By Joel Flom
Until recently, I never saw the value in customer journey maps. In fact, throughout my career, I’ve even struggled with the value of personas and scenarios. Many times, stakeholders would just skim over them after our presentations or use them only to prove we were making progress on a project. Design teams, with the best intentions, made every effort to keep personas alive and breathing, only to succumb to other project pressures that demanded annotation, use cases, and itemized requirements.
So why have I written an article on the value of customer journey maps? How did I manage to reach the conclusion that customer journey maps are not only a worthy and effective tool, but also a crucial element on large, enterprise user experience (UX) projects? Because I saw them have a significant impact on a recent project with The Boeing Company, and I’m now a believer.
In this article, I’ll attempt to illustrate the virtues of customer journey maps, the necessary ingredients that make them an intelligent deliverable that encourages conversation and collaboration, and the role they can play in effecting real change in large organizations.
What Are Customer Journey Maps?
“Customer journey maps are documents that visually illustrate an individual customer’s needs, the series of interactions that are necessary to fulfill those needs, and the resulting emotional states a customer experiences throughout the process.”
Customer journey maps are documents that visually illustrate an individual customer’s needs, the series of interactions that are necessary to fulfill those needs, and the resulting emotional states a customer experiences throughout the process.
- need—what a customer has set out to achieve
- interactions—the necessary steps for a customer to satisfy those needs and achieve the overall goal
- emotions—the customer’s emotional state—including needs met, goals accomplished, and satisfaction level—before, during, and after the experience
By detailing a customer’s needs throughout an experience and revealing how each interaction negatively or positively impacts the customer’s emotional state, UX professionals can convert volumes of research findings and analysis into a concise, yet visually compelling story, which stakeholders across many levels of an organization can easily understand and interpret. Figure 1 shows an example of a customer journey map that illustrates a customer’s critical pain points.
Figure 1—Example of a customer journey map (Full-size image)
What makes a customer journey map much more powerful than simply delivering personas and scenarios is its ability to highlight the flow of the customer experience—from the ups and downs along the way to those critical pain points where our attention and focus are most essential. While personas and scenarios put a face to a name and can deliver vivid narratives that communicate a customer’s overall needs, journey maps break a customer’s experience down into individual interactions, making the needs and emotions easier to recognize and more digestible.
Bruce Temkin, the author of the popular blog Customer Experience Matters, supports this viewpoint, adding:
“With internal and external research in hand, journey-mapping leaders need to distill their findings about how customers interact with the company, what they want from each interaction, and how they feel about each interaction today—the three key elements of a journey map.” 
By showing how customers feel throughout their journey, customer journey maps invite stakeholders to enter the world of customers and share in their experience. In turn, stakeholders are better able to convey their story to management, fellow colleagues, and the teams who are responsible for improving the service and product experience.
The Value of Customer Journey Maps Takes Flight
What do you do when you have to communicate research findings and analysis to hundreds of stakeholders across multiple disciplines?
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to explore this very question when my team of researchers and designers embarked on our own journey to help Boeing Commercial Aviation Services—the services arm of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division—evaluate the current customer experience for their flagship product, MyBoeingFleet.
Over the last 10 years, MyBoeingFleet has allowed customers to view detailed maintenance data and purchase replacement parts for their fleet of Boeing aircraft. This information-rich portal has become a trusted source of data and is integral to airlines’ operations. Although MyBoeingFleet was innovative for its time, Boeing began to realize that the ways in which it connected customers to information and supported specific individual workflows merited investigation.
Because Boeing’s reach is vast, our team of researchers met with and observed Boeing customers around the globe, interviewing more than 150 people across ten cities worldwide. Needless to say, the amount of data we collected forced our team to find the most effective way to disseminate our findings and recommendations. Although we wrote an extensive report and developed personas and scenarios as part of that effort, it wasn’t until we tried presenting information in customer journey maps that we found a format that could quickly, yet effectively convey the experience of customers.
Effective Customer Journey Maps
So what makes an effective customer journey map? What made me a believer? The best practices that follow can greatly improve your chances of delivering effective journey maps.
Based on Real Research
Journey maps succeed when they’re based on ethnographic research and contextual inquiry that allows researchers to experience a day in the life of a customer. Our research team was able to perceive the emotions of users and, thus, could convey more than just anecdotal quotations.
Based on Behavior
To breathe life into journey maps, you must base your personas on actual customer behavior and clearly communicate the core tasks that customers perform.
Before our project with Boeing began, Boeing already had a set of detailed personas in place, which were based on job roles such as Crew Chief or Structural Engineer. However, our research revealed that many people with different job roles had matching behavior traits and were performing similar tasks. As a result, we recreated the personas based on these key behaviors and specific task functions such as investigating and purchasing.
Not Always the Optimal Experience
During the early stages of the project, the majority of Boeing stakeholders agreed that the company had room to improve on the customer experience, but most couldn’t articulate the extent of the issues. To fill the gap between their perceived notions and real customer experience, we chose to produce journey maps based on scenarios that revealed customers’ pain points, frustrations, and roadblocks that required our attention.
Although it felt risky and went against common industry practice, this approach helped clearly illustrate some of the issues customers encountered and allowed stakeholders to shed their assumptions and begin looking toward a more optimal future state.
Sell Service Design Without Selling Service Design
Service design is the design of the overall experience of a service, as well as the design of the process and strategy for providing that service. To prevent the introduction of another design discipline during the design process, we used customer journey maps to provide Boeing insights into both online and offline interactions, which, in turn, helped Boeing to see that the digital experience was often only half of the equation.
The journey maps uncovered some areas for improvement, in regard to handoffs between digital and more traditional channels, and educated Boeing on the spaces between those interactions, where gaps often go unnoticed.
This approach has allowed Boeing to rethink the role that digital channels play in influencing and living up to their commitment to service. It’s also encouraged Boeing to approach user experience from a more holistic viewpoint and explore better customer service overall.�
Display Customer Journey Maps Using Physical Media
Although we initially communicated the journey maps to the Boeing project team via email and digital documentation, we didn’t see their full impact until we displayed the journey maps on poster board.
During our research-findings presentation, we placed the journey maps strategically around the room, allowing stakeholders and executives to view, ponder, and consider each message on their own terms, as if looking at a piece of art. These posters continue to be an important communication tool.
Although each individual stakeholder on the project has come to his or her own conclusions, the customer journey maps have given stakeholders a common reference point as well and removed some of the barriers that are commonly found within large organizations. The customer journey maps have enabled stakeholders to collectively discuss opportunities for improving the overall customer experience, as well as to look within their own core groups for ideas and actions that will bring about change.
The journey maps have focused their attention on key customer behaviors and encouraged a different way of looking at application design. Core pieces of functionality can be developed, shared, and delivered to all users of the system.
Most important, this process has allowed stakeholders to step back and see the complete picture—how MyBoeingFleet plays a role in the greater customer-service delivery model. Closing the gaps between digital and traditional channels has now become part of the overall vision and has shed new light on the role digital plays within the organization.
Customer journey maps bring customer needs and emotions to light by guiding stakeholders through the series of interactions customers follow to satisfy their needs.
We are now working closely with Boeing to envision the new MyBoeingFleet user experience. In conjunction with producing an extensive list of design recommendations, we will be creating a new set of customer journey maps that will even more closely match expected customer behaviors, contain fewer valleys, and close the gaps between digital and traditional channels.
By producing journey maps that illustrate an optimal customer experience, we enable stakeholders and executives to identify, prioritize, and maintain focus on the changes that matter. By comparing and contrasting these optimal journey maps with the maps we produced before the design and development efforts began, Boeing can remain focused on transformational change and use both sets of journey maps to measure the new MyBoeingFleet experience.