Customer Journey Mapping

Customer journey mapping is a great tool that sits at the intersection of user experience design, customer experience management and design thinking. Journey maps are useful because they help visualise the interconnectedness of modern cross-channel customer experiences. I’ve built a number of customer journey maps in my time for various products and services, but recently I’ve noticed that the tool is also useful for mapping a company’s marketing.

Modern marketing is moving from creating one-off campaigns towards creating always-on marketing systems. Customer journey mapping is increasingly being used in digital marketing to design path-to-purchase journeys that can be built using marketing automation tools. Modern customer journeys are non-linear and can bounce around across multiple stages, channels and touchpoints, but the exercise of converting the chaos of reality into a linear model is helpful for planning, creating clarity and making real-world improvements.

Customer Journey Map template from design firm Adaptive Path.

A customer journey map tells the story of a customer’s experience with your marketing, product or service over time. The most common presentation of the journey map is in a large format diagram that puts the journey into a linear timeline. This type of diagram simplifies the complexity of a real customer journey so that general insights can be drawn out and improvements made. A good customer journey map covers all the touchpoints that a customer comes into contact with while they are attempting to achieve their goal and the emotions that they experience during that journey.

A journey map is useful because it provides context and highlights how interconnected your various brand touchpoints are. In my experience, a journey map is helpful in bringing together people from various teams including marketin g, design and customer experience. These teams can use the journey map to spot pain points, gaps in the experience and to encourage empathy for the end customer. The ultimate aim of a journey map is usually to improve the customer experience, not just document it.

Customer Journey Map example from research user experience agency NN/g.

Steps to create a customer journey map

Based on the workshops and projects that I’ve run in-house and with clients, I’ve found that the key steps to create a customer journey map generally include:

  1. Scoping: The first step in defining a customer journey is to determine the customer or audience segment that you want to focus on and what stages of their journey you want to cover. I’ve found that it’s best to focus on a narrow audience and then go wide in terms of covering the experience stages, so you can capture a holistic view of the journey. It can be useful to use customer archetypes, personas or target segments that you are already using in other parts of your marketing as a starting point for your journey mapping.
  2. Research: A good journey map isn’t just made up out of thin air; it’s based on robust qualitative and quantitative research. Even offline experiences can be measured these days, so there’s no excuse for creating a journey map without some honest self-evaluation and research as the first input. Quantitative business data, survey data such as NPS or CSAT, and website analytics are great inputs to help to construct, prioritise and enhance your customer experience. Qualitative research is great for telling you something you don’t know, whereas quantitative research is more useful for confirming a hypothesis. The most powerful quantitative data often contains an “uncomfortable truth”. These hard truths are an excellent raw material for a journey map because they can spur the business into action.
  3. Analysis: The next step in creating a meaningful journey map is to consolidate a broad index of touchpoints into a more focused thread containing the key customer journeys. The analysis process is an exercise in selecting the most representative journeys and building them into a coherent narrative that moves realistically from step to step. I like to build these narratives in a workshop by taking an individual example customer, starting with them before they have engaged with the company and gradually walking in the customer’s shoes by asking “And what happens next?”. The goal is to build a connected series of triggers, reactions and emotional states that credibly flow from one into another in a linear sequence.
  4. Insights: The research and analysis phases can sometimes be very factual and analytical because you’re trying to capture a lot of information and to map the terrain. Once you have the core narrative down, it’s worth taking the time to explicitly dive into the wants, needs and fears that are present for your audience at each stage. Adding a cognitive layer to the journey is a way of forcing the company to empathise with their audience. A useful way to break down the cognitive layer is by looking at what the audience is doing, thinking and feeling at each stage. A sparkline showing the enjoyment level at each step is a common way to illustrate these insights, but I find that it needs some example quotes from users to bring the insights to life. A key tool for increasing empathy is to map out any pain points and friction that occurs for customers during their journey.
  5. Architecture: It’s a good discipline to try and collect the various touchpoints into logical stages that group nicely together. At this point in the process, you have the factual, narrative and emotional elements of the journey map in place, so the next step is to consolidate the various elements into a cohesive overview. This stage is about creating a structure and connecting the journey map into the wider context of the overall customer experience. To ensure that you’re building meaningful insights not just narrating a boring list of facts, I like to focus on the behavioural triggers and transitions between stages.
  6. Presentation: The journey map graphic is not meant to cover every single variation of a customer’s experience. Instead, it should tell a simple story that focuses on the customer’s most important needs. In my experience journey maps are a powerful tool because people from varied professional backgrounds can all look at them and find something meaningful for themselves while also being exposed to the wider context that creates the overall customer experience. A journey map needs to be bought to life as a visual artefact that travels around the business and can live on as a guide to future improvements. Your map needs to be clearly written, well laid out and well resolved from a design perspective. It might be unhealthy to fetishise the ephemera of the design process, but without a well-designed journey map as a guide to refer back to, the valuable empathy work done to create the map can be lost in the sands of time. A good journey map needs to be able to stand on its own without external explanation.
Example customer journey from Finish designer Salla Koivu.

Layers in a customer journey map

The layers that are commonly run across a customer journey map to describe the customer experience include:

  • Phases: What broad stages does the journey fit into? These are usually clusters of similar tasks that relate to the same goal.
  • Tasks: What are the physical actions that the user takes to move from one stage to the next?
  • Touchpoints: What are the ways that the user interacts with your brand? These are usually specific interactions or pieces of collateral, communications or content.
  • Channels: How are the communications or content delivered to the audience? What are the key messages that we want to deliver through the communications channels?
  • Expectations: What is the user expecting from this step in the journey?
  • Emotions: How is the user feeling during this stage? What are they thinking? What are their wants, needs or fears during this part of the journey?
  • Motivations: What job is the user trying to get done? How does this interaction fit into the rest of their life?
  • Questions: A great way to create empathy for points of uncertainty is to focus on what questions a user has at each stage in the process. What are they unsure about and what do they want to know?
  • Obstacles: What pain points and blockers could prevent the user from progressing? What is adding friction or not working in the way it is expected to?
  • External influences: What is outside our control that could influence how the user experiences this step and whether they move forward?
  • Data: What data are we collecting at this stage? What data could support or improve the movement to the next step?
  • Technology: What systems and processes are needed to deliver or improve this step?
  • Recommendations: What are the problems and opportunities that we have identified to improve this step?
  • Objectives: What goals, metrics and KPIs do we want to set for ourselves to measure the success of this step in the journey?
Rail Europe diagnotic experience map from Adaptive Path.

Types of customer journey map

Not all customer journey maps are the same. I’ve noticed that a project can get quickly de-railed when people are talking at cross-purposes about what they need from a customer journey map. For example, a software developer may need the journey map as a finished piece of documentation whereas the marketing team are still just trying to figure out the key stages. To help you separate the different types of customer journey maps you can look at several attributes that depend on the outcomes you want to achieve:

Lifecycle stage

A journey map can cover several different parts of the customer lifecycle. I’ve worked on journey maps that cover the path to purchase, the process of using the product, or the journey of repeat purchase and loyalty. As tempting as it is to try and cover the entire lifecycle in one map, I’ve found that it’s best to stick to one lifestage as the relevant personas, concerns and motivations can be quite different for prospects, customers and repeat customers. There are other more broad tools for mapping the entire customer lifecycles such as the business model canvas, flywheel, and integrated marketing funnel.

Time setting

The most basic dimension to choose when creating a journey map is whether you are going to describe the:

  • Past user journey – this type is used for auditing and business process improvement,
  • Diagnostic snapshot of the current user journey as it stands today – this type is used in a lot of design thinking, or
  • Proposed future user experience – this is the type used in new product development.

You can map the current state and future state on the same map by highlighting key gaps and improvements. However, I’ve found that a combined diagnostic and prescriptive map can age quickly once works begins on improvements, so these days I prefer to choose either current state or future state mapping and focus on getting that right.

Audience focus

Once you know when in time your journey is set, you need to know whose journey you are mapping. The best method for choosing an audience to map is to generate personas, archetypes or defined segments of your target audience. Most people design their customer journey for the “average” customer, but I’ve found that it’s best to design for you “ideal” customer instead. Imagine a highly engaged user that said yes to everything that you offered them. Playing the “yes game” allows you to design a comprehensive journey map.

For brands with multiple audiences, you may need to create separate journey maps for each main segment or audience. The level of detail you choose for the journey map depends on how detailed you want the map to be for each persona.

Data and technology

In design projects the journey map usually focuses entirely on the user, but for marketing automation it’s becoming common to include extra layers in the journey map that include the business data and technology needed to deliver a particular experience.

For digital marketing projects, the user, data and technology layers are all equally important. These types of customer journey maps are useful for bringing together cross-functional teams from different parts of a large organisation. The risk is that the journey map can become a perpetually incomplete set of product specifications because the linear format inherently skips some of the complexity needed in technical systems architecture. For example, flow charts are better than journey maps at dealing with diverging paths.

The back-stage systems, processes and technology can make or break the front-stage journey that the user experiences. Mapping the back-stage support systems together with the front-stage experience can highlight where handovers between systems are being missed.

Sources of information

One of the most important but hidden attributes of a journey map is the source of the inputs that created the map. Most of the journey maps I’ve worked on have been for new products created by companies that already knew their audience fairly well. In this situation, it’s tempting to just base the journey map on the personal experiences of the people in the room. However, to be robust output, a journey map should really have a robust set of inputs such as:

  1. Qualitative market research that involves immersion with the audience. The best source of human insights is to talk to other humans. Conversational interviewing is best achieved through the street-intercept style of research taught in design thinking courses or the ride-along immersion research practised by anthropologists. I’m also a fan of the “be your own customer” style of research where the key people are forced to go through their own customer experience (sometimes called mystery shopper research).
  2. Quantitative data and analytics that tells a compelling story about what parts of a journey works well and what parts can be improved. I like to look at completion speed, drop-off rate and satisfaction data for every step in the process if possible. Net promoter score and customer satisfaction scores can be a useful data input to identify pain points and prioritise improvements.
  3. Workshops, desk research and intuition, shouldn’t be entirely discarded because sometimes the role of a journey map is to act as a provocation or hypothesis that will get tested through experimentation during the rollout.

Rail Europe simplified customer journey map by Adaptive Path.

Limits of a customer journey map

As useful as customer journey maps are, they are only one tool in the design, development or marketing process. It’s worth remembering that a customer journey map is not:

Specifications: A journey map is not a full set of product requirements that a developer can code against. For your map to eventually become a living breathing product, it will need to go through a range of additional documentation such as wireframes, systems architecture and process flows. A code-ready process map will include additional layers such as audience triggers, filters and rules along with key dependencies and systems integrations.

User stories: In an agile environment, a key artefact before something is built is the user-stories, which are a fictional narrative that describe a user’s context, intention, actions and outcomes. User stories are often generated based on customer journey maps, but they are not the same thing because the user stories are more detailed.

Personas: Personas are an important input for a journey map, but the map itself doesn’t need to describe everything about the audience. A persona focuses on the person, whereas a journey map focuses on their experience.

Marketing Funnel: Journey mapping is a useful tool in creating a modern marketing funnel, but the journey map is not the funnel itself. A journey map tends to be a linear representation of a single journey, whereas a funnel is an aggregate view of all the different touchpoints. If a journey map tried to cover every single touchpoint, it would lose focus. A journey map usually assumes that someone makes all the way through the journey, whereas a funnel includes allowances for people to drop out of the journey.


The UK Government Communication Service’s journey map template.

Building your own journey maps

A hard truth about customer journey maps is that even though they look nice, the maps don’t generate an outcome by themselves. A journey map is a means to an end. The success of a journey map should be judged by what it enables people to create in terms of an improved customer experience.

Brands in New Zealand are catching up to the importance of building a connection between their top-of-the-funnel advertising and the rest of their digital and direct marketing. A customer journey map can help connects the dots between the various channels and elements of your marketing.

A real journey map is never finished. Especially if it’s for a digital product or marketing system, then the journey will be constantly improving. You may want to keep your original journey map as a record of where you’ve been, but I find that it’s better to treat your journey map as a living document and update it when you learn and create new things.

The evolution of digital marketing in New Zealand

I have been away from New Zealand for over five years. Life in New York and London moves pretty fast, so coming home to little old New Zealand has been quite a shock to the system. But the country is waking up to a more global worldview and embracing design and creativity. It turns out that things in paradise have changed a lot recently. I thought I’d take a moment to share some of the biggest changes that have occurred in my absence.

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Ethnography unpacked with Nick Bowmast

Nick Bowmast is a design researcher from New Zealand. He worked in London for over a decade and now splits his time between NZ and the UK. I wasn’t quite sure what a “design researcher” does, so Nick pointed me to a blog post about his tools of the trade. It’s a fun way to understand how a design researcher spends their time and the type of work that Nick does with clients.

Nick Bowmast
Nick Bowmast is a design researcher based in New Zealand and the UK.

I like understanding someone’s craft by looking at their tools. I’ve always found that reading about a professional’s equipment is a surprisingly good way to understand what they do. Most strategists are voyeurs of human behaviour. Maybe like a design researcher in a suit…

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Gamestorming

Creativity in business matters more than ever before. Luckily, there is a new technique called gamestorming that uses games to encourage creativity in business. The old approaches like workshops, brainstorms, off-sites or hiring a consultant to think for you are no longer enough to create the new ideas that you need. Execution is still vital to bring products to market, but if you don’t have a good idea to start with, then you’re stuffed.

Gamestorming in action
You can use games and play to introduce people, create new ideas and even to prioritise, cull ideas and select the best ones.

I recently gave a presentation on Gamestorming to a group that are advocating for mobile working, digital nomads and creativity called Anywhere Working. The group is facilitated by the team at 33 Digital and David Clare was kind enough to invite me to get involved. I was presenting on behalf of one of the collectives that I’m involved in called Converge+UK. Converge+UK is all about creativity at the intersection of design, business and technology so it was great to share some ideas with the Anywhere Working crew. Rueben Milne had a great take on the ways that creativity can happen in unexpected places and at unexpected times.

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Net Promoter Score: A metric for love?

A client of mine recently wanted to do a written customer survey. I’m usually allergic to these generic and prosaic insight-free-zones. But Jeremy Moon from Icebreaker recently put me onto a metric called the “Net Promoter Score” that might actually be worth testing for in a customer survey.

Net promoter score in action
Icebreaker prides itself on measuring and managing word of mouth.

Jeremy is an independent advisory board member of Better By Design which is the design and innovation team within New Zealand Trade & Enterprise. He has always been a real inspiration to me because of the integrity of the Icebreaker merino products and the passionate tribe of fans that the brand attracts.

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The difference between marketing and design

Marketing and design a very different mindsets and professions. I’m guessing that both your company’s marketing and your design probably sucks. But then again so does everyone else’s. It’s been driven to blandness by a combination of focus groups that couldn’t “get” your new idea, repeated changes from your management team, internal squabbles and old ideas left over from a time when advertising spend equalled market success. But maybe there is an even deeper problem…

What's the difference between design and marketing
The difference between marketing and design is the focus on the end-user as an individual.

The difference between marketing and design isn’t obvious. They’re different professional disciplines but the real difference is in the mindsets that they bring to approaching a problem.

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How far has the economic case for design come?

Your business case for investing in design will include both qualitative and quantitative evidence. This blog focuses on the economics of innovation so we won’t spend to much time on qualitative arguments like case studies, war stories and theoretical arguments. Instead, the focus is on ways that you can make a compelling financial and economic business case for design.

Design Thinking in business
The business value of design thinking is being more and more widely recognised.

In 2007 by Brian Gillespie (who had just attended the DMI Conference “Improving and Measuring Design’s Role in Business Performance“) cried out for more case studies and more qualitative examples. He wanted to see more effort put into articulating the role of design in:

  • Influence on the purchasing decisions
  • Enabling strategy (new markets)
  • Enabling product and service innovation
  • Reputation/awareness/brand value
  • Time to market/process improvement
  • Customer experiences
  • Cost savings/ROI
  • Developing communities of customers
  • Good design is good for all: triple bottom line accounting for social, environmental, and business impact

Since 2007 a lot of evidence has emerged on each of these and we’ll be reviewing them in turn over the next couple of weeks and including a few new areas where design can add value. Paste any of your favorite examples of end user centred design and design thinking adding practical economic value in the comments below and we’ll include them as we go.

Why design?

Everyone had a dream as a child. A fireman, a police officer, a pilot or a doctor. Every so often you meet someone who says their dream was to be a stockbroker or company executive. It throws you off balance because it’s so seemingly mundane, but it’s usually true. Some people just knew what they wanted to do from a young age and make it happen.

Peter Thomson Design Strategy
I love the discipline of design because it brings ideas to life as tangible products.

My dream was always to be a management consultant. Mainly because I always noticed bad customer experiences and believed we can do better. My first adult book (at age 11) was Iacocca. It was a ridiculously nerdy book for a kid to read but I was inspired by the journey of turning around a distressed business. Reading it subtly changed the course of my life.

Continue reading Why design?