journey map visualizing a creative process

10 tips on how to create a customer journey map that provides real insights

September 8, 2020

At the first glimpse, creating a customer journey map seems to be an intuitive thing. You’re working on projects related to customer experience every day and have a clear gut feeling about the customer journey anyway. So all you need to do is to use that paper template and some sticky notes to bring your thoughts on paper, right? Well... No. 

It’s true that creating a rough journey map – we call it a ‘shitty first draft’ – is no rocket science. However, that’s the beginning of the process, not the end! How do you create journey maps that really deliver valuable insights instead of only being the next fancy but useless tool that hangs around in the office, ignored by everybody?

This article helps you create customer journey maps that really do their job and help uncover pain points and improve experiences. It helps advanced journey mappers optimize their maps, but also serves newbies as some inspiration.

1. Stick to the basic methodology

There is a methodological background of journey mapping that will help you focus on the right aspects and not get lost in irrelevant details. These ways of working have been applied by practitioners for many years and proved to be helpful to many teams. Sticking to them will guide you through the process of creating a journey map.

Here’s a little reminder on the basics.

Main actor

Journey maps always have a main actor, which is often illustrated by a persona. Even though personas are fictional, they help make groups of people with similar behavior patterns or needs more understandable.

persona editor in smaply
This is an example of what a persona can look like, it can contain various attributes.

Current state vs future state

Current-state journey maps are mostly used to find gaps in an existing experience and identify opportunities to improve services and physical or digital products. Future-state journey maps help people to imagine, understand, and even experiment with the potential experience and context of use.


A product-centered journey map contains only steps representing an interaction between a customer with a service, physical or digital product, or a brand. These journey maps leave out all steps outside the reach of a company. Experience-centered journey maps reflect the situational context and show how touchpoints are embedded in the overall experience. An experience-centered journey map can lead to better insights into what people really want to achieve and not only how they interact with a company.

Assumption-based vs research-based

The reliability of a journey map depends on the data used to create it. Make sure to share with your audience whether the journey map they are looking at is based on assumptions or on research data.

Scope and scale

Select the time frame: Where do you start? Where do you end? What should you focus on? Which “zoom level” should your map have? High-level journey maps are useful to get a rough overview at the beginning, detailed journey maps help work on a specific idea or a challenge.


Journey maps can be enhanced by a variety of lanes. These lanes are just some examples without any claim to comprehensiveness. Which ones are useful depends on the subject matter of the project and often lanes must be altered to serve the project’s purpose.

For a more detailed guide on how to create your very first journey map, check out our article about how to create and analyze customer journey maps.

2. Combine insights from the emotional journey with a dramatic arc

Emotional journeys represent a persona’s level of satisfaction at each step. The higher the value, the higher the satisfaction.

A dramatic arc is a graph showing the level of a persona's engagement at each step. There are moments of “thrill” (i.e. high engagement) and moments of chill (i.e. low engagement). Both moments of high and low engagement can be positive or negative. For example, a high value on the dramatic arc on a rollercoaster is a must-have, however at a hospital most of the time it’s better to have people calm and relaxed.

Together with the emotional journey, a dramatic arc will indicate what the most essential pain points are: Those with a high value on the dramatic arc (high engagement) and with a negative value on the emotional journey (very unsatisfied) are the experiences you should fix first. Check out other helpful customer journey map examples here.

Combination of dramatic arc and emotional journey. In this case, the third step of the emotional journey shows a very low satisfaction and a very high engagement. This means this step should be analyzed and improved first!

3. Add multiple personas to one journey map

Even though you have picked one main actor, you should not entirely forget about other personas.

Link to basics of personas article: You will learn what personas are, why you need them, how to research, define and create them and some templates and a cheat sheet.
Check out this article if you want to learn more about personas!

By adding multiple personas to your customer journey map you can find out how they differ in the usage of your offer, of different channels. For example, you can compare how various target groups differ in their experience with your services.

Another example is comparing customer experience and employee experience on one map. Understanding how they interact, how they influence each other, and at what points they align and diverge can help you come up with ideas for improvement.

If you want to dig deeper into this topic, check out this article about multiple personas on one journey map.

Multiple personas on a journey map

4. Consider backstage activities that influence the customer journey

A customer journey map is always based on the customer’s experience. However, that does not mean you should not consider backstage processes that influence the journey!

A backstage lane shows internal activities that usually are not visible to the user. These internal activities are however crucial in delivering the product or service. They also illustrate the resources an organization needs to invest in to maintain a certain quality of service.

For example, a customer is calling an organization’s service center. The customer might only experience personal interaction with the agent, and how well a problem is solved. The organization, however, will have several other steps while they handle the call. Steps like: the digital client database, the logistics department, an external transport supplier, and so forth.

A backstage lane. Check out the Smaply demo project to see the entire example journey map.

5. Make it visual

Humans are brilliant at understanding and empathizing with images – make use of that! Add a storyboard to your journey map to help your team or client get the point within seconds and make understanding and navigation easier.

Add photos of your research, screenshots of what your customers see on your website, diagrams, charts, or take ready-made illustrations to underline the experience. Add sketches if you don’t have proper image material. Add wireframes if you’d like to show resources that do not exist yet. Use symbols and emojis to visualize emotions, channels, and processes. Use colors to highlight important steps or important insights.

You see there are many possibilities to make a journey map a visually appealing source of insights. However, make sure to use these options carefully and never exaggerate: you know those charts with circles and stuff. Don’t add too complex images to avoid distracting from the main purpose of the map: Slipping into your customer’s shoes!

6. Invite others to contribute and give feedback

Don’t be the lone wolf working on that journey map!

First of all, do your research. Your customers, users, citizens, patients, clients can help you at every step of your project, contribute their knowledge, and share their perspective. Also, invite your immediate team to give feedback on your journey map. Additionally, your broader team or employees are a source of high-quality insights. Ask the customer service team and sales representatives for their knowledge, ask IT and legal why specific processes are as they are and if you can change them to make your customers’ life easier.

Here we also need to loop back to the first point of our list: As soon as you start working with others, you will need a structure that’s easy to grasp for everybody. The more flexibility you want, the more structure you need. Make sure everybody is familiar with the structure of your journey map. Sticking to one basic structure, or one tool, will help contributors understand the journey map easier and save them a lot of time when it comes to interpreting contents. Journey maps should be boundary objects and sticking to one methodology makes collaboration easier.

7. Zoom in and out, connect projects

For your initial journey map, you’ve decided about a specific zoom level. You might find out that sticking to it will prevent you from visualizing some details. For example, if you have a high-level journey “Airport experience”, you will probably not have a step “Ticks a checkbox to unsubscribe from the newsletter” in there. You will need a zoom-in map for more specific experiences, in this example for the booking process. Hence, it’s time to create a zoom-in map.

As soon as you have multiple journey maps, you should connect them to contextualize each journey. That’s easier when using a digital tool: build a clear hierarchy of journey maps. This will also lead you in creating a data repository so you can re-use data across different projects.

A journey map hierarchy: a high-level journey shows the big picture, whilst detailed journeys show the experiences of very specific moments.

8. Standardize and customize

Many people think there is a trade-off between a journey map being complete and insightful for themselves, or condensed and insightful for other groups of stakeholders.

No, it’s not a trade-off.

Make your journey map complete, add as much knowledge as you can. If you then want to present the journey map, just hide some of the detail levels you think they don’t need. Zoom in maps are useful to present all detailed information on a micro level and align this to the relevant audience, without overloading on a high-level map.

This way you can make custom journey maps, custom exports, without the need of deleting data from it, hence customize your journey maps and tailor them to your audience.

9. Create journey maps for a long-term usage

An insightful journey map won't make itself, it requires reliable data and regular maintenance to back it up. Don’t take journey maps as deliverables that you create once and then throw them to the bin. Iterate on them, make them a living document!

Identify the most crucial pain points, design improvements, fix them, and repeat. Make use of journey maps you’ve created earlier to feed into the journey map you’re currently working on. Make use of your journey map repository and build future projects upon your insights from other projects.

The more knowledge you can build upon from other projects, other journey maps, the easier and more insightful future journey maps will be.

10. Be clear about the advantages of analog vs. digital maps

Depending on your challenge you will need to decide if a pen-and-paper journey map or a digitized map will help you meet your goals.

person writing and drawing on journey map template
Is a digital or analog journey map serving your goal better?

Pen-and-paper journey maps will be useful if you plan to conduct a workshop: several people in one room, for a specific time period. Usually, these workshops are useful to

  • Kick off a journey mapping project
  • Create a first, rough overview of the challenge
  • Bring workshop participants on the same page

Afterward, it will come to condensing the findings and make the journey map accessible to view and optimize for everybody, independent of date and time. This is the point where a digital tool will help you to:

  • Give the journey map a structure everybody knows and understands.
  • Save the insights, instead of having sticky notes floating around and getting lost.
  • Let people contribute and collaborate, unlimited by their place and time
  • Speed up your work, create and change journey maps faster
  • Build a proper journey map repository
  • Make the journey map a living document which is not bound to workshops that can only happen every now and then

Wrapping it up

Creating the first draft of a customer journey map is easy, but to make it insightful and sustainable takes work, it’s important to not only stick with your intuition but follow some guidelines. Never forget: to do your research, include others, and visualize it in a way that is easy to grasp irrespective of the background of the audience. There is not a ‘one size fits all’ of a journey map and you will always need to adapt it to your project, and to your aim. Crucially, it’s important to see journey maps not as a deliverable, but rather as a living document that should grow and become more and more a hub for your work on customer experience projects.

Create your own journey map with Smaply