The Ultimate Guide To Customer Journeys [+ Free Template]

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What is a customer journey
Customer journeys illustrate how potential customers interact with your service along all touch points.

What is a customer journey?

It is not easy to know where to start when building your first product. What features will you need? Which marketing channels could help you get your first customers? How do people want to interact with your service, and how can you provide a great user experience so that people buy your service and stick to it?  

One of the best ways to get answers to these questions is by creating a customer journey, one of the exceptional tools in the marketing industry. A customer journey – also known as user journey or customer map – illustrates how potential customers interact with your service along all touchpoints. This tool helps you visualize every moment in which potential customers come in contact with your brand, no matter if it is before, during, or after they purchase your service. Customer touchpoints can be any point of interaction where users engage with your brand, for example, your website, social media ads, content marketing, flyers, or tv ads.
What are customer touch points
Customer touch points can be anything where potential customers come in contact with your brand.
Examples of customer touch points
Examples of customer touch points are web, social media, ads or flyers
But customer journeys are not only helpful when you start with your service. For example, when you already have a website or app and are not sure why people don't convert or why they churn, customer journeys help you visualize the distinct steps and obstacles customers might have to go through. Following them on their journey will help you better understand their behavior and improve your service. So even though customer journeys are not the first part of building a product (you should always start with validating your idea and creating personas), customer journeys are a powerful tool to improve conversion rates and reduce churn rates.  

This article will show you how to create effective customer journeys that will help you build a product experience that your customers love and pay for – and also makes them stick to it.
Customer journey versus user journey.
Customers refer to people who pay for  your service.
Users are using your service but are not necessarily paying for it

The difference between a customer journey, customer journey map, user journey, user journey map, and user flow

Customer journey, journey map, or user journey are terms in the marketing industry often used interchangeably, however, not with the same meaning. So, let's define the different terms:

Customer journey & customer journey map:

A customer journey map describes the same as a customer journey. It is called a customer journey map because the distinct steps and phases are "mapped" to the customer behavior. However, both terms represent the customer's experience with your brand.

User journey & user journey map:

The significant difference between customer journeys and user journeys is people's intention. Customers refer to people who pay for your service, whereas users use it but do not necessarily pay for it. Therefore, ensure that your team knows what you are talking about when using those terms. Besides that, there is no issue if you use the "incorrect" expression.

User flow:

User flows refer to the process of people using your products/software but does not describe the entire journey. User flows do not illustrate all touchpoints but show where users click or scroll within your app/website/software. Again, the goal is to identify and remove any hurdles and obstacles your users might have during their journey.
How customer journeys help you build a strong SaaS business
Customer journeys illustrate how potential customers interact with your service along all touch points.
The main  benefit of  customer journeys
Helps you better understand your users behavior and
in return helps you improve conversion rate and reduce churn.

Why customer journeys are important and how they help you improve the customer experience

Customer journeys are here to help you better understand your users' behavior. It is helpful to know that the customer's decision to purchase is not made immediately after initial contact with your brand. For example, people do not accidentally find your app in the app stores and download it when you build an app. The first touchpoint happens a lot earlier. For example, they visited your website or learned about your service via social media ads or any other marketing channel you are using. These touchpoints vary from service to service, and it can take some time until customers commit to using your service. They first need to be aware of your service, think about whether it is worth trying out, and then decide whether to pay for it.

By analyzing the different touchpoints, you will see where people learned about your service, what made them download your app, and why they might have abandoned your service.

Customer journeys are separated into different phases: for example, awareness, consideration, conversion, retention, and advocacy. Each stage has multiple touchpoints. However, there is no strict rule on how many touchpoints are favorable. Depending on the complexity of your service, there need to be more or fewer touchpoints to educate potential customers and make them convert. For example, if you build a free B2C (Business to Customer) app, you might not need as many touchpoints as when selling an expensive B2B (Business to business) product.

The benefits of a customer journey and why you should never start a product without one

Building your website or coding your app without a clear vision of how people will interact is the foundation for failure. Thus, it would help if you understood how your potential customers deal with the issue you are trying to solve and what their workflow looks like before you even think about coding your product.

I, therefore, recommend starting your first customer journey from your potential customer's perspective. By doing this, you can identify the obstacles they have and find out how your idea might solve their problems. Let's use an example.

Before WhatsApp existed, people sent images and text messages via MMS and SMS (Multimedia Messaging Service | Short Message Service). The issue was that every image sent costed extra money, and your text messages were limited in characters. When you think about the customer journey before WhatsApp, people opened their text-message app, uploaded an image, entered their text limited to 60 characters, and sent it to their friends and families. During this workflow, they were annoyed that every photo they wanted to send costed extra money, and they had to be very specific regarding image size and character count. WhatsApp's success relies on solving these issues. By using WLAN, sending images became free, and character count was not an issue anymore - a simple solution to a tremendous problem.

Having a clear vision of how people are handling an issue and understanding their obstacles is essential to building a successful product or service. Customer journeys are key in this process and will help you reduce the risk of creating a service nobody wants. In addition, when you build the first customer journey for your idea, you will get early customer feedback, which will help you improve your product.
The right time to  start creating a customer journey
You cannot start too early, you can only start too late.
The best  time to start creating a customer journey
After you built your personas and validated your idea.

The right time to start creating a customer journey

You cannot start too early; you can only begin too late. The best time to design your first customer journey is after creating your personas and validating your idea.

Personas are fictional characters representing the different user types that might use your service/product. Even though they are fictional, personas are the first step to building a successful product. They will help you comprehend your users' motivation, needs, and goals and, therefore, help you craft a compelling solution that people love. Customer journeys help you better understand how potential users are currently coping with the issue you are trying to solve and how your solution improves their lives. Therefore, you can very well combine your customer journeys with your personas. By doing that, you will better understand whether your idea is valuable to your potential customers or not. Keep in mind that before getting to the nitty-gritty of coding and developing your product, it is crucial to validate your idea upfront.
5 mistakes to avoid when designing customer journeys
Starting without knowing the customer’s goals
Making the customer journey long and complicated
Starting only once you have enough data or customer insights
Not validating your assumptions
Building the journey from the company’s perspective

The biggest mistakes to avoid when designing customer journeys

When you have built a customer journey, your chances of creating a successful service have improved already. However, to develop a customer journey that will help you create a service that people love, it is crucial to avoid the most common mistakes.
1. Starting without knowing the customer’s goals
Customer journeys show you the individual steps a customer takes to achieve his/her goal. Therefore, the biggest mistake when creating customer journeys is to start without knowing your customer's goal. As mentioned before, customer journeys are not the first step in creating a successful business. You should always develop personas in the first place, validate your idea, and understand what your customers are trying to achieve. It is vital to learn how success looks to them - it is essential to understand their goal.

Let's use the example we had earlier – WhatsApp. Since sending text messages and images to friends was expensive and inconvenient back in the day, the user's goal was to send pictures and text messages quickly and without additional costs. Being able to do so is how early adopters of WhatsApp defined success. Hence, sending images and text messages without extra expenses would be the last step in the customer journey, the goal. Only if you know how users define success can you build a valuable service.
2. Making the customer journey long and complicated
Another mistake is to make your customer journey too long and complicated. As outlined before, it is all about making customers successful. If it takes them too long to get to their goal, they will eventually drop off (churn) and stop using your service or, in the worst case, not even try it. Therefore, always think about ways to shorten your customer journey and get people faster to their goal. Keep in mind that each additional step customers have to take reduces the conversion rate. Hence, try to minimize the steps in the customer journey as much as possible.

One of the prime examples of how long customer journeys reduce the conversion rate is the double-opt-in form when potential customers want to sign up for a newsletter. Let's say you offer a newsletter on your website. The new GDPR law enforces you to use a double-opt-in form to send the newsletter to potential customers. If we think about the customers' perspective, they have to visit your website, click on the "sign up for the newsletter" button, go to their email provider and confirm their decision - quite a long journey just for a newsletter. The results should be clear if you compare the conversion rate without double-opt-in forms. No double-opt-in forms mean a shorter customer journey and a higher conversion rate.

To sum it up, when you look at your user journey and your conversion flow, always think about ways to make it shorter and to bring people faster to their goal. This approach will increase your conversion rate and reduce your churn rate since people are getting the results, they were looking for faster.
3. To only start once you have enough data or customer insights
It is great to have insights from data, interviews, research, or market analysis to back up your customer journey. However, waiting for these insights before creating a journey map is a mistake because you will lose much time. The first customer journey does not have to be perfect. If you have a great product idea and already know to whom your service is valuable, you can develop Personas and begin the customer journey. It is essential to understand that these two tools are not to be used once and then left to gather dust. Instead, I recommend doing the first draft and adding data and additional information step by step. Only by iterating will you improve your service and not find yourself in a position to create a business, a product, or even just features that nobody wants.
4. Not validating your assumptions
I recommend starting customer journeys early on to avoid wasting time, even before you have insights from data, interviews, or market analysis. Doing so implies that the first drafts of the customer journey will rely on experience, common knowledge, or assumptions. There is nothing wrong with that because, during customer mapping, you will encounter many questions that you need to answer, which will help you think from a user's perspective. However, assumptions are ideal for a start, but bad if you leave it at that. It is necessary to validate those assumptions. One of the best ways to validate your hypothesis is to talk to potential customers. If you already have an idea to whom your solution is valuable, go to these people and ask them the following questions:

Dear potential customer,

• How are you currently … (fill in the problem you are trying to solve)
• What's the most annoying thing about the way you … (fill in the problem you are trying to solve)
• Why didn't you already change it?
• How would it work in an ideal world for you?
• Because I am thinking about creating … (fill in your solution)
• Would that be valuable to you? Why? Why not?

Once the potential customer has answered these questions, you have a good impression of whether your idea provides any value and how you might need to adapt your customer journey to bring people faster to their goal.
5. Building the journey from the company's perspective
Another common mistake is to create your user journey from a company's perspective rather than from the customer's perspective. To grow and be successful, every company has its goals, KPIs (key performance indicators), and metrics they track. Therefore, it is only logical for many firms to think about what they want the customers to do. The problem is that you cannot force potential customers to go through a specific user journey. Therefore, you should instead focus on the customers' obstacles and concerns and align your customer journey to solve those issues.

In the early days of Amazon, Jeff Bezos always stressed that their motto was "customers first." By putting the customer first and aligning the total product experience with the customer's needs and goals, Amazon could achieve levels of success unimaginable ten years ago. In addition, by putting customers first, you will be able to create a valuable solution and, on top of that, find fans and evangelists around your product that will, later on, recommend your service to other people.
The important  phases of every customer journey.
Awareness: Making potential customers aware of your product.
Consideration: Naturally leading potential customers to your solution
Conversion: Potential customers are ready to buy
Retention: Customers are regularly using your service
Advocacy: Customers recommend  your service to others

How to create a valuable user journey, and what does a user journey comprise?

Creating a user journey that will help you build a great product is no rocket science. Every customer journey comprises distinct phases and touchpoints: awareness-, consideration-, conversion-, retention- and advocacy- phase. So let's have a closer look at the different stages and their meanings:
Awareness-phase.  The first touch point in customer journeys.
Awareness means making potential customers aware of your product.
Pro tip
Focus on the customers' problem, understand what they are trying to solve, and provide valuable content instead of directly leading to your solution.
Awareness phase
The first phase is awareness, which is all about making potential customers aware of your product. Maybe they visited your website or learned about your service via social media ads or any other marketing channel you are using. These touchpoints vary from service to service. Prominent digital tools for the awareness phase are, for example, videos, white papers, blog articles, and e-books. In the awareness phase, it is essential to focus on the customer's problem, understand what they are trying to solve and provide valuable content instead of directly leading to your solution.

Let's make an example. Let's say you provide CRM systems for dentists with distinct requirements and features. You not only show your product on your website but instead also write blog articles about how valuable CRM systems are, how your solution works, and show potential customers pro tips when using CRM systems. The content you write is helpful for your target audience - not too "salesy" but valuable. If you know your target audience very well, you know the keywords and phrases potential customers (dentists) use on Google to find the solution to their problem. Since you rank on Google's first page, you get a considerable amount of traffic on your website, and dentists all around the world read your articles and learn valuable tips. At the end of your blog article, you have a call to action button that offers a 30-day free trial for your CRM solution. Perfect, you have built a sales funnel that is not only helpful to potential customers but naturally leads to the solution your business offers.

Making people aware of your service implies marketing. However, mass marketing without targeting a specific audience is never advisable. Instead, use the marketing channels that might bring the best returns for you. It is better to find real customers that stick to your service instead of using a ton of marketing budget to get as many customers as possible, who then churn.
Consideration-Phase.  Persuade potential customers with value.
The customer's decision to make a purchase is  not made immediately after initial contact with your brand.
Pro tip
Naturally lead potential customers to your solution via valuable content.
Consideration
When you naturally lead people to your solution via valuable content, you are in the middle of the consideration phase. It is essential to understand that the customer's decision to purchase is not made immediately after initial contact with your brand. It often takes weeks, months, or in B2B contexts, even years, before customers have built up the trust and commit to buy from you. They first need to be aware of your service, then think about whether it is worth trying out, and then decide whether or not to pay for it. That's why content marketing is such an effective marketing channel. By providing valuable content, potential customers trust you. Content marketing is a marathon but helps you build trust, so people buy from you; moreover, it enables you to form long-term relationships with customers. Marketing automation and lead nurturing come into play in the consideration phase and should naturally lead customers to decide to buy from you.
Conversion-Phase. 1 pro tip to improve your sales funnel.
Once potential customers see your product as the solution to their problem, they are ready to buy.
Pro tip
Find out the last questions your leads have before buying and address those objections as early as possible.
Conversion
Once trust is established, and potential customers see your product as the solution to their problem, they are ready to buy. Accordingly, making the buying process as easy and convenient as possible is vital. Find out the last questions your leads have before buying and address those objections as early as possible. In enterprise sales, sales cycles can be quite long. Try to shorten these processes by eliminating inefficiencies, building trust with your leads, and creating repeatable systems. Always test and try to improve your sales funnel.
Retention-Phase. Make customers stick to your service.
Retention means that customers are regularly using your service, stay subscribed or regularly buy your service.
It is much more expensive to win new customers than to keep existing ones.   Focus on Retention.
Early warning signs for customer churn
1. Infrequent log ins. 2. 	Taking much longer to complete tasks than average users. 3. Shorter visit times.
Retention
Retention means that customers regularly use your service, stay subscribed, or periodically buy your service. If you cannot continuously provide value, people will churn. Consequently, most SaaS companies focus on getting the retention part right. There is a simple reason for this: it is much more expensive to win new customers than to keep existing ones.

It is important first to monitor early warning signs to fight customer churn. Early warning signs for customer churn are, for example:

• Infrequent logins
• Taking much longer to complete tasks than average customers
• Shorter visit times

In addition, use the Net Promoter Score to complement your insights for customer churn. That will give you a holistic view of whether people like your service and if they would recommend it. Another way of keeping the retention rate high is by sending valuable emails regularly to customers. Your email campaign is an excellent opportunity to build a relationship and help customers find value in your service.
Advocacy-Phase. The key to growth.
The advocacy phase means that people like your service so much that they recommend it  to others.
Word of mouth
dramatically reduces customer acquisition cost.
2 Steps to 
get massive growth
Reach out to your top customers.
Reward them for inviting their friends.
Advocacy
Advocacy is the last phase in the customer journey and means that people like your service so much that they recommend it to others – in the best case, via word of mouth or with user-generated content. When existing customers use word of mouth, your customer acquisition cost for referred customers will drop to zero, generating massive growth. Reach out to your best customers and reward them for inviting their friends to get referrals going. The advocacy phase is not only crucial because customers in this phase are loyal, but because this gives you a chance for up-selling and cross-selling. During this phase, you are making money by keeping your customers and by enabling them to upgrade to premium plans or by adding additional payment packages to their current plan.

Example of building a customer journey step by step

Below, you can see the layout of a typical customer journey structured into the different phases (awareness, consideration, conversion, retention, advocacy). The customer journey shows potential customers' individual touchpoints with your brand. Depending on the complexity of your service or product, the number of individual steps might differ. However, keep in mind to always try to shorten your customer journey and get people faster to their goal. Each additional step customers have to take reduces the conversion rate.
Step 1: Starting from the customer's perspective
Before building a customer journey, it is crucial to know your potential customer's goal. Let's use an example: Let's say we want to establish a startup that helps people find doctors in their area and also helps them to make appointments. Our product will most likely be an app. So, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself, what value do you provide, what problem you are solving and how customers might define success. In this example, the primary benefit of your app is that it saves people time to find the right doctor and make an appointment. Therefore, making appointments is the end goal of our customer journey (We assume that we have already built our persona and validated the idea via market research).

Let's fill in the goal once at the top.
Customer Journey Template
Step 2: Implementing the first step
The first step in the customer journey signals potential customers' first touchpoint with your brand. Touchpoint range from any marketing channel you are using to word of mouth (referrals from friends or family). It is important to know that this step can already decide if people will commit to exploring more about your brand or abandon you altogether. Like everywhere, first impressions count. For example, if you are using social media ads and people don't trust your brand because you are using pixelated images or have spelling errors in your ads, you are already out.

Keep in mind - People might learn about your service through different marketing channels. Therefore, the user interaction and the customer journey will differ depending on the marketing channel. I, thus, suggest creating a customer journey for each marketing channel you are using. For example, if many potential customers see your ads on social media and then visit your website, create a customer journey for that. If you acquire other customers through direct sales, set up a customer journey for that specific case. Only that will help you understand how people interact with your service and what obstacles you need to get out of the way to provide a great user experience.
Customer Journey Template
Step 3: Laying out the subsequent touchpoints
The next step is to define the critical touchpoints in the customer journey. In the graphic below, you can see that the customer journey is divided into 5 stages. Keep in mind that depending on the complexity of your service, more touchpoints can be necessary. However, try to keep your customer journey as short as possible to get potential customers fast to their goal.

To clarify this further: the first step could be that customers see your ad on social media; the following could be that they clicked on the ad and are now visiting your website. In the graphic below, one step is assigned to one phase (awareness, consideration, conversion, retention, advocacy). Note that this is just for simplification reasons. People likely have multiple touchpoints in the different phases, especially in the high-priced B2B context, where trust has to be established before a sale occurs. Think about all the distinct steps potential customers have to go through to achieve their goal and write them down step by step on the template.
Customer Journey Template
Step 4: Adding the actions, thoughts, obstacles, and opportunities
Each customer touchpoint has different actions, thoughts, obstacles, and opportunities. Let's clarify the different meanings:
Actions
The actions for the different touchpoints show what potential customers are doing. For example, when they reach your website, an action could be that they click on your call-to-action button to download the demo you offer. To avoid complicating the customer journey, focus on the action that leads to the direct conversion. Proceeding like that will make the entire journey easier to understand and help you design your offering so that customers convert.
Thoughts
The thoughts are useful to note because they will help you address potential customers' concerns. Those thoughts can range from "I don't understand the service" to "Where is the button to continue?".
Obstacles
In every customer journey, the obstacles hinder potential customers from converting. One of the prime examples of conversion-killer barriers is often found in mobile applications if call-to-action buttons are not within the viewport. For example, let's say a potential customer wants to sign up for your service, fills out the form but does not find the button to send the form – a colossal blunder, but a significant find to improve your app.
Opportunities
The last part of every customer journey is about finding opportunities to enhance the user experience and making it easier for potential customers to reach their goal. Often, you can find those opportunities by analyzing the obstacles your customers encounter. For example, if we use the example with the hidden call to action button, one opportunity would be to reduce the number of entry fields customers have to fill out to push the call-to-action button within the viewport. You can only find these many obstacles and opportunities without talking to customers. I recommend starting with a draft of your customer journey and then testing a prototype of your product to validate and improve your hypothetical customer journey.
Customer Journey Template
Best tools for creating customer journeys
No need to use expensive paid services or  fancy tools
Great tools
Sticky notes
Spreadsheets
Use tools where you  can iterate and add additional steps and comments later on

The best free tools for creating customer journeys

It does not matter which tool you use to create your user journey. There is no need to use any expensive paid services or fancy tools. Often, experts use sticky notes and put them on a whiteboard to get a holistic view of the customer map. However, you can also just use a simple spreadsheet and put the individual steps and phases there. The only thing to keep in mind is to use something where you can iterate and add additional steps and comments later on. For example, if you write your customer map on a piece of paper, it is difficult to add new ideas or additional steps. As mentioned before, your customer journey is something you continuously want to work on and back it up with insights from data, interviews, research, or market analysis. So use a tool/system where this is possible.

Summary

A customer journey illustrates how potential customers interact with your service along all touchpoints. They visualize every moment in which potential customers come in contact with your brand, no matter if it's before, during, or after they purchase your service, for example, via your website, social media ads, content marketing, flyers, or tv ads.

They are a powerful marketing tool to understand your customers` behavior and can help you improve conversion rate and reduce churn rate.

Before you build your customer journey, use validated personas to make sure that you know your customer's goal. Avoid making the customer journey too long and validate your assumptions with potential customers. This way, you can guarantee not to build an invaluable service that nobody will use.
Need help in creating your customer journey? Let's get in touch