What is a User Journey Map?
A User Journey Map, also known as a customer journey map, is a visual interpretation of an individual user’s relationship with an organization, service, product or brand over time and across channels. They include things like: personas, a timeline, emotions felt by customers, touch points and the channels where these interactions are taking place. It serves as a visualization tool of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal and for understanding and addressing customer needs and pain points. The story is told from the customer’s perspective, but also emphasizes the important intersections between audience expectations and business requirements.
An experience map is a strategic tool for capturing and presenting key insights into the complex customer interactions that occur across experiences with a product, service, or ecosystem.
Journey mapping begins with compiling user actions and goals into a timeline which is then fleshed out with thoughts and emotions to create a narrative. The narrative is then adapted to a visualization to illustrate these goals and interactions. Occasionally a more text based, storytelling approach is needed to describe the nuances and details associated with a customer’s experience.
Though journey maps usually result in a tangible deliverable, it’s the process that really counts and is more important than a polished visual or text result. Regardless of their finished format, they should inspire organizations to consider the experience from their customer’s point of view, stepping outside of the organization and into their customer’s shoes. The process of Journey mapping creates a more holistic view of a customer’s relationship with a service, and the process of bringing together and visualizing that data as interconnected can create deeper understanding and inspire ingenuity.
Key Elements of a User Journey Map
The Persona’s Point of View:
Before you can do anything else, you must choose the protagonist of your narrative. Who is this story about? By now you should have personas in place based on previous generative or evaluative UX research data. As a guideline, limit your user journey map to one point of view per map. This will ensure that the user journey map is as clear and relevant to the individual as possible.
The Scenario and Timeline
Next is to determine the specific scenario that you are narrating over a finite period of time. This can be a journey that already exists in order to uncover areas of improvement or a new experience for a product or service that is currently in development. For a more realistic understanding of discovery/purchasing behaviour, it helps to set the engagement over a realistic timeline, such as a week or a year, depending on the kind of product or service being offered. Be sure to make the user’s goals evident. What is this person looking to achieve: Is it purchasing an item or having a particular experience?
Actions, Mindsets, and Emotions
What the persona is doing, thinking, and feeling throughout the journey is the plot of your narrative and the heart of the journey map. Based on interviews, surveys and field studies, this journey should be based on qualitative UX research. The amount of detail that you dive into can vary based on the journey maps intended use: to broadly evaluate an entire purchasing cycle or illustrate one, self contained path of a larger ecosystem. The mindset and emotions of your customer are just as important as the actions they take: excitement, curiosity, anxiety, impatience and frustration are all important to identify and place in the timeline.
Touchpoints and Channels
A touchpoint is an event in which your protagonist and service/product connect. It’s how your user interacts with the organization. The journey map should align the touchpoints of your user with their actions, mindsets and emotions. The channel in which a touchpoint takes place is where the two are connecting, such as: online via a mobile device, desktop browsing, telephone call, in-store, etc. These two separate elements – mindset and touchpoint – are where inconsistencies and areas for improvement are often revealed.
Insights and Ownership
The point of the entire journey mapping exercise is to reveal any gaps or breaks in user experience and take action to optimize the experience. Insights and assigning ownership to areas of improvement are critical elements to complete the process. Any insight gained from the process should be documented and clearly evident. If possible, assigning ownership over particular areas of the journey map can clarify who is in charge of improving what. Only with the assignment of responsibility and commitment to improvement can positive change be enacted.
Constructing a User Journey Map
Journey maps vary based on the context in which they are used, but they tend to follow a general model broken into three key areas or ‘zones’: The lens or perspective through which this experience is viewed, the experience of the key protagonist, and the insights gleaned from the exercise.
The perspective provides context. We need to understand who is on the journey before we can evaluate whether the system in place is meeting their needs.
The experience of the protagonist, usually divided into key phases of the journey, shows the actions, mindset and emotions of the user corresponding to the various touchpoints they have across channels. This can be supplemented with quotes or video from the supporting UX Research.
List the user experience gaps, or identified areas of improvement, along the timeline. This descriptive area describes the pain points uncovered and the opportunities for improvement. As well as a potential area for assigning responsibility/ownership to making those improvements happen. Without a proper follow-through plan to move forward with improving the discoveries, UX research can fall by the wayside and be forgotten. Follow-through makes the whole process worthwhile.
Why Use a User Journey Map?
Despite the best of intentions by organizations, many continue to offer poor or disjointed user experiences. By visualizing a user’s journey by way of a user journey map or an experience map, one can identify and highlight key opportunities to improve those interactions and improve customer relationships.
It’s also an important shift in perspective for many within an organization, to focus on the point of view of the customer first and keep their priorities at the forefront when making decisions, as opposed to business objectives or quantifiable metrics. That being said, journey maps should always be created in support of known business objectives, otherwise whatever insight the map produces won’t be worthwhile to the organization to implement.
Shift Culture and Perspective
When internal processes and systems are the primary concern and begin to drive the decisions that impact a customer’s interaction with an organization, a journeymap can help shift the culture by refocusing on the actions, mindset and emotions of their target market. Journey Mapping brings to light real human emotions and experiences that organizations can become divorced from or fail to tune into.
Inspire Shared Vision
Because journey maps create a broad vision of a user’s interaction across many channels, they can become a means of creating dialogue across departments, encouraging collaboration between them. By highlighting areas in need of improvement, User Experience mapping can be an important first step in creating an organization-wide plan of action.
Contextualize Quantitative Data
If there has been a trend in an organization’s analytics or quantitative data that points to trouble – onboarding drop-off, abandoned shopping carts, etc – journey mapping can add qualitative context to the trend and offer insight as to how to correct the course.
How To Create a User Journey Map
Goal Setting and Review
Start by reviewing the organization’s goal for the product/service in question, as well as setting specific goals for the user experience map itself.
Before a User Journey Map can be effective, it needs to be supported by available qualitative and quantitative data, enough to establish realistic personas and actions. If there is a lack of research, get that information first otherwise your journey map may be illustrating educated guesses as opposed to your actual audience.
Generate a list of all the customer touchpoints and the channels on which those touchpoints currently occur. Then brainstorm additional touchpoints and or channels that could be incorporated in the future. For example, touchpoints for a booking a flight could be: Book online, Call reservations on the phone, or book in-person at a ticketing counter.
Empathizing with your personas and their experiences in given scenarios is key to building a deeper understanding of a customer’s experience and uncover what customers actually need. Empathizing also provides the material with which to build your journey map. The goal is to come to a deeper understanding of what it is to be that persona, with particular focus on their thinking and feeling.
Sketch the Journey
This is where you put together all the pieces: research, touchpoints, channels, actions, mindset and emotions, into one place. The way the information is laid out is entirely up to whoever is creating the map – it can be a standard left to right timeline, circular, or any other shape that best presents the narrative. It can be a large, expansive map, or a clickable piece, text based and story-like, or visualized, have storyboards, illustrations, audio or video. There is no limit to the presentation.
Refine and Digitize
Journey maps don’t begin as polished documents, but once it is finished you will likely want to polish up your journey map and share it with colleagues across the organization. A cleanly organized and well presented document will ensure that the most eyes review and understand your document. Work with a visual designer, if you aren’t one yourself, to lay out and visualize the journey map in a way that is easy to follow, to see at a glance, but dive deeply into when required.
While journey maps are usually tangible in the end, it’s the process of journey mapping that is the most important. It pushes us to think deeply about objectives, solving customer problems and methodologies. It also encourages organizations not to take for granted the perspectives and needs of the customer and to reorient their guiding principles around those points of view.
How to Implement a Journey Map
Share and Apply Insight
Assigning responsibility and ownership over areas of improvement are important strategies for application, however it is not enough on its own to ensure that journey maps are applied effectively.
It can be more effective to maintain a journey map over time and set review dates to evaluate how the existing user experience matches the documented vision you have created. Key performance indicator (KPI) goals can be set to track more quantifiable metrics, and qualitative follow-up research can be performed to ensure the experience is having intended positive impact.
Furthermore, journey map can serve as a strategic plan and launching point for recommendations and future initiatives. It can also be used as a way to gather team members together into collaborative cross-disciplinary meetings and workshops. Mixing together those who might otherwise rarely communicate with each other (in the case of large organizations) can be extremely valuable.
Ultimately, however the Journey Map is implemented it should be in service of understanding the essence of the customer journey from the customer’s perspective and sharing that insight as widely and broadly as possible within the organization. Finally, the journey map is an opportunity to take stock of an organization’s offering and ensure it meets the expectations of everyone involved.
References and Highly Recommended Resources
UX Mastery – How to Create a Customer Journey Map
Nielsen Norman Group – When and How to Create Customer Journey Maps