Research and InsightsMobile Strategy

Customer Journey Maps: Why Your Company Needs Them (Plus Downloadable Templates)

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What is a Customer Journey Map?

A common frustration amidst designers is the bewilderment they feel as they watch a user interact with their product in a way that is "clearly” not correct. Usually, this frustration amplifies with each subsequent user interaction (e.g. the tap of a button or the scroll of a finger) because the user is getting further and further off the intended “path” that the designer so painstakingly planned.

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This “path” — a series of sequential interactions with a product by a user—is commonly called a “customer journey” or “user journey”, with the start of the journey designated by the user’s first interaction with the product and the end of the journey designated by some desirable outcome for the company—for example, the user checking out in an e-commerce app. While this often focuses on in-app interactions, it can also contain broader interactions like “reading a marketing email”, “receiving a package”, “talking to a support specialist”, and more.

The reason why the act of designing products is so difficult is that human beings don’t make decisions in an entirely logical fashion. Our brains rely on pattern recognition from previous personal experiences to make snap decisions, and this process is inherently difficult to predict. So what is a designer, or more broadly, a company to do?

Enter the “Customer Journey Map”, a visual representation of the customer journey described above. The nature of the diagram forces the designer to articulate the user’s path in terms of the customer’s thoughts and feelings, not just their actions. This turns out to be a much more effective approach for predicting the snap-decision oriented way in which users interact with products.

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Not only does this process result in a better-designed product, it often results in significantly better financial performance. Consider this user mapping impact analysis: when the customer journey is mapped and managed successfully, companies see an average of 24.9% YOY increase in incremental revenue associated with marketing campaigns, a 21.2% reduction in service costs, and a 16.8% shrinkage in the sales cycle.

Getting Started

In its simplest form, a Customer Journey Map is a sequential list of interactions that a user takes in their journey, along with the designer’s best attempt at stating the user’s intent at each step. This intent is usually broken out into 3 pieces: “What are they doing?” (e.g. clicking a button), “What are they thinking?” (e.g. “I’m going to need this shipped to Mom’s house"), and “What are they feeling?” (e.g. “I can’t wait for her to open it!").

When creating a Customer Journey Map, it is useful to both articulate what the user is realistically doing/thinking/feeling at each step as-is, as well as what they would ideally be doing/thinking/feeling if they used the product exactly as intended. This process allows you to assess which steps in the journey have the largest gap between expected and actual intent, and then use that information to improve the product’s design.

Thankfully, this information can be easily captured without an in house designer or custom tools by leveraging something as straightforward as a spreadsheet with rows as steps in the journey and columns as information about each step. We’ve created a Simple Customer Journey Mapping Google Sheet Template that you are welcome to duplicate and use to get started.

Taking it to the next level

Though the Google Sheets version is a great start towards better understanding users and designing product experiences that meet their needs, it falls short in two key ways.

The first is that it underwhelms as a visual artifact. An important goal of the Customer Journey Map is to help colleagues understand and empathize with a user’s experience, and a beautiful visualization is an unparalleled tool for doing so. Below is a downloadable Sketch Customer Journey Map template that you are welcome to use towards that end:

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The second is that the simplicity of the Google Sheet belies the level of difficulty involved in accurately capturing the user’s thoughts and feelings at each step in the journey. This process requires solid user research techniques, and unfortunately, that requires both the time to carry out studies and the know-how around how to do so.

The Nielsen Norman Group outlines 3 key areas in which user research often falls short:

  1. the study was done incorrectly, due to bias or experimentation methods
  2. the study won’t generalize to other situations
  3. the study was a fluke and doesn’t represent the likely case

They go on to recommend that an organization should put its trust in research that is aggregated across a diverse set of circumstances — different types of users, situations, platforms, and more — because these combined findings are likely to be more accurate than isolated findings.

Here at WillowTree, we have seen a lot of value in this broad-based approach and have cataloged our learnings across a wide set of products, users, and research techniques. We often leverage tools like Kano surveys to test ideas for delight and expectation, and services like Validately to test designs remotely. We also lean heavily on the use of our Usability Lab, which is a physical space built to our product research team’s specifications to help us conduct better in-person user tests. The space includes an observation room, 2-way mirror, and a testing room with multiple cameras and microphones. As we’ve learned, no matter how great the online tool, there’s simply no replacement for facilitating and observing a user test in real time and in a real physical space.

How can WillowTree help?

WillowTree believes that having a strong research capability is as important as having strong design and engineering capabilities when it comes to building great products. We understand that this means some extra time at the beginning of a project, and that while the itch to get started on the building phase is strong, in our experience, investing in this early research is a crucial part of success. Not only does truly understanding your users by testing assumptions about what they’re feeling/thinking/doing result in a product that can better address their needs and produce higher profits, but it also reduces the overall amount of time and money spent on the build phase by doing it right the first time!

We have invested deeply in these research capabilities over the years, with the outcome being a process that is efficient, enjoyable, and impactful. Customer Journey Maps are an important part of that process because they:

  1. capture the full user experience — feelings and all — in one view, which
  2. serve as a beautifully designed tool for building empathy in an organization, and
  3. produce an actionable set of recommended improvements to the user experience.

Need help improving your Customer Journey Maps? Please drop us a line!

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