taking a photo of a journey map with a smartphone

Customer journey mapping: The basics (CJM tutorial part 1)

September 1, 2020

Welcome to our journey mapping tutorial. In this first chapter we cover the different terminologies around customer journey maps (CJM) and what they mean. We also explain the typical elements of a customer journey map and offer a cheat sheet summarizing all the important information.

In this article we try to answer all the basic questions about what journey mapping is and what a journey map typically consists of.

What is a (customer) journey map?


The customer journey is the overall experience a customer has when interacting with a product, a service or a company. It covers the full experience of being a customer.

A journey map visualizes the experiences of a certain person or group over a certain time as a sequence of steps. 

While it is mostly referred to as customer journey map, a journey map does not necessarily focus on a customer’s experience. It can also be used to focus on the experience of a user, an employee, a citizen, a client, a patient, etc.

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.

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.

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 each of your customers’ steps and improve their experiences with your service or product.

Journey maps can not only be used to visualize the journey of a company’s customers, but also in the form of a consumer journey, a client journey or an employee journey. It can for example be used to analyze and improve the user experience of a website, the employee experience during the recruiting process or the experience a certain group of clients has with your organization. 

No matter how many types of journey maps with different contexts there are, they all have the same goal. Making the experiences of a certain person or group of persons visible. Describing it step by step helps to get a better understanding for the needs and pain points.

So what is customer journey mapping?

Customer journey mapping makes customer experiences visible and facilitates a common and empathic understanding between all team members. It also includes intangible experiences and interactions beyond the reach of an organization. 

With journey mapping you put your customer’s perspective at the center and connect it to your 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.

Typical structure of journey maps

When working with journey maps it is important to know that they can vary depending on their goal, context, detail, etc.

Anyways, a typical customer or user journey map consists of the following elements: Stages, steps / titles and additional lanes. Additional lanes offer room for additional information such as

  • a storyboard with photos and other images
  • texts and descriptions
  • emotions in form of an emotional journey

Stages allow you to structure your journey map

Stages help you to structure your customer journey into different phases. One possible way to use stages could be pre-service, service, post-service. But you can also go into more detail using stages like: Gathering information, buying, setting up, using, support, etc. 

Steps, touchpoints and titles represent activities within the stages

Each journey map consists of a sequence of steps (activities, touchpoints, micro-interactions, etc). A step is every action that a customer takes along the customer journey. Give each step a short title summarizing your persona’s experience and activity.

We also distinguish between steps and touchpoints. Touchpoints are moments of direct or indirect interaction of the customer and the company, e.g. a customer reading your advertisement, calling your customer service or using your product. You can actively influence these touchpoints.

Steps on the other hand also include a customer having a need, doing research, experiencing waiting time or getting to the store by bus. Often you can not influence some steps that your customer experiences. 

Hence, every touchpoint is a step, but not every step is a touchpoint.

Additional lanes

After having defined the sequence of steps, customer journey maps allow you to add various information and 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.

For example you can add a row of images below each step to show visually what is happening. This kind of lane is with images called a storyboard

Or you can expand on each step with more text descriptions. We call this a text lane. You can also use this to create a list of ideas or jobs to be done for your organization.

You can also add emotional values to your customer’s experiences by adding an emotional journey as well. 

→ If you want to learn how to create your own customer journey map and work with stages, steps and lanes, check out the third chapter of this CJM tutorial:

Link to Chapter 3: CJM How to create a customer journey map? You will learn how to create a journey map and how to analyze the customer journey.

Cheat sheet for journey mapping

On this cheat sheet we summarize the most important details, or lanes, of a journey map. For example, channel lane, storyboards, dramatic arc, and more.

Journey Map Cheat Sheet with descriptions for the different lanes, storyoards, dramatic arc and more.

There are many more details you can add to a journey map, always keep your individual case in mind. Use the cheat sheet as an introduction to the topic, or print it out and put it as a reminder on your desk.

→ If you want to continue learning about customer journey maps, we invite you to check out the next chapter of this tutorial. In the second chapter we will cover the benefits and value of journey mapping.

Link to Chapter 2: Purpose of CJM. You will learn reasons for and benefits of customer journey mapping and about the business impact of journey mapping.

And now, what's next?

More about customer journey mapping

This article is the first chapter of a whole tutorial about customer journey mapping. The tutorial is structured in different chapters, where we provide you with the most important information about journey maps and how to work with them. Check out the other chapters as well:

CJM Basics: What is customer journey mapping?
CJM Purpose: Why is customer journey mapping important?
CJM How-to: How to create a customer journey map?
CJM examples: Helpful examples from various industries.

Feeling ready for getting your hands dirty?

Start creating your own journey maps with Smaply! The 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