Learning more about what your customers experience is the best way to improve your product. But you already know that 😉. In this chapter, we’ll show you how you can use customer journey maps (CJMs) to increase empathy across your organization and improve customer experiences.
In this Field Guide chapter, we’ll explain how customer journey maps can help you build a better product, walk you through exactly what you’ll need to create an effective CJM, and give you the tools and templates to get started (or take your current map up a notch).
A customer journey map is a visual representation of your customer’s experience with your company. Customer journey maps are diagrams that typically include touchpoints, customer sentiments, pain points, and actions, plotted in sequential order. But the goal of journey mapping isn’t just to create a timeline—a good customer journey map promotes empathy and provides a clear vision for improving your customer’s experience.
There are no hard and fast rules about what a customer journey map has to look like. It can be something as simple as a table, or it can be a large-scale diagram reflecting multiple user personas and customer pathways. The best customer journey map for your company is the one that helps your team align your customers’ needs—and how to exceed them.
Not a whole lot. Sometimes, user journey maps refer to specific maps UX designers make during the design process to understand potential points of friction in the customer journey. But typically, the difference is semantic: The terms “user journey map” and “customer journey map” are largely interchangeable and can depend on the context—user journey maps are typically used in UX design, while customer journey maps have more wide-reaching business applications.
These terms are also sometimes used interchangeably, but there is a real difference between the two. A customer journey map is focused on your customer’s experience with your company. It can include moments, thoughts, and decisions leading up or following that experience—but at some point in the map, the customer will interact with your company.
A customer experience map, on the other hand, is a visualization of a “typical” experience, regardless of whether or not it involves your company.
For example, a customer experience map for a language-learning app like Duolingo would show the generic experience of learning a new language, whereas a customer journey map would depict a user’s path to learning a language using the Duolingo app.
A customer journey map gives everyone on your team a single, shared source of truth to work with. A CJM can help your team see the customer journey as a whole, and understand the problems they’re trying to solve clearly and contextually.
Empathy is perhaps the biggest pro to building customer journey maps. Without empathy, it can be all too easy to forget that customers are real people with real problems. Studies have shown that people who feel empathy towards customers build more creative things. Customer journey maps make that empathy easier to come by since they give your team a window into the customers experience.
Reinforce empathy by having your team revisit your customer journey map often and at the beginning of each project. Knowing which parts of the customer journey their work will affect will give your team important context and help keep the real people on the far end of business and design decisions in sharper focus.
After creating empathy, team alignment is perhaps the second-most important reason to create a customer journey map.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision and see only what is relevant to the parts of the customer experience you work on, instead of looking at the bigger picture. A customer journey map provides a single source of truth across your company and can help your team get on the same page about what you’re building, why you’re building it, and how you’re going to get there.
“By showing how customers feel throughout their journey, customer journey maps invite stakeholders to enter the world of customers and share in their experience. In turn, stakeholders are better able to convey their story to management, fellow colleagues, and the teams who are responsible for improving the service and product experience.” - Joel Flom, Senior Manager, Product Design, Enterprise Design System at Aetna
Let's look at a sample customer journey map from UXHints to see how different teams can use CJMs:
Marketing and sales teams could use this map to identify how they can help customers learn about the different cable providers. They can use the ”thinking” portion to create new marketing campaigns or sales processes. For example, marketing could build specific awareness campaigns around pricing and features.
Product and UX teams could use this map to improve the experience throughout the customer journey. They could build an onboarding experience that helps new users through common pain points, add support for additional payment methods, or focus on improving streaming quality.
Customer service and success teams could use this map to identify pain points and places customers may need extra help. For example, they might create a way for potential customers to chat with someone about pricing during the “consideration” phase, or they may invest in a chat tool that automates certain support responses.
No customer experience is exactly the same, but customer journey maps can help us understand where the similarities (and important differences) lie.
How does the experience of a user who was invited by a friend differ from someone who found your product on Google? How do different user personas interact with your company along their journey? Are there certain moments in the journey that trip up certain customers more than others?
Customer journey maps can help you not only answer these questions, but also target different personas and solve their problems more effectively.
For example, a research team of one may be able to launch a project with User Interviews as soon as they have a research idea. A researcher at a large enterprise, on the other hand, may need to consult with additional researchers and stakeholders.They may need to use additional features—like allowing their teammates to comment on their research project draft or syncing multiple calendars to the research schedule.
Customer journey maps can help your team visualize which pain points are shared by all your customers and which ones are specific to certain personas. An understanding of which personas and customer types are most important to your business will allow you to then prioritize product and service improvements based on which ones will have the biggest impact.
If your user experience is exceptionally complicated or lengthy (and according to McKinsey, 56% of customer interactions happen during a multi-event, multi-channel journey), it can be helpful to create multiple journey maps for different personas. Alternatively, you can create a more detailed customer journey map of just one section of the experience. For example, you could create a map showing all the ways someone could convert from a visitor into a lead. This would allow you to dig into more of the nuance within that process.
Everyone has blind spots. After working on something for years, it’s very possible that you’re working off of old assumptions about what your customers want and how they interact with your product. These assumptions could be based on research you did when a project started, analytics you looked at a long time ago, or even just a gut feeling rooted in past experience.
We are, unsurprisingly, big advocates for using research to make better, data-based decisions about what to build and where to spend your team’s energy. Customer journey maps are a great way to make sense of the research you’ve done. CJMs can help you audit your current efforts and ensure they align with your customer’s current needs. They can also help work towards building the experience you want your customers to have.
Assuming you already have a product and customers, you’ll want to create a current state customer journey map to help you understand what your actual customer journey looks like, with all its flaws and areas of improvement.
From there, you can use future state mapping to get your whole team on the same page about what you want your customer journey to look like. Additional tools like service blueprinting can help you see exactly where you can improve your existing processes to better serve your customers.
Service blueprints, like the example below, show all the things that happen behind the scenes of your customer journey.
Service blueprints can be especially useful when you are trying to optimize the customer service experience, or find the best way to solve a specific pain point.
For example, in the diagram above we can see that if there were complaints about customers not receiving the promised Uber discount, the problem is likely caused by poor communication between your customer database and the 3rd party email system. This insight gives us a reliable starting point for investigating and solving a shared point of friction.
Now that we know how customer journey maps can help you build better products, let’s dive into how to actually build one!
At a high level, this process will be fairly similar regardless of which type of customer journey map you decide to create. In this next section we’ll go over how to:
First things first, you’ll need to learn how your team will actually use the customer journey map you create. Your journey map won’t be effective if your team doesn’t use it, so this is a time to understand what each team member would need to get from a journey map in order to consider it truly useful.
Your stakeholder list may change depending on your organization, how you plan to use your journey map, and the scope of your current undertaking. Stakeholders could include people from product, UX, customer support/success, sales, marketing, and data. The main goal here is to understand how journey maps would be actually useful across the team and to identify the key touchpoints you will be mapping.
We’ll talk more about the types of customer journey maps later in this chapter, but asking questions rooted in current experience is helpful regardless of whether you’re making a current or future state map. Both maps rely on having a deep understanding of your current customer’s journey right now. What’s more, people tend to bend the truth or offer a rosier view if you ask them about their future plans.
Like great interview questions, the questions you use to start conversations in your stakeholder sessions should be rooted in past experiences.
A few general questions you can ask everyone:
In some cases, stakeholders from different teams will be more equipped to answer specific questions. For example, a sales stakeholder can tell you more about the buying process than a UX one.
Here’s a few team-specific questions you can ask...
Customer service/success stakeholders:
You may have a relatively good idea of what touchpoints customers encounter as they move through your journey. Still, creating a concrete list of what those touchpoints are can help you and your team see gaps you may not have caught otherwise. Asking stakeholders to identify these before their interview gives you a good foundation of understanding and ensures you’re not taking up too much of their time.
Touchpoints are anywhere a customer might interact with your brand or product along their journey—they can include social media ads created by marketing, cold emails from sales, and tooltips from the product team. If you’re doing a customer journey map of the buying process for a SaaS product, for example, you’ll have to coordinate with a few different departments to get a full list.
You can ask about touchpoints in your stakeholder interviews, or create lists for each stakeholder or team to review. Creating a list of touchpoints takes some of the stress off of your stakeholders, allowing them to edit instead of starting from scratch. It can also help keep the focus of your interviews on digging deeper instead of running through a checklist.
For example, your list for a SaaS buyer’s journey could look something like this
Ask each department to identify which touchpoints they think are the most common or important. This will help you identify any gaps between team thinking and reality once you’ve done your research and started building your customer journey maps.
Next, you’ll want to identify the main objectives for your customer journey map. These will help you stay focused throughout the building process and serve as reminders about what you’re actually trying to achieve by customer journey mapping.
Here are some examples of objectives you could have for your customer journey mapping:
Your objectives can be more specific than the ones above—they can focus on a single team and one sliver of the customer journey—or they can be broad and encompass the bigger picture. What’s most important is that you understand concretely how this customer journey map will help your team move forward. Remember: You’re not a cartographer–the end goal here is not just to create a map, but to glean actionable insights that will help make the customer experience better.
The next step is to identify whose customer journey you’ll be mapping out. To do this, you’ll need to decide on which user personas to include. Personas are representations of key audience segments for reference.
You may already have personas you can use to create your customer journey maps. If so, fantastic! You’ll be able to choose from existing resources instead of doing persona work as a part of this process.
If you don’t have personas ready and available, you can either make your own by conducting a round of research at this stage or by using existing data to identify key or ideal users in your customer base. Creating user segments based on the data you already have available is likely the easiest route to take at this point. This data may come from past research, or from the quantitative data you collect about your users.
For example, if you’re conducting research about the buying process, you can look at what segments your current customers most often fit into. At User Interviews, we break it down by company type and job type. So a UX researcher at an enterprise company will have a different journey and goal than a product manager at a small business. Both are customers, but we can quantify how many of each of these types of people exist in our current database, which gives us a good place to start when creating our empathy maps.
Defining your personas or customer segments at this stage will also help you narrow down your participant pool for the next step: user research.
This is the fun part! 🎉.
While you’ll already have done some research at this point—you started off with stakeholder interviews, looked at known touchpoints, and dug into your data to decide on your personas—now it’s time to get serious with dedicated customer journey mapping research.
There are a few ways to do user research for customer journey maps. Choosing a method mostly boils down to how much time you have on your hands.
However you choose to create your customer journey maps, you’ll want to use a combination of qualitative and quantitative research.
If you need to create customer journey maps quickly, you can use customer data you already have, combined with some quick user interviews to learn more about the more intangible parts of the customer journey. For example, you can use analytics to identify which touchpoints a certain segment of users has come into contact with, and then combine that information with what you hear in user interviews to build a comprehensive customer journey map.
User interviews can help you answer questions like:
Want to get a seriously comprehensive view of the journey your customers take? A diary study is one of the best ways to learn. Diary studies involve following a user through a specific process and asking them to document their experience along the way. This makes it easier to understand exactly what happens at each step of the journey, instead of asking users to recall events after the fact.
Diary studies can help you:
You can answer the same questions with diary studies as with user interviews, but diary studies can help you get even more granular and contextual insights into a customer’s thoughts, feelings, and actions as they occur.
Keeping track of the customers you recruit and managing your research project can be a job in and of itself. We can help you keep track of research with your own customers for free, forever.
Now it’s time to use the insights you gained from your user research sessions to fill out some empathy maps.
To borrow a definition from Nielsen Norman Group:
An empathy map is a collaborative visualization used to articulate what we know about a particular type of user. It externalizes knowledge about users in order to 1) create a shared understanding of user needs, and 2) aid in decision making.
The goal of an empathy map is to learn more about how a certain persona experiences things—to make them a little more human instead of just a list of demographic data and job title.
For each persona or user segment, you’ll need one empathy map. So, if you’re creating customer journey maps for more than one type of user, you’ll also need to create multiple empathy maps.
Empathy maps are typically split into 4 quadrants—Says, Thinks, Does, and Feels.
The Says quadrant covers what users actually say during research. Ideally, these are direct quotes from sessions.
The Thinks quadrant includes what users are thinking during the process. What’s going on in their minds that they may not actually vocalize? What matters to them? Keep in mind that there may be some overlap between the Thinks and Says quadrants.
The Does quadrant includes the actual things the user does. What physical or mental actions do they take?
The Feels quadrant shows the user’s emotional state. Think about what worries or excites the user. What emotions guide this process for them?
Here are some examples of how you can fill out each of the quadrants, again from NN/g:
You may already have qualitative information about your personas to help you build this empathy map. If you don’t, it’s time for some user interviews. You can keep these short and sweet—oftentimes just 5 interviews with each persona or user segment can help you get the insight you need!
Once you have your research results in hand, you can start empathy mapping. This process is best done with a few people, to avoid unconscious bias. Start by reading through each of the interviews and tagging specific moments or insights. Then, each person on your team can start building an empathy map of what they think this persona says, thinks, feels, and does. When that’s done, you can get together as a group and put everything together into one final empathy map.
At this point, you have enough information to make a rough sketch of your customer journey map. Doing this now will help you build a more complete final map and focus your user research on the areas where it will make the greatest impact. Nobody gets it right the first time, especially with something this complex, so this step serves as an audit of your process so far, and helps direct the final steps.
This version of your customer journey map doesn’t have to be very detailed—it just needs to give you a good idea of what you’re working with. A rough draft also helps highlight areas where you may be filling in information based on what you think vs. what you know from research.
This is an example of a pretty simple customer journey map. It includes touchpoints, actions, and a small description of the customer. Your sketched map could look like this, or you could pare it down further to a simple grid. Tools like Miro, Lucidchart, or even PowerPoint/Google Slides can help you create an effective V.1 customer journey map with minimal effort.
Once you have your sketched map, think about the touchpoint lists you put together. Are there important touchpoints missing from your map? Are there touchpoints there that shouldn’t be? These questions will help you identify things to look for in your user research.
You can also ask questions at this stage about the steps on your map. Is there anything that happens in between steps? Is it helpful to get more granular or should you zoom out a bit? Look back at your initial brainstorming notes. Is there anything people identified as important that this version of your map doesn’t cover?
Take note of opportunities for improvement. If there are things you’re not sure about, you’ll be able to validate them in the next step.
Depending on what you want to accomplish, there are a few different types of customer journey maps you can choose from to get the job done.
Current state customer journey maps are fact-based maps that show what your customer’s journey looks like today. This is the most common type of customer journey map. Current state maps help your team identify, document, and think of ways to fix customer’s current problems.
Choose a current state customer journey map when you need to…
Here’s an example of a real-life current state journey map, from USA.gov.
This journey map follows the customer journey in detail, which gives the teams using it specific opportunities to improve. It also shows stakeholders exactly how the current product is not meeting customer’s needs, which can help the product team make a case for improvements.
Future state customer journey maps visualize what an ideal future customer journey would look like. These maps help your team align around a shared vision of what your product or service can and should be.
It is generally helpful to start by creating a current state map, since much of the same data goes into a future state map. For the latter, however, data is just the foundation—future state maps involve a lot more creativity and hypothesizing about what your team wants the customer journey to be, rather than reporting on what things look like today.
Choose a future state customer journey map when you need to…
Here’s an example of a future state customer journey map from Bright Vessel.
This map envisions what a future customer journey could look like. It includes everything a current state map might have—like thoughts, feelings, and actions—but these are hypothetical, rather than reported. Note: Your future state map doesn’t have to be this detailed.
A day in the life customer journey map follows someone through their entire day. It documents everything they do—from their morning coffee to their dinner plans—regardless of whether or not those things are related to your product. Day in the life maps are different from current or future state customer journey maps in that their scope is not limited to touchpoints with your company.
Choose a day in the life customer journey map when you need to…
Here’s an example of a day in the life customer journey map, from Treasure Data.
This day in the life customer journey map follows a frequent business traveler through a travel day. It shows the opportunities a product or service may have to improve his experience at the airport and throughout his routine.
A service blueprint is a useful companion to a classic customer journey mapping project. Service blueprints outline all the little things that make a successful customer journey happen.
From Nielsen Norman Group:
Blueprinting is an ideal approach to experiences that are omnichannel, involve multiple touchpoints, or require a cross-functional effort (that is, coordination of multiple departments).
Choose a service blueprint when you need to…
Here’s an example of a service blueprint from Nielsen Norman Group.
This service blueprint shows all of the actions that take place behind the scenes to make an appliance retailer’s customer journey happen. Identifying active frontstage employee actions and backstage processes can help the product team make decisions about what levers they can pull to improve the customer experience.
You’re in the final stretch now! It’s time to assemble your tools. There are tons of different customer journey mapping tools out there—just choose the one you find easiest to use. That may sound simplistic, but customer journey maps can be a whole lot of work already.And remember: the point of journey mapping is to gain a shared, accurate understanding of your customer’s experience, not create a work of art. If you’re not design savvy, focus on substance over style.
Paper: Remember paper? Turns out it’s a crazy useful tool for getting your ideas down. That includes creating customer journey maps. You can print out this template from Nielsen Norman Group to get started.
PowerPoint/Google Slides: Slides are a great way to create customer journey maps without venturing into unfamiliar design tool territory. You can easily create shapes and add text where you need it on a slide, without any graphic design skills. This template from Kerry Bodine is a great resource for PowerPoint fans, while this one from YouExec is perfect for Google Slides users. Either will help you create something dynamic and interesting without too much design work.
Miro: You may not have used Miro before, but it’s simple enough for most people to catch on pretty quickly! Plus, they have tons of customer journey map templates, so you won’t have to start from scratch. You can use their own, or borrow from research practitioners like Alex Gilev and the team at Atlassian. Miro offers a free tier with 3 editable boards, which should be enough to create your first journey map!
LucidChart: LucidChart is very similar to Miro. It’s simple enough that most people can learn it quickly, and offers a free tier that allows you to create 3 editable charts. Their templates cover basic customer journey mapping and service blueprints, along with more in-depth journey maps.
Sketch: Sketch is not a free tool, but your team may already be using it to create prototypes and designs. If so, you can also create your customer journey maps in this powerful vector-based design tool. There are journey map templates to help you get started with current state customer journey maps, empathy maps, and more.
AdobeXD: If you’re a UX designer, you may already be working in AdobeXD. It has a starter version that’s free to use, but you’ll need to upgrade for the more robust features. There are a few templates to help AdobeXD users create customer journey maps, like this one from Bometon Lucas.
Figma: Figma is a popular design tool with a powerful free version. If you have some design chops but aren’t a full-time designer, Figma may be the easiest design tool to use. They’ve created a useful customer journey map template that you can adapt to your needs. Members of the community have also created templates, like this one from Detour and this exceptionally detailed one from Theorem.
AxureRP: AxureRP is the most traditional prototyping tool on this list. If you’re already using Axure for prototyping and wireframes, it may be a great tool for your customer journey mapping. There’s no free version, so Axure is best for teams that already pay for it. Check out this template from HaloUX to start building a customer journey map in Axure.
UXPressia: UXPressia is all about customer journey maps. You can build one for free, then upgrade to the paid plan if you’re a real customer journey map machine. UXPressia is all about customer journey mapping, the software is easy to use for this purpose. And there are a lot of templates to choose from—check out their huge library of templates here.
FlowMapp: FlowMapp is also built specifically for customer journey mapping. Their free plan gives you access to one map, and you can upgrade if you need more. Like UXPressia, they have an easy-to-use interface and templates to help you get started.
Again, the right tool for you will be the one you find easiest to use without sacrificing too much detail. If you’re a designer, the prototyping tools may be right in your wheelhouse, but if you’re in marketing something simpler might be more comfortable and therefore more efficient.
This step is actually the simplest of them all, since you’re really just putting all your carefully prepared ingredients together.
Start by looking at the sketch you made of your customer journey. Did you properly fill in all the holes you wanted to with your research? Is there anything left to examine? Do you need any more information to make a complete map?
If the answer to all of those questions is ‘no’, you can move on to your brainstorming session notes. Have all of the objectives of your customer journey map been met? Is the final product going to be something usable for your team members and stakeholders?
Once you’ve answered those questions affirmatively, it’s time to put pen to paper (or more likely, mouse to screen). It’s time to actually create your customer journey map.
You can start from scratch and build something completely unique, but you don’t have to. There are tons of amazing customer journey map templates that can help you get moving faster and spend more time ensuring your customer journey map is accurate, rather than worrying about the design itself.
Finally, walk through your finished customer journey with your team to make sure it’s clear, accurate, and useful.
Creating a customer journey map involves lots of collaboration, research, organization, and time. Why reinvent the wheel while you’re at it? We put together 31 customer journey templates and examples to help you create beautiful, effective journey maps faster and easier.
Here are just a few from the list:
Let’s take a minute to review what you’ll need to do to create a fantastic customer journey map:
Creating a customer journey map doesn’t have to be difficult, but it likely will take you some time. Making a checklist can help you get organized.
There you have it! A comprehensive guide to creating your very own customer journey map to build empathy, increase stakeholder engagement, and create a shared source of truth.
Next up, we discover the tools you need for a superpowered research stack. We dig in to each tool’s pros and cons and show you how to pick the ones that will work best for your team.