How to get started with customer journey mapping

9 min read Paul Boag

Customer journey mapping has become a popular tool among user experience professionals. But if you haven’t created one before, the prospect can sound intimidating. After all, how can you begin to map the nuances of a customer’s journey? A user’s journey is so varied and complex. How can you represent all that in any kind of accurate way?

In this article I want to help you through the process of creating your first customer journey map. I want to answer the concerns you have and provide you with a solid process for creating a truly useful tool.

But to do that, we need to start by realigning your perception of what a customer journey map is.

What is a customer journey map?

The reason people feel intimidated by customer journey mapping is they have the wrong view of it. They think it has to be an accurate representation. Something that is representative of every nuance of the customer’s experience. But that is impossible.

A better way to think of it is like a persona. It is representative of a typical experience. In fact customer journey maps are much like personas. The difference being is that they focus more on tasks and questions. They also express the customer’s experience over time, rather than as a snapshot. This means the two work well together. A persona focuses on the person, while a customer journey map focuses on their experience.

Of course this means that a customer journey takes more effort to create. As a result you will create fewer of them. Often people only create a journey for each of the primary audiences. They also focus on an overview of the entire journey, rather than digging into too much detail.

That said, overtime you can flesh out the journeys. You can look at segments in more detail or even address secondary audiences.

Another way to think of a customer journey map is as a story. A story that provides insights into the customer’s journey. An archetype that represents the underlying complexity of the real journeys. But in a more digestible form. In other words, a customer journey map is not going to be 100% accurate.

A customer journey map is the story of a fictional customer. It is not 100% accurate anymore than a persona is

This might leave you wondering what the point is. Why bother with a map that is not completely representative of the experience?

Why should you be mapping the customer’s journey?

The value of a customer journey map comes because it focuses stakeholders on user needs. This is in contrast to their tendency to look at their own priorities. It is so easy to get caught up in what you want a project to achieve that you forget to consider how it will benefit users.

It is also an ongoing reminder throughout the project to consider the user’s context. The user’s questions, feelings and goals will change throughout their journey. We need to be aware of that.

Looking at a journey map throughout the project will ensure the end product meets user needs. This will help designers and copywriters by providing context for their work.

Finally, the journey map provides context for the project as a whole. A journey map helps define where in the customer’s experience the project sits.

Take for example a typical website. The website might only act as a marketing tool. It creates the desire in the user for the product and answers basic questions. But the action of buying might happen offline. However the same website might enable the user to place an order and even get after sales support. If you know much of the journey the project covers it will help define the scope.

All this means that any map needs to include a clear sense of the stages that the user passes through. But that is not all a customer journey map needs to include.

What appears in a customer journey map?

Imagine a typical ecommerce transaction for a moment. A user will pass through many stages:

  • Discovery. They discover they have a need or desire for a product.
  • Research. They start looking at variations of the product and explore suppliers.
  • Buying. They settle on a product and a supplier before placing an order.
  • Delivery. The ecommerce vendor updates the user on the status of their order and delivers the product.
  • After sales. The user has received the product but the relationship is not over. The user may have questions or wish to return the item. The vendor will want to encourage further orders.

These stages become the backbone for your customer journey map. What those stages are will vary depending on the project. Even within a single project you could divide the stages in a variety of ways. There is no right or wrong answer.

Remember, the more stages you add, the more complex your final customer journey map. If the customer journey map becomes too complex nobody will bother looking at it.

A customer journey map needs to be clear and intuitive. If it becomes too complex, people won’t refer to it.

For each of the stages in the journey, you then need to ask a series of questions. Questions you want to know about the user at each stage of their journey. Once again, there are no rules about what you should be asking. But some typical questions might be:

  • What is the user feeling? User feelings will affect how we design and write. For example if the user is finding part of the process annoying that is not the time to write humorous copy.
  • What is the user trying to do? What tasks are they trying to complete? This will inform how we design the interface and whether we can push our own calls to action.
  • What questions does the user have? Ensuring you answer the right questions at the right times is one of the most important things you can do.
  • What are the touchpoints? How is the user interacting with your company at that stage of the journey. Are they talking to you on the phone or visiting your Facebook page? Ensuring consistency across touchpoints is important.
  • Where are you failing the user? A customer journey map is a useful tool for uncovering weaknesses in the journey. Although you don’t have to include these in your final journey map they are useful to know!

Of course to answer these questions you will need to do your research.

What do you need to map the customer journey?

To produce as realistic a map as possible you need as much information about the user as you can get.

Search terms will give you some insights into the tasks and questions users have. But the main way to discover the information you need will be customer interviews.

Interviewing customers is actually straightforward.

  • First you confirm the stages of the journey you have identified. Do they agree these are a fair representation of what they did?
  • Second, for each stage in that journey discuss the questions, tasks and feelings they had.
  • Finally, discuss which touchpoints they used. Ask them if they experienced any pain points or weaknesses in the company’s approach.

One challenge is getting access to customers. It can be hard finding customers willing to sit down and talk with you (even over the phone). It is worth persevering. But if all else fails, interview people who talk to customers often. Salespeople or customer support staff are two examples. Depending on your company there are often many more. But remember, these people won’t see the entire customer journey. You will need to piece together the different parts by talking to different staff.

Collating all this feedback can be painful. But there are tools like Reframer that help with this. They enable you to keep notes on the conversations you have. You can also tag notes to identify trends and patterns later.

There are tools like Reframer that make collating feedback easy.

With your research gathered and sorted you can start putting together your map.

How to map your first journey?

Creating a basic customer journey map is much easier than you think. In essence it is a simple grid with the stages of the journey running horizontally. The questions you have about the user running vertically.

With that grid in place you fill in each cell with lessons learned from your research. For example, “what questions do users have during the purchasing stage?”

At the most basic level a customer journey map is a simple grid.

You can do the whole exercise in an Excel document by yourself. But there is a better way.

In my experience working with others on a customer journey map leads to a better result. Gather all those people we talked about who have contact with the client into a room. Bring your research too and get to work.

Using a large sheet of paper, draw the grid out as big as possible and pin it to the wall. Get the group writing Post-it notes containing different questions, tasks, and emotions. Place each of these on the grid in the appropriate places, discussing the decisions you are making as you go.

Working on a customer journey map as a group is more effective.

This approach improves the quality of the final result. But it also adds to its credibility within the organization because you get group buy-in.

You can even go a step further and gather a group of customers to work through the exercise. This will provide the most accurate results. Also consider inviting along management. They rarely have contact with real users so this will be a good exercise for them to see. This is always a great way to ensure your projects remain user focused.

The result of all this work will be insightful, but a chaotic mess! What you do with that mess will define the usefulness of your customer journey map.

What to do with the customer journey maps you produce

There is value in creating a customer journey map, especially when done as a group. But the real benefits come from referring to it over time.

The problem is that often in my experience too many customer journey maps end up in a drawer somewhere, ignored by everybody.

So I want to end with a challenge for you. Once you have created your bare bones customer journey map give it to a designer. Get them to turn it into an attractive poster. Print a load of copies and mount them in quality picture frames.

Mount your customer journey maps and place them on your office walls. Ensure they are always visible and referenced often.

Now sneak into your offices one night. Replace all those framed awards, photos of executives and product shots. Replace them with your customer journey map. Most organizations cover their walls with their own achievements, looking inwards. By replacing them with your map you help refocus colleagues on their customers. At the end of the day that is what a customer journey map is all about.

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