What is a Journey Map and Why is it Important?

Arash Ranjbaran Qadikolaei
7 min readFeb 9, 2023

A journey map is a visual representation of the steps a person takes to accomplish a goal. This can be applied to the customer experience with a product or service, and is often used to improve and optimize the user experience. The journey map is a powerful tool that helps businesses understand their customers and what they need to improve their customer experience.

Most journey maps follow a similar format: at the top, a specific user, a specific scenario, and corresponding expectations or goals in the middle, high-level phases that are comprised of user actions, thoughts, and emotions; at the bottom, the takeaways: opportunities, insights, and internal ownership.

The terms ‘user journey map’ and ‘customer journey map’ can be used interchangeably. Both reference a visualization of a person using your product or service. While the argument can be made that the term ‘customer’ does a disservice to the method (because, especially for certain business-to-business products, not all of end users are technically customers, i.e., product buyers), alignment on what you call the map is far less important than alignment on the content within the map.

Key Components of a Journey Map

Journey maps come in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of how they look, journey maps have the following 5 key elements in common:

  1. Actor
    The actor is the persona or user who experiences the journey. The actor is who the journey map is about — a point of view. Actors usually align with personas and their actions in the map are rooted in data.
    Provide one point of view per map in order to build a strong, clear narrative. For example, a university might choose either a student or a faculty member as actor — each would result in different journeys. (To capture both viewpoints, the university will need to build two separate maps, one for each of the two user types.)
  2. Scenario + Expectations
    The scenario describes the situation that the journey map addresses and is associated with an actor’s goal or need and specific expectations. For example, one scenario could be switching mobile plans to save money, and expectations for it include to easily find all the information needed to make a decision.
    Scenarios can be real (for existing products and services) or anticipated — for products that are yet in the design stage.
    Journey maps are best for scenarios that involve a sequence of events (such as shopping or taking a trip), describe a process (thus involve a set of transitions over time), or might involve multiple channels.
  3. Journey Phases
    Journey phases are the different high-level stages in the journey. They provide organization for the rest of the information in the journey map (actions, thoughts, and emotions). The stages will vary from scenario to scenario; each organization will usually have data to help it determine what these phases are for a given scenario. Here are some examples:
    — For an ecommerce scenario (like buying Bluetooth speakers), the stages can be discover, try, buy, use, seek support.
    — For a big (or luxury) purchases (like test driving and buying a car), the stages can be engagement, education, research, evaluation, justification.
    — For a business-to-business scenario (like rolling out an internal tool), the stages could be purchase, adoption, retention, expansion, advocacy.
  4. Actions, Mindsets, and Emotions
    These are behaviors, thoughts, and feelings the actor has throughout the journey and that are mapped within each of the journey phases.
    Actions are the actual behaviors and steps taken by users. This component is not meant to be a granular step-by-step log of every discrete interaction. Rather, it is a narrative of the steps the actor takes during that phase.
    Mindsets correspond to users’ thoughts, questions, motivations, and information needs at different stages in the journey. Ideally, these are customer verbatims from research.
    Emotions are plotted as single line across the journey phases, literally signaling the emotional “ups” and “downs” of the experience. Think of this line as a contextual layer of emotion that tells us where the user is delighted versus frustrated.
  5. Opportunities
    Opportunities (along with additional context such as ownership and metrics) are insights gained from mapping; they speak to how the user experience can be optimized. Insights and opportunities help the team draw knowledge from the map:
    — What needs to be done with this knowledge?
    — Who owns what change?
    — Where are the biggest opportunities?
    — How are we going to measure improvements we implement?

Journey-Map Variations

There are several concepts closely related and thus easily confused with journey maps.

It is important to note that this section is only meant to help your personal understanding and clarification of these terms. It is not advised to debate or attempt to shift a whole organization’s language to abide by the definitions stated here. Instead, use these definitions to guide you towards aspects of another method that your team has not previously considered.

Journey Map vs. Experience Map

Think of an experience map as a parent to a journey map. A journey map has a specific actor (a singular customer or user of a product) and specific scenario (of a product or service), while an experience map is broader on both accounts — a generic human undergoing a general human experience.

The experience map is agnostic of a specific business or product. It’s used for understanding a general human behavior; in contrast, a customer journey map is specific and focused on a particular business or product.

For example, imagine the world before the ridesharing market existed (Uber, Lyft, Bird, or Limebike, to name a few). If we were to create an experience map of how a person gets from one place to another, the map would likely include walking, biking, driving, riding with a friend, public transportation, or calling a taxi. Using that experience map we could then isolate pain points: unknown fares, bad weather, unpredictable timing, paying in cash, and so on. Using these pain points, we would then create a future journey map for specific product: how does a particular type of user call a car using the Lyft app?

Journey Map vs. Service Blueprint

If journey maps are the children to experience maps, then service blueprints are the grandchildren. They visualize the relationships between different service components (such as people or processes) at various touchpoints in a specific customer journey.

Think of service blueprints as a part two to customer journey maps. They are extensions of journey maps, but instead of being focused on the user (and taking the user’s viewpoint), they are focused on the business (and take its perspective).

For the Lyft scenario above, we would take the journey map and expand it with what Lyft does internally to support that customer journey. The blueprint could include matching the user to a driver, contacting the driver, calculating fares, and so on.

Journey Map vs. User Story Map

User stories are used in Agile to plan features or functionalities. Each feature is condensed down to a deliberately brief description from a user’s point of view; the description focuses on what the user wants to do, and how that feature will help. The typical format of a user story is a single sentence: “As a [type of user], I want to [goal], so that [benefit].” For example, “As a checking account holder, I want to deposit checks with my mobile device, so that I don’t have to go to the bank.”

A user story map is a visual version of a user story. For example, take the user story above (“As a checking account holder, I want to deposit checks with my mobile device, so that I don’t have to go to the bank.”) and imagine writing out the different steps that the team plans for the user to take when using that functionality. These steps could be: logging in, beginning deposit, taking picture of check, and entering transaction details. For each step, we can document required features: enabling camera access, scanning check and auto filling numbers, and authorizing signature. In a user story map, these features are written on sticky notes, then arranged based on the product release that each functionality will be added to.

While, at a glance, a user story map may look like a journey map, journey maps are meant for discovery and understanding (think big picture), while user story maps are for planning and implementation (think little picture).

Although a journey map and user story map may contain some of the same pieces, they are used at different points of the process. For example, imagine our journey map for Lyft indicated that a pain point appeared when the user was in a large group. To address it, the team may introduce a multicar-call option. We could create a user story map to break this feature (multicar call) into smaller pieces, so a product-development team could plan release cycles and corresponding tasks.

Why Use Journey Maps

The benefits of journey maps (and most other UX mappings) are two-fold. First, the process of creating a map forces conversation and an aligned mental model for the whole team. Fragmented understanding is a widespread problem in organizations because success metrics are siloed; it is no one’s responsibility to look at the entire experience from the user’s standpoint. This shared vision is a critical goal of journey mapping, because, without it, agreement on how to improve customer experience would never take place.

Second, the shared artifact resulting from the mapping can be used to communicate an understanding of your user or service to all involved. Journey maps are effective mechanisms for conveying information in a way that is memorable, concise, and that creates a shared vision. The maps can also become the basis for decision making as the team moves forward.

Conclusion

Journey mapping is a process that provides a holistic view of the customer experience by uncovering moments of both frustration and delight throughout a series of interactions. Done successfully, it reveals opportunities to address customers’ pain points, alleviate fragmentation, and, ultimately, create a better experience for your users.

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