Why Customer Journey Mapping Works


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“Most journey mapping just looks at the rational side of a Customer Experience and that is less than half of a person’s human experience … That is why most journey mapping sucks.”

I couldn’t resist picking up the gauntlet after I came across this quote in a recent post on CustomerThink titled “Why Customer Journey Mapping Sucks” by Colin Shaw, the founder of Beyond Philosophy. I’m a long-time fan of Colin’s writing on customer experience and I know that he holds strong opinions. But by dismissing most customer journey mapping as waste of time, I think Colin misses an important part of the story.

A good, high-level customer journey map is a valuable anchor for almost any kind of customer experience work within an organization. And it can serve as a powerful tool to help companies organize around the customer.

How Would the Customer Say It?

At most companies, employees live and speak the language of our departments and processes: “The customer places an order, the order gets routed to the fulfillment department, then the package is shipped to the customer and a bill is sent from the billing system. Finally, we collect payment.”

But how would a customer describe this? The customer’s view is usually much simpler, and it is the right starting point for understanding the customer’s journey: “I want to buy something.” The customer may understand that their order will wind through a labyrinth of processes before arriving at the doorstep, but the customer’s objective is simple: I want the product in hand. If there were a way for me to telepathically place the order and then have it beamed directly into my home (think Star Trek), I would be tickled pink!

Similarly, the customer may have a problem and need to get help. They may choose to do this by calling your customer service center, by going online to check discussion forums, or by stopping by a retail store to ask for assistance. But their goal is simply to “get help,” and have their problem solved.

This singular focus on key customer objectives, stated in plain language that a customer would use, forms the foundation for conversations about the customer journey.

Know Your Purpose

Journey maps come in many flavors. What’s valuable for your business will depend on what you want to accomplish.

A high-level journey map spells out the key customer objectives or interactions across the entire lifecycle, such as “make a purchase” and “get help.” Contrary to Colin’s assertion, I believe it’s best for most companies to tackle this simple, high-level journey first, for three reasons:

1. It creates a shared view of the ultimate customer objectives, and provides much-needed simplicity to guide priorities in large or complex organizations.
2. It clarifies how different departmental “silos” in your organization need to collaborate to deliver on the customer’s objectives with each interaction.
3. It helps you organize a customer feedback program, so you can understand how you are doing and take action to improve the customer experience. (I should mention here that my company, Medallia, offers a platform to enable this.)

At the other end of the spectrum, you may use a journey map to support customer experience design work. These maps can be very detailed, with specific experiences and interactions designed to “wow” customers of a particular profile.

For example, “How can we tailor a unique experience for a couple who have just had their first child and are considering a life insurance policy for the first time?” This is the type of customer journey mapping that Colin Shaw explains so well in his CustomerThink post. And he is absolutely right to encourage companies to consider both rational and emotional components of the journey.

Journey Mapping with Cross-Functional Teams

When you involve all departments in the development of a high-level journey map, large organizations can start to align around the key objectives and outcomes that matter for the customer. Silos start to come down, and employees start to understand the importance of making strong connections across teams.

One executive I worked with stressed the importance of pushing beyond the usual discussions of internal processes. For example, if Julie works in the fulfillment department, she can probably describe in great detail the processes her department follows to make sure the customer’s order is shipped without errors and within a specified turnaround time. But she may not consider whether the third-party delivery service gets the package there on time. “It left our dock within 24 hours. We met our commitment,” versus “The customer didn’t get it in time. We need to work with our vendor to fix that the next time around.”

Another company used a cross-functional workshop to reassess their existing customer experience program. They had been very successful driving improvements based on customer feedback, but wanted to explore other parts of the customer journey that were growing in importance. A journey mapping workshop offered a practical way to engage multiple business units in a review of customer experience objectives and an analysis of potential gaps in their current feedback approach.

A third executive who had used cross-functional journey mapping many times told me why it was so important to her company’s customer experience program. Key employees in critical functions sometimes met for the first time at these workshops. More important, they rarely had spent time together discussing their common goals for the customer. It was a pivotal learning opportunity, and a way to get engagement across the organization while building momentum for the customer experience strategy.

All of these powerful successes resulted from the simple exercise of mapping the experiences that a customer has with a company, from the customer’s point of view.

Are You Organized Around the Customer?

Internal silos and processes may not matter to the customer, but they are pivotal when it comes to how you operate. And this is often the biggest challenge uncovered by an effective, customer-focused journey map.

Once you understand the key objectives from a customer’s point of view, list the internal processes and teams that support each key step in the journey, such as “make a purchase” or “get help.” How many departments or channels are involved? How do people, processes, and systems need to cooperate to create a seamless experience for the customer? Do you have a logical and accountable point-person who can take action if the customer’s feedback is less than stellar?

Your customer journey map may reveal that your entire business is wired for efficiency, but not for the customer. The good news? The journey map can serve as a guide to create a customer-focused organization. It may sound like a tall order, but why not accept the challenge? Your customer is waiting.

For additional pointers, check out this useful advice on how to build a customer journey map from Bruce Temkin, of Temkin Group, or read the journey mapping background in Forrester’s book, Outside In, written by Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine. We also discuss journey mapping in the context of customer experience program design in the Medallia Customer Experience Certification.

John Abraham
John leads the Medallia Institute, which develops educational programs in customer experience best practices designed to improve organizational performance. He has worked with leading companies worldwide on their customer experience strategies and has run workshops with more than 1,500 program leaders in a variety of industries.


  1. Great information here! I, too, read Colin Shaw's post, and, while I certainly don't think "journey mapping sucks,” he makes a good point about the importance of representing both aspects of the customer experience (process & emotional) in the map. But, like you said, what you map largely depends on what you want to accomplish, and, as you point out, the benefits of involving all departments in the map are tremendous!

    Here's where it gets tricky… Some people/areas need all the emotional and process data represented on the map to effectively analyze and understand the complete customer journey and make decisions, while others just need a high-level summary. Maybe what we're debating here is not so much does mapping "work” or "suck,” it's "What's the best way to create a map to make sure it works great for everyone?” The company I work with, Touchpoint Dashboard, has a web-based mapping tool that enables companies to easily design data-rich journey maps and deliver customized views of information depending on the needs of the audience. You might benefit from checking it out.

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Hi John

    I read through Colin’s post and your post. To be blunt, Colin is right and unfortunately, that means your article is wrong. Very wrong.

    As Colin points out and your article so blithely ignores, we are predominantly an affective species and to a certain extent a social species. The rational aspects of decisioning are a lot less important (than Descartes would have us believe). That means any attempt to map the customer journey without considering the customer’s feelings, emotional state and the context in which the customer is interacting risks being dumbed-down to the point of uselessness. The Life Insurance customer journey map graphic you provide in your post is a prime exanple.

    The Life Insurance example hides a much larger problem. Any attempt to map the customer journey without involving the customer directly in the process is the nail in the coffin of the customer journey map. Without the customer’s direct input you are just guessing. And guessing is no basis for customer strategy.. The three examples of cross-functional workshop you discuss, each of which was apparently held without customers being present, provides three examples of how NOT to develop customer journey maps.

    Three decades of UX design and the last decade of service design show very clearly what should be in a customer journey map and how to involve customers in creating them. See the Customer Journey Map page at the Servce Design Tools website

    For other examples of customer journey maps see this Pinterest page

    As if that wasn’t bad enough, you confuse customer journey maps, whose purpose is to capture the customer’s perceptions of the journey, with service blueprints, whose purpose is to set out how the touchpoints in the customer journey will be delivered. Customer journey maps are the outside-in view of the customer experience. Service blueprints are the inside out view.

    For examples of service blueprints see this Pinterest page

    Customer journey maps and service blueprints are two different things with different purposes. Most companies equate the customer journey with process maps and if you are lucky, with service blueprints, almost completely ignoring the customer’s perspective. There is no wonder that although 80% of executives in a recent Bain & Co study thought they delivered a superior customer experience, only 8% of their customers agreed.

    Graham Hill

  3. Hi Jennifer,

    Thanks for your input. I have seen your product before, and have a colleague in the UK who uses it and has good things to say.

    I agree that the emotional content is crucial. It’s best to get that read directly from the end customer – but even when we are focused on customer feedback system design we lead internal groups through a phase where they discuss the nature of the customer’s emotional engagement at key points during the journey. We typically plot emotional engagement in relation to interaction volume as a separate step in our process, but I’m sure it is useful to have it all in one place.

    Ultimately, I’m just a fan of ensuring that there is a simple view to start, which can then be supported by additional detail. The demo I had of your software seemed to accomplish that nicely.

    Good luck,

  4. Graham,

    Thanks for your comment, and for the links and examples. You describe passionately what I refer to in my post as the use of journey mapping for customer experience design. Yes, those methods are well documented and it's important to involve customers directly in those efforts to fully understand the customer’s context and emotions.

    There are two points you made that don't match my experience.

    The first is whether simplicity is useful or not. You argue that a simple journey map is "dumbed-down” and not useful. My experience with many large and complex organizations is that simplicity can be quite useful to focus and prioritize efforts. While the end result may look simple, the process of synthesizing and looking for commonality can actually be quite challenging. For example, if a company's objective is to decide when to implement feedback systems across the multitude of interactions during a customer's lifecycle, this simplicity is crucial to avoid the common problem of over-surveying. It helps teams determine which interaction points provide the best opportunities for systematic feedback, directly from customers.

    The second is the role of employees in a workshop setting. When doing experience design research it is crucial to involve the customer directly in the process (as you note). But I think you are underestimating the insights and knowledge of front-line employees and managers who deal with customers every day. Engaging those cross-functional teams in a guided discussion of the customer’s journey improves alignment across organizational silos that tend to operate separately. In our business, one of the most important outcomes of the high-level map is to build voice of the customer feedback into employee workflows. I find that teams with good front-line representation in a workshop are quite effective at identifying the key customer interactions for this purpose. And the customer is by no means absent – their voice becomes part of the employee's operating rhythm when feedback systems are put in place.

    This context may strike you as a bit unusual relative to traditional applications of a journey map, but I have seen that it has many practical business advantages. It is a complement to the examples you shared, not a replacement.

  5. Great input. A journey map is a widely shared artefact and it helps me a lot. There are dozens of ways to approach it depending on your goals, your brand, the depth of data displayed, and the breadth of the journey mapped. It should look and feel important to your organisation. Use ‘your’ language and ensure it is easy for the people who need to use it to understand.


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