Every great product begins with an idea to solve a problem. Just look at innovate solutions such as Uber’s car service, Apple’s iphone, or the Watson A.I. platform from IBM. Great products sell themselves when customers fully understand their value and the impact on their lives.

But it’s not enough to just create a great product.

You need to better understand the behaviors of your customer: why they buy and stay loyal to your business. A customer’s journey describes this realization and goes a few steps further, establishing your average customer’s thoughts and feelings before, during and after a purchase. The easiest way to visualize this is in a map—what’s known as a customer journey map—which depicts the possible emotions a customer will have while interacting with your business.

To beginners, customer journeys can look absolutely daunting, like a complex web. That’s because you will likely have more than one map, depending on how they found you and what their reaction to your product is. Mapping their journey helps mitigate bad customer experiences and cut a clear path toward the right outcome.  

What Problems Can You Solve By Understanding Customer Journey?

A customer journey should be like reading. If this article were filled with typos, yuo wuld tinhk its weidr. You would stop and start and get annoyed. The same thing happens with customers—if they don’t enjoy a smooth onboarding process or user experience, they’ll get annoyed and simply leave.

One of the biggest benefits to understanding customer journeys is that they force you to lay out and consider your sales process in an analytical way. They reveal opportunities to interact with your customer and ways in which you can address different emotions, whether they’re overwhelmed by initial research or skeptical of a sales pitch.   

These macro insights into your sales process can also reveal opportunities for integration between devices, departments and platforms. A good example of this is on-hold customer service: if you’ve ever been on hold and repeatedly heard a message informing you that you can discover answers to almost any question on their online FAQ, that’s a byproduct of someone analyzing a backlogged customer-service line and realizing there was a way to cross-promote digital awareness with a practical solution. That’s part of the customer journey.

How to Prepare for Your Customer Journey Map

The first step is research. You likely already have basic data on your customers from website traffic and social-media analytics—gender, location, time spent on your site and engagement are all easy enough to track.

But the harder part is knowing how to interpret that data. A long time spent on your site might not be a good thing—it might mean the user is having a hard time finding whatever it is they’re looking for.

Using a social tracker that measures sentiment (positive, negative or neutral) will be helpful if your brand has a big enough social following. If not, a survey is a great way to gain insight into your audience and pinpoint areas you may not have realized needed improvement. It’s easy enough to entice people to take a survey if you offer them something in return, like a coupon or free product. (Plus, you’ll find an extra chance to grow your email newsletter.)

What to Keep in Mind When Mapping Customer Journeys

Always be sure to keep the customer first. This is about them, not you—you’re telling their story. Sometimes, what they think or feel might sound unfair to you, but if that’s what the data shows, that’s what you’ve got to fix.

Map out every possible interaction your business might have with a customer, from various ads (social, TV, radio, print, etc.) to their eventual purchase process, unpackaging, customer service and aftermath. Leave no moment overlooked.

One of the biggest things beginners should watch for is how your perception lines up with reality. If you’re advertising a TV that you claim can be installed by anyone in less than 5 minutes, you should verify that that’s the case—and, if you’re finding people complaining often enough that it’s taking a half-hour, that’s a key takeaway for both your marketing department and your product-development team.

Customer Journeys Never Really End

There are a myriad problems that you can realize only once you put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Even once you’re done your map, you may not actually be finished. As your product stays with them and technology changes, you’ll want to revisit how well you and your business are keeping up with the times, whether strategies are becoming obsolete or whether customer satisfaction is changing.

Keeping on top of customer journeys is long-game work, but it’s necessary to maximize your business and stay ahead of the curve.