Customer journey mapping is not new. In fact, it’s commonly used in consumer marketing. But despite its tremendous benefits, it has not been widely adopted in professional services.

You see, customer journey mapping encourages you to look at the entire lifecycle of a client — identifying every point of contact between your firm and your buyers.

It’s a tool that allows you to identify gaps in your marketing, sales and service processes. And you’ll see where your tactics, online and off, may break down.

Customer Journey Mapping Defined

Customer journey mapping involves researching and detailing the steps a client takes to move through the buying and customer cycle. It’s a systematic and comprehensive view of their experience that you can summarize in a customer experience map or an infographic.

The mapping process puts you in your client’s shoes so you can understand and enhance their experience. And better client experiences are a critical ingredient to building your business.

You’ll be compelled to answer questions like, “What goes on inside your buyer’s brain before they launch a project with a service provider?” and “How do buyers make decisions?” By wrestling with these questions, you’ll be able to improve the way you connect with prospective clients — and boost your chances of closing the sale.

But many firms end their mapping process there — at the point where a prospect becomes a new client. That’s too bad. You should never think of a new contract as the end — after all, it could be the beginning of a years-long relationship. So your customer journey map should also explore what goes on during the client engagement, what happens between engagements, and how you can encourage former clients to become reliable sources of referrals.

Such a comprehensive, detailed customer journey map helps you analyze your client’s experience and better communicate with them. But where do you start? The rest of this article introduces you to a simple model you can use to map out and enrich your client’s lifecycle.

To get started, your map will consist of four parts, each representing a stage of the client lifecycle:

  1. The pre-client experience
  2. The client experience
  3. The between engagement experience
  4. The former client

Mapping the customer journey

Here’s how to tackle each part:

Stage 1. The Pre-Client Experience

The pre-client experience starts when potential clients realize they have a problem — one they can’t solve themselves. As they look around for answers, they become aware of your firm (as well as your competition, of course). That’s great! You’ve overcome the first hurdle — your prospect is aware you exist.

Next, prospects need to determine whether you can help them. They might talk to colleagues, check out your website (and those of your competitors), and get on social media to find out how others have solved similar problems. Ultimately they want to find out if your firm’s expertise and past experience are relevant to their problems.

Once your potential clients decide which service providers make their short list, they usually do further research to make a final choice.

At this point, there are three possible outcomes:

  1. You’re hired. Good for you!
  2. Not now. Frustrating, but actually not such a bad place to be…the buyer has good feelings about you, but the timing is not right.
  3. No way — you don’t make the cut. In this situation, you may not even know you were in the running. In fact, the buyer might have completed their research without ever contacting you.

Okay, now let’s consider what happens after you’ve been hired.

Stage 2. The Professional Services Client Experience

During a client’s initial engagement, they find out what it’s like to work with you and the value you provide. While one-and-done projects generate incremental revenue, repeat clients fuel long-term growth. So it pays to build enduring client relationships. To win repeat business, you need to meet or exceed your clients’ expectations. So as map out your client journey, ask yourself some questions: Are you living up to your promises? Are you easy to work with? Are you hitting deadlines and staying within budget? During every engagement, you need to ask yourself how the project is going and what you can do to improve the client’s experience.

Eventually, your initial engagement will wind down. What happens next?

Stage 3: The Between Engagement Experience

After you’ve completed your first project — especially if you’ve made a positive impression — the client may decide they want to use your services again. They may not have an immediate need, but you will be the first firm they call when they are ready. Consumer marketers might call this a loyal customer or regular user.

Now, most customer mapping models ignore the stage between engagements, but we believe it’s critical. That’s because it represents a significant opportunity, one that’s often missed.

Let’s consider an example. Suppose at the end of a successful engagement you determine there is a low chance you will be working with the client in two to three years. You may have a problem. That’s a long time for any company to remember you. If you don’t reach out in the interim, they are likely to slip away forever.

Here’s another example. Often, clients hire you for one thing, and in their minds that one thing is the only thing you do. Just as any actor who has played James Bond becomes typecast, your firm runs the risk of being pigeonholed. You can easily lose out on a job that should be yours simply because the client doesn’t associate your firm with other services you provide.

So as you map your journey, think about what it takes to avoid being typecast. It’s not enough to nurture leads — you need to nurture clients, too, educating them about everything you do. The more they know about you, they more likely they will be to give you a call when the time is right.

Eventually, every client runs its course. But they still have value. Let’s find out how.

Stage 4: The Former Client

Clients leave for a variety of reasons. Perhaps you could prevent some. Others are completely out of your control.

In one camp are clients that had a poor experience. Maybe you dropped a ball or two. Or maybe it was bad chemistry. Either way, they aren’t coming back and they probably aren’t going to recommend you to others. Say goodbye to these forever (or at least a long, long time).

In the other camp are clients who had good experiences. They just don’t expect to need your expertise again. But that doesn’t mean you should forget about them. That would be a terrible mistake.

Why? Well, consider a residential construction firm that designs and builds a couple’s retirement home. Does that firm walk away from that couple forever? No, they stay in touch — maybe fix a leaky faucet or stuck cabinet drawer for free. You see, that happy couple is going to talk to their friends about the great experience they had building their new home. And at some point, an impressed friend is going to hire that same company to build or renovate their own home.

So former clients can be powerful advocates for your firm. Just don’t let them forget you.

Why do most companies ignore this final phase? Probably because it doesn’t fit conventional customer journey models. And it’s far easier — and more exciting — to look to future opportunities than to pay attention to the ones that have slipped into the past. But if you keep in front of your best former clients, you will find that they can be exceptionally loyal, and lucrative, friends.

Mapping Your Touch Points

Every phase in the customer’s journey is connected to others. So you need to be able to step back and see how it all works. That’s where the customer journey map comes in. Begin by identifying how and when your firm interacts with clients during each stage. Then note these touch points on your map.

What does an actual customer journey map look like? It can take a range of forms — from a highly visual infographic to a spreadsheet to a basic Word document. The tool you choose matters less than the quality of the data that goes into it. The goal is to recognize the critical decision points (see illustration above) where clients will either hire you or take another avenue. Only then can you see how you can meet their expectations and tip the scale in your favor.

At Hinge, we work with a wide range of data to map out a client’s entire customer journey. To understand the pre-client phase we conduct interviews with prospects in the marketplace, as well as the “got-aways” who ended up selecting another firm. That way we learn what prospects want out of a service provider.

We also talk to current clients to understand the quality of their experience with their professional service provider, as well as to learn whether they understand the full breadth of our client’s services.

Finally, we research former clients to understand where they stand on the map and what future prospects they offer: Are they between engagements, or are they gone for good? How likely are they to refer the client, and why?

You can plot your own customer journey map with information you may already have — client satisfaction surveys and follow up with former clients. But without detailed research into prospects and “betweeners” — and without a clear understanding of how much clients at every stage know about your range of services — there will be significant areas of terra incognita on your map.

To understand where the gaps exists, you’ll need to analyze each client stage. What proportion of clients experience each outcome? For example, how many prospects become clients? How often do clients move into the “between engagements” stage? How many former clients are recommending you? And, of course, why? Most important, what could improve your clients’ experience — and create better outcomes?

If you can’t answer all these questions you may need to conduct research to see the full picture and make the most of all of your opportunities.

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