COLUMN | June 30, 2023 | 7 min read

Building a customer journey mapping program

A proven six-step process can help your organization understand, design, and improve customer experience

By Matt Lombardi, global head of customer experience strategy at ServiceNow and Anne Bakstad, director of customer experience design at ServiceNow

Customer journey mapping is an essential tool for understanding and improving your customers’ overall experience with your company. A journey map is a visual representation of how customers interact with your products, services, people, tools, and content. It exposes the critical gaps between what customers are expecting and what your company is delivering to them so that you can prioritize improvements and intentionally design better experiences.

And it can be good for business: Research conducted by the Aberdeen Group found that companies with formal journey mapping programs have significantly higher year-over-year growth than companies that don’t, including a 54% greater return on marketing investment, a tenfold improvement in the cost of customer service, and 56% more cross and up-sell revenue.

Ready to give it a try? We’ve designed a six-step process for building and scaling a successful and sustainable customer journey mapping program, drawing on almost three decades of combined experience working on companies’ customer journey mapping practices and launching these programs as internal CX leaders. 

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Getting your senior executives to commit to a journey mapping program is critical. That commitment is not only to time and resources but also to continual learning and action. Leaders need to allocate time for key employees to participate throughout the process, from giving interviews to running and launching new initiatives spurred by the findings.

A successful journey mapping program starts with deciding which journey to map. We recommend starting with a high-level view into the end-to-end journey of your most important persona, from the moment they first become aware of your product all the way through to becoming a loyal customer. This highlights any serious gaps in what’s being delivered to customers and becomes the foundation for your broader journey management program. Down the road, you might consider a specific journey map that goes deeper into one phase or another of the journey, such as customer support or renewals.

A hypothesis map is a draft customer journey map. To start, collect all existing voice of the customer (VoC) data, operational data, and previous customer studies. At the same time interview key employees, especially those who are customer-facing or have the most comprehensive view of customer pain points, to understand what they think is most important to the customer and what the customers’ experiences are with the company.

Then use this rich input to build the hypothesis map, charting how the customer experiences each phase of their journey. The map most often includes the customers’ goals, the steps they take, their touchpoints with your company, their top challenges and pain points, and their emotions. We strongly recommend that a cross-functional team review the hypothesis map, identify knowledge gaps, and prioritize where to go deeper with customer research to ensure accuracy.

A well-researched hypothesis map highlights key questions for customers and pinpoints knowledge gaps, creating a game plan that ensures your customer interviews will be as productive and valuable as possible.

Too many organizations cut corners and rely solely on employee input and existing data. That’s a mistake. If you don’t conduct research and validation activities directly with the customer, you won’t have a true customer journey map. And you won’t have the all-important lightbulb moments that so often come with speaking directly with customers.

Make sure you interview customers who fit into the persona you selected and can talk to as much of the journey as possible. It is important to screen customers carefully, to ensure enough customer learning takes place to fill in the knowledge gaps and validate the journey map. 

Start broadly by asking customers about the highest points and lowest points of their experience with your company. You can then go through the experience step by step, having the customer explain to you what they want to accomplish, how they experience their interactions with your company, the main challenges, and how they feel about all this. Use your hypothesis map to probe more deeply. 

Your journey map should represent a specific persona, include key touchpoints, and show the high and low points of the customer experience. Some organizations format these maps as data and text. Others opt for simple visuals that include backup details. Pick or design a template that has the necessary information to drive customer empathy and action.

Since the journey map is often a one-page visual, we recommend including a report with rich insights and a detailed synthesis of the data gathered, including direct customer sentiment and quotes, VoC data, operational data, and employee input. Pro tip: Highlight the internal hypotheses that were incorrect, as those are often the most surprising findings. 

Now that you have your map and accompanying insights, schedule debrief meetings with your executive team and business leaders. Work with these stakeholders to align on which parts of the journey are the most problematic for customers and your business. Once the top customer pain points are identified solving them should be prioritized.

After ranking the top challenges, it’s time to codify your approach to improving the customer experience. You’ll be able to address some pain points by tweaking an existing workstream or process. Other challenges won’t have a clear solution, which is where you may need to leverage an innovation framework like design thinking.

Your customer journey map and research are also valuable communications and culture-building tools. Employees adopt customer-centric attitudes and behaviors when they feel empathy with the customer. Sharing customer journey maps widely throughout the organization, along with introducing empathy exercises and immersion activities, gets everyone energized to do whatever is necessary to improve the customer experience. 

Now that you have your highest-level journey completed for your most important persona, it’s time to build on your success and dig into your next journey. What are the thorniest and most complex experiences that your customers go through? What is another persona that experiences more pain relative to other customers? That’s where you should go next.

Over time, you’ll map all major customer journeys. To ensure continued buy-in for your practice, you should share the impact of the improvements made based on customer journey insights. And once customer journey mapping becomes ingrained in your organization, it will be easier to ensure that all new experiences are intentionally designed for maximum customer happiness.

The roadmap to a successful, end-to-end customer experience

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Matt Lombardi is global head of customer experience strategy at ServiceNow.

Anne Bakstad is director of customer experience design at ServiceNow.

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