Article | 13 min read

What is a customer journey map? How to create one + templates

A customer journey map helps companies understand the entire customer experience—from discovery to advocacy and every touchpoint in between.

By Teresa Anania, SVP Global Customer Success, Renewals and Customer Experience

Last updated November 14, 2023

Every business wants to understand what makes buyers come and what makes them go. Customer journey mapping is a simple yet powerful way to gain those insights.

A customer journey map frames customer behavior as a story, providing a visual overview of the experiences consumers go through when interacting with a company. Much like the plot of a romance movie, a customer journey map starts with a consumer who has an unmet need, leading to a fateful encounter with a company that either turns into a long-lasting relationship or churn.

With a customer journey map, you can see how your storyline tends to play out—where you’re succeeding and where you’re losing customers. From there, you can identify opportunities for improvement and come to a better understanding of why customers choose your company in the first place.

What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map is a visual representation of the various stages a consumer goes through during their relationship with a business. These maps differ from other visual tools (like sales funnel diagrams) because they’re highly customer-centric.

Customer journey map

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Customer journey maps can also have different endpoints, depending on which aspect of the customer experience or customer persona you’re trying to study. Companies shape their customer journey maps around the specifics of their business, which means no two maps look the same. 

Why is customer journey mapping important? 

Have you ever had a relationship or friendship abruptly end and wished you could get a better picture of what went wrong? A customer journey map can help businesses get clued in. 

These maps help companies understand their customers and meet their expectations. So, it’s important for businesses of all sizes—from mom-and-pop bakeries to large enterprises—to create them. 

5 elements of a customer journey map

There are a few key elements that appear on most customer journey maps:

1. Customer journey stages

Break the customer journey down into steps so you can gain a better understanding of the buyer’s needs and state of mind at every touchpoint. 

Different companies have different stages for their customers to go through. For an ecommerce brand, the steps in the customer journey could look like this:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Adoption
  • Advocacy

2. Touchpoints

Touchpoints are interactions customers have with a company, whether that’s through a website, social media app, or employee. Touchpoints influence customer perception and also present opportunities to improve customer service.

Customer service touchpoints are significant for any business. Examples of other touchpoints may include: 

  • Advertisements
  • Website
  • Live chat
  • Phone call
  • Email 
  • Social media

3. Departments responsible

Show who owns what stage of the customer journey and what they’ll need to do to move the customer forward. For example, marketing might own the interest stage of the journey, and their role would be to drive the customer to a service page using ads or social media posts.

Not all teams will have a role at all stages, but they should understand what the customer is experiencing at each phase.

4. Pain points and opportunities

Pain points describe the problems that drive customers to your company or the issues they experience when working with your company. While the former can help you shape your advertising to reel customers in, the latter can help you identify growth opportunities. 

The gaps you discover while building your customer journey maps enable you to improve the customer experience. You can retain buyers or win new ones by removing difficulties. For example, simplifying a complex ordering process can result in more purchases.

5. Actions and emotions

Actions and emotions refer to what customers do and how they feel during their journey. They can be emotions that lead to churn, actions that lead to issue resolution, or a combination that leads to growth. 

For example, your customer might be excited to buy new shoes from your online store, but they get frustrated when they can’t find their preferred payment option. They take action by reaching out to customer support or looking for an alternative.

What are the benefits of customer journey mapping?

Customer journey map

It’s hard to improve your operations when you don’t know what your customers are thinking or feeling—specifically, what bothered them and what made them happy. A customer journey map helps you see your brand from the consumer’s perspective, empowering you and your support team to identify areas of improvement.

Better understand your customers

The journey mapping process lets you take a walk in your buyers’ shoes. You experience everything customers feel and think along the way, as well as the roadblocks they meet. This gives you the insights needed to provide personalized service that they’ll appreciate. 

Example: Consumers shopping for products and services in the financial services industry tend to conduct a lot of research because financial decisions are particularly personal and consequential. Understanding this customer need, a financial sales team might take a more hands-off approach when trying to engage potential customers. 

Improve the customer experience

Customer journey maps are a great way to organize customer feedback and turn insights into action. When you receive negative feedback, you can adjust your course and get back to smooth sailing. 

But customer journey maps don’t just tell your company what you’re doing wrong—they also highlight the areas where you excel. If you get a wave of new customers on the back of an Instagram campaign, that shows you’ve found a channel worth pursuing.

Example: You notice many online shoppers are abandoning their carts at the payment screen instead of checking out. You send out a customer survey and find that your website’s payment software is inadequate. Now that you’re aware, you can improve the payment system and increase sales.

Encourage cross-functional collaboration

When you map out the customer journey, each team understands what stage they’re in charge of and what actions they need to take to guide the consumer to the next step. 

Every department plays a distinct role, but the map highlights how everyone is working toward the same goal: improving the customer experience. With a shared objective, employees across the organization will likely feel connected and motivated to work together.

Example: Marketers know they must target potential customers with advertising to increase awareness. Support agents know they must answer customer queries post-purchase.

Increase customer retention 

Happy customers stick around. By looking closely at your customer journey map, you can determine what makes customers convert (and return) versus what makes them abandon their interaction. This allows you to improve the things that make customers unhappy and to continue doing the things that keep customers coming back. 

Your customer journey map can also improve retention by ensuring buyers feel special even after they’ve converted. Post-purchase, follow up with a thank you note or feedback form to let them know they’re valued. 

Example: After a customer buys your product, you send them a thank you message that includes a discount code for their next purchase. 

Provide proactive service 

Humans haven’t yet developed the ability to read minds, but data helps. Leveraging data—like customer feedback, analytics, conversation rates, and churn rate—can help you craft a customer service map that’s proactive and reactive. 

Proactive customer service is all about anticipating your buyers’ needs and problems—you don’t always want customers to do the heavy lifting. It’s a good idea to identify the areas where proactive service can help and implement reactive service as a backup.

Example: You notice that a lot of customers are reaching out after business hours, so you proactively help them by creating a knowledge base. This enables users to find the information they need anytime, anywhere. 

How to create a customer journey map

Customer journey mapping is a collaborative exercise. But before you start, it’s important to have a clear process in place. Follow these steps to create a great customer experience journey map (and consider using one of our free templates). 

    1. Establish objectives

Every map should be tied to a business goal. Clearly define the end goals before building your map so you can secure leadership buy-in and enhance its effectiveness.

A few questions to ask yourself when creating your map include: 

  • How and why do customers buy from me? 
  • How can I improve the overall customer experience? 

    2. Gather a cross-functional team

If you’re creating a map that addresses the entire customer journey, you’ll need representatives from multiple teams—such as marketing, sales, customer success, and engineering. These departments interact with buyers at certain stages. Their unique understanding of the customer journey will help you put together a comprehensive map.

    3. Create customer personas and identify their goals 

A customer persona (or buyer persona) is a fictional representation of your average customer. Your customer persona forms the foundation of your map—you base each stage on their actions and behaviors during the buying process.

Everyone is different, so create different maps for each unique persona. Otherwise, you risk alienating customers with a different path to purchase. Begin by building a map for your most common customer types or consumers who buy your most valuable products. You can make maps for other buyers later.

Look at the segments in your customer service software to get a clearer picture, and ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Who are my existing customers? 
  • Who is my target audience on social media? 
  • What types of customers are on my email list?
  • Why is this consumer buying from us? 
  • What problem are customers trying to solve?

    4. Look at your available resources

Customer journey maps are an opportunity to look at your resources and evaluate their efficacy. Determine whether the resources you have available—chat, phone, email—are enough to provide comprehensive customer service. 

You can also examine which of your resources require a little more effort. Does your chatbot frequently get things wrong? Are your support agents often struggling to find the right answer? That might be a sign you need to restructure your processes. 

    5. Define patterns that emerge 

Closely review your findings to pinpoint any patterns in your customer journey that could inform your results. Look for ways that customers interact with your social media channels, website, product, and customer service agents: Do they convert? Leave? Complain? 

Identifying these patterns is crucial to figuring out what’s working and what isn’t. It’s the first step to guiding a consumer from interest to purchase and eventually turning them into a loyal customer. 

    6. Identify opportunities for improvement

You’ve spotted the most important moments in your customer’s journey and the pain points that might cause them to have a bad experience. From here, find areas where you can improve.

Go back to every previous step: How do the people in the room and the stakeholders they represent help the customer in each stage? How can they use their skills and influence in the company to get the best outcomes for the customer and the business?

This is where having a cross-functional team comes in handy—even if a problem is mostly related to one department, the solution doesn’t have to be.

3 types of customer journey maps and examples

Customer journey maps come in different formats. Tailor your map to visualize the present state of your customer journey, or create a map of the journey you’d like to provide.

Current-state customer journey map

A current-state customer journey map shows what buyers think and feel while going through the existing journey.

Used for: finding gaps in the customer experience and brainstorming solutions.

Day-in-the-life customer journey map

A day-in-the-life map outlines what happens throughout your customer’s day. It accounts for the various forces that impact consumers outside of their interactions with a brand. If your target demographic is working parents, for example, you might place an ad for a kid-friendly podcast that families listen to on the ride to school.

Used for: determining how your customers will encounter your brand in their day-to-day lives.

Future-state customer journey map

A future-state customer journey map illustrates what buyers will experience during the ideal consumer journey. Future-state maps are used to imagine the possibilities of a perfect experience and provide a North Star for your teams to work toward.

Used for: deciding what you want your customer journey to look like and how you’ll get there.

Customer journey mapping best practices

Customer journey mapping is complex. With so many different customer segments and layers of information, your team can easily lose its way. Once you create a map from our provided templates, use these tips to stay on track.

  1. Update your map regularly

    A customer journey map is never finished. It requires regular updates to stay in tune with evolving customer needs and changes in your business.

    So, when’s a good time to review your map? Consider evaluating it when:

    A new trend causes a change in consumer behavior.
    You roll out significant product updates.
    You discover a new customer segment.

    Delegate the duty of keeping your maps up-to-date to a specific team member or group of people.

  2. Involve your customers

    The customer journey isn’t about you—it’s about your audience. So, no one is more important to inform your map than your customers. Keep your mapping customer-centric by including your buyers in the process.

    Speak directly with customers through phone calls or send surveys and feedback forms to get their input. 

    Ask them questions like:

    How did you discover our product or service?
    What problem were you trying to solve?
    What roadblocks did you face in the buying process?
    How would you rate the support you receive post-purchase?
  3. Ask reps for their input 

    Your customer service representatives are the backbone of your customer experience. No one has more intimate knowledge of what you’re trying to do than those who work directly with your buyers. 

    Ask reps for their input on what will work best to attract and retain customers. You should also ask them what customers complain about most and which type of personas they encounter most often. 

  4. Make your map accessible 

    Your customer journey map is critical for the future of your company. Everyone who may be impacted by it should have it readily available. Ensure employees across the organization—including marketers, support agents, content writers, sales reps, and more—know how to find and read your map. 

Improve the customer experience from all angles

With so many touchpoints to track, mapping the customer journey can be challenging. And delivering a consistent customer experience is even harder.

Use customer service software like Zendesk to identify and meet customer expectations at every stage of the journey. Zendesk provides insights into consumer behavior and helps you predict their actions, ensuring you’re one step ahead.Check out our customer journey templates below.

Free download: Customer journey map templates

Start building your customer journey map with these free templates that help you break down the entire customer experience.

Free download: Customer journey map templates

Start building your customer journey map with these free templates that help you break down the entire customer experience.

View journey map templatesView journey map templates