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Project Management / August 7th 2018

How to create a Customer Journey Map [Step by Step]

Guillermo Vidal Quinteiro's profile picture
byGuillermo Vidal Quinteiro

All companies, regardless of size, trajectory or industry, face a unique challenge: to make users fall in love with their product or service. This is certainly no easy feat, but there are some tools that can help you make it happen. Probably the most practical -and the most cost-efficient- of these tools is the Customer Journey Map (CJM).

A Customer Journey Map is a fundamental part in the process of creating a user-centered product. It’s designed to help us understand how users feel, how they think, and why they behave the way they do. We can then put this knowledge to use in creating a product or service that genuinely satisfies their needs and gives them a positive experience.

It’s a nifty exercise that helps all sort of companies understand how clients go through their sales funnel, learn how their decision-making process occurs and identify potential opportunities that could be used to improve user experience.

We use a particular way of doing CJMs that we affectionately call Aero-CJM. W

So, let’s get started.


What’s a Customer Journey Map and why should I care?

A Customer Journey Map (also known as User Journey Map) is, as its name indicates, a detailed map of the journey that a Customer takes before, during, and after acquiring a product or service.

{quote}"Customer Journey Mapping is a key step in understanding how customers interact with our organizations. The goal of a CJM is to gain a comprehensive understanding of the different dimensions of our customer’s experiences to make those experiences better" - Adam Toporek, Customer Service Expert.{/quote}

While this tool is usually applied in the design and development of digital products, this doesn’t mean that it’s only meant for that purpose. In fact, it can be used in pretty much any project that revolves around improving an experience, digital or otherwise.

Because of its nature, creating a CJM is usually the first step you should take when conceiving a product. The knowledge you get from it will guide your decisions in subsequent stages. With this in mind, it’s worth pointing out that this tool is far from exclusive to new products. It’s also an extremely valuable asset when upgrading or revising an existing product that needs an improvement in terms of user experience.


Why do I need a Customer Journey Map?

Having a good idea to solve a problem is not enough. We need to determine how our product can resolve a specific need of our users.

To illustrate the importance of using a Customer Journey Map in a product design process, we are going to use the real life example of one of our clients: Raised Real, a San Francisco-based startup that offers organic baby food through a home delivery service.

Creating a CJM for this project gave us insight into the journey taken by millennial mothers -- the target group for this product -- when deciding how to feed their babies. The journey, which started with pregnancy and ended when the baby turned two years old, included these stages:

  1. Pregnancy / Birth: Friends & family give mothers tips about baby feeding, mothers buy books about parenting.   
  2. Investigation: Mothers search on the internet how to feed their baby / They talk to pediatrician about this topic.
  3. Initiation: Baby starts eating solid foods, mothers start looking for alternatives to feed their babies.
  4. Coordination: Mothers try Raised Real’s service.
  5. Subscription: Mothers subscribe to Raised Real's service, they select specific foods for their babies and give feedback on ingredients.
  6. Completion: Baby turns two years old, mothers cancel their subscription and start looking for information for next steps.

Along the way, we were able to understand how these mothers informed themselves, how they felt during their journey, what services they investigated to purchase food, what opportunities we could leverage, and how we could create a digital product that would meet their needs quickly and easily, while also offering a simple and fun experience.

{quote}"Customer Journey Maps are much like personas. The difference being is that they express the customer’s experience over time, rather than as a snapshot. That means the two work well together. A persona focuses on the person, while a customer journey map focuses on their experience" - Paul Boag, UX Consultant & Speaker.{/quote}


What sort of projects benefit from having a Customer Journey Map?

Hint: All of them!

Creating a Customer Journey Map is a perfect idea for any kind of project, whether you are a startup that hasn’t gotten out of the gate, or a large corporation that’s been around for years.

It helps us understand what customers’ expect from our product, and allows us to identify innovative, creative solutions.

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Step by step, here’s how to create an Aero-CJM:

OK, now let’s get practical.

  • <a href="#goal">Set a goal</a>
  • <a href="#research">Research</a>
  • <a href="#interviews">Interviews with customers</a>
  • <a href="#stages">Define the stages of the CJM</a>
  • <a href="#writedown">Write down everything</a>
  • <a href="#hypothesis">Identify problems and define a hypothesis</a>
  • <a href="#conclusion">Conclusion and next steps</a>


<h4 id="goal">1) Set a goal</h4>

The first step is to define an objective. Since the concept of the Customer Journey Map is closely linked with Marketing, we’re going to borrow a commonly used Marketing tool to guide our work: Smart Goals.

The objective for our Customer Journey Map must be clear, concise, and in line with our strategic goals. We want to make sure that our Smart Goals meet the following specs:

  • Specific: it should clearly establish our goal.
  • Measurable: it should be measurable, so we can keep track of progress and results.
  • Attainable: it should definitely be ambitious, but it also has to be realistic and doable.
  • Relevant: it should be consistent with the company’s business objectives.
  • Time bound: a deadline for completion helps us stay focused.

In the case of Raised Real’s project, the objective that we wanted to achieve during the product discovery stage was:

To understand how millennial mothers decide how to feed their babies in the first two years of their lives, and how we can position Raised Real’s products to appeal to them during each stage of that journey.


<h4 id="research">2) Research</h4>

During the research stage, we should gather as much relevant information as we possibly can. There are two general categories of information: first, we have the information we gather via market studies, industry analysis, infographics and articles. We'll call it External Information.

External information

An important part of this process is to check out what the competition is doing: How do they solve specific problems with their products? What solutions do they offer? How do they present them?

By performing a competitive benchmark, we create a real-time analysis of the market. This helps us spot how we can take advantage of opportunities to improve on their ideas. A good practice for this stage is to use Product Hunt to look for similar products since they offer a huge gallery of useful references.

We should pay attention to several factors in the competition’s products:

  1. Usability
  2. Features
  3. Esthetics
  4. Communication style
  5. Images that are used
  6. Information structure

The objective is not to copy what other companies offer, but rather to understand the key differentials of our product, how we can maximize its potential, and what relative advantages and disadvantages we have compared to our competitors.

We can also take advantage of sites like Behance or Dribbble to search for references to similar products.

If, for instance, your project is about an online education platform, you can check out dribbble to see how the competition visually resolve the user interface.

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{quoteEpigraph}Udacity Scheduler is an app that helps Udacity’s students track and improve their study time. Full shot here.{/quoteEpigraph}

Internal information

You’ll gather a ton of information during this process. The one thing you need to always keep in mind is this:

“We are not the users of the product we are designing.”

Seriously. Tattoo it on your forearm a-la Memento or paint it on a wall. Whatever you do, make sure you’re not making decisions based on your own personal experience.

Talking to the actual people who will use our product is the best way to gather accurate information for the Customer Journey Map. And in this context, shortcuts and tricks aren’t going to cut it.

In order to understand what our customers need, want, and feel, we have to talk with them. If we are working on a project that is completely new to us, the best thing to do is face-to-face interviews with the customers, since this is how we reach a meaningful understanding of their experience.

{quote}"You cannot center your product around the customer if you do not understand the customer. A journey map helps you gain insights into your customers throughout their experiences so that you can design your products to meet and exceed their needs at every touch point." - Adam Toporek.{/quote}

If we have done similar work before and already know the market, we can utilize surveys to analyze our customers’ journey. The decision will depend on the amount of time and resources we have available.

For the Customer Journey Map of Raised Real, we decided to do five face-to-face interviews with new mothers between 20 and 35 years old. The reason behind this was that we were dealing with a very specific type of project and customers, and we needed to establish a very personalized contact with the users to understand their experience. That wasn’t going to happen through surveys.


<h4 id="interviews">3) Interviews with customers</h4>

When conducting individual interviews, establishing empathy with the customer is crucial. This is important because we need to gain their trust in order to get an honest inside look at their experience.

The information we get from these interviews will be the heart and soul of our Customer Journey Map and will guide us in making future design choices. Because of this, it’s a good idea for us to be prepared with a list of questions, and an idea of the potential path the customer might take.

But beware!

We don’t want the customer to tell us how they envision the product we are designing. What we want is for them to tell us what they need, how they are currently dealing with those needs, and what obstacles they encounter along the way. Those answers are the ones that will help us decide on the most effective solutions

How to set up the interviews:

We have to be clear about what information we want to get from the customers. The actual questions we will ask will vary depending on the project and what industry we’re dealing with. In any case, we should design the questions to help us understand the customer and their experience.

Some important questions we should answer are:

  1. What problems do the customers experience?
  2. What do they encounter in their journey?
  3. How do they search for a product that interests them?
  4. What do they think in each stage of the journey?
  5. How do they feel in each of these situations?
  6. What are they doing now to address that problem?
  7. What worries them?
  8. Who do they consult to resolve these problems?
  9. What are they looking for in a product?
  10. What is lacking in the products they usually use?


<h4 id="stages">4) Define the stages of the Customer Journey Map</h4>

We must view our customer’s journey as a timeline in order define the CJM’s stages. The interviews that we did in the previous step will help us find some recurring themes as we review the information provided by the customers.

While each Customer Journey Map will be somewhat different depending on the type of project, the most likely is that it will include these five stages to varying degrees:

  1. Awareness: customers realize that they need to solve a problem or meet a need
  2. Investigation / Comparison: they research what’s available in the market
  3. Acquisition: they start to use a product or service to satisfy their need
  4. Loyalty: customers are engaged to a product or service.
  5. Completion: customers resolve their issue / complete their journey.


<h4 id="writedown">5) Write down everything on a whiteboard or an online tool</h4>

The first step in finalizing our Customer Journey Map is to do a deep cleaning of all the information that we gathered in the interviews. At this point, we will need to decide what information to include and what to leave out. This information will determine to some extent the design process in the future.

For this step, you’ll want to look at the concepts of diverge and converge from Design Thinking. It's an approach to idea generation focused on understanding and offering solutions for the real needs of customers.

Another exercise that can help us screen out the less important information is to take the information we gathered in the interviews and analyze it with the Eisenhower Matrix, a tool commonly used in product design to prioritize tasks:

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This will help us prioritize the solutions to the problems that show up repeatedly for many of our customers and have a high level of urgency.

Note: before moving forward, it’s a good idea to consult with a developer. In our experience, designers can often come up with possible solutions that, for technical reasons, may not be doable for the first version of the product.

Once you’re ready to get all the information on your Customer Journey Map, we recommend stepping away from the computer and using a physical whiteboard with post-it notes.

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However, if you need an online tool that you can access from different devices, we recommend using Mural, an online whiteboard that works great, especially when you're working with a remote design team.

Your Customer Journey Map should look kind of like this:

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Remember that the CJM’s stages will vary depending on the project, so you will need to define them based on the information you gathered in the research process.

The rows on the left will include the actions, thoughts, and feelings that the customers experience in each of the stages. The critical thing here is to create a snapshot of the customer’s behavior during each step of their journey.


<h4 id="hypothesis">6) Identify problems and define a hypothesis</h4>

Once we’ve put together our Customer Journey Map, we’ll need to identify the problems, doubts and obstacles the customer may encounter at each stage of their journey. These are some of the issues we detected in Raised Real users' journey:

  1. Mothers needed to feel 100% confident about the service before committing to it.
  2. They needed a service that would be easy-to-use, fast, and adaptable to their schedules.
  3. They wanted to know what kind of nutrition they could give their babies.
  4. They wanted to know where they could find trustworthy information.
  5. They wanted a variety of nutritious foods for their children.
  6. Mothers wanted to prepare their babies’ food themselves.
  7. They wanted to be very clear about what they could and could not give their babies.

Note: It’s possible that you had already identified some of these needs/problems before. If that is the case, the CJM will help you confirm these issues, and to come up with creative solutions to resolve them.

After we completed our CJM, we will have to elaborate an hypothesis about how we will solve the customer’s problems with our product, and how we can leverage the opportunities we detected to improve the overall customer’s experience.

In Raised Real's project, this was a part of the hypothesis we developed after creating our Customer Journey Map:

For the first version of the product, a mobile app won’t be necessary, we’ll manage the customer subscriptions from a custom, web based platform. The platform should also offer educational and informational content: articles, podcasts, ebook, videos. This will help Raised Real to show their users the benefits of the service and build trust within their customers.

If you want to know more about how to create a Customer Journey Map, we recommend you to watch this short video that Megan Grocki made for UX Mastery:

<iframe width="680" height="383" src="" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe>


<h3 id="conclusion">Conclusion & Next Steps</h3>

The Customer Journey Map is a great tool for putting customers at center of it all when creating a product or service. It is a very useful approach for all types of businesses and all types of projects, whether or not they’re interested in turning a profit.

The Customer Journey Map helps us pinpoint the relationship between certain experiences and specific stages in the user’s journey. It allows us to figure out the best way to get rid of problems while at the same time enhancing the customer’s experience.

Now you know that Customer Journey Mapping is a valuable tool in the process of understanding customer behavior and designing digital products. At Aerolab, we also work with proto personas, use cases, and user stories. Check back here soon for our upcoming series of articles about how to create these tools.

Do you want to see how a real Customer Journey Map looks like? Get a more in-depth look at our investigation process and how it helped one of our clients to define the course of their product. Download the Customer Journey Map we made for one of our most recent clients.