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A journey is a powerful metaphor. It's how we often refer to timelines in our lives, such as our years of education, how we want to achieve our goals, how heroes become heroes in our favorite books or movies, etc. Journey reminds us that there's so much more to what we do than just having a destination.
Everything we experience during our life has meaning and impact. It changes us, it helps us learn, and it brings us to different places. Some say that the journey is even more important than the destination. And this is very similar to what happens when people interact with a digital product.
How can we tie this metaphor to help you improve your digital product?
What is a customer journey?
Customer journey is defined as
(...) customers’ processes, needs, and perceptions throughout their relationships with a company.
"Mapping The Customer Journey," 2010
Nowadays, the journey metaphor is used fittingly in customer experience (CX) marketing, user experience design, and the company's future strategy.
Today, companies are more aware that their success doesn't depend only on brilliant products, services, and promotional aspects.
It's more about delivering exceptional experiences to your customer while on the journey with your brand. We can compare a company to a travel agency responsible for making this trip enjoyable and worthy to repeat.
The customer journey includes all the steps to reaching the goal, for instance:
- customer expectations and feelings along the way
- decision points
- customer’s actions
- channels used to communicate
- touchpoints (the context of a real-time relationship with the brand)
- interactions with the brand
- less related factors supporting or disturbing communication
This metaphor used for communication with a brand shows that this journey is never a direct and isolated path that the user follows to reach the goal. It includes all customer experiences at every stage to the final point.
We will use a simple analogy of going on a family vacation to visualize the customer journey. For this purpose, let’s imagine that we are a travel agency selling trips, tickets, whole vacations, and booking accommodations. Our customer is 43 years old Frank who wants to go with his wife and two sons to the seaside for a getaway. Together with a travel agency, they choose their destination and the way of transportation. They decide to go on a train this time because it’s more ecological and their boys love trains, so that will be an adventure for them.
Their journey has started already. They packed all the essential things and went to the train station to buy a ticket. Unfortunately, there is a massive line at the ticket office, so they’re nervous. Finally, they purchased the tickets and caught their train at the last moment. They found their places breathless and sweaty, ready to relax for the next 6 hours.
Almost everything is going great – there's AC on board, free coffee for every passenger, comfortable seats, and friendly ticket officers. But there's something that changed Frank's feelings about the experience: there was not enough room for his luggage and he had to put it on his lap. Finally, when Frank’s family arrived on the coast, they are happy, but still, how they feel about the their train travel experience could impact their future choices. Even though their apartment and all two weeks on the seaside were perfect, Frank is considering whether he would choose this travel agency offer again or recommend it to anyone.
From the company's view, if Frank reached his destination – he got the final product or service and is happy with it. But we can't ignore the customer journey. It shows that for Frank to reach out to this agency again, his experience even getting to their wanted vacation is also important. Although the company is focusing on the final goal of this journey – they should take other factors into account such as the duration of the trip, unexpected events and turns, opportunities, and all the customer's feelings along the way.
We can notice Frank's frustrations (pain points) in two parts of this story:
- buying a train ticket
- a lack of space for his luggage
How then could we solve his problem? This time digital solutions can be handy - first, the travel agency could propose he buys a ticket through the web or mobile application earlier to avoid lines, and if possible, to book extra space for the luggage. Another way could be to remind him that he should be earlier in the train station to have more time to arrange their space with luggage.
Let’s see how this thinking works in a customer journey map.
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map is a valuable tool that can help examine and measure customer experience (CX) while interacting with the company. A customer journey is a visualization of a timeline, a series of user actions that lead to accomplishing a goal. Why is it necessary to do it? Because we understand information better when it takes shape. The map shows user or customer individual perspectives and relationships with a brand or a product across different channels.
A customer journey map doesn't require one unique format or shape. However, it usually uses a timeline to show a linear cause and effect sequence while the customer interacts with the company and essential touchpoints that influence customer experience.
As Jim Kalbach mentioned in his book Mapping Experiences, nowadays, in this tool, it is not such a critical map itself but the process of mapping that changes the focus from delivered way to its actionability:
(...) mapping is moving from an activity focused on a deliverable to one of actionability. It's not about the map (the noun), but about the mapping (a verb). The mapmaker necessarily becomes a facilitator, and the map becomes a springboard into collective sense making around human experience.
"Mapping Experiences. A Complete Guide to Customer Alignment Through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams." Second edition, 2021
I would emphasize that the verb mapping shows not only the action of following the customer but also that it's never ended – it should be refreshed as often as needed, as dynamic as the brand and its development.
A map is telling a story. It uses collected data and translates it into visual charts, tables and graphs. This tool maps out the user's actions, thoughts, and feelings in a narrative way. As in a traditional map, this form communicates primarily visually, but the story is also essential, while it should be condensed and polished.
A customer journey map expands a brand's empathy on a broader level. It helps product owners and marketers to put themselves into the customers' shoes. That's why it is a standard tool used by UX designers and researchers.
What is the difference between a customer journey map and a user journey map?
As Nielsen Norman Group mentions, customer and user journey maps can be used interchangeably. Both visualize how the user uses a product or service. Of course, one can argue that not every user is a customer, especially when created maps refer to individuals or groups who don't link with the brand by economic transactions.
A user journey map is often associated more with digital products. But in general, it isn't so important how we will call this tool like this what it contains.
Before we start… Why can quantitative and qualitative research be helpful and crucial in customer journey maps?
Quantitative research covers some popular quant research methods like surveys and questionnaires, usability testing, a/b testing, eye-tracking testing, or web analytics. They can help us obtain valuable numerical data to develop our products and customer experience. They can give you the answer from a large number of users. Surveys and questionnaires usually contain closed-ended questions. Other tests show and analyze how customers behave and interact with our product.
To sum up, quantitative methods are treated as more objective, as they might answer the question of where the problem is and how many users have to deal with it.
Qualitative research is more focused on individual users. It covers tools like in-depth user interviews, focus groups, and observations. Individually obtained answers can help identify user pain points, needs, expectations, and decisions. This kind of research prepares a space for more honest answers about the user's feelings, for example, via opened-ended questions. Even if it's not possible to get so many answers as in quantitative research, they can deepen the knowledge about user behavior in the context of our product.
After all, qualitative methods used in the research explain what the problem is and why it's touching the users. Sometimes even, it can excavate how one can resolve the issue.
How can they help us with the customer journey map?
First, a customer journey map allows tracking the user meeting and interaction with our brand and product.Therefore they give us valuable information about who our users or customers are and deepen our knowledge about their feelings, expectations, and recent experience. This can help us in the following stages of our journey map creation, to make it a valuable tool to visualize the problem and the opportunity to solve it.
How to create a customer journey map?
Regardless of the different forms and sizes of the journey map, some key components can help you structure it. Don't worry if you think you don't have the graphical skills to do it, and it's time-consuming in general. There are plenty of free customer journey map templates online that you can edit and use for your purposes.
To help visualize it, we added an example to each of its components. That will enable us to create a valuable journey map later.
It would be best to start with choosing a customer or user persona. Your choice can be based on previous quantitive and qualitive research, surveys, and interviews with a real customer. Still, you can also imagine a fictional client representing a target group, but it should be based on market research. You have to imagine this person carefully – name them, describe their age, occupation, education, family status, professional or personal goals, etc. That will help you put yourself in the person's shoes and develop their story. Choose a person who can be crucial for your organization. Consider creating multiple journey maps if there are two or more main users (like in University: student, candidate, and faculty member). Never link them together in one single map.
Maggie Goodway is a 30 years old single working as a manager for a logistic company. She loves efficient, optimized, and smart solutions. That's why she mainly uses technology wherever she can.
2. Scenario and expectations
Describe a scenario when your persona tries to achieve some goals referring to your product or service. Choose also this one which is crucial for your business. Focus on what you want to measure and your company’s goals.
For instance, the user can buy a washing machine from your eCommerce site or reserve the term in your car wash company. It would be selling it in a most efficient and satisfactory customer way for you. Don’t forget about customer expectations – like finding a washing machine that is the quietest and top opening or choosing the quickest date for the exterior wash and dry car with the whole interior clean.
Journey maps will best suit a company whose products involve a sequence of actions (like shopping, reserving a term, taking a trip) and describe the process, which has its stages and different channels.
Written scenarios serve the best for existing processes (actual, available products on the market) and anticipated – products and services in the design or launch stage.
Maggie was invited to her brother’s wedding party. She is a busy person and hates shopping in general. That’s why she decided to buy a dress online through an eCommerce website.
Her friend recommended your company that sells trendy and quality clothes there. She decided to search for this dress in the evening after her work. She expects to do it as fast as possible, to find what will suit their choices. Recently she saw in some commercial a dress in the powder pink color. She would like to find a cocktail dress in this color palette and choose the delivery option for parcel lockers because she is rarely at home.
We can break down every journey into smaller parts connected with separate actions, thoughts, and emotions of a customer. There is no one similar template for stages. Each scenario would contain different data and analysis. Try to figure out what a customer is trying to do when achieving their goal and write it down.
There can be some similar paths in similar businesses like:
- eCommerce: search - discover – buy – wait for the delivery – receive
- Registration: create an account – search option - choose service and date – get confirmation - go for the appointment
- SAAS: discover – try – purchase – onboarding – use & care
You can meet as well in some templates of ready stages of the customer journey like:
If they fit your user's journey, try it out! You can combine it with your stages because they usually adjust almost every customer action.
So in the describing case of searching for a dress by Maggie, it would be:
Each of the journey stages can map concrete aspects of them that we divide into:
Actual steps taken by the user described in a narrative mode. Each one is goal-driven
In a short version, on this analyzed journey, Maggie takes action by searching on the website for the dress, trying to find search filters. She is frustrated by their constraints. Finally, Maggie found a few choices to consider, but there was no option to add them to favorites, so she had to open them in different tabs. After a time-consuming comparison and external analyses, she decided to purchase one dress. Unfortunately, in the check-out process, she gets frustrated again because her preferred payment method is not available, and there is no option to deliver the package to parcel lockers. This means that she would have to ask her neighbors again to get the delivery from the courier.
At the end of this customer journey, she receives her delivery thanks to a neighbor who works from home.
- what the user is thinking during the action
For instance, Maggie thinks about:
- finding the dress in the most optimized way
- analyzing a few options and comparing them
- finding her favorite form of purchasing and delivery
- how to avoid asking a neighbor for help again
- how does the user feel according to his action and its results.
Some of Maggie's feelings:
- frustrated about search filter constraints: lack of color and dress type choice filter
- happy about finding a few options she likes
- satisfied that she finally decided what she wanted to buy
- angry that there is no her favorite payment and delivery option
- discouraged that she has to ask her neighbor again for help
It is a good habit to use emoticons in the journey map as they visualize what the user feels. But I strongly recommend naming those feelings, as emoticons sometimes are too ambiguous.
7. Pain points
- they are crucial to understanding our user path. It would be wonderful to focus on the journey map only on happy and satisfied customers, but that would mean that our company doesn’t need to develop itself. So for the best optimization of customer journey map, we advise concerning more on pain points that mean specific problems that a user has along their journey.
Maggie’s pain points marked above in the emotion component:
- frustrated because of search filter constraints.
- angry that there is no her favorite payment and delivery option
- discouraged that she has to ask her neighbor again for help
Opportunities are insights gained from the mapping process. They show the gaps and what can be optimized and improved in the next customer’s journeys. They sum up the knowledge of the whole of the team.
They help to answer questions like:
- What are the blind spots that didn’t get enough attention yet?
- What different channels can we use to communicate with the user?
- How do we improve user and customer experience?
- What are the most significant opportunities according to every step?
Some of the opportunities found in this journey mapping to use in future improvements:
- adding new search filter options
- developing the component of favorites on the web store
- adding more options for payment and delivery
What about touchpoints?
Some customer journey maps show that it's crucial to mention touchpoints during the mapping process. Some people are trying to identify them with channels. But a touchpoint is not a channel. It's a moment when the customer or user meets the organization that delivers the company's value proposition.
A touchpoint is a point of interaction involving a specific human need in a specific time and place.
"Un-Sucking the Touchpoint," Center Centre UIE
A touchpoint is the more contextual point of a meeting that leads customers to interact with a brand via an "information object wrapped in an interaction." They can occur through offline and online channels, no matter if they are within or outside the brand's control.
Now is the time. Let’s visualize Maggie’s journey on this map:
Why do you need a customer journey map?
A journey map helps outline what customers are experiencing while interacting with your brand and its offerings.
When we explore and visualize the customer or user journey, you are assessing knowledge about:
- customer behavior and attitudes
- what the customer is trying to do, and what is important to them?
- where are the moments with the greatest emotional load?
- what is the on-stage and off-stage user experience?
- what kind of channel do customer uses to interact with your brand?
- what is the customer feeling and saying?
- would the customer recommend your company to others?
It can reveal some hidden problems as well, like:
- Are my interface or communication channel friendly?
- Where are possible pain points that lead to leaving interaction by a customer with no finalization?
- What are the blind spots we haven’t been aware of?
A created journey map can serve you to train your teams about best practices and the value of curiosity in customer research. You can use it in company-wide meetings to periodically set up customer-based goals and measure KPIs.
How can a journey map serve you in developing your digital product?
A Journey Map can be a crucial tool for digital products and brands. It can provide helpful insights informing how we should build a brand's strategy and design the product and its content. Some of the expected values that you can receive thanks to the journey map:
- You can broaden your perspective and paint a more realistic picture of a customer experience while brainstorming with different teams in design, development, marketing, research, and management.
- You can understand how users interact with your products.
- You can produce better digital solutions.
- You can revise your assumptions and find out that some interactions aren't as intuitive for users as you thought before.
- You can realize where your bottlenecks are.
- You can boost your company page views, sales, and leads.
- You can see where there are additional opportunities for improvements and development of your product.
- You can increase conversions and improve customer retention of your brand.
Customer journey map = happy and cared customer = business success = loyal employee
A customer journey map doesn't guarantee the success of any company that introduces it into its activities. However, if done with the conviction of its importance in seeing the bigger picture, it can help understand customers and respond to their needs and, as recent research shows, make employees happier and more loyal. Finally, it's all about empathy and seeing the human factor in every business field.
So, are you eager to take this trip?
Jim Kalbach, "Mapping Experiences. A Complete Guide to Customer Alignment Through Journeys, Blueprints, and Diagrams." Second edition, Sebastopol 2021
Nielsen Norman Group, “Journey Mapping 101” https://www.nngroup.com/articles/journey-mapping-101/
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