You’re probably very familiar with the products and services your company offers – from pricing to features to benefits. But how familiar are you with the user experience of those products and services? And if you are familiar, how much time do you and your team spend exploring that experience and testing your assumptions? The user experience is undoubtedly crucial to the success of your product or service but what are you doing to improve that experience? And what are those changes and improvements based on?
You guessed it! We’ll be talking about customer journey mapping (also known as user journey mapping). This process can help you verify moments of truth (more about them further below), segment the user experience into touchpoints or events, increase overall empathy for your users and serve as a great conversation starter that will jumpstart shared understanding in your organization.
Some readers may be more familiar with customer journey maps than others. Whether you’re just now entering the world of UX or you have years of experience behind you, we guarantee you’ll find value in customer journey mapping.
Continue reading for an in-depth discussion about what customer journey maps are, how to create them, what they include, our recommended best practices, and journey map template.
Customer journey mapping is the process of analyzing and understanding what happens with your user or customer throughout their entire journey with your product or service. It requires researching what the user experience is like across all touchpoints and the sentiments users experience along the way. The output is a chart (called a map) that visualizes your customer’s experience. But more than just a timeline or chart, customer journey maps are built on empathy and research, pushing creators to consider how users’ feelings fluctuate throughout their journey.
We use the term customer journey map, but this tool has also been called a UX journey map, UX map, user journey map, and an experience map. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you call it. What matters is that you’re creating an understanding of the holistic experience of everyone who is interacting with your product, service, brand, or company.
More than just a timeline or chart, customer journey maps are built on empathy and research, pushing creators to consider how users’ feelings fluctuate throughout their journey.
For this article, we purposely used the term customer journey mapping as it is the most widely used term in the industry. However, we’re also seeing a shift, as the term “customer journey mapping” has recently been adopted by sales and marketing teams who use it to refer to mapping out the buyer decision processes on the customer side. So don’t be surprised if you come across the term being used to refer to a more sales-centric process. For the purposes of this piece, we will use “customer” and “user” interchangeably.
The goal of customer journey mapping is to understand not only if people are happy using your product but also seemingly tangential factors like how they react to your advertising and sales strategy or what their experience is with your customer support. It’s also important to understand things like how your churned customers feel and even how people who will never be your customer feel. This is especially pertinent, if you, for example, have free access to your product/service or operate in a nonprofit or NGO space.
An important aspect of customer journey mapping is context, or how different experiences are relative. For example, a touchpoint that may have seemed negative at one point may eventually seem positive, or at least better, by comparison.
Customer journey mapping helps teams consciously understand their touchpoints as opposed to considering the whole (abstract) experience without any compartmentalization. This is important because it pushes you to determine where to isolate and improve. Customer journey maps help teams across all departments better empathize with users, find places to improve the experience, and ultimately collaborate together more effectively.
There are many different ways to approach customer journey maps, as they should always be tailored to the goals of creating the map and the persona/use case whose experience they outline.
In this article, we’ll discuss:
Functionally, customer journey maps help you visualize what your user is experiencing and what they’re feeling throughout their journey. But their benefits span beyond visualization.
If you are a start up or completing your first customer journey map as an organization, keep in mind that the map is not a plan per se. It’s about understanding what the actual user experience is.
First and foremost, the customer journey map will help you empathize with your customer and improve your understanding of personas. As someone who spends all day working on/with/for your product or service, you spend a lot of time on one side of the table, while your customer is on the other.
As someone who spends all day working on/with/for your product or service, you spend a lot of time on one side of the table, while your user is on the other.
Better empathizing with your users is a gift that keeps on giving. It will help you make product roadmap decisions that will increase customer satisfaction. Moreover, this information will help you identify places to improve the user experience and retain more customers.
Keep in mind that customer journey mapping is not only useful for senior leadership or user researchers but also for designers. Customer journey maps provide an excellent visualization of the larger picture of the user experience, as opposed to just focusing on one screen or webpage.
Having this level of context can actually be helpful when thinking through the more granular aspects of a design (as it gives a better understanding of what users are experiencing and expecting) but also when thinking through the entire user experience you’re designing. For example, if you can keep in mind that a user would have just tackled a particularly frustrating step in your experience, you may want to add something in the following step that can potentially bring some delight (or relief) to the interaction.
A customer journey map can also help you identify moments when the experience for the customer is just simply not good, inconsistent or maybe even unpleasant. This goes beyond rough patches that can be detected during prototyping or user research. The customer journey map can help you identify how these factors are interrelated: such as inconsistencies between various touchpoints, devices or steps in the journey. This can be very difficult to detect without a cohesive look at the overall customer journey.
The way we find, purchase, and experience products and services has changed so much in the last 10 or 20 years. In particular, there are now more channels than ever where users interact with products. According to McKinsey & Co., “more than half of customer interactions (56%) are part of a multi-channel, multi-event buying journey.” This means that the customer journey is not as straightforward as it once was, so having a strong understanding of it and its complexities can be particularly valuable.
Don’t just create a customer journey map because it’s trendy. Do it sincerely and to actually improve the user experience. Remember, you won’t be an expert on your user after a 2 hour workshop, no matter how thorough your team is!
Customer journey mapping should not only be preceded by thorough data and insights about your users, but also serve as a kick-off for larger initiatives and regular explorations of customer’s experiences with your products or services.
During the actual process of filling out a customer journey map, you’ll inevitably miss some touchpoints. So keep in mind that this is an iterative process and that it will be difficult to actually fill out a customer journey map without genuine feedback from your users.
Functionally, customer journey mapping also helps you to determine what touchpoints are truly important. We call these top-priority touchpoints moments of truth (MoTs). As a business, there is never enough time or money to improve every single aspect of your user experience, so you have to prioritize. Customer journey mapping forces you to segment the user experience, therefore providing a framework for identifying those key moments of truth.
Pay special attention to MoTs, as they will help you see where you should focus your energy now. For example, if you work for a restaurant, should you spend your time thinking about the lighting of your place or the taste of the food? Both have an effect on the overall ambiance of the dining experience, but when it comes down to prioritizing what to actually focus on, people are more likely to forgive a restaurant for dim lighting over bland food.
Of course, these big issues differ for every business. Let’s say you have great food but your marketing just doesn’t bring in enough people through your door. In this case, your problem may not be your product but your lead generation efforts. Understanding these unique pain points is a key part of moving your business forward. Customer journey mapping can help you understand where to actually focus your time and attention.
We know what you’re thinking, why would I go seeking new problems? The idea here is that there are known issues and unknown issues. Customer journey maps should be exploratory or discovery-based. You want to unearth unknown issues that you may not have known about before.
This is the beauty of actually speaking with users. Customer journey mapping is as much about discovering unknown issues as it is about solving known issues. In general, you want to know what is happening and which of the existing issues has the biggest impact on your customer’s experience.
Have you ever found yourself constantly feeling a tension between your department and other departments in your company? While we all have common goals, we also sometimes have competing priorities. A certain amount of tension between departments can be healthy and productive if it spurs higher quality work, but if this tension stems from a lack of understanding or dismissing of each other’s priorities, it can be problematic.
One of the greatest benefits of customer journey mapping is that it can help breakdown communication barriers between departments that can be detrimental to the business and the user experience. The process of creating a customer journey map must be cross-disciplinary.
As the team at Nielsen Norman puts it, “fragmented understanding is chronic in organizations where KPIs are assigned and measured per individual department or group because many organizations do not ever piece together the entire experience from the user’s standpoint.” Creating a customer journey map with a cross-functional team can help alleviate some of these pressures.
Moreover, once a customer journey map has been created, we recommend sharing it with the entire company, and both referencing and updating it regularly. This will help keep different departments on track by prioritizing their individual responsibilities and shared goals.
Another positive side effect of bringing together a cross-functional team to create a customer journey map is the clarity it provides about which departments own which touchpoints. This conversation can drive continued clarity on KPIs that will improve the overall user experience.
Developing touchpoints is important. Be sure to include associated key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics, wherever possible. Assigning ownership of various touchpoints is important but so is being able to measure them so that you can determine whether or not you’re actually growing and improving the experience.
If your customer journey mapping activity did not uncover some previously unknown issues in your user experience, you’ve probably missed something! So when you do reveal new problems to solve based on your customer journey map, be sure to assign follow up tasks to appropriate owners.
Another positive side effect of bringing together a cross-functional team to create a customer journey map is the clarity it provides about which departments own which touchpoints. This conversation can drive continued clarity on KPIs that will improve the overall user experience.
If used strategically, customer journey mapping can have a clear return on investment. This process will give you the opportunity to identify and find ways to close gaps where you could be attracting or retaining more customers. As the cost of acquiring new customers continues to rise, maintaining your customers is well worth the investment in user experience.
Moreover, research from McKinsey & Co. shows that companies who act on issues identified in customer-journey mapping can “lower the cost to serve by as much as 20%.” This level of cost alleviation can free up resources to focus on new ways for the company to grow.
As helpful as data like website traffic, revenue projections, and usage metrics are, it can be difficult to craft a story around them. This is where customer journey maps shine: they really are a story of the customer experience.
Bringing together a group to talk through what the customer journey experience is like and how customers feel at various touch points or moments throughout that journey crafts a narrative. This story is more accessible (and therefore more actionable) than data sheets, or paragraphs of observations in field notes.
There are a few different types of customer journey maps based on what your specific goals are: current state, future state, and day in the life mapping.
Current state mapping paints a picture of how customers are interacting with your product or service right now. It is based largely off of customer data and observational research. This type of customer journey map is well-suited to helping you better empathize with your customer and diagnose areas where you can improve the user experience.
Future state mapping, on the other hand, is a representation of the ideal journey you’d like customers to have as they experience your product or service. This type of mapping is all about conceptualizing and visualizing new experiences for your customer. It can help be something of a north star for teams as they go about their day to day, and work to close the gap between where the user experience is and where it should be. Keep in mind that this exercise is typically completed once current state mapping is complete. Realistically, future state mapping can only exist once the current state is understood, because you need to know what you’d like to improve in order to reach your ideal state.
Day in the life mapping is a representation of all of the day-to-day activities your ideal customer takes in their daily life, not just those where they use your product or service. This is a helpful map for understanding the larger context of your persona, and identifying additional places to provide value.
The best way to complete day in the life mapping is through a diary study, where you ask a user to record their thoughts and impressions during some activities or through their interactions with various touchpoints. This technique can lead to some insights you may not have considered before. For example, the journey of a user may have begun with them googling something related to your product or service but not necessarily directly googling the name of your business.
A competitor’s journey map is a benchmark journey map you may also want to try creating. These can be useful for determining and visualizing how you compare to other providers in your field. This type of map can also be a solid source of inspiration. Of course, we don’t suggest copying the solutions of competitors and calling them your own. However, the differences should encourage you to think about where you can improve the experience of your users and identify what your differentiators are.
All four of these types of customer journey maps can be very helpful depending on your business goals. For the purposes of this post, we are primarily focusing on current state journey mapping as we feel it is best suited for making an impact on the user experience.
Before you actually begin building out your journey map, make sure you have the following covered:
A clear understanding of goals is essential to approaching the customer journey mapping process with clarity. This will not only help you choose which type of customer journey map to pursue but also help guide your process of filling out the actual map. Was the decision to create a customer journey map in response to a particular business need? If so, keep in mind the different types of customer journey maps and which one best fits this goal.
A use-case or persona that the customer journey map is intended for. In most companies, there isn’t just one use-case or type of customer that they interact with. This is important to consider when crafting a customer journey map as the customer journey will look different for these different subsets.
If your company really only targets one persona – great! Creating a customer journey map will be much more straightforward for your team. However, for most companies, there is typically 1 main persona and a couple of secondary personas. Keep in mind that if your company has many products there will likely be multiple primary personas. You should consider having a separate customer journey for all the personas, especially the primary ones. If you’re hard-pressed to think of alternative personas, we recommend gamifying the experience and pushing your team to brainstorm some fringe use-cases. It can be a very fun and creative activity!
Research, data, insights. Reach out to various departments in your organization and ask for data about your users. Keep in mind that you are not particularly interested in the opinions of your team about customers but actual data and feedback from customers.
The more feedback you gather the better. There are a range of sources for this data: analytics tools, insights from UX research, feedback collected via online feedback tools, data from surveys conducted on various occasions, social media mentions, product review sites, and opinions, complaints and suggestions shared with your customer support and sales teams. There are also many ux research and customer journey map tools available that can help increase the sources of data.
Make sure whatever you’ve collected is not outdated to the point that it’s irrelevant. You want to rely on relevant experiences so, for example, considering customers’ opinions about your website from before a new version was launched is not the best idea. After you collect all this data, assess what’s missing and try to fill in gaps with research (just asking customers directly should work) before building the customer journey map. Examples of data points might be:
Willingness to jump in and be wrong. With customer journey mapping, you have to be willing to dive in and learn along the way. No matter how meticulous your prep work is, there will always be more data and feedback to collect about various touchpoints.
Avoid the temptation to fixate on being perfect, or even exhaustive. A customer journey map is never going to be 100% accurate or even complete, even with the best tools . The best you can do is strive to be as thorough as possible without impeding progress. An imperfect or even incomplete customer journey map is better than no map. Besides, this is an iterative process. You can and should return to your customer journey map and add missing elements or new insights.
Now that you know what a customer journey map contains, it’s time to start actually working on one. Here is a process to get you started.
1. Assemble your team. Once you’ve decided on your goals for creating a customer journey map, you can begin choosing the cross-functional team who will come together to create the map. Keep in mind that different departments all engage with customers differently and can provide unique pieces of the puzzle that you would likely not find without their presence. We recommend including representatives from:
2. Observe your customers and compile your research. Hopefully, you already have some customer monitoring tools in place that can aid in this stage of observational research.
For example, compile observations from the following tools or similar sources:
An invaluable source of feedback that is often overlooked in UX projects is your customer success or support (CS) department. Your CS department interfaces with your users daily and can deliver in-depth insights regarding what pain points they experience. These rich, in-house insights about your users are invaluable.
Another avenue for gathering user feedback is exploring reviews and feedback for your product or service. Google reviews, G2Crowd, and app store ratings are all great sources of user insights. It can be tempting to focus on positive feedback, but angry customers are a wealth of information and can teach us the most about where we need to improve.
3. Begin filling out your customer journey map in a workshop style. This is the part where your team can begin compiling everything that your research has found and start creating a visualization to represent it. This should be a workshop style session where ideas are shared and discussed freely.
4. Break your journey into key stages. Remember we are talking about the customer journey, not your business journey. Accordingly, the stages should make sense from the customer’s point of view, not so much the overall business point of view. Typically your breakdown should look something like this:
While these stages may reflect a general flow for many businesses, you should absolutely personalize them to fit your customer journey. Below you can see 3 examples of personalized steps:
A. For a customer of a coffee shop:
B. For a customer of an airline:
C. For a Saas product:
5. Define events in each key stage. Once you have the key stages you can begin listing the actions your customer will take during each step and the touchpoints related to those actions. Actions can be: reading a menu in a coffee shop, or using a calculator on an airline website to calculate the total cost of travel for 4 people with various meals and additional luggage.
For digital products these can be things like: clicking a Facebook ad, downloading free content, reading opinions on online forums, enrolling into a trial, scheduling a demo, checking the Terms of Service, checking FAQ, choosing a plan, selecting payment options, getting access to the tool after signing up, contacting customer support, signing up for a newsletter, and more. Actions may also be called events. This is useful as sometimes the step in the journey is not something the customer is actively pursuing. For example, waiting for a purchase confirmation is less an action taken by the customer as it is an event along the way.
Each of the actions or events happen within a touchpoint. Touchpoints are important as they offer access to different actions. For example, there is no clear follow up action to seeing a billboard. However, with Facebook ads, interested people can click and be taken to a landing page with more information about the product.
Sometimes a single action can have multiple touchpoints. For example, a customer may contact the support team via online chat, telephone, email or via a special feature in a dashboard. It’s worth separating these touchpoints as the primary reason behind building a customer journey map is to lay out the experience of people interacting with your product or service or your company in general.
Each touchpoint, even if it offers the same action may lead to a very different experience. For example, calling customer support may provide an excellent and positive experience when there’s a competent and professional team. But maybe sending an email to report an issue results in waiting one month for a reply – which is not such a positive experience.
You may assign a goal to correspond to each user action. Try to define what the user is trying to achieve in every moment as this may help you assess different actions.
6. Be relentless in your listing and describing of touch points. This aspect of the customer journey map is really the crux of the entire exercise and getting it right is an important piece of a complete customer journey map. This is where your pre-work and research will shine!
The most important part of the map is the actual emotional experience. Is the user able to easily see how much he will pay for the highest plan? Or does it take users a long time to find this information on your website? Can users easily submit their CV to apply to the role via your website or do they have to fill in a lengthy form asking questions that are typically covered in the CV anyway? Or is there a bug in your code and your users cannot use the features they want in the dashboard of the tool?
The easiest way to mark the experience on your map is to draw a horizontal line and put a mark above it for positive experiences, at the line for neutral experiences, and below the line for negative experiences. You can also use scoring (for example from +5 to -5) – the higher on the positive side the marks will be for specific actions and/or touch points the more positive the experience.
The lower below the line, the more negative the experience. This will allow you to quickly identify moments within their journey where your customers are struggling and moments where they’re delighted. In other words, this will help you see opportunities to improve the experience by improving specific points during the journey. But don’t get out your whiteboard just yet! There are a couple more things you can do.
Positive vs. negative experiences is of course a simplified approach that’s intended to help you assess the situation very quickly by just glancing at the map. But you can always add an additional layer and try to determine what emotions exactly your customers are feeling. If their experience is negative – are they feeling angry or sad? Or maybe anxious or disgusted?
7. Look for moments of truth. Moments of truth (MoTs) are one of the most important elements in your map. These are the aspects of your product or service that are the most important to your user. As UXPressia defines them, “MoTs represent the points in a customer journey when a key event occurs and an opinion about the brand is formed. In simple words, these are the touchpoints when your customers either fall in love with your product or turn away and leave.”
MoTs define how the user will feel about their entire experience with your product or service. These moments will determine if they return to repurchase your product, if they recommend it to others, and in extreme situations whether or not they will take the time to publicly criticize your product or company online. For this reason, you should prioritize MoTs as the most important moments to provide a positive experience.
In total, you should land on 1 or 2 moments of truth. If you have particularly complex customer journeys, 3 should be the maximum amount of MoTs.
Coming back to our restaurant example, the most important factor will be whether the food was good or not. If the food was not tasty the customer will simply not come back to your restaurant. However, is this enough? What if the food was excellent but the waiter was rude? Will the customer come back?
Should there be more MoTs? Probably not. Avoid the clutter as it will cloud your focus. If the food was great and the service was friendly enough the customer is likely to come back. They may not remember details like the pattern of your tablecloths or that there was not enough room to hang their coats, but they’ll remember and return because of how much they enjoyed the food.
8. Analyze and discover your opportunities. Once you’ve determined whether the experience in each event or touchpoint is positive or negative for your user, and you’ve identified MoTs, you will naturally be able to nail down the opportunities all this creates to improve your product and make it more consistent across touchpoints, easy to use and sticky. In other words, what can you do to improve a negative experience, or even delight the customer in each event?
Opportunities may be quite detailed like reducing the number of steps in the purchasing process, providing status updates, providing more concise messaging or making it easier to find contact details to your support team.
Write down all of these opportunities. You can decide later which ones to focus on. Some of these may actually be too time or resource intensive, so you don’t need to attack them all at once. As with everything, prioritization will be important.
9. Implement metrics where possible. While this step isn’t always included in customer journey maps, we recommend including it if you can. Try to apply metrics to the columns in your map. Sometimes it won’t be possible, but whenever it makes sense, try to come up with metrics that will help you measure the impact of the change you will implement. Some of these metrics are probably used in your business already. For example, shopping cart abandonment is a common metric for ecommerce companies. But don’t be afraid to introduce new metrics as long as they make sense. For example, measure the percentage of customers seeking help with your support team during the onboarding process.
Once you have metrics it will also be easier to see which department is responsible for this element. It’s easy to say “design” or “marketing” but some of us work in companies with multiple departments that could easily take ownership like ecom, online marketing, customer management, product and design.
10. Rinse and repeat. As a process, customer journey mapping is lean and can help you uncover what you know and what you don’t know. With user research, you can validate your predictions then update your customer journey map accordingly. Armed with this information, make appropriate changes and see how they impact the journey of your users then once you have sufficient data on how the changes impact the user experience.
There’s a lot to consider when creating a customer journey map and you may be overwhelmed by all of the foundational work that needs to take place before you really begin executing! However, creating customer journey maps isn’t straightforward because, honestly, customer journeys aren’t very straightforward.
So to help get you through this process, we’re sharing some tips from a pro!
“Creating customer journey maps isn’t straightforward because, honestly, customer journeys aren’t very straightforward.”
Once you’ve created your customer journey map, it’s not just time to sit back and relax. Here are some follow-up activities we recommend to really drive these learnings home.
Throughout this process, you’ve likely identified some shortcomings or pain points that seem to surface again and again. One of the most important post-customer journey mapping activities is to formulate a plan to address newly uncovered issues. Be mindful of establishing ownership for these follow-up fixes, otherwise holding people accountable will be difficult.
Share your findings with the rest of the company. While the impact of the customer journey map should already have an interdisciplinary influence as it must be created with a cross-functional team, this does not mean that the entire company is well-versed in the customer experience and its implications. This type of information is important for all employees to have access to and keep in mind as they work for/with/around customers. After creating the customer journey map, you are well equipped to share insights with your team because you have a map that can tell your story visually, as opposed to having to craft lengthy documents. Journey maps are an excellent communication tool that not only put everyone on the same page and gain buy-in for necessary changes from stakeholders but also puts your users front and center.
Establish a timeline for revisiting the customer journey maps. It’s inevitable that the elements of the customer journey map will shift over time. While the customer journey map is not likely something you will need to edit or overhaul every week, it should be reviewed every quarter or year and as major changes to your processes and channels occur.
Never seen a customer journey map? Here are some examples we love.
Here’s an example that maps out visitor moments for a visit to the Smithsonian. Notice that it begins with “consider going” as the first interaction.
Here’s a very different example from UXPressia, intended for a SaaS company whose target market is dads. This map example is inspired by the design thinking approach, as it includes doing and feeling which are typical elements of empathy maps.
Customer journey maps aren’t just for SaaS companies. We love this fun example of a customer journey map for a wedding. The emojis certainly help communicate a lot without being too wordy!
Now that you know how to create and use a journey map, it’s time for you to do it yourself! We’ve taken our expertise in creating customer journey maps and put together a clean, customizable template that you can use. It looks like this:
Have a complex customer experience? Try our longer form version of the template.
Need some ideas for filling out your customer journey map? We’ve got you covered.
Here are some examples:
• Persona: Ecommerce Ellie
• Bio: An Ecommerce specialist, 30 years old
• Goals: Reduce shopping cart abandonment rate
• Challenges: Finding solutions to balance various, competing goals
• Attributes: Resourceful, visual thinker
• Event: Google searches for potential solutions
• Touch point: Visits website of a potential offering
• Emotion: Curious
• Opportunities: Provide targeted homepage wording based on keyword search
• Metrics: Bounce rate
Note that there are many ways to visualize the customer journey map. If you want additional inspiration for your map, check out these other great templates: