people collaboratively working on a pen and paper journey map with colorful post its

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

January 21, 2022

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 just 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 to create customer journey maps that really do their job, uncover pain points, and help to 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 have proven to be helpful to many teams. Sticking to them will guide you through the process of creating a journey map.

These are the basic guidelines:

Main actor

Journey maps always have a main actor, which is illustrated by a persona. Even though personas are fictional, they can make groups of people with similar behavior patterns or needs more understandable and relatable. It’s much easier to empathize with a persona that has a name and characteristics, than with an abstract group of people.

persona editor in smaply
This is an example of what a persona can look like, it can contain various attributes such as expectations, communication channels, a quote, jobs to be done and similar. Whatever is relevant when making a buying decision you should put in your persona.

Current state vs future state

Current-state journey maps are mostly used to find gaps in an existing experience. They are made to identify opportunities and improve services and physical or digital products.

Future-state journey maps help people to imagine, understand, and even experiment with the potential experience, situation, and context of use.


A product-centered journey map contains only steps representing an interaction between a customer with a service, a 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 first assumptions, or on proper 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 are needed when you are working on a specific idea or challenge.


Journey maps can be enhanced by a variety of lanes. These lanes are just some examples without any claim to completeness. Which ones are useful depends on the subject matter of the project. 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 this article about how to create and analyze customer journey maps.

2. Consider backstage activities that have impact on the customer journey

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

A backstage lane shows internal activities that are mostly invisible 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.

Let's take an example from digital customer service: 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.

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.

People have vastly different feelings when experiencing certain situations. Therefore, it is essential to create research-based personas, so you can comprehend the emotions of a persona in a specific situation. In the following image you can see the differing emotions that were triggered by the same experience, clearly attributable to the differences in perceiving a situation. When relating them to each other you find how you could improve your product.

Furthermore, it’s often valuable to compare 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.

visualization of multiple personas on one emotional journey to compare their experiences.

If you want to dig deeper into this topic, check out this webinar about personas on journey maps.

4. Add as many artifacts to your journey as possible

Make your journey map a living boundary object with relevant information for as many different people/departments as possible. Add interview recordings or videos of your interviews or any other visual or audio documentation, it will make the journey a hub for your CX insights.

5. Include planned or ongoing projects that impact the CX in your journey map

This helps you to keep track of the projects that are connected to managing the overall customer experience in an organization. The steps that are connected to a planned or ongoing project should hold the information to such, as it is important to keep an overview of the various projects going on.

6. 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. 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 more detailed map for these 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. In this case a digital tool has many advantages: 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.

7. Invite others to contribute and give feedback

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

First, 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. The members of your broader team are a source of high-quality insights. Ask the customer service team and sales representatives about their opinion, talk to the IT and legal department, and inquire about the need of specific processes. Maybe they can be adapted 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 how the journey map is built. Sticking to one tool will help contributors understand the journey map and save time when interpreting contents. Journey maps should be living boundary objects.

8. 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 digital map will help you meet your goals.

Pen-and-paper journey maps are great when you 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 participants on the same page

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

Afterwards, it will come to condensing the findings and make the journey map accessible to everybody. 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, not limited 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

9. Create journey maps for long-term usage

An insightful journey map requires reliable data and regular maintenance. 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. Standardize and customize

Many people think there is a trade-off between a journey map being 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 that aren’t valuable to them. Detailed maps are useful to present 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.

11. Use the details of a step to present a journey

When you try to create empathy with your persona while walking people through a map, then try to paint a picture. Stress the details of the step and tell a story, this helps people to keep their focus.

12. Make your journey visually appealing

As this is just too big of a topic to make it one point in this listicle, we figured it would make sense to collect all the different ways to make a journey map visually appealing and collected them in this short article! Check it out.

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 goal. Concluding, it’s important to see journey maps not as a deliverable, but rather as a living document that should grow. Ideally it becomes a hub for your work on customer experience projects and an overview of all your CX insights for the whole organization.

And now?

Now it's about implementing what you've just learned: Create insightful journey maps to understand the customer experience and innovate your services.

The journey mapping tool Smaply lets you easily create useful journey maps, personas, and ecosystem maps.

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