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Lessons in customer journey mapping: what (not) to do, according to the pros

Customer journey mapping helps you understand the user experience from the customers’ perspective—there’s no doubt that journey mapping is one of the best ways to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. But developing a customer journey map isn’t always easy, and you probably won’t get it right the first time. (Don’t worry, you’re not alone.)

We interviewed nine professionals to learn about the customer journey mapping process from start to finish: how a journey map is researched, structured, designed, and implemented.

For this page, we’ve put together the best of the worst—that is, the most valuable lessons on what not to do when you’re mapping the customer journey. A big thanks to the following pros for their expert advice (and for allowing us to learn from their mistakes!):

Mistake 1: not defining the scope of the customer journey

I think at the very beginning, I would define exactly the scope of the customer journey… what personas are these for? What problems are we looking at? Is this a customer’s issue that has come up quite frequently and we're needing to clarify what this journey looks like? Is it an internal process that we want to operationalize or create more alignment on? I think clarifying what the objective is at the very beginning is obviously going to help.

It sounds super obvious to say that out loud, but… from my own perspective…‘customer journey map’ just sounds like this trendy thing in the name of Customer Experience. And if you do it, you feel like you’re being customer-centric, but in reality it does take some thought—at least to figure out exactly how you want to chart out this course. So, clarifying it upfront, what the objectives are, is really important. And I think on the other side of it too is ultimately, what is the goal?

So after the customers’ journey is said and done, what is the ultimate goal and vision of using this customer journey [map]: is it going to be shared with other teams, are other teams going to be added on to it?

Melissa Halim, Enterprise Product Marketer—Miro

A clarity of vision [is] really important to have: everybody needs to be excited about what they're going to build together. And if…people are apathetic about the process, or don't really understand what the big idea is, or aren't really clear on what they're trying to achieve, then it's not going to work.

Georgiana Laudi, Co-founder—Forget The Funnel

So start small, and define the scope of [customer journey] mapping. Think [about] what you want to improve in the first place… the most problematic areas.

At the end of the day we want customer journey maps… to bring value. And the only possible way to do that is actually knowing why are you building [the map] and what you expect to achieve.

Anastasia Schebrova, Chief Experience Officer—UXPressia

Mistake 2: not using the right tools and materials

We work with Post-its a lot. And that's also a common mistake: You should always use the super sticky Post-its because if you don't use super sticky Post-its they fall off the wall in the meeting. And we use Stabilo pens. And I'm not sponsored by either of them, but you need those materials because otherwise, it's just not worth having the session because then it's too much distraction if all your Post-its fall off the wall.

Ingrid van Beek, Optimization and Online Personalization Lead—Basic Orange

Well, if you're talking about building customer journey maps… I would say that [tools] that allow collaboration are must-have. Of course, you'll need the good old Google Docs with PowerPoint, and Docs and Excel. You just won't be able to get rid of that because everyone is using it. I would also recommend Miro as a whiteboard: online whiteboards, especially for distributed teams. When you don't have a possibility to conduct a workshop all together in the same room, [online whiteboards] are a good thing to have. In regards to gathering the data, I'm really a big fan of Airtable for storing the research data, and for actually storing all kinds of lists and data… that need to be accessible for the whole team.

We are also internally using Intercom as a tool for communication with customers and for support, and we have a huge number of insights coming from those kind of conversations. So having any voice-of-the-customer toolset is always a good thing because it always gives a lot of information to process. And web analytics… We are trying different kinds… We've played with Mixpanel a bit. We've used Hotjar… we use it… to tell the truth when we have a certain question.

Anastasia Schebrova, Chief Experience Officer—UXPressia

Mistake 3: not including representatives from different teams

We really had representation from every single team and we felt like it was important to get that because if we were trying to get a holistic understanding of the customer experience across this long journey, this often long journey, we needed to have perspectives from every team represented.

Melissa Halim, Enterprise Product Marketer—Miro

So the first thing that I would do… is actually build a team. It might be a CX committee or customer journey mapping team or some sort of cross-functional team of people from across the organization. … Departments need to feel represented, their work needs to be accounted for, their insight—what is in their brain—needs to be accounted for. If they're not in the room when decisions are being made about… what the customer success milestones are… the details [of] each of those success milestones, they're going to feel less invested. They're going to feel like their team's time has not been accounted for.

Georgiana Laudi, Co-founder—Forget The Funnel

[Customer journey mapping] helps foster team collaboration. So I, for instance, always have a mixed audience in the room to make sure that they all know what each [person is] experiencing in the process, and… the impact that [each decision] has.

Shaheema Adams, CEO—The CEX Lab

[A customer journey map] can be done by one person if needed, but my advice is always doing this in a small team, especially when the team is diverse and you have different representatives who are working with the customers directly, so they can contribute their knowledge.

To make this the most efficient, you'll need… one facilitator for a group of three to four people. So if you have only one facilitator, I would not advise to have a bigger group.

Anastasia Schebrova, Chief Experience Officer—UXPressia

I think [we would be] the first to admit that when you get so far in the weeds, you kind of develop almost this mentality that, "No one understands our product or our market, or the problem we're solving, better than us." And that ends up being both true and powerful, but also a really big problem and weakness. And that's where I think it's important to get someone with fresh eyes to look from the outside and actually give you a bit of a reality check and help you see things that you're too in the weeds to see.

David Weinberg, Co-founder and CPO—Vervoe

Mistake 4: not using customer-centric language

Name your [customer journey] stages in a meaningful way. Name them something that will… stand the test of time, that will motivate the team … [names] like ‘interest’, like ‘evaluation’: not [names that are] associated with the business achieving its goals, but with the customer achieving its goals.

And the first place that I saw this done really, really well, which is what inspired me to do this process for the first time, was Airbnb. And when I visited their office in early 2013 I saw their customer journey map, which is infamous now, taped to the wall. It was very, very much from the perspective of the customer. And it was the first time that I saw a true customer experience being represented in stages as opposed to [names] like ‘MQL’, ‘SQL’, ‘lead’… So the difference was so stark for me at the time.

…It just was this sort of epiphany moment of looking at… a customer journey map and building a framework through the perspective of a customer versus the perspective of the business achieving its goal. So, naming convention, I think is really, really important.

Georgiana Laudi, Co-founder—Forget The Funnel

Mistake 5: presenting an ugly or boring customer journey map

…get the [customer journey map] designed in a way that people are going to be excited about, because the spreadsheet nobody gets excited about: you can't [present an ugly map]—and it sounds superficial, but people give more credence and weight to things that look like they've been cared for.

So if you can get a designer on it, that's great. Obviously it doesn't have to be a designer, it doesn’t have to be perfectly pretty. But it should look like it's been respected. … If it looks like a piece of shit, people are going to think it's a piece of shit, so it can't look like a piece of shit.

Georgiana Laudi, Co-founder—Forget The Funnel

Mistake 6: not communicating the process widely and constantly

…this whole process needs to be continuously communicated. So there should be, I don't know, lunch-and-learns or some way to get the work being done behind closed doors out in front of people- This is critical to the buy-in process, obviously. So [communication] has to happen throughout the whole process.

Georgiana Laudi, Co-founder—Forget The Funnel

Mistake 7: getting excited about the customer journey map at the beginning, then forgetting about it

So typically, what happens with customer journeys at companies is you create a customer journey and it's like this document that takes a lot of time to make and build. And then you put it up on a wall somewhere and people get really excited about it for a certain amount of time. And then people forget about it, or it becomes irrelevant.

We need to make things practical for teams… because customer journeys are fantastic for a holistic view of what's happening with the customer.

Cristina Apple Georgoulakis, Experience Consultant

The secret of getting value from customer journey mapping is not just building the map itself, it's taking actions based on what you saw and what you built. So a customer journey map actually should be a living document that is available for other team members, which is updated on a regular basis, and which gets you a list of things to do, actual things like tasks for different team members. This might be development, this might be marketing, whatever. But the idea is that you know what you need to change in the process. You prioritize that, you make the changes, and you measure the effect. So you know what's actually improved your experience, what didn't affect or maybe affected in a bad way. Anyway, you know what you're changing in the experience, and you keep track of that. Without it, it's just a fun exercise to do with your team.

Anastasia Schebrova, Chief Experience Officer—UXPressia

Mistake 8: trying to do it all at once

The first time you do [customer journey mapping], do not do what I did, which is I tried to [do] everything… every moment, every step. Save yourself the pain and agony and go through the process—choose your top three critical moments and your top three moments to delight in each stage. Do not do more than three. If you have more than three, edit yourself and start there.

Cristina Apple Georgoulakis, Experience Consultant

Mistake 9: not updating the customer journey map iteratively

Customer journeys never stop.

You're never done. Bake reviewing and auditing your customer journey into your monthly, quarterly processes. Because it's not fun to go back and audit. It's not fun to go back to this monster document that has so much on it, that is scary.

But if you're not auditing it, if you're not going back to it, if you're not refreshing it, each time there's a new product launch, you want to understand how you're going to then operationalize that into your customer journey. It becomes irrelevant very quickly. So baking that into your business as usual is really important.

Cristina Apple Georgoulakis, Experience Consultant

[A customer journey map is] a very workable document. We work hard in my workshops, and there's a lifecycle that I follow. I go in, we do the process, we get down to the nitty-gritty, we sort out the issues, and then we commit... We prioritize in the meeting… and then you go and do, and then we have a check-in session again. That's how we keep it moving.

Shaheema Adams, CEO—The CEX Lab

Mistake 10: not making the customer journey map part of new people’s onboarding

Anytime you have anyone new join your company, have them review [the customer journey map]— let that be a part of their onboarding. Their onboarding is they need to review this customer journey and they need to give three examples of things that could be improved. And three things that they thought [your company was] doing well. And they have to do that assignment before they move on to the next thing. And that way, you could create familiarity within the entire organization and you also get people auditing it from all different departments, with all different perceptions, and it stays fresh and relevant.

Cristina Apple Georgoulakis, Experience Consultant

Mistake 11: assuming your team already understands the customer journey

…not everyone knows how exactly [the customer journey] happens—how the clients, our users, are behaving at some stage. For example, people from the shipping department may not know…how [the customer journey] works online, and for example, people from AdWords don’t know how customers behave after filing a complaint. And everything seems to be obvious, but when we see details, we see that a lot of people in our company don’t know how [the journey] works.

After collecting all the process and creating the whole customer journey map and sending it to all the company workers, we had a lot of feedback that, "Oh, I didn't know how it works, that it works that way, and that we have so many customer segments." … We had a lot of feedback that there were a lot of gaps we needed to fill right now.

Marcin Migas, UX/UI Designer—Senetic

Mistake 12: creating a global persona map (instead of maps for individual customer or market personas)

I learned not to create a global customer journey map but, for example, when I work with a Polish team, I should create a customer journey only for our Polish market—because when I send it, for example, to Brazil, they probably will not understand the personas. And the behavior of B2C customers is different from B2B. That's the first lesson.

Marcin Migas, UX/UI Designer—Senetic

Mistake 13: misalignment between the online and offline customer journey

When I look at [the] user journey, I’m making sure that the experience in the showroom complements what they're doing on-site, and that it all kind of comes together. So, we have been looking a lot at kind of that combined online/offline user journey. More and more…that's where personalization comes into things. Because [customers] are coming back multiple times just to complete one purchase… how can we make sure we are helping them, guiding them along the way.

Spencer Wong, Head of Digital Experience—MADE.com

Mistake 14: relying too much on numbers and data (not thinking about the journey from the customers’ perspective)

My CEO… wanted something more high level… So, I said okay, well I can do user journey mapping, maybe that will help explain where I think the opportunities in the journey are—demonstrate it better than just kind of diving down into funnels and conversion and stuff like that. So, I have taken a broader view of the whole customer lifecycle.

Spencer Wong, Head of Digital Experience—MADE.com

To tell the truth, I would never recommend using only one source of data because the best results are achieved when you're combining quantitative and qualitative data. But if we have to choose and you have only one source, that would definitely be interviews with customers because you can't build a customer-centric journey map without talking to them. It's just impossible.

Anastasia Schebrova, Chief Experience Officer—UXPressia

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