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4 Ways to Use Customer Journey Maps Successfully
You can't figure out what you can't map (and then measure). Customer journey maps are the answer. (#45)
The first piece of advice you’ll get when starting a new idea is to talk with potential users/customers to validate the problem. “Get out of the building” is a common refrain. It makes sense. You shouldn’t build something without engaging the prospective users/customers first to understand their needs deeply. You need to build empathy for the end user.
I fully support this idea.
But talking to users isn’t enough. You’ll get part of the picture, but not a complete one.
Even if you’re interviewing people properly (avoiding leading questions, not trying to sell a solution immediately, etc.), it’s easy to narrow your focus too quickly on the perceived pain point you’ve identified or the areas you’re interested in. As a result, you run the risk of not seeing the broader perspective or situation(s) faced by the user.
Interviews often lead to a 2 foot view of things, but you need a way of stepping back and seeing the 20,000 foot view as well.
This is where you should use customer journeys.
I call this “A day in the life” of the user/customer because it reminds me that people have problems in the context of other things going on in their days, and they use solutions at points in time, which are surrounded by other problems or things going on. No problem or solution exists in isolation of everything else happening. There’s a situation. Context. An occasion.
Customer journey mapping can be used in a host of situations, including:
As a form of stimulus while interviewing users
To synthesize learnings (from interviews, customer feedback, etc.)
To understand how your business works (and improve it)
To expand your solution offering
Let’s tackle each of these in order.
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1. Use a customer journey map to generate more insights while interviewing users
I’m a big fan of using stimulus or prototypes while interviewing users, to give them something tangible to react to. A simple example is a paper prototype that you put into an interviewee’s hands to get feedback. Often, a person’s guard drops while they’re doing something (i.e. playing with a paper prototype, moving things around on a table, writing things down on sticky notes, etc.) which allows you to ask probing questions and get better responses.
If you want to understand a “day in the life” of your user/customer, then draw it out and show them. Get them to react to the stimulus.
That’s precisely what the team at HighScore House did when interviewing parents. HighScore House built an app and game that encouraged kids to do chores or other activities in exchange for in-app currency, which they could then redeem for real-life rewards. While developing the solution, they wanted to figure out when to “interrupt” family members to use the app. So they put together a “customer journey map” and showed it to parents.
I know how scrappy this looks. And I love it. It was an easy way to get immediate and meaningful feedback from parents on how their busy lives worked. Parents were able to share their entire routines with the HighScore House founders. This provided the founders with a lot of clarity on the parents’ pain points, how a solution could help, and when it would be used.
It’s also important to note that “parents” is not a market. It’s much too broad. Parents of 6 month old kids are in a very different situation than parents of 16 year old kids. Their “day in the life” journeys are radically different. Putting together a simple stimulus like this allowed the HighScore House team to hone in on the right niche market to target.
If you don’t know how your solution will be used in the course of a person’s routine, you’re going to struggle to change their behaviour. If you interrupt someone at the wrong time and say, “Hey! Come use my solution right now, it’ll help!” you’ll piss them off and they’ll ignore you. Good luck becoming a part of their routine then. If you can’t inject yourself into their lives properly, you won’t get the engagement or stickiness you need.
2. Use customer journey maps to synthesize learnings and find the real pain
One of the biggest challenges with interviewing people is aggregating everything you’ve learned into actual insights. The “data” you collect is qualitative and messy. You may hear a pattern or two, but it rarely jumps out and slaps you in the face.
Customer journey maps (sometimes called ‘experience journey maps’) help.
If you can map “a day in the life” of your user/customer, then you can use what you’ve learned in interviews and overlay it across their experiences. When are users satisfied with what’s going on (and why)? When are they unhappy (and why)?
You end up with something that looks like this:
This visualizes a “day in the life” (note: this can be a week or month or some other timeframe) and when a user is satisfied or not. As you synthesize your learnings from interviews (or other experiments you’re running) you can plot those learnings on a visualization similar to this one. This should help clarify where to dig further, and where there’s real pain that might warrant a solution.
Doing this type of exercise with a team (especially if everyone was involved in interviews) can unlock meaningful insights and ensure alignment.
You can use a similar approach once the product is built and you’re trying to understand how things are going. Are customers satisfied with what you’re delivering and the support you’re providing? Are you delivering on projects quickly enough? And so on.
Here’s what that might look like:
This sort of visualization could easily be a living, breathing document that gets updated over time as you iterate through your product/solution. But most of the time I see it used in a workshop with team members, when they’ve identified there are issues and they need to map them more thoroughly.
3. Use customer journey maps to better understand your business
Your startup is a system you can map to identify problems, align the team and win.
You can’t fix what you don’t understand. And you can’t understand what you don’t map. In this context, “map” means describe (visually) how your startup works. A systems diagram of your business helps you understand all the moving parts and how they’re interlinked, uncover the ambiguity and locate the hot spots that are problematic.
Here’s an example of a SaaS Freemium business:
This shows how a user finds your solution, onboards, engages (or doesn’t), sticks around (or doesn’t), etc. It’s the entire journey (at a high level) through your business. Mapping this thoroughly (even the parts you haven’t built out yet) provides a comprehensive and unifying view into “all the things.” This allows you to define the right metrics to track and focus on at any given point in time. If you’re very early stage, you only focus on driving people to your website and turning visitors into freemium users (using conversion metrics). If you’re later stage, you might focus on upselling paid customers to increase LTV. For more information on how to do this, check out this article:
I love this exercise. I’ve done it with many entrepreneurs. They always come out of the experience with a few “ahas!” They realize that much of what they were doing or how things worked was assumed but not defined (or verified), and the team wasn’t fully aligned.
Sidebar: Map your business and send it to me!
If you go through the exercise of mapping your business and send it to me I’ll provide feedback. I’m happy to help you work through this.
All you have to do is subscribe to Focused Chaos (and then reply to the welcome email you get whenever you have your systems diagram mapped).
4. Use customer journey maps to expand your product offering
What are people doing right before they use your product? What are they doing after?
If you don’t understand this, there’s a very good chance you build the wrong product because you don’t know how to intercept people, guide them into your solution, and fit into their lives. You might have a great product, but if you don’t get the context right, you’ll fail.
Having a complete picture of a customer’s journey gives you the opportunity to identify additional pain points you can address. This is how you move from a wedge into a more horizontal play—you add functionality to your product that encourages usage before or after the core solution.
If you eat into other use cases, capabilities, etc. to broaden your influence and value creation you increase the likelihood of stickiness/engagement and growing market share. You may be able to charge more (now that you’ve added more functionality or replaced other point solutions).
Companies like Salesforce have done this to an extreme, going from a basic CRM to a gigantic, multi-functional platform. Some companies, like Canva, start as horizontal plays, but with a focus on specific use cases or templates (which are later expanded). Branching out from a wedge isn’t guaranteed to work, but you’ll definitely fail if you don’t understand where you’re even trying to go.
When in doubt, map it. Visualizing your customer’s journey is an effective way to:
Understand their problems, where existing solutions are missing the mark and where there’s opportunity to help;
Assess what you’re doing well and where you’re dropping the ball;
Figure out what to focus on given the stage you’re at and the type of business you’re in; and,
Identify growth opportunities beyond your core product / initial MVP.
Don’t overthink how you do the visualizations, just do them. I guarantee you’ll learn something from the process.
To dig further into this, here are some great resources:
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