How To Build a Map of Your Customer Success Journey (Step-by-Step)

Follow along with our step-by-step guide to map out your customer journey and create a hugely impactful resource for your whole company.

Shareil Nariman

September 18, 2021

12 minutes

Customer success no longer starts (or ends) at the point of sale. Real customer success is a journey, one that begins prior to the sale and continues through the entire customer lifecycle.

More and more, companies selling complex products and solutions are taking a holistic approach to customer health and retention, but this approach doesn’t happen without planning and effort.

Enter: The customer success journey map. It’s a visualization or document that shows, in order, each step that your customers and your teams should take to bring customers through every step of their journey. That’s from the initial point of contact through the sale and customer onboarding, all the way to the stage when they’re consistently using your product or service successfully.

This map is one of the most important tools you have to better understand customer pain points, meet (and exceed) those needs, and retain customers for longer — and we’ll show you exactly how to build one in this article.

Reasons To Map Out Your Customer Success Journey

Customer success journey maps are common in B2B SaaS and other tech businesses, where the solutions they sell are complex and multilayered. Their customers often won’t see value as quickly without some level of guidance — whether it’s a high-touch or low-touch approach — and that’s where journey mapping comes into play.

While the concept is popular in tech, customer success journey mapping can be an effective tool for any business. Here are the reasons why and the benefits you can expect from doing so.

1. Creates a Customer-Centric Mindset Within Your Company

Too often, different business departments become siloed. Each one focuses on the most immediate metrics that matter to that department (like lead gen, customer acquisition, raw sales numbers, P&L — you get the idea).

Each of these areas matter, of course, but with too much focus on disparate metrics, many companies lose sight of the customer’s entire experience. And without satisfied customers, you don’t have a business.

A customer success journey is inherently customer-centric: It’s all about what your customers need to succeed. Companies that create an effective one — and adhere to it across all departments — commit to a customer-centric mindset rather than a department- or metric-centric mindset, giving everyone a common goal.

2. Forces You To Understand and Define Success for Your Customers

To create a usable customer success journey map, you first have to know what success looks like for your customers. And you have to know it well enough to define it, breaking it down into concrete steps that can be assigned real resources.

That means your team will deeply engage with your customers’ expectations, hurdles, pain points, and value points. It isn’t always easy answering these questions and gathering the necessary data. But once you do learn these elements, you have a way to build onboarding and success journeys that drive true customer satisfaction.

By learning your customers well enough to define success, you can find value sooner for them, reducing time to value and customer churn, and keeping more customers on the path to success throughout the customer lifecycle.

3. Aligns Your Teams, Improving Collaborations and Handoffs

Some of the most vulnerable points in your customer-facing operation are the handoffs. Many departments have their own processes down — marketing is generating leads, sales is closing leads, and the onboarding or customer success team is nurturing the customer experience.

But handoffs and the resulting touchpoints are where trouble starts to occur, especially as businesses and/or their products grow in complexity. It isn’t always clear, for example, where exactly the sales process ends and the customer success process begins. The handoff between the two can become hazy, and customers can fall through the cracks.

Customer journey mapping aligns your teams by making sure every team member understands every point in the customer’s journey, and especially their role at each stage. Additionally, it prevents an overlap of communication and outreach that could potentially annoy or confuse the end-user. In other words, it’s the perfect tool for organizational alignment.

What You Need Before Creating a Customer Journey Map

Creating a customer journey map is a necessary step for many businesses. But before you begin creating one, you’ll need to make some preparations. Make sure you have these three things before you start.

Buy-in From Cross-Departmental Leaders

One common objection to realigning processes around a customer journey map sounds something like this: “This is a customer success team issue. What does it have to do with us?”

It’s an understandable question. On the surface, this process does seem very customer-success oriented, and it’s probably being headed up by your customer success manager. But it reveals a lack of understanding of what the process entails.

For example, the team building the journey map must understand the following:

  • How customers engage with support
  • The ways customers are interacting with the product
  • What the sales team is doing that customers respond well to
  • What the sales process looks like
  • What marketing is sending out and which efforts are working
  • How leads are coming in (organic, paid, etc.)
  • Current priorities of the customer success team

It’s crucial to get buy-in from cross-departmental leaders because this process cannot succeed if it’s isolated to a single team. Every department leader has to contribute information to create an accurate map. And every customer-facing employee must become familiar with the customer journey map and make strategic adjustments based on it.

All the Customer Data You Have

Whatever data you have on customers, bring it to the table. Even if your data collection efforts are less than stellar, some data is better than no data.

Any data or metrics that give you helpful insights into how your current customers are behaving, who they are, where they come from, who does and does not stick around, their feedback on why, and so forth will only increase the usefulness of your customer journey map.

If you have customer onboarding metrics, use them in this process. The points where customers leave or become dissatisfied are especially important places to focus.

The Knowledge That Your Initial Customer Success Journey Won’t Be Perfect

The last thing you need before getting started is an appropriate dose of humility. Your initial customer success journey map isn’t going to be perfect, but it’s a start! The real value is simply starting somewhere.

Your first draft is just that: A first draft. You’ll need to update it as you encounter flaws. Recognize that it could take months to more than a year to build out a thorough view, and even then, it won’t stay static. You’ll add new products or features, and your journey map will need updating.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that this process isn’t always a quick one. One consulting group estimates that a research-heavy customer journey map could need as much as 12 weeks just for the research.

How To Create a Customer Success Journey Map in 5 Steps

Once you’ve gathered all the necessary data and buy-in, it’s time to get started. Follow these five steps to create a powerful customer success journey map.

Step 1: Define Success for Your Customer (According to Your Customer)

Customer success isn’t what _you _think your customer needs. It’s what your customer says it needs. So, the first step here is defining success for your customer, according to your customer. What does your customer believe they should achieve with your product or service? What needs to occur for your customer to declare your product or service a real winner?

Usually, success in the customer’s eyes is all about solving pain points, optimizing processes, and providing helpful functionality. But your first step is determining what it is for your customers, in their own words.

Step 2: Identify All the Stages of the Customer Success Journey

Next, you’ll need to lay out all the stages in the customer success journey in a way that all departments can see and agree to. Only then can you connect the right actions and outcomes with the right departments.

We’ll outline the typical stages below, but you know your industry and processes best! You can modify this list if something here doesn’t line up with your business model or customer base.

Stage 1: Marketing and Lead Generation

This first stage creates leads and turns them into prospects. Your marketing team casts the net and then sifts through the results, passing the promising ones (potential customers) onto sales.

Stage 2: Selling and Purchasing Process

Here, some leads become customers. This process can range from very simple to exceedingly complex, and it can be filled with many subprocesses (written or unwritten, consistent or bespoke).

Stage 3: Customer Onboarding

A crucial and fragile stage (particularly for SaaS companies), customer onboarding begins when the sales process ends, teaching customers the basics of the product or service and highlighting the features that will matter most. Here, the handoff between sales and customer success is a pain point for many companies.

Stage 4: Receiving Value and Product Adoption

This stage goes beyond the basics, guiding customers to realize the value of the product and move to full adoption. This is when you get customers to move from fiddling with your software or product to using it as their primary solution.

Stage 5: Achieving Retention

This stage continues to nurture the new customer relationship, building both customer health and customer retention as the customer realizes greater and greater value from the product. If you successfully reach adoption, retention often isn’t far behind.

Stage 6: Further Expansion

Only once you get buy-in from your customers should you attempt to cross-sell or upsell to them. Long-term, satisfied customers will be open to expanded relationships in a way that new customers aren’t. Expanding existing accounts also improves your Net Dollar Retention (NDR).

Step 3: Identify the Role Each Department Plays at Each Stage

Once you settle on the stages of your customer success journey, it’s time to determine each department’s role. These aren’t one-for-one equivalents, where Marketing does stage 1, Sales does stage 2, CSMs handle stage 3, and so forth. Each stage will likely include multiple departments, even if one team leads the way.

One strategy is to list out all the customer touchpoints you’re likely to have in each customer lifecycle stage, indicating which departments are responsible for each one. Here are a few examples:

  • **Stage 1: **Marketing targets customers with emails, blog content, webinars, paid social media ads, etc, and partners with Sales to develop better outreach strategies.
  • Stage 2: Sales or Customer Success conducts sales calls and product demos to engage and excite prospects and close the deal.
  • Stage 3: Customer Success initiates onboarding, shares custom training materials, and collects customer feedback.
  • Stage 4: Customer Success and Marketing team up to create and deliver relevant content to encourage product adoption.
  • Stage 5: Customer Success or Support follows up to manage client relationships, handle support tickets and service calls, and continue gathering feedback.
  • Stage 6: Sales and/or Customer Success engages in upselling and cross-selling to expand successful relationships.

Step 4: Create Customer Milestones Based on Touchpoints and Roles

Once you understand the stages, which teams will be interacting at each stage, and how each team will interact with the customer, you should overlay exactly what achievement (milestone) and value the customer should get from those interactions.

Milestones are an essential part of any implementation plan. Your team needs to create customer milestones so that it’s clear — to the customer and the team member — when an interaction accomplishes what it was designed to.

For example, you wouldn’t want your sales lead to think that the customer is ready for handoff when neither the customer nor the CSM knows that a handoff is happening soon. This milestone ensures that all stakeholders are aligned, start to finish.

Step 5: Develop a Process To Update Your Customer Journey Map

As we mentioned earlier, your customer journey map is never truly finished. Your organization has to continue iterating that map as processes and products evolve, and it will be better for it!

A significant part of creating a detailed, useful map is setting aside time for collecting and analyzing customer data on a regular basis. You might choose to revisit it every 6 months, 12 months, or longer depending on your sales cycle. Whatever timeframe you choose, just make sure to keep up with it!

Set a cadence, make your update plan transparent and accessible across all departments, and establish a point person responsible for keeping this essential process going.

Improve the Onboarding Phase of Your Customer Journey with Arrows

Every phase of your customer journey is important in its own way, but the onboarding process can be a crucial moment, one that affects customer engagement and ultimately customer churn. Arrows keeps customer onboarding moving forward with powerful automations, personalized onboarding plans, and much more.

Ready to see what Arrows can do for your onboarding and customer journey initiatives? Schedule a demo today.

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