5 Essential Elements of Customer Journey Maps

Customer journey maps have become the go-to deliverable for understanding the customer experience and creating customer empathy. But not all journey maps are created equal: some are much more effective at telling the customer’s story than others. To maximize the effectiveness of your customer journey maps, examine these five essential elements:

  1. Timeline. Customer journey maps are diagrams that visualize the actions, thoughts, and feelings of a person or group over time. So the timeline is the single most defining feature of a journey map. I’ve seen a few maps that try to get fancy by representing the timeline as a circle or infinity symbol (no doubt to represent the idea of never-ending customer loyalty), but I recommend keeping it simple with a timeline that runs from left to right across the middle of the page.
  1. Customer steps. We need to know what the customer is doing along this timeline — like researching digital cameras online, trying on clothes at a store, or having lunch with their account rep. It’s important that these steps be written from the perspective of the customer: If your marketing team sends the customer an email, the journey map should show that the customer receives the email. Keep an eye out for steps that don’t have visible actions, like waiting to receive a quote. And be sure to include important steps where the customer isn’t engaging with your organization — like doing a Google search, asking colleagues for recommendations, or calling a competitor.
  1. Customer profile. A business executive and a married couple planning a family vacation are going to have very different needs and experiences when booking a flight or a hotel. So, as a general rule, each journey map should represent the experience of one and only one persona. It’s important that your reader be able to understand exactly who’s journey any given map represents, so a brief customer profile — almost like a mini persona — should be present right on the map itself. Include the customer’s name, age, location, and a few attitudes or behaviors that will help us understand why this customer experiences the journey as they do. A representative picture of the customer will also go a long way towards bringing them to life.
  1. Pain points and highlights. Effective maps find a way to communicate what’s working well and what’s really broken — at a glance. A horizontal timeline naturally affords an undulating “journey line” that rises vertically at the spots in the journey that are going well for the customer and drops down where the customer experiences frustration or other negative emotions. While the vertical axis doesn’t have to map to good vs. bad experiences, it’s common and straightforward to use it in this way. Color coding the customer steps — green for good and red for bad — can replace or supplement this undulating line.
  1. Supporting evidence. Detailed data points will help readers of your map understand the customer journey at a deeper level. Customer quotes from interviews, observational research, or journey mapping workshops will add emotional punch by showing what customers actually think, feel, and go through as they interact with your organization. Whenever possible, also include quantitative data like Net Promoter scores, customer attrition rates, average handle times, or other financial or operational metrics that will give teeth to the story you’re trying to tell with your map.

By maximizing these five essential elements, you’ll be well on your way to creating effective journey maps.


Kerry Bodine is the co-author of Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business. She helps organizations create and use customer journey maps. Sign up for her newsletter and follow her at @kerrybodine.