User journey map: the ultimate guide
The case for user journey mapping is best made by your friend that always gives you terrible directions. Everyone has one. Their verbal instructions for reaching a particular destination are often deceptively simple: Head down Main Street for a few minutes. Turn left at the stop sign. Turn right once you pass the red house. Our house is at the end of the road.
Once it’s time to drive, however, the holes in their directions reveal themselves. Main Street has no stop signs, but it does have three roundabouts. The next stretch of road has a dark orange house, a deep pink house, and three otherwise identical houses in various shades of red. You find the “house at the end of the road,” except it’s one of four situated on a cul-de-sac.
Your friend doesn’t know how bad their directions are because they already know where they live. Consider this in relation to your product. You’ve worked with your team to develop it from an idea to a reality, working out every conceivable kink and debugging every detectable problem along the way. You’re confident that your UX is outstanding and that customers will flow seamlessly from awareness to adoption and beyond.
But remember: you also already know where you live. It’s easy to forgive or miss shortcomings or gaps in the user journey when you already have an awareness of your product’s interface and features. Your preexisting knowledge of your product’s capabilities and intentions creates an inherent bias that limits your team’s efficiency at testing its own work. You’ll need to map your user journey if you ever want to have an accurate assessment of how your customers experience your product.
What is a user journey map?
A user journey map is a visual presentation of how your customer moves through your marketing and sales funnels. Each potential customer touchpoint is logged and described to get the most complete sense of your customer’s experience with your brand and product. Creating a user journey map forces you to identify potential points of friction and opportunities for UX improvements by experiencing your product from the customer’s point of view.
Directions guide a driver’s progress through physical space—a user journey map tracks a customer’s progress through time. Your customers take a trip from being oblivious to the existence of your product to being fully engaged with it. This trip isn’t a quick jaunt down the freeway. A customer cruises through different experience phases as they discover, consider, and engage with your product. Your user journey map is an attempt to capture every detour, pit stop, and traffic jam along the way.
Before you can map the user journey, you need to gather the appropriate data. You’ll need to pull this data from multiple sources to get the best sense of user interactions. Your marketing metrics will detail how customers are brought in. Meanwhile, your product and behavioral data will enlighten you as to how your customers are using your product. User research can provide a great deal of event-to-event analysis of the customer journey. Market research such as customer interviews and surveys can fill in any gaps and help determine the perceived quality of each interaction.
The benefits of user journey mapping
The act of simply creating user journey maps often reveals insights into your customers’ experience with your product. Even more powerful conclusions can be drawn with the careful study of your slew of completed maps. These conclusions will help you to build customer-centric product strategies and smoother user experiences.
User journey maps are used to enhance:
There’s an old writing adage that you should never proofread your own work. The reasoning behind this nugget of wisdom is that if your brain makes a mistake once, it’s possible that it will continue to make it. Your eyes might continue to bounce right over a glaring typo simply because that’s the way your brain is wired.
By that same token, it’s easy to become nearsighted as you scrutinize your UX. It’s understandable: you’ve been staring at your product for a very long time. However, prospective customers are not likely to be as empathetic. A single snag in their experience can derail an otherwise positive process.
A user journey map allows you to visibly identify pain points in your UX design that may have escaped you during development and in-house testing. Furthermore, a user journey map should be embraced by the entire product team as a way to triple-check your work and vet product usability. Someone else on your team may identify a potential problem area that you were unable to see yourself.
Product and feature adoption
A frictionless UX lends itself to stellar onboarding. Your analytics and market research will reveal to you the critical events that lead customers to fully engage with your product and features. When your user journey is laid out visually before you, it’s easier to identify ways to shorten the distance between signing customers up and converting them into long-time users.
For instance, let’s say you know that filling out a user profile doubles the rate of product adoption. An analysis of your user journey map reveals that there are three steps that occur between initially signing up for your product and filling out a user profile. Instead of hoping that you don’t lose your newly onboarded customers before they fill the profile out, you could add the critical profile fields to the sign-up form and set your customers up for immediate success.
This same process also helps pinpoint opportunities to direct customers to underutilized features. Features are designed to enhance overall product engagement and increase retention, but some excellent features can be buried within a UI and thus go unheralded. An ecommerce customer may browse and purchase items without ever seeing the wish list feature. Mapping their journey would reveal the best places within their journey to send in-app messages or emails highlighting the wish list feature and describing its benefits.
In a perfect world, your customer would experience zero issues with your product and upsell of their own accord. They’d use your product forever so long as you kept improving it. In this perfect world, marketing and sales would be the only divisions of your company that would need to understand the user journey.
This obviously isn’t the case. In real life, marketing and sales aren’t the only departments within your company that impact customer relationships. When a customer has an account issue, they contact customer support. They may report technical issues to your support team.
Team members from every department benefit from understanding the customer needs. Understanding potential frustrations builds empathy for customers and keeps their issues in perspective. It allows others to see how a customer’s experience affects their likelihood to upsell, churn, or even advocate for the brand.
The involvement of various departments shouldn’t be limited to dissemination. Valuable UX wisdom can be trapped in departmental silos. The insights of others outside the product management team are integral to creating a fully realized user journey map. Meeting with others within your company is a critical component of the research stage of mapping as they can provide outside insights that the product team can’t gather analytically.
How to build a user journey map
The actual contents of an experience map will vary depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but there are several features common to most versions: phases, experience qualifiers, and interactions. Keep in mind that there are many different types of user journey maps that each address specific purposes. For this example, we'll build a basic type alled an experience map.
Outline your phases
A user journey map is a single quadrant of a coordinate graph. Each interaction your users have is a point on this graph. Before you start logging these points, you need to define the values for each axis.
The horizontal axis of your map measures the time and sequence of your customer journey. The point furthest to the left of the graph should be the first interaction, and the furthest to the right should be the last interaction. Seeing as how a customer’s journey from discovery to power usage might contain dozens of points, it’s best to divide the horizontal axis into multiple phases. Commonly, user journey maps for products are segmented into the following phases:
- Adoption/ongoing usage
Visually, the first stage of building a journey map template might look something like this:
Adding phases to your map delineates the different stages of a customer’s life cycle. A customer experiences your product in a specific sequence. They can’t use your product without first becoming aware of it. Setting up the correct framework of stages establishes how each touchpoint is affected by the one preceding it and affects the event that follows.
Identify experience qualifiers
Not all interactions with your product are equally positive. Onboarding struggles or software bugs are downright frustrating. Thus, the vertical axis of your user journey map should track the quality of each interaction. Drawing a line between good, bad, and even neutral experiences will help you identify potential problem areas (and solutions!) upon later evaluation.
Such a user journey map would look something like this:
Plot user interactions
With your life cycle phases fleshed out, you can start adding interactions to your map. It’s important to remember that you’re not trying to map out every possible user interaction of every possible user. Instead, you’re trying to brainstorm how a particular user persona is likely to interact with your product. For each customer persona you’re attempting to understand, you should create a new customer journey map.
Keep in mind that customer experiences occur across sales and marketing channels. These omnichannel interactions with your brand include:
- Social media platforms
- Email campaigns
- Digital advertising
- Your website
- Your product itself
- In-app modals
For best results, your user journey map should note the channels in which these interactions happen to ensure that you engage with the user in the right place. For example, if a customer talks to a pre-sales agent, you should note if that’s expected to happen over the phone or through an online live chat.
Once your initial touchpoint is established, you can begin to move through the phases in logical order. As you add each event to the graph, determine whether each event is positive, negative, or neutral, and log them on the vertical axis accordingly.
Done correctly, your finished user journey map should look something like this:
Build better customer experiences with user journey maps
User journey maps aren’t one-size-fits-all. Many variations on the core concept exist to fit your needs. Perhaps you just want to zoom in on a particular phase of a customer’s life cycle. You might not even want to map your customer’s current experience at all and instead use a future-state map to flesh out their journey through the next iteration of your product.
The dynamic nature of a user journey map only increases its value to your product strategy. Your needs and objectives differ from every other company. You can read a book on customer experience to gain general UX guidance, but a user journey map allows you to capture a snapshot of the unique relationship between your product and your customer base.
The mapping of your user journey eliminates so much of the guesswork from strategy and innovation. Think back to your friend who gives terrible directions. You can continue to rely on their bad directions every single time you embark and slowly go mad. Alternatively, you could do a little research yourself ahead of time and build your own accurate map that clearly shows the way forward.