A customer journey map (CJM) is a powerful communication tool.
Like a user flow on steroids—a journey map visualizes the path a customer takes to get from point A to point B, their obstacles, thought process, emotions, and how or where they completed each activity.
Here is my 5-step process for creating a research-based customer journey map:
- Framework (optional)
- Customer Research
- Map Creation
1. Conduct Discovery
Heading into a customer journey mapping project, I want to gather as much “intel” as I possibly can. What do we already know? What don’t we know?
There are several places in a customer lifecycle where a journey map could be utilized: pre-purchase, onboarding, product installation, etc.
For example, here are some possible “discovery” activities for a pre-purchase journey map:
- Interview customer-facing SMEs (e.g., sales, customer service)
- Review existing customer research & buyer personas
- Listen to sales calls
- Observe sales meetings between the client & their prospects
- Review sales protocol flow charts & communications / scripts
After reviewing what the client already knows, next, I create a user flow or a mindmap to help me organize everything I’ve learned so far into a single, semi-coherent diagram. This diagram is really just for me—meaning I usually don’t share it with anyone unless I have follow-up questions.
2. Create a Journey Framework (Optional)
By now, I have a good pretty mental picture of what the overall structure of the journey map might look like… but I want to first verify what’s in my head. To do this, I recruit 6-10 SMEs to create a journey map framework (or hypothesis map).
Before the start of the workshop, I draw 4 horizontal lines on a large whiteboard. In the first row, I write “do.” On the second and third rows, I write “think” and “feel.” And the bottom row, I write “touchpoint.”
- DO – What is the customer doing? What is the specific activity or task?
- THINK – What are they thinking about while they complete that activity or task? What questions do they have?
- FEEL – What are they feeling while they complete that activity? What are their emotions?
- TOUCHPOINT – Where is the customer at the time of the activity? On the website, at home, at the store, on the phone?
During the workshop, I lead the group through an exercise where I ask everyone to write down everything they know (or think they know) about the customer’s journey onto sticky notes. Once that’s finished, we take a step back and identify any knowledge gaps. Stickies are placed on the appropriate rows (and then organized into columns or clumps).
While all of this happening, I capture questions and theories in my notebook to validate later with real customers.
3. Conduct Customer Research
There are 2 common ways I gather customer insights for a journey map:
- Customer workshops
- Longitudinal study
If your budget and timeline allows, I recommend conducting both types of studies.
You might use the customer workshops to develop the framework, and the longitudinal study to validate what you’ve learned so far as well as gather deeper insights.
Option 1: Customer Workshops
In a workshop for a pre-purchase journey map, I assemble a mix of real prospective customers and new customers to have them document their actual journey.
I ask participants to write out each step on a sticky note, arrange them in a timeline on a table or wall, and then present their journey to the group. Other participants are invited to chime in or ask questions.
Before the timeline is disassembled, I snap photos of it to re-create back at the client’s office.
If you’re short on time or budget, this is going to be your best option — but it also has drawbacks.
- Fast, relatively low-cost
- Participant collaboration and discussion
- Relatively easy to gather and analyze data
- High-level perspective of journey
- Self-reported data (many details will be overlooked and forgotten)
- Participants may not want to share their steps or thought process in front of others, especially when there are privacy concerns (e.g., health issues, corporate strategy)
Option 2: Longitudinal Study
A longitudinal study can include a wide variety of research methods. My favorite approach is to use a combination of phone/video interviews and a written diary.
You could substitute or augment phone interviews with field studies, video diaries, contextual inquiries, or other research methods — depending on your needs.
- Opportunity to collect observational data
- In-depth insights
- Captures activities and emotions closer to real-time
- Ability to re-act / pivot as you learn more
- Time-consuming and not low-cost
- Requires high engagement from participants
- More difficult to recruit and retain participants
- Creates an enormous amount of data to analyze
Due to the length of time it takes to complete a study of this magnitude, I like to share high-level findings periodically with the project team. This allows the team to start absorbing the information, re-act with additional questions, or pivot, if needed.
Everything I learn from the longitudinal study goes into a giant spreadsheet.
4. Synthesize + Design Map
Depending on the research approach, it may be relatively easy to see patterns emerge or quite arduous to sift through all the data.
The map evolves first from whiteboard sketches and stickies, then to the formal “designed” version.
Before the journey map is rubber stamped for final approval, it’s a good idea to have an extra pair of eyes review it. Run it past customer-facing folks to see if the map resonates with them. Any glaring gaps or misses?
5. Socialize + Activate
At last the journey map is complete, and the share-outs and execution work can begin.
In large organizations, it can take time and many conversations to build buy-in.
To support this process, I recommend facilitating activation workshops to help adjacent project teams — who might not be as close to the work — practice using the CJM or explore ways to incorporate it into their workflow.
Break the team(s) into small groups, and have each tackle a portion of the customer journey.
I have a handy acronym for this type of activation workshop I call “LIFFT.”
- LEVERAGE – What’s working well that we should leverage or amplify?
- IMPROVE – What areas of the experience need TLC?
- FIX – What’s broken in the process that needs to be completely overhauled?
- FILL – Where are the gaps in the experience?
- TEST – Where do we need additional research or what can we test?