Henry Kogan
Henry Kogan 23 August 2016

How to Map Your Customer's Journey

Do you think about your customers on an intimate level? How important is their satisfaction? Do you lose sleep at night if a customer insults your organization on Twitter?

According to a Gartner survey, 89% of companies plan to compete based on customer experiences. But planning doesn’t always equate to a resolution. We’ve all seen the customer experience disasters. There was a time when shopping at Walmart was a test of one’s stamina. For the physically challenged, it was impossible to navigate through the many miles of the store without getting tired. It took years before Walmart started providing motorized scooters in their warehouses. Now people of all shapes and sizes can enjoy the Walmart experience.

If you are not meeting revenue targets or your company is continuously getting insulted on social media, it’s time to start thinking about customer experience.  Steve Jobs once famously said, "You start with the customer experience and work backward to the technology."

Jobs wanted to walk in his customer’s shoes full-time, before they even had the product in their hands. He liked to think about what the customer did on a day-to-day basis and figure out their needs for the future: based on trends in society and the world. How did he do this? Simple. He created a Customer Journey Map. He might have called his analysis a different name and it might have been in his head. But the theory, design and results are the same – he was able to understand the journey Apple’s customers took to purchase the company’s products.   

In this article we’ll explain how to create your very own customer journey map. We'll discuss the benefits of documenting the customer experience as well as list some traps to avoid. In the second installment of this series we'll demonstrate how to use a journey map to optimize the content on your website.

First things first, let’s define what a journey map is and how it can help your business.

An Introduction to Journey Mapping

According to analyst firm Walker, "A journey map is a tool used to help [corporations] see what their customers truly want – the real moment of truth and the ways in which customers go about achieving their needs."

Journey maps have been around for more than a decade and have been popular in various contexts for motivating both startups and mature companies to resolve conflict, anticipate customer needs and stay competitive. They are excellent tools in fostering collaboration among silos in the organization that don’t communicate on a regular basis. Journey maps also reduce complexity and make all aspects of the customer experience accessible.

The important distinction in Walker’s definition is to notice that needs are objective and can be determined through a detailed process of interviewing. Often times customers can’t clearly articulate their desires until you ask the right questions.  

There are multiple ways of creating a customer experience journey map. Key points to take away from the process are:

  • You want a complete picture of your customer’s journey.
  • You want to invoke the viewpoint of the customer.
  • You want to target your customer touchpoints
  • You want to identify and focus on areas for improvement.

When completed, a journey map looks like a timeline. It gives you the ability to see your customer’s journey before your eyes (ideally on a wall or whiteboard). In one place, you can gather executives from various parts of the organization and all of you can see the steps of your customer’s journey before and after they have selected your product or service. 

Walker Customer Journey Roadmap

Here’s what a real life journey map looks. In one place, you can see what your customer is thinking, feel and doing across every step of their journey with your brand, products or services. Image Credit: Walker

How to Build Your Customer Journey Map

A timeline of your customer’s journey begins by understanding the personas associated with your product or service. Who are they? What do they do? Are they lawyers, doctors, homemakers, athletes, students, senior citizens?  Are they wealthy or middle class?

After you have defined the demographic of your customers, you interview them and ask questions related to their journey as a customer. Next you can map their decisions, actions and emotions – all the way through purchase and implementation to the point of renewal and retirement. Finally, you analyze gaps in the customer journey and create an action plan to improve their experience.

The journey map can be broken into several steps.

Phase 1: Data Collection

In this phase you identify the sample size you want to collect. Do you know who is buying your product or service? This will depend on the industry as well as the region and product. One must also analyze trends and conduct an internal assessment of who you want to target as well as determine an appropriate number of individuals. If you are a large organization, meeting with a data scientist to map an appropriate sample size might be a good idea.

Phase 2: Interview Customers

After you have identified the customers who you want to target, the interview process begins. It’s important to have a set of questions in advance. You must do industry research and understand what your customer is doing, when they are doing it and why.

Here are some basic questions you can ask your customer:

  1. When did you realize you needed our product?
  2. How do you learn about the product?
  3. What makes you choose our product in particular?
  4. Where do you go to buy our product? How do you buy it? Is it through ecommerce or brick and mortar?
  5. How is your experience using our product?
  6. How long do you plan to use our product?
  7. How would you go about recommending the product?
  8. If you are not satisfied with the product, how would you voice your dissatisfaction?

While asking these questions above, it’s very important to hit as many touch points as possible. You can incorporate very specific factors – such as what the customer is thinking, doing and feeling. Touch points will vary based on the product. For example, if you are selling food, don’t forget to include tasting.

Now, if you’re having trouble getting access to customers to interview, we recommend you keep working to arrange them. Nothing ensures an effective journey map more than quality interviews. That said, if you simply cannot secure interviews, there is still value in mapping out your customer’s journey without them. But remember, Steve Jobs’ approach is unique and for all of us – we believe even Jobs – there’s no substitute for direct customer feedback.

Ok, now back to our journey map.

Phase 3: Mapping

Now comes the fun part! You get to populate your journey map. If you have successfully completed your interviews, you will have plenty of data points to map to a timeline of the customer journey. How you structure your timeline will vary depending on what kind of product or service you sell.

Here’s a framework for a customer journey timeline:

Because the timeline is based on customers’ actions it’s best to populate this table based on the results of your interviews. Eliminate any guesswork. If you have many different customers, your timeline will be more expansive vertically.  

There are multiple recommendations on how to break up customers’ feedback on a journey map. For a smaller organization one may consolidate all customers’ responses into one timeline and have all their feedback expressed collectively in the three rows, as shown above.

However, if the organization is very large and receives significant revenue from various customer groups, it’s best to build multiple timelines, each one highlighting specific pain points for each customer group. This makes sense if your corporation has several lines of business with many different products. Understanding customer experience is not always a one map fits all approach. A good example might be an insurance conglomerate that serves both individuals and organizations. In this manner you can determine if certain customers need to be targeted with more emphasis.

Phase 4: Pinpointing the Gaps

Every time a customer is having a negative experience in any part of the journey, it is imperative to notate, highlight and identify this experience. This can be done by marking the area in a certain color (ie. red) or even having a special symbol for a bad experience.

Negative experiences can happen in any part of the journey. A customer may have a poor time researching the product, a terrible e-commerce experience on your website, miserable communication with sales reps, unreasonable hold times with customer service. Or even worse, the product is not satisfactory and the customer returns it.

Phase 5: Fixing the Gaps

Once negative experiences have been identified, you have the ability to create an action plan to fix them. For each gap identified it’s good to identify a target future state. For example, if customers’ online checkout process is now taking 6 steps, set a target measurement that is considered successful. This can be done by researching various KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) in the industry. A great tool is APQC

An action plan should demonstrate the customer journey from current state to future state. So, if you want to reduce checkout to 4 steps, what actions are needed to achieve this future state?  For each pain point you can create a simple 3-column table to document the transition. As a caveat, this table is only a starting point and the middle column should be expanded into a detailed project plan to include stakeholders, milestones and co-dependencies. It is imperative to have all key individuals involved in creating an action plan. 

Journey Mapping Cap Analysis

If you want your journey map to create value for your organization, you need to plan effectively. It can’t be a rushed job and it can’t be done without proper consideration of all elements. Here are some common pitfalls:

  • Lack of Scope: Not interviewing enough customers or users.
  • No qualitative research: Focusing too much on numbers and not enough on emotional touchpoints.
  • No executive sponsor: Senior management does not believe in the effort and is not willing to participate and initiate change once analysis is finished. It’s important to pitch the journey map project effectively from the very start. Highlight the benefits of this process and really sell the time investment of this effort.   


While mapping your customer journey it’s important to bring in your customer’s voice. There are many places to gather data besides interviews. Sometimes you have to think outside the box. If you receive a lot product feedback from call centers, go ahead and use that customer input. Maybe you get feedback from Twitter and Facebook. It’s important to identify where your customers are interacting with your business so you can take advantage of all available data. That said, we strongly recommend conducting interviews with a sizable sample of customers.

And don’t forget to refresh the journey map every year. Don’t let it go stale!.

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