Women sitting at a table, discussing the importance of journey mapping in SaaS

Customer journey mapping in SaaS: innovating software experiences

October 21, 2020

As a software-as-a-service company that develops SaaS tools for journey mapping, this topic is at the very heart of our culture. Throughout the last few years, journey mapping has grown deeper and deeper into our daily routines, now we are using it along the entire business lifecycle, with the entire team, and not only on an operational level but also on a strategic level too.

We have loads to tell about journey mapping in SaaS, however, we will try to balance this out and extract the most crucial points from this approach that we think are most relevant for other companies that provide entirely or partly digital solutions.


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The relevance of customer journey mapping in SaaS

Software as a Service is one of the most sensitive services on the market: website visit vs. website leave, signup vs. cancellation – the distinction between good and bad is just one click away. One simple action allows users to share their experience on social media, in the process influencing their networks to buy, or not buy our software. Because of this interconnectedness and ability for users to influence our potential future customers, operating SaaS services on the internet offers us many opportunities and also many challenges. As a consequence, our customer journey should always be carefully thought through.

Now SaaS companies are usually pretty aware of this fact and keep a close eye on these sensitive moments in a customer's journey. However, many SaaS companies, just like other companies with a focus on digital activities, often have a rather narrow understanding of the customer journey: they tend to think about it in the form of a digital-only journey. Click here, download there, email to this address. However, it’s not always that simple.

So they oftentimes put testing tools into place to test for flawless UI – for sure helpful, but limited to functionality, not holistic experience. Thus, it’s not always that simple.

By engaging in the process to research and map our customers' journey we begin to uncover the world beyond our SaaS solution, we are able to see that the experience of our software is never completely digital and relies on many physical factors and changes within different contexts. By supporting our team to complement their existing working methods with more customer-centric approaches such as journey mapping we can improve service delivery for both our customers as well as our employees.

The SaaS customer journey: questions to solve

Who are my users?

Especially in SaaS, the question of who our users are is not necessarily easy to solve. It’s not only that we usually don’t get to know them in person and therefore need to find other ways of having them share their feedback. Actually understanding who our user, or users are can be a complex undertaking, which can consist of identifying multiple different "users", each with their own specific needs and requirements.

Let’s take a large consultancy as an example. Maybe they make their junior consultant test out several SaaS solutions for data visualization and prepare a pitch for the rest of the team so they can select the best one. Based on this pre-selection, a SaaS solution is selected and other team members go ahead and undertake further testing. Together they decide to purchase the selected software and give their purchasing department the green light to finalize the deal. From now on, they use the new software to prepare beautiful visuals for their clients. After a few weeks however it turns out that one group of people no longer needs the software, however on the other hand another group just started using it and needs onboarding and an introduction on how to use it.

It turns out that as a SaaS company, there’s a high chance of having multiple people working with the software.

  • Who is testing the software?
  • Who is making software purchasing decisions?
  • What features are users looking for in the software?
  • Who is using the software?
  • Who is benefitting from the software as a third party?

All of these parties have very different characteristics that should be considered along the customer journey.

User persona for a software as a service including quote and description.
Understanding the needs and motivations of a software user can help to optimize the product or service.

A SaaS customer journey map with different personas can help us to better understand the interaction of these parties along the SaaS journey and be able to approach them with the right information, at the right time.

  • Who is involved, and when?
  • What are the needs of different users of the service?
  • What expertise do they have and how should it influence the onboarding process?
  • What other parties do they depend on? What does that mean for us?
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.

How do people actually use the software?

There are two different types of usage: first, how you intended it to be used; second, how people actually use it. By focusing on this distinction we can conduct research that will reduce assumptions around how our products are used and put ourselves in a better position to provide service innovations that will accurately address real user needs.

Let’s take a navigation tool as an example, such as digital maps that assist people with directions while they are traveling. To optimize the usability and success of our tools we must have a deep understanding of the context in which people will be using them.

As people most often use navigation tools while they are traveling, they might often be out of range from their own WIFI connections, maybe they are even in a different country with limited access to data or connection to the internet.

If they’re traveling by car, (and don't yet trust the navigation abilities of their new Tesla) they will need to keep their eyes focused on driving and if there is no chance to stop to check if it’s highway exit A or B on the screen – might appreciate a voice assistant.

Users traveling by night may be affected by the brightness of the screen which could hurt their eyes, what functions for dimming or "night mode" does the product offer? Even if the software has been developed perfectly on an office computer, the experience may be radically different for a user in a moving vehicle, at different times of day, or being displayed on different types of hardware.

A SaaS customer journey map can help product management, design and development understand the context of use and agree on the same goal for further improvement of the SaaS tool.

Questions that are essential to understand for a SaaS company are:

  • When and where do users use the tool?
  • With whom do our users collaborate with when they use our product and what role do they play?
  • How do they use it? Do they use any workarounds because they miss certain functions?
  • Do they use it for any other purpose than the one intended, and what can we learn from that?
Illustration of a user experience when using a software on the train
Map your SaaS customer journey to understand behavior in different situations.

What is the interface between the tool and the “real” world?

When it comes to software development, it’s not only crucial what the tool can do in regards to features and functions, but also how it is used. There’s a saying in architecture: if you want to build a table, you need to know the room in which the table will be placed. If you want to build a room, you need to know the building. It’s not enough to develop a SaaS solution without knowing the context in which it will be placed and used.

A customer journey map will help SaaS companies understand:

  • How did users get to the software?
  • In what physical context (i.e., room, region, …) do they use my tool?
  • What physical artifacts do they derive from the tool?
  • How does the tool affect the interaction and collaboration with others?
  • How does the tool connect to, or change existing processes?
Illustration of a user experience when using a voice assistant
The context in which the software is used influences the user experience.

How can I support my users’ onboarding to the software?

SaaS tools are often complex products – the same is true for SaaS customer journeys. Not many people need an onboarding process for a simple tool such as a hammer. However, for SaaS tools, there will regularly exist a need for some type of introduction on how they are able to be used, as well as some training to increase the effectiveness of how they can be applied.

One of the best moments in this onboarding process is the ‘AHA-moment’ – the point in time when a user finally understands the purpose of the tool and its relevance for helping them reach the desired outcome.

When looking at the onboarding experience, a SaaS customer journey map can help you understand:

  • Is the interface easy to understand?
  • What resources do our users use during their first steps? Are there any resources missing?
  • In what sequence do users work with different features and what does that mean for their learning progress?
  • What feature, what moment is it that leads users to that ‘AHA-moment’?
  • Is there anything that blocks the users’ onboarding progress?
  • Do they get consultancy when they need it?
 Illustration of a user experience when using a software for the first time
Create an easy and practical onboarding process for first time users.

Guide: How to create a customer journey map for SaaS, step by step

Creating a customer journey map for a Software as a Service business involves visualizing the various touchpoints and interactions your customers have with your product, from initial awareness through to post-purchase support and advocacy. This helps you understand the customer's perspective and identify opportunities to enhance their experience.

Here's a step-by-step guide to create a customer journey map for your SaaS:

1 Define your customer personas

Identify the different types of customers who use your SaaS. These could be based on factors like industry, job role, goals, and pain points.

Tip: Add customer thoughts and quotes! Including actual customer quotes or thoughts at different stages helps you to humanize the journey map and add a qualitative dimension.

2 Create an assumption-based journey map

Use a visual format to create the customer journey map. This can be Smaply, but also a paper template, a table, diagram, or infographic.

Include the following details on your SaaS journey map:

  • Touchpoints: List all the touchpoints the customer interacts with (e.g., website, email). Be aware that not every step (i.e. activity, experience) is a touchpoint (i.e. interaction with the provider/brand)
  • Stages: Divide the customer journey into key stages, such as Awareness, Consideration, Purchase, Onboarding, Usage, Support, and Renewal/Advocacy.
  • Emotions: Note down how the customer feels at this stage (e.g., excited, confused). You can also do this using a scale from very unsatisfied (-2) to neutral (0) to very satisfied (+2).
  • Channels: The specific communication channels used (e.g., social media, email, face to face, ...).
  • Goals: Customer's goals or objectives at each step or stage (e.g., finding a solution to a problem).
  • Pain Points: Challenges or issues the customer faces (e.g., difficulty understanding features).

3 Gather data and create a research-based journey map

Collect data from various sources, including customer feedback, surveys, analytics, and support interactions, to understand how customers engage at each touchpoint.

Tip: Share and collaborate! Present the customer journey map to your team. Encourage discussions and brainstorming sessions to gather insights and ideas for improving the customer experience.

4 Highlight opportunities and pain points

Identify pain points where customers might get frustrated or confused. Similarly, highlight areas where there are opportunities to enhance the experience, such as improving onboarding or providing better support.

5 Implement improvements

Based on the insights gained from the customer journey map, prioritize and implement improvements to different touchpoints and stages to enhance the overall customer experience.

6 Iterate and update

Customer journeys are not static; they evolve as your SaaS and customer needs change. Regularly update the map based on new insights, customer feedback, and changes to your SaaS.

Remember that customer journey mapping is an ongoing process, and it's essential to continuously refine and adjust your map as you learn more about your customers and their interactions with your SaaS product.

Call to action: Visualize your users' experiences.

Advanced SaaS customer journey maps

Beyond the basic lanes of customer journey maps there are some details that are important to include in the analysis of a SaaS experience.

Creating user stories and pain points

A journey map is a perfect centralized location for customer support, sales, design, and everybody else who is in close contact with customers to consolidate their understanding and note down pain points experienced by users. These journey maps can be used to create compelling user stories that foster empathy in a variety of stakeholders. A good journey map can also help us break down user experience so that we are able to analyze specifics needs and drivers associated with desired outcomes at each step in a journey:

As a _________________ (who, i.e., the type of user),

I want _________________ (what, i.e., a feature)

so that _________________ (why, i.e., some reason).

Another option is adding job stories instead – the difference is that these put the context in greater focus:

When _________________ (situation)

I want to _________________ (motivation)

so I can _________________ (outcome)

These stories can be visualized and shared in compelling ways that allow team members, stakeholders, and decision-makers to have a better understanding of customer experiences and ultimately make better service delivery decisions.

A journey map lane for consolidating our observations of user need as they engage with our service is also important. By documenting potential unmet needs, as well as feature requests, bugs, and potential improvements, gives our whole team oversight of opportunities where our service delivery can be improved. By using a journey map as a central repository for information we ensure that information remains visible for our team in a clear and ordered manner rather than hidden away in a messy word document or hidden in a developer's software management system.

Running projects

It’s essential to keep an overview of what pain points have already been tackled in running projects. What projects do we already have running that tackle this specific need or problem? Where do we see pain points that have not been tackled by any projects yet?

Sometimes this type of information gets drowned in complicated project management systems and can be difficult to access.

Thus, in order to keep an overview, it can make a lot of sense to connect information for respective projects to relevant locations on a journey map, e.g., by adding links to cards or project management tools like Jira or Trello, or links to or even screenshots of new interfaces, and much more.


In order to understand the impact of newly launched features or improvements to our service delivery, it is essential to collate and share important performance indicators. Often these types of data are collected and analyzed in silos and for whatever reason are prevented from being shared with the rest of the team.

A journey map can be of great assistance for preventing and breaking down these existing data silos, by providing a central location for linking data that helps all team members keep an overview of important KPIs and how they change, e.g., the number of active and not active users, activity on the tool, usage of specific features.

A customer journey map example for SaaS

Of course, every journey map looks different: different product, company and context. However, there are a few elements that you will find on most user journey maps. Also, there are a few elements that are especially relevant to user journey mapping for software companies. Thus, here comes an example journey map of a software product; for more example user journeys, visit our example journeys collection.

Illustration of a user journey in the context of software as a service.
Expand user journey map

Typical challenges of introducing customer journey mapping in SaaS companies

Getting developers aboard

Journey mapping benefits from the experience, background, and knowledge of diverse groups of people involved in the creation of a service – this includes users as well as members of the internal team and other stakeholders.

Therefore, having members from all departments contributing to the development of a journey map is essential. The challenge is that you will always have people on the team with different competencies for developing an understanding of customers and some will find it easier, or harder to follow a journey mapping approach.

There may be employees who work on the front line directly with customers every day who have loads of experience with user understanding and perception, there may be developers who perhaps struggle to slip into the customers’ shoes, people who sometimes are not as rational, or those who are not as routined when it comes to using digital tools.

Developers in general are trained in logical, rational thinking processes. This is fantastic for developing software and making binary, 0/1, works/doesn’t work evaluations of situations. Additionally, most of the time this is combined with a high understanding of digital environments, generally higher than your average user’s.

Because of these prevailing tendencies for rational and logical thinking, there can be challenges enticing people from a development background to the messier, more qualitative side of human behavior. The good news is that the benefits of introducing developers to journey mapping will pay off. It can open your development team to a completely new perspective on the relevance of their work. It can increase their feeling of having an impact and allow intrinsic motivation for user-centric tools to grow. Just take them by the hand at the beginning and let them have enough time to embrace this new approach.

High preference for digital solutions

SaaS companies have a high number of people who like or even prefer working with digital solutions, partly because they see the need and benefits from organizing things in the digital world.

However, the first steps of SaaS journey mapping usually happen in the physical world, using analog tools like paper templates and sticky notes. This may seem like a step backwards for people inclined to digital spaces and the result is that some team members may need some extra time to get used to journey mapping workshops.

First, you need to get them into one room. After that, it will rely on having a great facilitator who is able to take everybody by the hand, understand the world from their perspective, and guide them through the process. To get a solid buy-in to the process it may be essential to show participants the aim of the workshop, the impact it can make for the customer, the sense of purpose it can have for developers, and clearly highlight the benefits of analog workshops.

In a nutshell

SaaS companies usually provide complex tools in a competitive environment. Therefore, journey mapping is an essential tool for developing a competitive service that meets and satisfies user needs. Great journey maps can help us understand the bigger picture of our users’ needs as they are engaging with our services, the context in which they are using it, become a means of communication between departments and evolve into an easy-to-access hub for information that otherwise would be siloed in dedicated digital tools.

By understanding the different working styles and character traits of people within our organization, we can help them to develop customer-centric approaches that can complement and enhance their day to day work. It just requires an open mind and ability to see life from the perspective of our customers, and rewards us with a greater sense of purpose in our work, greater collaboration, and more effective product development for services that address real customer needs, and ultimately isn't that what we're all striving for?

... and now, what's next?

Now it's about implementing what you've just learned: Create user-focused journey maps to understand the user experience and innovate your SaaS solutions.

Smaply lets you easily create user journey maps, user personas, and ecosystem maps.

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