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The 7 best research methods for customer journey mapping

Getting authentic insights from customers is essential to effectively map out their journey. And understanding how users really interact with your product is the best way to provide tailored experiences that fit your customers’ diverse needs.

But it’s often hard to know where to begin the customer journey mapping research process and which methods to use.

Last updated

16 Jun 2022
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This article outlines the seven most effective research methods for customer journey mapping. Use our guide to prioritize the right qualitative and quantitative research processes for your needs—and implement them right away.

Use product experience insights to map your customer journey

Hotjar helps you understand your users by combining observational data with voice-of-the-customer (VoC) insights

7 effective customer journey mapping research methods

A customer journey map is a visual representation of how your users engage with your brand, from initial discovery—like searching online for a solution to their problem—to browsing your site, trying out your product, making a purchase—and beyond. 

Make sure your customer journey maps are informed by user-centric research rather than assumptions and guesswork.

Carry out both qualitative and quantitative research using the methods below to create a map that accurately represents your users' product experience (PX):

Qualitative research methods

Quantitative research methods are essential for effective customer journey mapping: they provide hard data that’s easy to track and compare over time. But qualitative methods uncover the how and the why behind the numbers, helping you deeply understand your customers' experience.

Hotjar Product Designer Iga Gawronska stresses the importance of diving into customer emotions in research:

"I think it’s important to map out the actions, and also the emotions and thoughts of the people that perform the actions, your users."

Iga Gawronska
Product Designer at Hotjar

Use the following four qualitative research methods to get an in-depth understanding of how customers engage with your brand online.

1. Customer interviews

Customer interviews are one-on-one conversations with people who actually use your product or service. Conducting them in-person often yields the best results because it’s easier to pick up on non-verbal cues and the interview can flow more naturally—but video conferencing with tools like Zoom is a good secondary option.

By engaging in an open-ended conversation with customers, you’ll get unexpected insights and granular details about your customer’s journey, which helps you empathize with the user experience (UX).

Structuring your user interviews in different stages can help get the conversation going. Start with a warm-up that establishes trust and builds rapport, then home in on your core questions, and end with more informal, concluding thoughts from both parties.

Input your results into a user research repository as you go, so you don’t get overwhelmed at the end of the interview process. Some researchers make simple spreadsheets in Google Sheets or Excel, while others use dedicated tools like EnjoyHQ or Dovetail.

Once you’ve aggregated your interview data, you’ll start to notice trends and commonalities between interviewees and understand how they’re engaging with key touchpoints in your customer journey and what’s most important to them.

Pro tip: use a transcription tool like Otter.ai to stay focused on conducting your interview without having to take detailed notes. Having a written record of interviews at your fingertips also speeds up your data organization and analysis later.

2. Remote observation

Remote observation lets researchers see how users are behaving using online tools like video calling and screen recordings.

Remote research is convenient for both researchers and participants—neither party has to leave the comfort of their home or workspace and they can do what they need to do when it suits their schedule. Using remote research gives you insights into how your customers interact with key touchpoints on the customer journey in their everyday environment and context.

Here are two effective ways to observe your customers’ journey remotely:

  • Use a video conferencing tool like Zoom or Google Meet and ask users to share their screen with you while they’re interacting with your site, app, or product. Draw on the data you gather to inform your customer journey map.

  • Use a product experience insights tool like Hotjar Session Recordings and watch playbacks of real users interacting with your site or product across an entire session, as you observe how they scroll, what attracts attention, and where they backtrack or bounce.

Recordings are particularly valuable tools to understand the customer journey because they let researchers observe users remotely without them feeling ‘watched’ and behaving differently than usual. 

Filter your Hotjar Recordings to show certain user sessions based on referrer URL, the landing page they visited, whether they’re a new or returning customer, their session, the specific action they take, their location, and u-turns. This helps you spot trends, understand behavior patterns for different user personas, and dig deeper into the customer journey.

#Hotjar Session Recordings are a great way to remotely research how people engage with your site as part of their customer journey.
Hotjar Session Recordings are a great way to remotely research how people engage with your site as part of their customer journey.

3. Lab observation

In lab observation, the researcher observes the participant in person, either in a formal ‘lab’ setting or another professional, controlled environment.

Lab observation can be complicated to carry out because of the cost and logistics involved, and it’s often more time-consuming than remote methods. But it’s a valuable research technique, with a reduced risk of technical difficulties and a great opportunity to build a friendly rapport with participants.

If you op for lab observation, record your conversations with participants or use a note-taking tool like Notion or Evernote to write down your observations while the participant is interacting with the site or product, so it’s easy to find the data later. As the participant explores key customer journey touchpoints, take the opportunity to ask follow-up questions to understand why your test customers are making certain choices.

4. Qualitative surveys

Qualitative surveys usually involve asking open-ended questions that prompt detailed, long-form user responses. They give you great customer insights to inform your journey map, are easy to put together, inexpensive, and work well with large numbers of participants.

The success of your survey depends on the UX research questions you ask

It’s important not to (knowingly or unknowingly) ask leading questions, as you’ll likely get biased responses from your participants, which won’t help you in accurately mapping out your customers’ journey. Let’s imagine you ask a research participant the following survey question:

“Did our ‘sign up for a free trial’ button catch your attention on our homepage? Why?”

This doesn’t work because the participant can’t really answer your question freely: you’re implying that your homepage CTA button should have caught their attention, so they’re more likely to answer ‘yes.’ 

Instead, you should ask:

  • “What site element attracts your attention most on our homepage? Why?”

Or, if they’ve already converted:

  • “What made you decide to click the ‘sign up for a free trial’ button on the homepage?’

Here, you’re letting the research participant fill in the blanks on their own, which will get you a more accurate picture of their user experience.

Pro tip: use Hotjar’s Survey tool and survey templates to quickly and easily create your own qualitative surveys and get all the details about your customers’ journey—in their own words. Filter responses and set up automations for your team to receive alerts when you get certain survey responses to uncover trends in your user data all in one place.

#Use Hotjar Surveys to connect with customers and hear about all the stages in their journey with your brand.

Use Hotjar Surveys to connect with customers and hear about all the stages in their journey with your brand.

Quantitative research methods to complement qualitative data

While qualitative research is the best way to build empathy with your customers and get a holistic view of their product experience, you also need quantitative data to get an objective, granular understanding of key moments in the customer journey.

Use these three quantitative research methods to gather precise information about your customers’ digital journey with your product:

5. Website analytics

Because website analytics show you hard data about how people are interacting with your site, they’re a great resource for customer journey mapping research. Investigate these key metrics to better understand how your users move across touchpoints:

  • Traffic source: are customers searching for your site on Google, clicking on a landing page, or visiting from a social media channel?

  • Bounce rate: do visitors arrive on your site and navigate away soon after? Or do they stay for a while, browse, and take a conversion action, like making a purchase?

  • New vs. returning customers: how many users are new leads and how many are existing customers?

  • Session duration: how long do customers spend engaging with your site on average?

While website analytics don’t explain why your users are taking certain actions, they clearly show what customers are doing on your site—and how they got there.

For best results, use a PX insights platform like Hotjar to fill in the gaps between the numbers with rich qualitative insights.

Matthew Nixon, managing director of Molzana, illustrates how teams can combine website analytics and qualitative research tools for optimal customer journey mapping:

"Using tools like Hotjar adds color to our quantitative analysis. Before, events like button clicks, scroll rate, and video plays might not have been tagged. This is where Hotjar comes in; click and scroll maps allow us to quantify user behavior in a much more granular way, which complements the trend data we collect from web analytics."

Matthew Nixon
Managing Director of Molzana

Google Analytics is a great option for quantitative website or app data: it’s both powerful and relatively easy to set up and navigate. Use Hotjar’s Google Analytics integration to go deeper and gather both qualitative and quantitative insights to inform your customer journey map.

6. Quantitative surveys

Quantitative surveys ask customers closed-ended questions that can be answered quickly—by checking yes or no, typing in one word, or selecting a multiple-choice answer.

Quantitative surveys can take a bit longer to put together, but they’re quick and easy for customers to fill out. With Hotjar, you can quickly create quantitative surveys by modifying questions from our question bank, and build surveys your users can address in a click or two, without disrupting their experience. 

While quantitative surveys don’t give you the same level of in-depth information as qualitative, open-ended questions, they’re helpful to get a statistical overview on the customer journey, or if you’ve already identified a potential problem and want to better understand the issue.

Imagine you've discovered, through qualitative research, that several customers report difficulties browsing your website. Place a quantitative survey on key web or product pages to get more details about the exact issues they’re experiencing with questions like:

  • Did you experience friction when browsing our website?

  1. Yes

  2. No

  • What was the biggest problem you experienced when browsing our website:

  1. Difficult to navigate on mobile

  2. Bugs or glitches

  3. Confusing navigation menu

  4. Pages loaded slowly or incorrectly

  5. I had trouble finding what I wanted

Collecting enough responses to quantitative questions helps you prioritize the most important elements of the customer experience to map out an improved user journey.

7. Customer satisfaction scores

#Use Hotjar’s Feedback widgets to conduct on-site NPS surveys without disrupting UX.
Use Hotjar’s Feedback widgets to conduct on-site NPS surveys without disrupting UX.

Measuring customer satisfaction is important to understand which touchpoints are working well for your users, and which you need to improve. In particular, Net Promoter Score® (NPS) is a great indicator of overall customer loyalty and satisfaction. 

Researchers calculate this metric by asking existing customers how likely they are to recommend your product to their network on a scale of 1 to 10. Their ratings help you understand overall customer satisfaction levels, and also split users up into specific groups:

  • Promoters (9-10): your biggest fans. They’re highly likely to stay loyal to your company and recommend you far and wide.

  • Passives (7-8): middle of the road. These customers are more or less satisfied with your brand but would consider jumping ship to a competitor who meets their needs better.

  • Detractors (0-6): these users may have had a negative experience with your company that’s made them unlikely to return—they may even write negative reviews or testimonials about your product or services. However, negative feedback is also useful as it helps you understand which parts of your customer journey you need to focus on and fix.

While NPS scores give you an idea of how well your brand is serving your customers, they don’t tell you why customers are so loyal they regularly recommend your company. That’s why it’s a good idea to ask a couple of quick follow-up questions in your NPS survey, like “What can we do to improve your score?”

Use Hotjar’s non-intrusive Feedback widgets and Survey tools to get NPS survey responses from customers while they’re navigating your site.

Once you’ve calculated your NPS score, use your findings to identify how you can improve the customer experience and where the customer journey needs updating. For example, if many customers complained about friction in the checkout process, that’s a good indication you should focus on optimizing that part of your on-site customer journey.

Deep customer knowledge makes for easy journey mapping

Thorough research is the best way to build a customer journey map that lets you truly understand your customers and their user experience. It’s essential to use a mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods to dig deep into how customers are behaving on your site and understand why and how they’re carrying out certain actions.

Combine these methods to understand your customers’ experiences from different perspectives and prioritize creating a stellar user journey.

Use product experience insights to map your customer journey

Hotjar helps you understand your users by combining observational data with voice-of-the-customer (VoC) insights.

FAQs about customer journey mapping research