How to create a customer journey map

How to Create a Customer Journey Map [With a Free Tool]

January 20, 2021

In this article we explain how you can map a customer journey. We created a step by step explanation on how to create a customer journey map that you can use as an instruction.

Customer journeys are becoming more complex than ever. 

But understanding and improving them doesn’t have to be complicated!

That is, if you know how to map a customer journey.

Together with Marc Stickdorn, co-founder of Smaply and an expert in service design, we put together a simple guide on how to create a customer journey map.

And to make your job simpler, we’ll show you how you can use Smaply to design a polished visual document.

This article is a 5-step explanation of how to create a customer journey map:

  • Step 1: Choose the scope of the journey map
  • Step 2: Choose a persona to focus on
  • Step 3: Add touchpoints
  • Step 4: Add lanes to illustrate details
  • Step 5: Analyze your customer journey map

No time to read?

We’ve got you covered—

Watch this video, it sums up the most important steps in building a journey map. If you want to dive deeper into the topic scroll down and read the article.

Step 1: Define a scope for your journey map

When you’re creating a customer journey map, it’s important to define its scale and scope. For example, high-level journey maps provide an overview of an end to end experience. You can use them to plan your research, manage multiple projects and teams, or to align different detailed journeys. 

If you want to focus on one step of a higher-level journey, build a more detailed user journey map. If your goal is to work on a specific idea or a challenge, concentrate on customer needs and how your idea connects with them. 

In other words, the first step to making an effective customer journey map is to decide how far you want to zoom in or out of the experience you are illustrating.

➡️ Tip for beginners

If you’re unsure how detailed a journey map should be and how many steps it should include, start with a high-level journey map to get an overview of the entire journey.
– Marc Stickdorn, Smaply’s Co-Founder & CEO

After that, it’s easier to zoom in on single steps of a journey. Just ask yourself what happens in step ‘xyz’? How does the persona actually get there?

Step 2: Choose a persona

A journey map should focus on the main actor, such as a group of customers or employees. 

Sometimes it makes sense to combine various perspectives into one map. For example, you can compare experiences of different customer groups or map out employee experience at the same moment of the service processes.

photo: person writing on a persona template pad

The persona has a strong influence on the overall outcome of mapping customer journeys. So take your time to define and understand who you’re making the map for and why. Start with a basic outline that includes age, gender, education, occupation, income, and location. Next add psychological criteria, such as attitudes and aspirations.

Even though personas are fictional characters, they represent groups of people with similar behavioral patterns, needs, interests, and goals. Using personas provides a deeper understanding of your customers and helps create a realistic journey map.

➡️ Tip for beginners

If you’re building a journey map or creating a persona with pen and paper, the results are often forgotten or neglected. The reason is simple—-it is too difficult to visualize them and make changes to them afterwards. 

With the Smaply Capture tool, you can now convert your offline notes into an online customer journey map and edit it when needed. This way, teams have presentable exports within a few minutes and can collaborate in a digital environment.

A button: Digitize your journey map now! It leads to the Smaply Website.

Step 3: Add touchpoints

Now it’s time to map out the customer's journey. 

Every journey map is made of various interactions. A touchpoint is any experience the main actor or persona has throughout the process. It can be engagement with another person, a machine or a digital interface. 

Activities such as walking and waiting are considered touchpoints, similarly to clicking on social media ads or talking to a waiter. The level of detail of each step depends on the overall scale of the journey map that you defined in step one.

When you create a journey map, describe each touchpoint in one horizontal row. You can also group different touchpoints into stages and phases, e.g. the purchase phase or the post-service phase.

The illustration below shows the five touchpoints for Tess in her favorite café. We categorized them into two stages: ‘Pre-coffee at home’ and ‘Heading to Café Bean’.

Five touchpoints for Tess in her favorite café categorized into two stages: ‘Pre-coffee at home’ and ‘Heading to Café Bean’

➡️ Tip for beginners

Before you start adding touchpoints to your map, decide what the key part of the experience is. Then ask yourself what happens before and after this experience. It will help you plan out each touchpoint. 

However, avoid creating journey maps with too many steps—you’ll likely lose focus then. At the beginning, try not to exceed 20 steps per journey.

Step 4: Add lanes (layers) to illustrate details

Your map is a visual representation of all customer touchpoints. The more details (lanes) you add, the more realistic the map you create. When you arrange all the data, focus on the right content and make the format easy to understand for everyone involved. 

There’s no right or wrong way to create a map, but customer journey map tools like Smaply help you organize it for free. It’s important to tailor it to your product and business. Here are some of the layers you can add to the map you’re building:

  1. Storyboards
  2. Texts and descriptions
  3. Communication channels
  4. Emotional values
  5. Dramatic arcs

Scroll down to find out more about the visual elements of a journey map you are making.


Storyboards visually represent the sequence of steps through the use of icons, photos of real-life situations or enacted situations. They can include screenshots of interfaces, or just quick scribbles visualizing specific situations.

Visuals provide context for each situation and give a comprehensive overview of the whole journey. They make the maps easy to navigate. You can even sometimes create a comprehensive and engaging customer journey map with just touchpoints and a storyboard.

Tess' journey map in visuals.

Text and descriptions

When you make a journey map, extra information allows you to describe the user’s experience better or to add other types of information, such as pain points, needs, jobs to be done, KPIs, thinking and feeling, ideas, improvements, key learnings, opportunities, etc.

A detailed description of Tess' journey

Communication channels

The channel lane gives you a comprehensive overview of journey maps, especially high-level ones. Specifying the channel (e.g. face-to-face, telephone, online, etc.) at each touchpoint informs stakeholders about cross-channel experiences and potential gaps in cross-channel CX.

Compare experiences between different channels and make sure you align them both online and offline. Remember that your customers see your company as one entity so you might want to create an omnichannel customer journey map.

For example, buying a ticket online is different to buying it in person. Moreover, when you create an online user journey map, differentiate between experiences on a website and via an app. 

Communication channels in Tess' journey

Emotional values

An emotional journey reveals obvious gaps within a persona’s level of satisfaction at each step. You can use a simple 5-point scale from very negative (-2) to neutral (0) to very positive (+2) to describe a persona’s experience.

For example, a standard customer service might be neutral but a very kind service can result in high satisfaction and add 1 or 2 points on a scale.

Tess' emotional journey

Dramatic arc

It’s a graph showing the level of a persona’s engagement or a touchpoint’s relevance. You can again use a 5-point scale. Remember though that there are moments of thrill (high engagement) and chill (low engagement), and both can be either positive or negative.

How so?

A low dramatic arc when purchasing a few standard pencils is acceptable but a low dramatic arc when sitting on a rollercoaster is definitely not.

Dramatic arcs help you to reflect on the pace and rhythm of an experience. You can use them to analyze an existing experience or to plan a future concept along a desired dramatic arc.

The intensity of the experience, visualized in a dramatic arc.

Step 5: Analyze your map to improve CX

Now that you have visualized a full journey map, you can analyze it to understand the customers pain points and find opportunities to improve their experience. It can help you address the biggest obstacles first and see how customers respond to them. 

There are some important elements to consider when analyzing a customer journey map you created:

  1. Get a rough overview
  2. Identify pain points
  3. Find reasons for poor experience

Let’s analyze them in more detail.

Get a rough overview

When you’re analyzing your map, it is important not to get lost in details too early. Looking at the different steps and the emotional journey to get a holistic understanding of the entire journey your customer is undergoing. 

Next, check what emotional values are connected to each touchpoint. Try to highlight key moments in different stages or phases of the journey map. Can you identify any unusual or poor experiences? Has anything surprised you? 

Identify pain points and find room for improvement

After getting a good overview you can start with identifying pain points. Use the information you have to narrow down the problems and add potential ideas on how to solve them. 

To determine the pain points your customer experiences with your product or business, pay attention to the following steps:

  • Low value on the emotional journey lane and high value on the dramatic arc—these are problematic. They represent situations with a high importance but a negative or unsatisfying experience. Prioritize their improvement.
  • Waiting periods for your customer—waiting time is an experience too and can be a crucial customer pain point. If your backstage processes result in long waiting times, rethink the process. Are all of these backstage tasks really necessary? Can you reduce or at least clearly communicate waiting times?
  • Different channels in the customer journey map—is there a pattern that suggests that bad experiences always happen along a specific channel? For example on the phone?

Find reasons for poor experiences

Once you have identified pain points in your customer journey, you can start digging deeper and analyzing the reasons for bad experiences. To do this, keep in mind your persona, their needs and perception of certain situations. 

The following tips can help you analyze the ‘reasons why’:

  • Compare different personas—see why their experiences differ. Do their emotional values differ at the same step? What could be the reasons for that? How do the personas differ?
  • Analyze the backstage actions—Looking at the involved stakeholders that potentially influence experiences. How can interaction with them improve these experiences? Can you streamline the flow of information between different stakeholders?
  • Analyze your channels—How many channels do your customers use? Do they allow for personal connection? Do the channels fit the needs and demands of the user?

Key takeaways

Creating a customer journey map is essential if you care about your customers' experience. Nowadays, you don’t have to rely on sticky notes or pen and paper thanks to the various tools found online.

A tool like Smaply not only lets you create a realistic and easy-to-understand map. It also guides you through the whole process thanks to its onboarding prompts and reliable customer service.

Here’s a simple recipe for creating a customer journey map:

  1. Choose the scope of the journey map
  2. Choose a persona to focus on
  3. Add touchpoints
  4. Add lanes to illustrate more details
  5. Analyze your customer journey map

And here are some elements (lanes) that compose your customer journey map:

  1. Storyboards
  2. Texts and descriptions
  3. Communication channels
  4. Emotional values
  5. Dramatic arcs

The most important step in the process of creating a journey map is the analysis of data. It helps you understand the current state of customer experience and find solutions to address their pain points.

Feeling ready to get your hands dirty?

Start creating your own journey maps with Smaply! This is a free tool that guides you through the whole process of journey map creation. It also lets you create personas and stakeholder maps to back up your work.

By the way—

It's free, forever.

Create journey maps with Smaply!