Customer Journeys: A step-by-step guide to creating value

21st March 2017

Sarah Curds Owner at Informed Design

Customer Journeys: A step-by-step guide to creating value

A few weeks ago I delivered a customer journey master class for a travel organisation. It's always great to work with an organisation investing to improve their customer experience but it's not often a company asks for training specifically in the one UX activity that I believe can be a true game changer for business.

This post shares my thoughts on what makes customer journeys (also known as user journeys) so valuable to businesses and offers a step-by-step guide to create your own.

Editor Note: This post might be long, but it is awesome. Grab a coffee, soak it in and get in touch, but keep reading... you won't regret it.

Customer Journeys are a tool for change throughout the business

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Why are customer journeys so valuable?

While I personally find the process of pulling together research and analysis fascinating, “because it's fun” isn't a helpful justification for all the time and effort involved. Instead it’s helpful to know, and be able to convey, the two main ways customer journeys have proven to be valuable:

01. Consistency of service and experience

More and more companies understand the value of improving their customer experience. Most work hard to ensure customers are happy with their marketing, digital, store and staff interactions. But this results in a focus on those individual touch points rather than the customer’s end-to-end experience across them all.

Consistency of service and experience is vital as brands open up new ways to engage with their customers through different channels, devices and applications. Because of this, organisations are recognising the need to manage the whole customer journey while optimising individual touch points.

I carried out a recent customer journey exercise that my client and I hoped would help us prioritise digital content and services to improve the customer experience. What we found instead was an on-boarding journey that took the user from the website to the call centre (with up to 3 separate customer service/sales contacts), back to the website and finally email. We quickly realised streamlining this process would add far more value to the customer experience than the digital journey alone.

To hit this point home, McKinsey offers some useful research into the customers’ cumulative experience across multiple touch points, multiple channels, and over time.

02. Innovation and market disruption

Eliminating pain points for customers is important but a holistic view of the customer journey can also highlight areas to help differentiate your business from competitors. Customer expectations change over time and staying ahead of these trends can be critical in maintaining a competitive advantage.

For example, Broadcasters in the race to be first choice for viewers are coming up with new ways to make their content accessible with multi-platform offerings that cut across linear, mobile and digital. New entrants into the African market are offering a disruptive and affordable ‘pay as you watch’ service that turns the traditional pay TV model on its head.

Working with a different travel company some years ago I was tasked with driving traffic to location-specific websites. Together we increased traffic (and as a result market share) by using user journey analysis to identify a gap that could be filled with market-leading content created by experts on the ground in each country.

Customer or user journeys can help identify gaps in the market that offer opportunities for product and service innovation. Filling these gaps can give businesses the competitive edge in existing markets and even help to create new ones.

Tie journeys back to personas and what real people do

How well do you know your customers? Customer journeys only really work if you focus on one specific audience segment. You will need to create at least one journey for each of your primary personas otherwise you’ll end up with a journey too complex or too high level to be of use.

Before you map the customer journey, choose a layout or establish its level of complexity, you’ll need an idea of what the journey should contain. First, gather evidence about your users and what they do:

User interactions and touch points

• These will come from your user research (e.g. customer surveys and interviews that informed your persona), insights from customer-facing staff, and from marketplace research.

System interactions

• List the different tasks that users complete using different systems e.g. viewing a map, using a search engine, sending an email, filtering a product list, making a product purchase or submitting a call back request form etc.

Possible system opportunities and barriers

• These can be identified by analysing web analytics for your customer segment such as user paths / behaviour flow, conversion paths and landing pages

Reflect one possible path during one possible scenario

Customer journeys become user experience maps when they include information about the user’s mental state and their thoughts or feelings about each touch point they experience. To define your user’s state of mind during the journey you’ll need: your persona, their context of use and a common user scenario. The UX lady in her blog recommends having 2-3 scenarios in mind to help identify what is most important.

For a travel company, this could be an overseas traveller (persona) who needs to find and book a trip or travel experience at their chosen destination (context of use) and has been directed to your website by a partner or affiliate website (scenario).

Draw a ‘path draft’

Once you’ve gathered your research and have a clear persona in mind, it’s time to draw a path draft. Your goal is to find all possible touch points, define their impact and your persona’s emotional reactions to each point.

Try not to force the path in order to show what you think should be important. I use the Customer Activity Cycle model adapted from an MIT study to follow the path as naturally as possible. I was introduced to the ‘Customer Activity Cycle’ by the wonderful people at Hyper Island. I’ve found it to be the most simple and valuable tool for understanding audiences.

The Customer Activity Cycle

The Customer Activity Cycle

User journeys don’t always become a designed deliverable - sometimes they begin and end as sticky notes on a flipchart or sketches on a whiteboard.

Building your own Customer Journey

Customer Journey Exercise

Go back and forward all times you need to correct the initial path, adding different dimensions and elements to your map.

Remember to include:

Interactions and touch points

For example, compare brands on comparison website, view a search engine ad, filter a product list

Connection types

Usually indicated using an arrow e.g. direct next step, repeated or on going activity

Experience phases

For example, ‘awareness’, ‘consideration’, ‘conversion’

Thoughts and feelings

Usually indicated by a quote or emoticon

Add interactions, connection types, experience phases and thoughts/feelings to your draft path

Customer Journey Exercise

Reduce waste in the journey to add value

Once you are certain that all of the most important elements have been included in the path draft you can begin to identify potential waste (e.g. non-essential content, lengthy processes) and opportunities (e.g. new products, services or content) behind touch points.

You can find interaction and content opportunities by:

• Using your knowledge of what ‘value’ really means to your audience (e.g. service v cost)

• Use LEAN methodology to identify potential waste (e.g. unused content, too many steps/delays)

• Ideate with experts (e.g. your customers, partners and internal teams)

Determine your journey layout: Timeline Vs Cycle

Timeline is the most common layout as it reflects the natural process of reading top to bottom left to right. I normally use the wheel layout in part because this mirrors the ‘Customer Activity Cycle’ and in part due to the evergreen nature of my client’s businesses. Most of my clients aim to continuously engage their clients (e.g. best price energy supply) or provide an on going service that meets changing user needs throughout their lifetime (e.g. financial investments). The UX Lady has some great examples of both layout types.

The clarity of your customer journey and how it’s consumed will depend on choosing the right layout and graphic elements.

Important factors that might affect your layout choice include:

• Content and complexity e.g. volume and variety of touch points, phases and opportunities

• Which aspects deserve the most emphasis e.g. online v offline touch points, interaction types, emotions

• Use of classic timeline (e.g. Starbucks Experience Map) or wheel layout (e.g. Lego Map)

Customer journeys are based on your understanding of the data and evidence collected. Make sure this matches the truth as closely as possible. Aim to test your goal and scenario with a real user (or customer-facing staff) before designing the final version.

Now you know what to do

It is unlikely that there is one person in your organisation who can collect and analyse all the evidence, draft the customer cycle and design the layout. I typically work with my client and their customers and stakeholders to develop customer journeys and user experience maps.

Customer journeys can be used as a tool for change throughout the business.

Investing in user journeys can help:

• Design teams understand user flow, behaviour and experience when designing for a particular goal

• Business owners prioritise developments or changes to their product, service or business model

• Project managers demonstrate the vision for a new project

• Content teams define taxonomy and content changes

• Developers identify interface developments and possible functionality at a high level

The question isn’t ‘why’ you should invest in developing customer journeys. It is how can you benefit from detailed customer journeys?

What is your primary customer journey? At what stage do your customers consider your business? How much waste is on your customer journey, and what are you doing to reduce it? Get in touch, leave comment and let's chat; we are available on the phone, email & social media... whatever journey you prefer!

Think you are up to the task?

The Digital Co offer The Complete Guide to User Experience Design Training for marketers of all levels. Is this course for you? Why not check it out.

Why not test yourself with our User Experience Skills Test to help you begin your journey into the world of UX.


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