Last updated Oct 20 2020
How to create a customer journey map that improves customer success
There’s a common saying that you can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes—and that’s exactly what customer journey maps do: they help you put yourself in different customers’ shoes and understand your business from their point of view.
Why should you do it? How should you do it? Find the answers in this guide, which we wrote after interviewing 10+ customer journey experts who shared methodologies, dos and don’ts, and pro tips with us. This chapter gets you started with the basics of customer journey mapping, with instructions and templates to create your first customer journey map in 2 and ½ days; in later chapters, we’ll take deeper dives into customer journey analytics, workshops, and examples.
On this page:
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map (CJM) is a visual overview of how customers interact with and experience your website, products, or business across multiple touchpoints.
By visualizing the actions, thoughts, and emotions your customers experience, a customer journey map helps you better understand them and identify the pain points they encounter.
Mapping the customer journey: narrow vs. wide focus
A customer journey map can have a very narrow focus and only look at a few, specific steps of the customer experience (for example, a product-to-purchase flow on a website), or it can take into account all the touchpoints, online and offline, someone goes through before and after doing business with you. Each version has its advantages:
- A CJM with a narrow focus will allow you to zero in on an issue and go into incredible problem-solving depth
- A CJM with a wide focus will give you a broader, holistic understanding of how customers experience your business
Regardless of their focus, the best customer journey maps have one thing in common: they are created with real customer data you collect and analyze. The insight is usually organized into a map (hence the name), diagram, or flowchart during a group workshop, and is later shared across the entire business so everyone gets a clear and comprehensive overview of a customer’s journey.
4 benefits of customer journey mapping for YOUR business
In 2020, it’s almost a given that great customer experience gives a competitive advantage—and that’s also the subject of plenty of articles and books (including our own complete online guide to CX). But just how you are supposed to deliver on the concept and create wow-worthy experiences is often left unsaid, implied, or glossed over.
Customer journey maps help you find answers to this “How?” question. They are a concrete way to work towards creating a great experience, as they enable teams to:
- Visualize customer motivations, drivers, and pain points
- Create cross-team alignment around the business
- Remove internal silos and clarify areas of ownership
- Make improvements and convert more visitors into customers
We’ve done a lot of customer journey work here at Hotjar, so we know that the above is true—but don’t just take our word for it: all the people we interviewed for this guide confirmed the benefits of journey mapping. Below is what they shared with us (PS: if you’re sold already, you can skip straight to the ‘how do I create a customer journey map’ section).
1. Visualize customer motivations, drivers, and pain points
It’s one thing to present your entire team with charts, graphs, and trends about your customers, and quite another to put the same team in front of ONE map that highlights what customers are thinking, wanting, and doing at each specific step of their journey.
Mapping the journey to find customer pain points
I did my first customer journey map at Made.com within the first three months of joining the company. I was trying to map the journey to understand where the pain points were.
For example, people who want to buy a sofa from us will be coming back to the site 8+ times over several weeks before making a purchase. In that time, they may also visit a showroom. So now I look at that journey, at a customer’s motivation for going to the website versus a physical store, and I need to make sure that the experience in the showroom complements what they're doing on-site, and vice-versa, and that it all kind of comes together.
The map helps in seeing that journey progress right up to the time someone becomes a customer. And it also continues after: we see the next touchpoints and how we're looking to retain them as a customer, so that they come back and purchase again.
Spencer Wong, Head of Digital Experience—MADE.com
A customer journey map can be particularly powerful when you incorporate empathy into it, bringing to light insight into specific emotions that customers experience throughout the journey:
2. Create cross-team alignment around the business
The best, most useful customer journey maps are not the solo project of the UX (user experience) or marketing team (though they may well originate there). Customer journey maps are a quick, easy, and powerful way to help everybody in your business get a clearer understanding of how things work from a customers’ perspective—which is the first step in your quest towards creating a better experience for them.
Improving company-wide understanding
Our first goal for preparing a customer journey map was to improve understanding of the customers across the company, so that every employee could understand the entire process our clients go through.
For example, people from the shipping department didn't know how the process works online; people from marketing didn't know how customers behave after filing a complaint. Everything seems obvious, but when we shared these details, we saw that a lot of people didn't really know how the company itself works; this map made us realize that there were still gaps we needed to fill.
Marcin Migas, UX/UI Designer—Senetic
Bringing cross-functional teams together
Where a customer journey map comes in really handy is in cross-functional teams. On the map, you can make ‘swim lanes’ for different teams: for example, you can have a swim lane for customer success touchpoints and clearly pinpoint where the team comes in; you can have another swim lane for the engineering team and map out the systems that customers are using at each stage.
If we discover that customers have a pain point in a specific section of the map, different teams can look at the same section from several angles; customer support can communicate why something is not possible, and engineering can explain why it’s going to take X amount of effort to get it done. Especially in cross-functional teams where we all come from really different disciplines, I find these maps to be an incredible way for us all to speak the same language.
Julia Feld, Product Designer—Hotjar
3. Remove internal silos and clarify areas of ownership
As a company grows in size and complexity, the lines of ownership occasionally become blurry. With lack of clarity, a customer might get bounced like a ping pong ball across Sales, Success, and Support departments—not great for the seamless and frictionless customer experience we’re all wanting to offer.
A central source of ‘truth’ in the form of a customer journey map that everybody can refer to helps clarify areas of ownership and hand-over points.
Operationalizing internal processes
We were growing as a team, and we realized we needed to operationalize a lot of the processes that, before then, had just been manually communicated. We did it through a customer journey map. Our goal was to better understand where these hand-off points were and how to create a more seamless experience for our customers, because they were kind of being punted from team to team, from person to person—and often, it was really hard to keep tabs on exactly where the customer was in that entire journey.
Melissa Halim, Enterprise Product Marketer—Miro
4. Make improvements and convert more visitors into customers
In our experience, a customer journey map will take your team from “It appears that 30% of people leave the website at this stage” to “Oh s**t, people are leaving because the info is incomplete and the links are broken.” Once everyone is aligned on the painful moments that need to be addressed, changes that have a positive impact on the customer experience will happen faster.
Bringing all the insights together in one place
A customer journey map is the one tool I pull out of my box when I'm dealing with anybody, from the board members to the staff on the ground who are knee-deep in the process every single day. The customer journey map brings it all together: it doesn't matter who you've got in the room. If you’re doing a proper journey map, they always get enlightened in terms of "Oh, my word. I did not know the customer's actually experiencing this." And when I walk out of the session, we have often solved issues in the business. Accountability, responsibility have been assigned, and I find that it just works well.
Shaheema Adams, CEO—The CEX Lab
How to create your first customer journey map in 2 and ½ working days
The process of creating a customer journey map can be as long or short as you need. Depending on how many people and stakeholders you involve, how much data you can collect and analyze, and how many touchpoints there are across the business, you could be looking at days or even weeks and months of work.
If you are new to customer journey mapping, we think you’ll benefit from starting from a narrower scope before moving on to mapping every single customer touchpoint. Here is our beginner customer journey mapping framework that will help you go from zero to your first complete map in 2 and ½ working days:
- Day 1: preliminary customer journey mapping work
- Day 2: prep and run your customer journey mapping workshop
- Final ½ day: bring insights together and share
Day 1: preliminary customer journey mapping work
In your first day, you have three essential tasks:
- Define the goal and scope of your CJM
- Collect the customer data and insight you will use
- Invite your team to a customer journey mapping workshop
Step 1: define the goal and scope of your CJM
Clarifying what part(s) of the journey you are looking at, and why, helps you stay focused throughout the mapping process.
If this is your first map, start from a known issue or problematic area of your website; keep the scope small, and focus on anything you can break down into four or five steps. For example:
- If you have a high drop-off page with five calls-to-action, each of which takes people onto a different page, that’s enough for a mappable journey
- If your purchase flow is made of four/five self-contained pages, each of which loses you potential customers, that’s a good candidate for mapping as well
✅ The output → a one- or two-sentence description of what your map will cover, and why, that you can use whenever you need to explain what the process is about. For instance: This map looks at the purchase flow on our website, and helps us understand how customers go through each step and the issues or obstacles they encounter. The map starts after users click on ‘proceed to checkout’ and ends when they get to the thank-you page.
Step 2: collect the customer data and insight you will use
Once you have identified your goal and scope, the bulk of your first day should be spent collecting data and insight that you will analyze as part of your mapping process. Because you have narrowed your focus, you will not be distracted by data points that are interesting and nice to know, but ultimately irrelevant. Get your hands on as much of this as you can:
- Data from traditional analytics tools (such as Google Analytics) that can give you some insight into what is happening, overall, across the pages/stages covered by your customer journey map
- Quantitative and qualitative answers to Hotjar surveys that are relevant to the pages you’re going to investigate:
- Any information about existing user and customer personas (this helps you map the journey from the perspective of a real type of customer, rather than that of any hypothetical visitor)
- Any relevant data from customer service chat logs, emails, or even anecdotal information from support, sales, and/or success teams about the issues customers usually experience in the area covered by your map
Pro tip: how to collect valuable behavior insight
As you read this guide, you may not yet have most of this data, particularly when it comes to heatmaps, recordings, and survey results. That’s ok: unless you’re running your CJM workshop in the next 12 hours, you have enough time to set up Hotjar on your website and start collecting insight right now. You can:
- Start a few heatmaps on your most important pages
- Record visitor sessions across your website
- Run a couple of on-site surveys
(click on each link to learn how to do it)
When the time comes for you to start your customer journey mapping process, this data will be incredibly valuable.
✅ The output → you have some quantitative and qualitative data points about your customers and their experience in the area covered by your customer journey map. For example, you know how many people drop off at each individual stage, which page elements they are interacting with or ignoring, and you have collected some insight about what is stopping them from converting or convincing them to go further.
Step 3: invite your team to a customer journey mapping workshop
In our experience, the most effective way to get buy-in is not to try and convince people when things are done—it’s to have them be a part of the process from the start. So while you can easily do a customer journey map your own, it won’t be nearly as powerful as a map that you co-create with a few team members from different areas of expertise.
For example, if you’re looking at the purchase flow, you’ll benefit from working with:
- Someone from the UX team, who knows about the usability of the flow and can be an advocate for design changes
- Someone from dev or engineering, who will know how things work in the back-end, and will be able to push forward with any changes that result from the map
- Someone from success or support, who will have the most first-hand experience with talking to customers and resolving any issues they may be experiencing
Possibly unpopular but honest advice:
For your first map, stay small: 4 or 6 people, and no main stakeholders. This may be unpopular advice, especially since a lot of guides out there mention the importance of having stakeholders present from the start.
However, bringing too many people early on—when you are not yet very familiar with the process—can end up discouraging them from wanting to re-invest their time into future CJM tasks. At this stage, it’s more useful for you to try out a few things with a small team, get feedback on how to improve, and iterate a few times. Once you have a strong handle on the process, then it’s an excellent time to start looping stakeholders in.
✅ The output → you have set a date, booked a space, and invited a group of 4-6 participants to your customer journey mapping workshop.
Day 2: prep and run your customer journey mapping workshop
On workshop day, you will spend ½ of the time prepping and the other ½ running the actual session.
Step 1: prepare the materials you will need
To run a smooth workshop, make sure you have done all of the below:
- Bring your stationery: for an interactive workshop, you will need basic materials such as pens, Post-its of different colors, masking tape, and large sheets of paper to hang on the wall. Make sure you have enough supplies for your team of 4-6 people
- Collect and print out the data: you will be using the data you collected during your Day 1 preparation. It’s good to have digital copies on a laptop or tablet for everybody to access, but print-outs can be a more useful alternative as people can take notes and scribble on them
- Print out an empathy map canvas for each participant: you will start the workshop with an empathy mapping exercise (more on this below). For this, you’ll hand each participant an empty empathy map canvas that you can recreate from the template below:
Set up the journey template on the wall: use a large sheet of paper to create a grid that you will stick to the wall and fill in as part of the workshop. On the horizontal axis, write the steps you identified during your Day 1 prep work; on the vertical axis, list the themes you want to analyze for each step. For example:
- the ACTIONS your customers take
- the QUESTIONS they might have
- the HAPPY moments they experience
- the PAIN POINTS they experience
- the TECH LIMITS they might encounter
- the OPPORTUNITIES that arise
Step 2: run the workshop
This is the most interactive (and fun) part of the process. Follow the framework below to go from zero to a completed draft of a map in just under 2 hours (editor’s note: we will soon publish an additional chapter that breaks down the workshop steps in more detail).
Introduction [🕒 5-10 min]
- Introduce yourself and your participants to one another
- Using the one-two sentence description you defined on Day 1, explain the goal and scope of the workshop and the activities it will involve
- Offer a quick recap of the customer persona you will be referring to throughout the session
Empathy mapping exercise [🕒 30min]
- Using the persona and data available, each team member maps observations onto sticky notes and pastes them on the relevant section of the empathy mapping canvas
- All participants take turns presenting their empathy map
- Facilitate group discussions where interesting points of agreement or disagreement appear
Customer journey mapping [🕒 60min]
Using post-its, each participant fills in parts of the grid with available information. Start by filling the first row together, so everybody understands the process, then do each row individually (15-20min). At the end of the process, you should have something like this:
Looking at the completed map, encourage the team to discuss and align on core observations (and take notes: they will come in handy on your final ½ day). At this point, pain points and opportunities should become very evident for everybody involved. Having a cross-functional team means people will naturally start discussing what can, or cannot, immediately be done to address them (35-40 mins).
Wrap up [🕒 5min]
Congratulations! Your first customer journey map is done. Finish the session by thanking your participants, and letting them know what the next steps are—for this, there’s a bit of extra work to do.
Final ½ day: wrap up and share
Once you’ve gone through the entire customer journey mapping workshop, the number one thing you want to avoid is for all this effort to go to waste. Instead of leaving the map hanging on the wall (or, worse: taking it down, folding it, and forgetting about it), the final step is to wrap the process up and communicate the results to the larger team.
- Digitize the map so it can be easily updated and shared. A tip: it may be tempting to use dedicated software or invest time into beautiful design, but for the first few iterations it’s enough to simply add the map to your team’s existing workflows (for example, our team digitized our version and added it straight into Jira, where most of us can look at it as part of our normal routines).
- Offer a quick write-up or a 5min video introduction of the activity (re-use the description you had come up with during your Day 1 work), including who was involved and the top 3 noteworthy outcomes.
- Clearly state what the follow-up actions will be. If you have found obvious issues that need fixing, that’s a likely next step; if you have identified opportunities for change and improvement, you may want to validate these findings via customer interviews and usability testing.
The secret of getting value from customer journey mapping is not just building the map itself: it's taking action based on what you discovered. Having a list of changes that you can prioritize means that you can also measure their effect once implemented, and keep on improving the experience for your customers. This all starts from having the right data—the sooner you start collecting it, the more information you will have when the time comes to make a decision.
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