How to build a customer journey map to target your strategy

by Ophelie Lechat
October 21, 2020

As any leader of an impact-led organisation can tell you, there can be an overwhelming number of customer touchpoints – the methods by which you interact with your supporters.

These might include email newsletters, social media platforms, live events, fundraising activities, advertising, PR and earned media, physical mail, word-of-mouth, and more.

It’s a lot to keep track of, and with so much going on, you’re in danger of losing the bigger picture. Your strategic decisions can be muddled when you’re juggling campaigns over multiple channels.

Journey mapping is the key to beating this overwhelm.

It’s a method for stepping back, zooming out, and putting yourself in the shoes of your most important people to see how you’re serving them.

Who are they? How do they find you? How do you interact with them? What systems do you have to support them?

Customer journey mapping is a way to answer these questions and provide the data you can use for better decisions. It helps you bring together all these different touchpoints and understand what really happens through the lifetime of your customer relationships.

Making a customer journey map can be one of the more useful things not-for-profit leaders can do for their strategy, and thankfully it isn’t a complex technical undertaking. It’s simply a way of organising existing information about how you do things.

What exactly is customer journey mapping?

It’s the process of creating visual timelines of your customer, supporter and donor journeys – from the very first time they encounter your organisation, through all the ways you interact with them, to them becoming an enthusiast and full-on fan of yours.

Journey mapping is something you might consider doing once or twice a year, and especially if you’re going through any significant structural changes that might affect how you’re interacting with customers – like a digital transformation project, or entry into a new market. Or it could be done as part of a push to increase donor acquisition to hit certain goals. At ntegrity, we use journey maps as part of the process of building out digital strategies and campaigns for our clients.

Why you should create a customer journey map

There’s a few good reasons you might want to embark on a mapping journey of your own:

  • It gives you clarity of thought. Just like tidying up a messy office or organising a file cabinet, taking the opportunity to really look at what’s going on can give you peace of mind and spark some creative ideas for what’s next.

  • It brings unity to your messaging. Having a nicely thought-out plan for your communications means you can set directives that apply to every channel for your tone of voice, brand and messaging structure.

  • It brings light to roadblocks or inefficiencies in your system. When you look at certain channels in too much detail you can miss the woods for the trees, but seeing the whole journey can help you see what needs removing, optimising, or adding.

  • It helps you allocate resources to where they’re really needed. Having a proper overview of the full journey means you’ll know where to invest funds and labour to achieve your goals.

Really, it’s an empathy-led project; by seeing your operation through the perspective of your supporters, you get a better understanding of how they see you. It’s a refreshing alternative to seeing them only as numbers on a spreadsheet.

How to build a customer journey map from scratch

1 ) Start with an audience group

Who is it that you’re looking to connect with?

This is the first question you should ask before undertaking pretty much any marketing activity. Appealing to everyone simply won’t work, so you need to narrow it down and be specific.

An audience group is a conceptual character type, demographic, or personality that you want to appeal to. Each group will have a different optimal communication strategy, so you need to start by identifying 3-5 audiences, figuring out who they are, where they hang out (digitally and physically), and how best you can reach them.

(You could also look at empathy mapping, which is a more generalised look at the behaviours of your target audiences.

  1. Develop the journey framework

Before diving into journey mapping, it’s important to consider what the stages of your journey might look like.

The number of engagements depends on the complexity of your offering. If your product or service is relatively low involvement – that is, it requires minimal research or thought processes – your journey might only be four stages: awareness, evaluation, purchase, experience.

Explore, plan, evaluate, select

If it is a high-involvement product, such as aged care, higher education or an ongoing philanthropic relationship, you might consider adding extra steps such as interest, engagement, nurture or advocate.

Reach, evaluate, act, nurture, upgrade, advocacy

3 ) List every way you’ll interact with each audience

This starts with a list of channels (email, direct mail, so on).

Then, add in the frequency of contact within each of these channels – how many times they’re exposed to your contact.

Include the intent of each activity, too. What need is this audience trying to fulfill by engaging with you? And what is your organisation’s desired outcome for this activity? Some activities are aimed at fundraising for specific things, others might be aimed at capturing email addresses, and so on.

You might have a mix of year-round and campaign-led activities, so make sure to highlight the time-frames each activity operates in, too.

4 ) For each touchpoint, list what happens next.

This is an opportunity to really think about your communication strategy. When someone consents to you reaching out to them, how will you nurture that relationship? And does it fit in with achieving your specific goals?

With emails, for example, you’ll need to decide whether you’re sending regular newsletters with project updates to build affinity with your organisation, or requests for action like donating, sharing or giving feedback.

Once you know your strategic direction, then you can start noting specifics.

When will the first follow-up email be sent after someone signs up?

How often is the newsletter sent out?

How long does someone have to remain inactive to be removed from your list?

You’ll also need to note how you resource these efforts. Who will be responsible for making these things happen?

It might seem a little laborious, but it’s worth the investment. After going through each point, you’ll begin to see how interconnected everything is, and where you’re focusing your efforts most.

5 ) Identify opportunities for improvement

After you’ve mapped out journeys for different audience groups, you’ll likely have highlighted things that need work, or identified gaps in the journeys. Make sure to visually highlight bottlenecks and problem areas so your team knows what to prioritise.

These can then be used as starting points for a new task list or an implementation roadmap – but be careful, because you might get a little overwhelmed by the scale of things. So the next point is to…

6 ) Improve things incrementally

If you’ve used journey mapping to bring structure to existing processes, you might suddenly be inspired to make a whole bunch of changes in a short time. If so, be careful. It could stress out your team and cause more problems than it solves. The aim here is to be strategic, not reactionary, so take things slowly; you can always change one part and wait to see what effects it has before making any further changes.

That said, customer journey mapping can be a transformative process, and might show you a completely new way to do things. Dramatic changes are certainly possible, and may well be the best solution to take your customer relationships to the next level.

Remember, the customer experience can’t be managed solely by one person or department. Sensible delegation and cooperation is going to be essential in learning and building from your journey map. So make sure to add specific, achievable timelines for each task and regularly check in with team members to make sure their workload is acceptable.

After making your customer journey map

After you create a customer journey map, you’ll need to keep it visible and top-of-mind. Keep it easily accessible in a collaborative system like Google Docs or Trello, and if your team spends time together in an office, it’s worth getting at least a basic version put up on a wall. We often print out journey maps and refer to them in our day-to-day planning.

If you’re not much of a designer, it’s a good opportunity to bring in someone with a talent for visualisation – something like this that needs referring to regularly will really benefit from slick design.

There are many possibilities for building journey maps and there’s not really a one-size-fits-all approach. As a strategy agency we’re used to building custom journey maps that take into account each organisation and their unique goals. We then might use them to build integrated campaigns or operate certain ongoing activities, for example.

If you run multiple campaigns at once, you’ll want to give more prominence to how those campaigns affect a customer’s relationship with you throughout each timeframe. If you’re more awareness-driven, you’ll want to identify imbalances through the journey: where are we lacking in messaging? Are we in danger of fatigue by focusing too much on certain channels?

Your goals and structure will influence whether or not you end up with a complex web of arrows, lines, circles and colours, or simple, linear paths that can be understood on first glance. If yours ends up looking like a map of the London Underground, it might be time for a little simplification – for the good of yourself and your supporters.