Customer journey mapping is a powerful business tool that sits at the intersection of user experience design, customer experience management and design thinking. Journey maps are useful because they can help visualise the interconnectedness of modern (often multi-channel) customer experiences. I’ve built a number of customer journey maps in my time as part of the standard design process for products and services, but recently I’ve noticed that the tool is also useful for mapping out the way that a company’s various marketing touchpoints connect together.
Modern marketing is moving from creating one-off ad campaigns and 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 out using the new range of marketing automation tools such as HubSpot and Salesforce.
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 in creating a mental model that we can use for planning and making improvements that make things better for the customer.
A customer journey map tells the story of a customer’s experience with your marketing, product or service over a period time. The most common presentation of the journey map is in a large format diagram that puts the customer’s journey into a linear timeline format. 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 of 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 functional teams including marketing, design and technology teams. These teams can then work together to use the journey map to spot pain points, gaps in the experience and to encourage empathy for the end customer. Remember that the map is just a tool and the ultimate aim of a journey map is to improve the actual customer experience, not just to document it.
Steps to create a customer journey map
Based on the workshops and projects that I’ve run in-house and with clients (when I worked in consulting), I’ve found that the key steps to
- Scoping: The first step in defining a customer journey is to determine the audience or customer 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 that you can capture a holistic view of the entire 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.
- Research: A good journey map isn’t just made up out of thin air; it’s based on both robust qualitative research and a decent sample size of 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, such as survey results like NPS or CSAT, and web analytics are great inputs to help to construct, prioritise and enhance your customer experience. Qualitative research is great for telling you something that you don’t know, whereas quantitative research is more useful for confirming a hypothesis. The most powerful qualitative 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.
- Analysis: The next step in creating a meaningful journey map is to consolidate a broad index of touchpoints into a more focused thread summarising the key customer journey steps. The analysis process is an exercise in selecting the most representative journeys and building them into coherent narratives that move realistically from one step to another. 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 through the process in the customer’s shoes by asking “And what happens next?” after each interaction. The goal is to build a connected series of triggers, reactions and emotional states that flow credibly from one into another in a linear sequence.
- Insights: The early research and analysis phases of the process can sometimes be very factual and analytical because you’re trying to capture a lot of information and map out the terrain. Once you have the core narrative down, it’s worth taking the time to explicitly dive deeper into the emotional wants, needs and fears that are present for your audience at each stage. Adding a cognitive or ‘thinking & feeling” layer to the journey map is a way of forcing a team 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 insightsto life. Another key tool for building empathy is to map out any particular pain points and friction that occurs for customers during their journey.
- 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 each stage.
- Presentation: The journey map graphic is not meant to cover every single variation of every 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 in the first place can be lost in the sands of time. A good journey map needs to be able to stand on its own without external explanation so that it can act as a persistent record.
Layers inside a customer journey map
Now that we’ve established the core content of the journey map we can quickly run over the key layers in the presentation of the map itself. Not all of these layers need to be in every map and the ones you select will be driven by the type of experience that you are mapping. 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 during this phase? These are usually specific interactions or pieces of collateral, communications or content.
- Channels: How are the communications or content delivered to the audience?
- 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 process?
- 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 to the next stage? 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 or not 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?
Types of customer journey map
Not all customer journey maps are the same. I’ve noticed that a project can quickly get 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 out the different types of customer journey maps you can look at several attributes of a map that vary depending on the outcomes that you want to achieve:
A journey map can cover several different parts of the customer’s total lifecycle. I’ve worked on journey maps that cover the “path to purchase”, the process of using a 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
- Historic record of a user journey – this type of map 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 to build empathy before starting an NPD project, or
- Proposed user experience to be create – this is the type used in ongoing agile new product development cycles in a lot of tech startups.
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 the improvements, so these days I prefer to choose either current state or future state mapping and focus on getting that right.
Once you know when in time your journey is set, you need to know whose journey it is that you’re mapping. I’ve found that the best method for choosing an audience 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” is a helpful thought experiment to help 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
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 and complex trigger events for internal systems.
The back-stage systems, processes and technology can make or break the front-of-house journey that the user experiences. Mapping the back-stage support systems together with the front-end experience can highlight where the 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 that 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 a robust output, a journey map should really have a robust set of inputs such as:
- Qualitative market research that involves proper immersion with the audience. The best source of human insights is to talk to other humans. Conversational interviewing for consumer brands is best achieved through the street-intercept style of research taught in design thinking courses or the ride-along immersion research practised by anthropologists. B2B brands can use a more interview style format to get deeper insights. 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).
- Quantitative data and analytics that tells a compelling story about what parts of a journey work 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 also be
a usefulinput data to identify pain points and prioritise improvements.
- 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. Also, it possible that some people in your team really do know the customer deeply and are able to articulate their insights in ways that accelerates the research process.
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, site-maps and process flows. A code-ready process map will include several additional layers more than a normal journey map 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-story, which is 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 and focused on a particular product feature or requirement.
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 it all the way through the journey, whereas a funnel makes specific allowances for people to drop out during the process.
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
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, in which case 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 even better to treat your journey map as a living document and update it as you learn and create new things.