A hand taking a photo of a journey map with a smartphone.

What is a customer journey map?

October 20, 2022

A customer journey map can become the central hub for customer experience insights – visualizing the customer journey holistically, end-to-end. Read on if you’d like to find out what customers experience when they use your service or purchase your product (or, when they fail to do so). We'll show you how to help your customers navigate your service, no matter how complex it is.


What's the customer journey?

The customer journey is defined as the sum of steps that a customer takes to complete a task.

It mainly shows the accumulated steps made by a customer when interacting with a service or digital/physical product. Therefore, understanding your buyer’s journey is crucial for designing a service or product journey, identifying neglected issues and increasing customer satisfaction.

And how can we visualize a customer journey? With a customer journey map.

What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map (CJM) is a diagram that visually represents a sequence of steps a person or a group takes when interacting with your company, product, or service. It includes evidences of all touchpoints across the customer journey, including interactions with channels of communication (social media, live chat, emails, etc.).

In other words, a journey map is like a movie: It tells the story of a protagonist in a sequence of scenes. It can illustrate the experiences of different people.

A few examples are:

This is an example of a customer journey map:

Customer journey map example visualizing the customer experience of a grocery delivery service.
Expand customer journey map

The goal is to understand what they experience along the way to ensure a consistent and seamless experience at all touchpoints and across all channels. 

The purpose of a journey map is to ensure every customer (or any other actor) is going through your service journey over the path that you have prepared for them and thus has a seamless experience. Furthermore it also helps to align the contribution of stakeholders that help to make the journey happen.

... and what is customer journey mapping?

Journey mapping is the process of creating the journey map of a customer or any other main actor. It allows visualization of this person’s interactions with a business/organization.

Journey maps help businesses understand the customer’s perspective. They put humans at the center of the design / innovation / implementation process, which makes them strong tools for a human-centered approach.

Nowadays, journey mapping is more and more involved as an ongoing customer journey management process: it's used to orchestrate improvements in customer satisfaction and its operationalization.

What is the importance of customer journey mapping?

Customer journey mapping is important to ensure that you don’t miss an opportunity to interact with customers at any stage. This process also helps you understand the customers’ perspective, find customer experience gaps, communicate them across the organization, and explore potential solutions to optimize and personalize customer experience. 

There are manifold business cases for customer journey maps, for example it is important when creating product roadmaps or even founding new businesses.

Let's summarize few possible reasons to start with customer journey mapping.

Customer journey mapping is important because it:

  • Helps us to improve the status quo
  • Lets us recognize customer pain points and key moments
  • Makes it possible to address low customer satisfaction scores or other KPIs
  • Shifts focus from the internal processes perspective to a customer-centered perspective
Let’s imagine a company is struggling with retaining customers, which is crucial for the company’s growth.
Mapping out the SaaS customers' journeys could help the company identify the small and big moments that influence customers’ decisions and get to the bottom of the problem. For instance, customers may churn because of poor onboarding, bad web interface or low-quality support. 

Watch this 4-minute video explainer on journey mapping and its importance for different industries.

Is customer journey mapping really worth it?

  • Companies with a customer experience mindset drive revenue 4-8% higher than the rest of their industries
  • 81% of companies view customer experience as a competitive differentiator
  • 96% of customers say customer service is important in their choice of loyalty to a brand
  • Brands with superior customer experience bring in 5.7 times more revenue than competitors that lag in customer experience
  • Companies with initiatives to improve their customer experience see employee engagement increase by 20% on average

Check out a larger collection of CX statistics on Forbes. 

Journey mapping doesn’t only matter from the revenue perspective for business or ecommerce – it is relevant in various niches, like healthcare or civil service. At Smaply, we believe service design can change not just people’s experiences, but also their everyday lives and our society as a whole. 

Tip for beginners: Don’t just create your customer journey map and forget about it afterwards. Customer expectations change overtime and it’s vital to update your map on a regular basis. It’s best practice to keep your journey map in a digital format so teams can easily access and update it.

What are the elements of customer journey maps?

Customer journey maps vary depending on their goal, context, detail, etc. They can cover omnichannel journeys or focus on a single step. Regardless of their size or design, good journey maps are made up of similar components. 

A simple customer journey map consist of:

  • Persona (the main protagonist, e.g. the customer)
  • Stages
  • Steps (or touchpoints)
  • Lanes 

Lanes are optional elements that enhance the journey map. They offer room for extra information about backend and frontend activities. Some of the most common lanes are:

  • Storyboards with images
  • Texts and descriptions
  • Channel overviews
  • Emotional values
  • Dramatic arcs

Here’s an example of what a journey map can look like—

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Now, let’s unwrap each component of the journey map.

1. Customer persona

A journey map is incomplete without specifying a persona that represents the behavioral traits and needs of your average customer. Developing a persona ensures you put your customer’s perspective at the center and create empathy for your customer. Smaply's co-founder Marc Stickdorn’s advice is to use core personas during the journey map design process but to test it with extreme cases. 

You can use a free persona generator and connect it to your organization’s customer journey map. 

Learn more about embedding personas in organizations from Marc Stickdorn. The session is also available on Spotify, iTunes and Google Podcasts.

An example of a persona created in Smaply.

2. Stages

Stages divide the customer journey timeline and help structure it. For example, a simple journey map can consist of three stages: pre-service, service, and post-service. A more complex map can include further detailed stages, such as gathering information, buying, setting up, using, support, etc. 

Here are some examples of  customer journey map stages in different industries:

  • Travel: research, booking, arrival, stay, return
  • Restaurant: arrival, ordering, meal, payment, leaving
  • Online shopping: research, evaluation, ordering, delivery, returns
  • Airport: pre-boarding, boarding, flight, exit
An example of how stages are visualized in Smaply.

3. Steps (titles)

Steps in a journey map represent activities, touchpoints or micro-interactions that a customer has along their journey to reach a goal (e.g. a purchase). When you create a customer journey map, give each step a short title to sum up your persona’s experience and activity.

We usually differentiate between steps and touchpoints: 

A step describes every experience a customer has along the journey. Steps can include customers doing research, experiencing waiting time or getting to the store by bus. So you can’t always influence every step that your customer experiences. 

Touchpoints, on the other hand, are direct or indirect interactions between the customer and the company that reinforce or compromise their trust, e.g. a customer reading your ad, contacting customer service or using your product.

You can’t directly influence every step; but you can influence every touchpoint.

Hence, every touchpoint is a step, but not every step is a touchpoint. So don’t forget to add both types of interactions to your journey map.

An example of how steps are visualized in Smaply.

4. Storyboard

When you define the basic framework for your customer journey map with stages and sequences of steps, you can enhance it with extra lanes, such as storyboard. A customer journey map storyboard is a row of photos or images below each step that illustrates what is happening. 

You can use real photos or screenshots of the software interface—anything that represents that moment in time. Storyboarding lets you explore details in each scene and see what the journey is like for the persona differently.

An example of how a storyboard is visualized in Smaply.

5. Text lanes

You can also elaborate on each step of your CJM with text descriptions. Text lanes can describe the persona’s pain points or include verbatim customer quotes to articulate what they are experiencing.

If needed, you can add additional lanes for customer needs, wishes, your own ideas, KPIs, etc.

An example of how text lanes are visualized in Smaply.

6. Channel overview

Your customers interact with your company via different channels. Adding channel lanes toyour customer journey map shows how customers interact with your brand or product. It is useful for high-level maps to fill in gaps in cross-channel experiences.

An example of how channels are visualized in Smaply.

7. Emotional values

The emotional journey is the core of your map. So don’t forget to add emotional values to your customer’s experiences in order to quickly identify the persona’s level of satisfaction at every step. It can be as simple as a 5-point scale in which 5 means “very satisfied” and 1 means “unsatisfied”.

An example of how emotional values are visualized in Smaply.

8. Dramatic arc

The dramatic arc is a graph that shows a persona’s engagement or the importance of a particular step. They are used to analyze the existing experience as well as map out a future concept or a desired engagement.

The choice of lanes you use in your map depends on the type of journey map you create and the scope of your project.

An example of how a dramatic arc is visualized in Smaply.

How to optimize customer journey maps?

Customer journey maps make customer experiences visible and facilitate a common and empathic understanding between all team members. To optimize them, include intangible experiences and interactions beyond the reach of an organization. 

Ideally you mix qualitative and quantitative approaches when designing journey maps. For example, you can use snippets of videos where you can see customers failing to use your product or service and mix them with statistics proving or showing why this happens. 

Now, with the increasing presence of journey mapping technology, the latter has become more accessible to companies. There isn’t any software that can solve everything and it can’t replace pen and paper journey mapping workshops, but it makes sense to use it to solve specific problems companies struggle with.

Customer journey mapping case studies

There’s no service field where journey mapping isn’t relevant – that’s why the variety of projects is huge. Here are a few great case studies from different sectors that show how journey maps helped improve people's experiences in different industries and contexts.

Journey mapping in telecommunications

Case study: How Deutsche Telekom embedded journey mapping into the organization

The company promoted internal CX navigators to take care of shifting the culture. A bunch of willing employees, empowered with new tools and mindsets, supported from the top down, helped infuse the company culture with service design.

Journey mapping in healthcare and social services

Three case studies about journey mapping that resulted in social impact

In this article we showcase some of these great examples where service design tools and approaches are being used to create positive ripples that impact individuals, communities, and even whole countries. It covers three case studies from New Zealand, the Netherlands and Zambia.

Journey mapping in public services

Case study: How Chile’s government improved citizen and employee experience.

This case shows how a consultancy agency together with a local governmental institution in Chile worked to understand and improve the customer as well as the employee experience.

By including both the internal and external view, they succeeded in visualizing service gaps within the user journeys and started implementing change within the organization.

For more inspiration, check out our collection of CX case studies.

Key takeaways

To ensure better customer experience, many companies decide to implement customer journey mapping. As a result, customer journeys have become increasingly complex. 

  • A customer journey map visually represents customer journeys and tells the story of customers' experiences with your brand across different channels and touchpoints.
  • Before you start journey mapping, think of a persona to focus on.
  • Journey maps typically consist of elements such as stages, steps, and extra lanes that divide the timeline and describe various interactions the persona has with your brand.
  • Customer journey maps are important if you'd like to address low customer satisfaction scores because they shift the focus from processes to customers.

Feeling ready to get your hands dirty? 

Start creating your own journey maps with Smaply! This tool will guide you through the process of journey map creation. Besides that, you can also create personas and stakeholder maps to back up your work. It's free, forever.

Create your own journey maps with Smaply