taking a photo of a journey map with a smartphone

The basics of customer and user journey maps

January 28, 2020

We explain what customer journey mapping is, why it is important and how you can use it for your own needs. We also offer some customer journey map examples that you can use as inspiration towards the end of this article.

Lets get started right away: In this video we’re going to talk about what a journey map is, how it can be used in your organization and what value it provides:

If you are looking for more detailed information, take a look at the rest of this article. Here we will provide you with the most important information about journey maps and how to work with them. We will cover the following questions:

What is a customer journey map?

Journey maps visualize the experiences a customer (or user, or employee, citizen etc.) has over a certain time. Like a movie tells a story of an actor as a sequence of scenes, a journey map visualizes your persona’s experiences as a sequence of steps. A persona represents a certain customer group of your company. As a brand (or company, employer etc.) you can use this user journey to empathize with every step of your customers and improve their experiences with your service or product.
While we refer to it as customer journey mapping, a map does not necessarily focus on a customer’s experience. It can also be used to focus on a user’s, employee’s, or citizen’s experience, for example.

What is customer journey mapping?

Customer journey mapping makes intangible customer experiences visible and facilitates a common and empathic understanding between all team members. It includes experiences and interactions beyond the reach of an organization, puts the customer perspective at the center and connects it to the organization’s view.
Shortly summarized: Journey maps help to understand the customer perspective, find and communicate customer experience gaps and explore potential solutions. They focus on concrete use cases (jobs-to-be-done) of certain customer groups (personas).

Journey map example showing a persona's experience at the airport
Journey maps create empathy with your customer. They help you slip in your customers’ shoes.

When working with journey maps it is important to know that they can vary depending on their goal, context, detail, etc.
Anyways, a classic structure of journey maps may look like the following:

  • stages
  • steps / titles
  • storyboard with photos and other images
  • texts and descriptions
  • channels of communication
  • emotional values
  • dramatic arc

Tip for starters: We also created a cheat sheet about journey mapping you can put on your desk as a reminder

Why is customer journey mapping important?

Reasons to start journey mapping

Customer journey maps help you to improve your business by better understanding your customers’ perspective.

Possible reasons to start mapping your customers experience could be:

  • to improve the status quo
  • to identify and understand the reasons for pain points that pop up
  • to understand the reasons for declining satisfaction scores or other KPIs
  • to put the focus on customers instead of processes

The process of journey mapping can help you develop a competitive advantage and increase your revenue. Customers influence each other and trust recommendations from friends and family more than direct communication from companies. By satisfying your existing customers you can encourage them to share their positive experiences. In the end, people are willing to pay more for a good customer service and a satisfying experience. Once you have tracked the pain points, potential room for innovation may be unveiled.

This slidedeck about journey maps might help you out with arguments if you want to convince your team that you really should start journey mapping.

Benefits of customer journey mapping

Customer journey maps can help you illustrate the overall experience a customer has with a service, a physical or digital product or even a brand.

Example: An overall experience could be something like:
Recognizing a need > Searching for a specific service > Booking and paying for it > Using the service > Maybe complaining if something goes wrong > Perhaps just using the service again.

A journey map can help you and your team in different ways when it comes to improving and optimizing your customer experience.

The benefits of customer journey mapping at a glance:

  • Zoom out and evaluate from different perspectives
  • Understand the context
  • Identify moments of opportunity and intervention
  • Co-create new solutions
  • Create a common understanding
icons of four personas and a building as a symbol for providing value to customers
Customer journeys help you understand your customer’s perspective and therefore provide you with valuable insights.

So what exactly do we mean with that?

First, journey mapping can help you zoom out. It helps you get outside of your organization’s perspective and look at your organization or product from multiple points of view. You can create a journey map from the perspective of your customers, employees or external stakeholders. Regardless of the perspective, taking a moment to zoom out can help you actually understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

⇨ Tip for starters: As a little hint, you can start with a high-level journey map illustrating the end to end customer experience. From there identify problems and opportunities and create detailed journey maps for each of these.

Secondly, journey maps help you understand why. Often organizations know when something is going on through metrics. However they have a hard time figuring out why. Journey mapping helps us get at the why. Take a scenario where a company has been experiencing a significant drop off in the number of customers. Journey mapping the customer experience can help a team understand the small and big moments that influence the experience and can help get at the nature of the problem. Perhaps it’s something connected to the user interface or to the support staff? In any case, journey mapping can help you identify and communicate these problems.

Third, it’s not just about identifying the problem, but identifying moments of opportunity and intervention. For example with a current state journey map you can discover and communicate aspects that might be going wrong in a customer experience. That being said, it can also help you discover larger market opportunities.

Fourth, it can help you to co-create new solutions. With a future state journey map you can illustrate new ideas and concepts and then communicate them or test them with others.

Fifth, journey maps help bring teams and organizations together around a problem and create a common understanding. A journey map can align different departments or perspectives within a company or even across organizations as they help give common focus to a challenge or problem. It might help to create a universal goal for all departments, so every employee can grasp the overall aim and work towards it.

Backing up a journey map with additional data and research findings makes it trustworthy and easier to base decisions on the insights. Find more information on how to research your customers’ experience on our blog.

How do you do customer journey mapping?

Now that we’ve talked about what customer journey mapping is, we will continue with  a step by step explanation on how to create a customer journey map.

Journey map template with post-its that have drawings or text on them
Starting out with a pen and paper workshop gives you and your peers a feeling for the methodology. Including customers can also be a great way of getting insights.

Visualizing a complex thing like a customer’s experience is challenging. Many people feel lost when they need to make a decision on how to illustrate important moments of the customer journey.
However: it’s much easier than you’d expect if you know how to get started.

As a first step it’s always good to start with a pen and paper workshop. If you can, include your customers or multiple departments in these workshops. If you like, we have workshop templates for journey maps on our website for free.

In general in a journey mapping process the teams need to go through the following tasks step-by-step:

  1. Choose a scope of the journey map
  2. Choose a persona to focus on
  3. Define the single steps your persona takes
  4. Add lanes to illustrate more details

Tip for starters: However, after working with pen and paper, the results are forgotten or neglected way too often – for the simple reason that it is too difficult to visualize them and no changes can be made afterwards. A digital journey mapping tool increases the ease of use and flexibility of your journey map: Changes can be made at anytime and by everyone (even when working remote). This way teams can collaborate in a digital environment and have presentable exports within few minutes.

Step by step: How to create a customer journey map

Find the most important steps and relevant examples for creating a customer journey map summarized in the following video:

1. Choose a scope

Journey maps can have various scales and scopes from a high level map showing an end to end experience to a more detailed map focusing on one step of a higher level journey to very detailed step by step descriptions of microinteractions.

So as a first step you have to decide how far you want to zoom in or out of the experience you are illustrating.

Tip for starters: Frequently people are insecure about how detailed a journey map should be, how many steps it should include, or if they should rather start on a high level or a more zoom-in level. We suggest to start with a high level journey map to get an overview on the entire journey. Afterwards you can create zoom-in journey maps for single steps, i.e., create a detailed journey map for single steps. For example: What happens in the step ‘xy’? How does the persona actually get there?

2. Choose a persona

In the second step you have to choose a persona for your journey. A journey map always focuses on the experience of one main actor such as a group of customers or employees. Some journey maps also combine various perspectives into one map, for example comparing different customer groups or comparing customer experiences with those of employees at the same moment of the service.

At any rate, to get started, choose a persona that you want to understand. Start by clearly defining who your persona is, what her expectations and needs are. That might strongly influence how to interpret the journey maps that you are creating.

person holding a persona template with text and a sketch on it
Take your time to choose and define a good persona that you want to understand. The persona has a strong influence on the overall outcome.

3. Define steps

Every journey map consists of various steps. A step is like the title of an experience the main actor or persona has. Such as the interaction with another person, a machine or a digital interface. But steps can also be activities such as walking or waiting. The level of detail of each step depends on the overall scale of the journey map that you defined above.

horizontally ordered text fields to visualize a customer journey
This is Tess’ experience at Café Bean.

In a journey map, each step is written in one horizontal row. Various steps can form one stage so that your can group them into different phases, for example the purchase phase or the post-service phase.

For example, the illustration above shows the five steps a customer undergoes in order to get to his favorite café. The five steps can be categorized into two stages: ‘Getting to Café Bean’ and ‘Experience at Café Bean’.

Tip for starters: In order to get started with steps, decide what the crucial part of the experience is and then ask yourself what happens before this and what happens after. This will help you get going in building out each step. Avoid creating journey maps consisting of too many steps – it’s very likely to lose the focus then. For the beginning, aim to not exceed 20 steps per journey.

We also distinguish between steps and touchpoints. Touchpoints are moments of direct or indirect interaction of the customer and the company. For example, when customers get aware of a need, they might not think of a specific provider, yet. However when they stumble upon an advertisement on the newspaper, they are in touch with the company. Hence, every touchpoint is a step, but not every step is a touchpoint.

4. Add different details

After having defined the sequence of steps, you can add various visualizations to build the actual content to your journey map – the experience and story of the persona with all its facets. You can add different kinds of lanes to your journey map to show or analyze different parts of the experience.
Possible additional details could refer to a storyboard, the personas’ emotions or the channels they are using in each step.  

Grey squares visualizing steps of a customer journey and emoticons as a graph visualizing the emotional journey
Add various visualizations (text, images…) to make your map easily comprehendible for everyone

Pro Tip: You want to dive deeper into the topic of journey mapping? You want to know how to create journey maps that really deliver valuable insights? Check out our article on how to create a journey map that really helps uncover pain points and improve experiences. It helps advanced journey mappers optimize their maps, but also serves newbies as some inspiration.

→ Now it’s up to you! Create your own journey map online with our customer journey mapping tool!

Customer journey map examples

People frequently ask us for customer journey map examples, so we’ve created some real and some fictional journey maps to show how journey maps can illustrate experiences of different use cases and related to different industries.

a screen with an image of a journey map visualized in smaply
Journey maps can vary widely in looks – depending on the objective of the map, the persona as well as the industry that it is created for.

Each of the following example maps has its own characteristics because it always depends on the case, what kind of data/lanes is helpful to include. Always remember: there is no right or wrong.

Public transport journey map

Part of a customer journey map in public transport with steps and storyboard in smaply
Example for customer experience in public transport

A research-based journey map including KPIs and numbers. This map shows how to build hierarchies of journey maps: fields allowing for zoom-in and zoom-out are highlighted.

View public transport journey map example in detail.

Telecommunications journey map

In this journey map you can zoom into one of the steps to get from a high-level journey map to a detailed journey map. Just click on the link in the second step’s description.

View telecommunications journey map example.

Healthcare – patient experience journey map

The patient’s feelings are in the focus of the patient journey map. The differentiation between negative, neutral and positive feelings is particularly easy through green, red and yellow squares.

View healthcare / patient experience journey map example.

Event experience journey map

This journey map is based on the real feedback we collected at the Service Experience Camp in Berlin in 2016. It includes a storyboard based on self-made images as well as multiple text lanes focusing on different topics. The map’s language is German, however we think you will also get a good impression if you don’t speak the language.

View event experience journey map example.

Employee experience journey map

Comparing multiple employees' journeys

This map shows how journey mapping can be applied to analyze employee experience and illustrate team processes.

View employee experience journey map example.

Online shopping journey map

This journey map focuses on the backstage activities in an online shopping process and gets very close to a service blueprint.

View online shopping journey map example.

Government journey map

In this map you see how stage descriptions and additional files can help adding valuable information to the single steps.

View government journey map example.

E-commerce journey map

Example for a customer journey map to visualize a user's experience in e-commerce with smaply
Examples for a sequence of steps within a user journey map in e-commerce

This is a very clean map illustrating the process from information gathering to the use of a product ordered online. It focusses on different channels and backstage processes of two different personas.

View e-commerce journey map example in detail.

Student experience journey map

This is the first step towards creating both a current state and a future state journey map – a very simple solution that shows the status quo as well as the next steps to improve the experience.

View student experience journey map example.

Tourism journey map

This is a journey map in German based on the experience of two different personas aiming to compare the two. The emotional journey of the two illustrates where they are both satisfied and where they satisfaction differs. The text lanes explain the reasons.

View tourism journey map example.

Airlines journey map

This map illustrates the experience a guest has on an airport. As on an airport a lot of the happenings take place behind the scenes, also this map has a focus on backstage processes and how they influence customer experience. This is the project you also find on the Smaply trial.

View airlines journey map example.

What tools for customer journey mapping?

So you’re planning to really dive into journey mapping, together with your team. So many tools out there, so many different possibilities and features – but which ones do you really need for your purpose, for the team you’re working with, for your product?

We’ve prepared a checklist that helps you choose the most suitable customer journey mapping tool for your project. Below each chapter, you’ll find an info box to show Smaply users how they can use Smaply to meet their individual needs.

Now it’s up to you to create your own journey maps!

Create your own journey maps with Smaply