an hour or two out of your day, look at the customer journey map examples that are provided, and think about how the experience user experience of your current customers and the process they went through from initial awareness through active usage.
Put yourself in their shoes, and try to view their entire journey from their point of view.
Remember to understand the customer pain points as they exist today.
Leverage customer behavior in your product to identify these pain points, and look for signals that preceded things like churn or low CSAT and NPS scores.
But the journey mapping process is not only about the "current state" of things; you also have to think about your potential customer.
At which customer touchpoint are they going to experience friction? How can you make it a better experience for them?
There's no better time to start than right now, so get after it!
This post was originally posted on the parlor.io blog. It was rewritten and moved to the Parative blog after the company rebranded in 2022.