Narrative Journey Maps (NJM), the new and better way to Map the Customer Experience


Share on LinkedIn

If the point about Customer Experience is to start with the customer’s psychology then why are we still living in a world where linear Journey Maps are de rigour for most organisations? Customers never think like this and neither should you!

If you were to go to shopping, you would never say, in answer to the question, what was it like?

‘Oh! I opened the door, went to the car, drove to the store, parked the car, entered the store and so on and so forth.’

Customers do not think in such a linear way. Instead they tell stories, which are not only more natural to how we reconstruct and report our actions, but also more contextual and emotional. In effect they parallel process. Hence, a consumer might say:

‘The queues were so long in that store and it’s in such rough neighbourhood, but the staff were really friendly and so on and so forth.’

If this is the natural way that consumers perceive your experience and communicate it, then why not capture the experience in a non-linear way first, building up your understanding (and mapping) of the experience from narratives? Maybe this might mean de-emphasising some steps but if that’s the way (as is) customers remember it then surely that would put more emphasis on what is really important.

Even better, stories capture reports not only ‘what is’ but also ‘what could be important’. For instance, in a quantitative survey we might measure quality of experience based on how we as researchers pre-define it. Our measurements then correlate (or regress) touchpoint quality onto say NPS based on how customers respond to things as they are today. This means that we tend to create 2 fundamental errors in how we measure.
1. Firstly, we predefine in a scale what customers should rate when a narrative reflection may well say something different.
2. Secondly we fail to recognise that customers may well respond to experiences that don’t exist or are underperforming today; hence any predictive modelling based on responses to ‘quality today’ will underreport these events.

As an example consider how interest rates in a bank may not drive savings today (as they are so low) but of course if interest rates rise tomorrow will absolutely do so. A regression model based on current experience alone will make the fatal mistake of saying interest rate quality does not drive savings. Yet a narrative may say:

‘The interest rates are really poor so we are not saving.’ This then acts as a clue to real behaviour.

Here at Innovation Bubble we believe that mapping the experience should take a narrative first approach. Rather than putting on a board a linear step by step map, keep it open. Focus on the customer story and build up from there. Key moments can be captured by how customers emphasise different parts of the experience.

This is why we recommend using the Experience Psychology Model of Customer Experience (source: are you experienced, Research Live, Marlow, Walden) rather than a linear step by step map. In this approach our role is to uncover using behavioural psychology the ‘experiences’ of importance against each psychological frame of reference. Some of these may be hard and fast such as ‘wait time in queue’, some may be more psychological and emotional such as ‘friendliness of staff.’ Some may well be subconscious and therefore requiring observational research from behavioural psychologists.

Filling out this framework and associating strength of touchpoint impact on key KPIs such as NPS/ CSAT or spend through psychological techniques (e.g., rep grid, Q method, customer self- referencing) is a far better and more natural way to assess ‘the journey’.

The Experience Psychology Model of Customer ExperienceThe Experience Psychology Model of Customer Experience

But of course this is only the first step. This tells companies where we are today ‘as is state’. By reproducing a second map ‘to be’ with ideas taken from a behavioural psychology understanding of the customer journey (i.e., through Narrative Journey Mapping), we can start to redesign our experience more effectively. And, importantly, start to use narratives as a means of measuring the effectiveness of our change.

Management implications:
• Stop using Linear Journey Maps, such an approach is unnatural to customers and
therefore liable to produce false results.
• Start thinking ‘customer psychology’ first using this framework: the Narrative Journey
Map approach.
• Start measuring using narratives.

By Dr Simon Moore, Dr Nigel Marlow and the Innovation Bubble Insights Team

Dr Simon Moore
I am a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society with a wealth of commercial/consumer insight experience. I work with organisations and brands in the areas of behavioural economics, emotion profiling and customer experience, engagement and advocacy. I have specialist knowledge of customer-brand personas, biometrics and consumer irrational decision making. I am an author and regularly present papers at academic and business conferences. I often appear in the media providing psychological insight into organizational and consumer matters.


  1. Dr. Moore,

    Excellent post! I applaud your approach to journey mapping and how you emphasize the importance of telling the customer story vs. plotting out a linear representation of a customer's experience. Although, I don't want to completely trash the practice of pathing. I think it can play an important role in a broad customer experience management program. However, as you so perfectly point out in your post, pathing can be slippery territory, and should be looked at as one of those "proceed with caution” areas. We always encourage journey mappers to resist the temptation to dive right into pathing – there are so many other important things that need to be done first!

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts! Happy holidays!


  2. Yes, journeys and stories are complex and unique and we cannot really adopt an off the shelf product to strap on to all customers. However, if we are canny, we can think of sensible and methodologically reliable ways to map out useful information about their experiences. Such methods can also direct us to the touch points that are most salient and useful and circumnavigate the need to go through a very lengthy and unnecessary start to finish mapping exercise.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here