Journey mapping – Use with care, if at all

Journey Mapping is probably the most sophisticated and complete form of customer experience measurement and improvement. Perhaps too sophisticated. Read what follows and see what you think.

Most companies and teams start off thinking they have relatively few customer contact points. They tend to think in terms of sales cycles. Typical terminology identifies the following steps, all of which involve customer contact of some sort:

  • Awareness: how a customer becomes aware that you provide a particular product or service. This could happen by a web search, sending email or paper mail, for example. Prospecting is another term used at this early stage.
  • Qualification is where you discuss needs with a company to see whether your solution can indeed address their business challenges.
  • Value Proposition is where you make a detailed proposal to the customer.
  • Negotiating is where you address objections and additional requests.
  • Close the deal.
  • Implement, normally starting with a pilot project.
  • Support what you have sold and expand the deal to other areas.

A reasonable approach for sales, not for customer experience

Selling is all about helping a customer to move through their own buying process. The proportion of people who move from one stage to the next is the conversion rate, and is a good predictor of sales success. A customer’s experience with each step affects their willingness to move to the following one. Their experiences with other factors that have nothing to do with that step also matter, and are difficult to fit into a sales-centric journey map.

Incomplete and outdated

At best, this way of thinking about journey mapping is both incomplete and obsolete for customer experience. Just consider the number of ways a customer can become aware of your product or service. A friend may tell them about it via Twitter, Facebook or at a social event. They may read a LinkedIn article. They could do a web search and just happen upon it by chance. Their manager may just have joined from another company that uses the product. The software industry shows how the old way of thinking of customer journeys is incomplete. In the ‘good old days’, you needed to buy hardware to run software. This meant that the central IT and procurement people were important.

The growth of Slack is an example of a different paradigm. Small groups of users typically start to use the messaging product for free on their own. It spreads to larger groups that have the authority to buy the licenses on their own, since they need no new hardware, and it all grows from there. The history of is full of stories of sales teams implementing the software without the permission or authorization of central IT. The message here is that modern customer journeys contain more potential customer touchpoints than you can reasonably map and address. Creating an initial journey map takes a long time, and it will be obsolete before it is complete.

Things other than touchpoints matter

The effort involved in creating a customer journey map makes it easy to think that the analysis covers all there is to cover. It is also easy to think that all touchpoints are equal. They are not. For most industries and companies, brand image attributes have close to the same importance as experiences customers may have when they contact you in some way. For some businesses, your perception as environmentally friendly or socially responsible can be critical. An example where the environmentally friendly image is important is the Whole Foods chain in the USA, the subject of a recent acquisition announcement by Amazon. How does your public image compare to that of your competitors? It is certainly more important than some individual administrative touchpoints like issuing credit notes.

Don’t bother with comprehensive maps. Be tactical. Think in terms of ‘episodes’

Consistent with the rest of the messages about strategy in our books, I recommend doing customer journey maps exclusively for areas that have been identified by customers, partners or employees as needing improvement. This means you should do very few journey maps, and will probably only work on improving one or two at any given time. You do not have the resources to do everything everyone wants to do at the same time. Prioritize, using customer input. When your colleagues come to you saying they want to do a journey map for an area nobody has identified as needing improvement, be clear why you are saying no, and perhaps give them the opportunity to work on a journey map in a more important improvement area. A metaphor that may help is the one of ‘episodes’. If you think of the entire customer journey as a TV series, a focus area would be a single episode. An episode should be defined in terms of the customer outcome, rather than just the name of a process. More on this in a future blog post.

One situation where you need a comprehensive map

There is one situation where comprehensive journey mapping is essential, and that is when your company is replacing its existing management systems by new software designed to help customers and employees manage every interaction a customer has with your company. If you forget something important that your competitors have not forgotten, you will probably suffer. The customer experience team can help by supplying data about customer satisfaction with existing processes as you design new ones.

HP example

HP’s software business grew through acquisitions, and we had many different ordering systems in place. When we decided to go for a single system, we used journey mapping to prioritize and understand the effort. Based on the satisfaction metrics for the different processes, everything to do with ordering and obtaining license keys that worked correctly came out at the top of the improvement priority list. In addition to working on how to improve those processes, we determined how to eliminate the need for customers to deal with the keys at all. The diagram at the top of this article is an example of a customer journey map for a software company. There are items where customer interaction is rare. When using the map, you would use your own customer and competition research to indicate which items most need improvement, and which are the ones where you have a competitive advantage that you need to sustain.


Journey mapping is a complex technique that takes a lot of time to do well. Be selective. Only use it for the small subset of process that your customers say you need to improve.

As usual, this article is a slightly-modified version of a chapter of one of our books, in this case Customer Experience Strategy – Design and Implementation. All of our books are available on Amazon only, in Kindle and paperback formats.

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