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The 6 Research Process Pillars of a More Dynamic Customer Journey Map

Too many customer journey maps focus entirely on what your users are doing. Let’s take a moment to talk about why they’re doing it and how you can pave the way to make their path-to-decision smoother. 

When you set off to develop a customer journey map, you’ll find yourself needing to reroute from time to time.

You might work to get stakeholder buy-in and realize there are project roads “under construction.” As you layer your quant data with qual insights, you may run into “traffic” you don’t anticipate. Maybe you account for potential study biases and realize your map isn’t quite to scale.

In short: it’s a lot to navigate.

At this year’s UX Research & Insights Summit, Autumn Schultz and dscout CEO Michael Winnick shared their expertise on mapping an impactful customer journey. We’ve summarized their best advice for researchers looking to acquire, and make the most of, dynamic customer data.


FYI: We designed a full toolkit to help you achieve journey mapping mastery. Snag it for free here


1. Define your journey type

When your stakeholders start asking to map customer journeys, make sure you’re all on the same page about exactly what that means. It’s hard to deliver what they need without knowing what you’re looking for.

Most journeys fall into one of four categories: service journeys, experience journeys, decision journeys, and life journeys. Research should be fun, right? Let’s imagine these journeys as if they were games.

For service journeys, think Frogger

    Remember Frogger? That arcade game filled with hopping frogs and zooming cars? Service journeys are similar; they’re linear. Your users are trying to get to the other side. They’re returning online orders, getting insurance claims, or completing tasks.

    Make sure you’re zoned in and your research plan is focused on tracking their task-at-hand. Think step-by-step and look for friction points in the journey. Here, your goals will be very technical and research will be granular.

    For experience journeys, think CandyLand

      Experience journeys are linear, too, but they have a much broader flow. You’re tracking the peaks and valleys of the experience and looking for key moments. If you’re working in ecommerce, and looking at someone’s path to purchase, here you’re zooming out a bit to find their “general mood” as they interact with your website.

      Sometimes, they’ll get stuck in the molasses swamp. Small issues will trip users up. Look for the emotional data behind their actions.

      For decision journeys, think Chutes & Ladders

        We tend not to think of decision-making as a journey, but that’s an idea worth reframing. With a decision journey, users make choices, move forward, reevaluate, and start over from square one. There’s a lot of back and forth, and things are far less linear.

        You’ll start considering a new car—and you’ll be “moving up the board,” evaluating your wants and requirements. But then something will change your mind, or change your circumstances, and you’ll ask: “Am I really going to do this?” You’ll fall down a shoot and you’ll start back over.

        Look for the influences at play here. How are users honing in on that one particular car or outfit? When they start over, where do they start over from?

        For life journeys, think Life

          With life journeys, it’s all in the name. What’s the new mom journey? The patient journey? The healthcare journey?

          Here you’re not thinking linearly at all. You’re looking for broad arcs and phase transitions. You’re asking: what is the emotion at the heart of this journey?

          2. Focus on the context

          User emotions are your friends, and nothing happens in a bubble. Customer journeys should be less about “what the customer did,” and more about how they reached that decision.

          One place to start is by asking yourself about “book-end moments.”

          • What led the customer to you?
          • What was their experience like?
          • What was their experience like after using your service?

          Sometimes, it can be useful to take a bird’s-eye view of the data. You might want to expand your scope and mix your methodologies. For example, you could combine qual data collected from customer interviews with secondary research and site performance metrics. Zooming out can help you validate your findings and draw a map based on the bigger picture. And honing in on the emotional context of customer experience can give life and purpose to black and white metrics.

          Life doesn’t happen in a funnel. People don’t “enter” your site or start engaging with your product at a predetermined state or qualification level. To understand the nuance of a user’s experience, take a second to divorce yourself from numbers and lead scores.

          3. Meet your users where they are

          Most of us are familiar with the concept of a marketing funnel; lots of users come in, fewer convert, and even fewer come back.

          But life doesn’t happen in a funnel. People don’t “enter” your site or start engaging with your product at a predetermined state or qualification level. To understand the nuance of a user’s experience, take a second to divorce yourself from numbers and lead scores.

          Speak directly with your customer base and ask them how they think about your product, or what they thought about your product. What inspires their shopping trends? Where do they look for advice? At what point did they really start the decision-making process?

          Before you dig into your journey map, you have to understand what motivates your users. To understand where they’re going, learn where they’re coming from, and what took them there.

          4. Observe changes throughout the journey

          Biases can, if you’re not careful, skew the map. Of particular importance: the peak-end rule. People are most likely to remember how they feel at the peak and the end of an experience and judge it based on those moments. If we just talk to our users after they make a decision—the last moments of the journey are what we’ll hear about, and what will shape their opinions as they recollect.

          That means we have to be the eyes and ears throughout the process.

          Observe during every phase of the customer journey; really get inside and explore. Drawing maps is exponentially more powerful with an insider view.

          For example, if you’re working on a product that your users would consider a “big purchase”—like taking a trip, or buying a home—they’ll probably spend a lot of time in the “planning phase.” You might think it’d be best to speed up the process, move them as quickly as possible, and make the groundwork more efficient for them. But when you engage with users, and center your research in customer emotions, you might find that the planning phase is what they find most enjoyable. It gives them room to dream, imagine, and explore.

          But you’ll only know that if you talk to them in the planning phase. If you only interview them after they buy, their opinion will be colored by the last few stages of the process.

          5. Be the tour guide

          It isn’t enough to draw a map and stick it to the wall. Create shared ownership of your customer journeys; get others involved early and often. A sense of camaraderie and collaboration makes all the difference in journey mapping.

          Empathy is the name of the game here. Share customer videos across your organization and put people face to face with their user’s joys, frustrations, and emotions. When your company is invested in the process, real change comes easily.

          Maps are a fantastic tool, but without getting to the emotional core of all user journeys, real change will stall out. Think about hosting “customer movie nights” where your colleagues can view and discuss clips related to big themes. Send videos via Slack. Make sure that your entire team knows that they’re a part of something bigger.

          6. Know the journey is never finished

          Your service is always evolving—why shouldn’t your journey map? Stop viewing journey maps as a completed product and give yourself permission to adapt with the changing tides.

          Make your maps approachable; give your team permission to mark it up, edit on the fly, and make suggestions. Start marking up the document yourself. Circle things, make notes of possible direction changes, and cross things out with markers.

          As your team engages with the physical map, you’re making room for “big picture shifts” that move you towards optimization. Don’t worry if things get messy. Even the best mapped journeys require a few detours.

          Ali Cassity

          Ali Cassity is a writer living and working in Chicago. She likes making complex content more palatable and elevating the stories that put names and faces to research data. When in doubt, you can find her obsessing over her plant babies.

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