Customer journey mapping

Customer journey mapping: How to identify the right problem or opportunity to map


In this extract from their new book, How Hard Is It To Be Your Customer, Jim Tincher and Nicole Newton explain why it’s important for customer journey mapping to be focused on a specific problem or opportunity – and how to identify the right one to examine.

9th May 2019

Counter-intuitively, some customer journey mapping projects go wrong because of the passion behind the project. As CX professionals, our desire to bring the customer to life for our organization is so strong, it becomes an end to itself.

While better understanding customers is important, it needs an anchor to ensure that action happens. That anchor is a business problem or opportunity.

Some journey mapping vendors will tell you that you always need to start with a broad, end-to-end map of the customer’s journey, then move onto mapping specific sub-journeys. Our take? That approach works well if you have the time and budget to support it.

The first end-to-end map identifies where you need to focus to create long-term changes. And it will teach you a lot about your customers. But it tends to require a second mapping effort to zero in on the needs identified in the first project. As a result, it’s a slow road to change.

Our advice is to start with a known need.

Too many companies start with the goal of creating a journey map. That’s a bad goal. A journey map is a means to an end. Your first job is to select that end. Journey mapping takes significant cost and effort. You’ll create more impact and have an easier time getting buy-in if you start with organizational pain.

In a Survey magazine article, “Influence not Insights,” Bruce Olson talks about market researchers, but he could easily have been talking with CX leaders, too. “Clarity of purpose means understanding how the information will affect decision-making THIS time, in the existing business context. Gaining clarity on purpose up front is too often undervalued by researchers and marketers alike. However, for researchers, remembering that the real goal is to get to the table rather than being nice to know, the questions we ask to gain clarity on business context are need to know.” [all emphases original]

Starting with a business problem helps with later decisions such as selecting a specific journey or customer to map. It also makes it easier to find a sponsor, select team members, and keep those members focused on the project. This is where we start with prospective clients.

Until they have a clear business need, they typically have a difficult time gaining the organizational will to conduct journey mapping. A typical journey mapping initiative costs anywhere from $80,000 to $200,000, with some costing significantly more. This level of investment requires an improvement to the business, so use the guidelines below to help you think through this.

Business problems or opportunities tend to fall in one of three broad categories:

  1. Something is broken.
  2. There’s an existing initiative.
  3. There’s a new CX capability.

Each of these requires a different approach.

Something is broken

Lost customers, low sales, bad survey scores. Something has gone wrong, and journey mapping is conducted to understand why. When something is broken it’s much easier to define the right journey and customer.

We have mapped many of this type of journey.

  • A global manufacturer conducted its first CX survey and discovered it had terrible scores for how it managed complaints.
  • A bank saw a net loss of customers, as new customers did not offset the high number of customers leaving them.
  • A medical device manufacturer had raving clients, but many more who only occasionally used them, called “dabblers.” They used journey mapping to better understand why this was true.
  • RTI International used journey mapping to understand an internal journey, how project managers worked across the support teams to help their external customers.

Many journey maps originate because there is a business problem such as customer attrition or low sales As a large health system, Meridian Health patients have literally dozens of potential journeys, including urgent care, women’s health, and selecting a new doctor. Meridian discovered that many patients who used them for other services were not coming for advanced radiology, which led Meridian to select this scope for journey mapping.

Retention was a core reason behind why the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities turned to journey mapping. They discovered a strong connection between new member visits and retention, and so wanted to understand how to better retain those new members.

For its first mapping initiative, ABC Software’s problem focused on lower than expected sales; it wanted to optimize marketing spend to increase sales. Fixing a problem is a common reason to undertake journey mapping, with a goal of improving customer experience points of friction to drive customer loyalty. While we don’t have hard and fast data, we’d suggest that at least half of all journey maps fit into this category.

There’s an existing initiative

Another reason for journey mapping is when work is already planned for a specific part of the customer experience.

  • We worked with an insurance company planning substantial changes to its underwriting process. It launched a customer mapping project to better understand points of friction in the underwriting journey. It wasn’t getting terrible feedback but since “the hood was open,” it was a good opportunity to collect feedback to inform the project.
  • A large healthcare distributor wanted to focus on a specific market, which it didn’t fully understand. We worked with the company to identify the end-to-end experience of the Home Medical Equipment provider, discovering the Moments of Truth and points of friction in the experience.
  • A large manufacturer who provided materials to food and beverage manufacturers planned to invest in the experience, so wanted to understand where investment was most needed to earn loyalty from its existing customers.

Another common reason to do journey mapping is as a precursor to a new website. The journey mapping shows how customers use the site today, identifying the top opportunities for new capabilities or content. We worked with an engineering firm who mapped both customers and prospective job applicants to understand their needs for the updated website.

Mapping can also inform an innovation project.

There’s a new CX capability

A third common reason for journey mapping is more indirect. As a company first builds a CX capability, it needs a roadmap of where to focus improvement. To target its efforts, an end-to-end journey map follows customers from awareness through purchase and ongoing usage, high-lighting areas of pain and delight that require additional focused attention.

This also helps determine where to build customer listening posts, whether through transactional surveys, social media monitoring, or other tools, a critical capability for a new CX team. Journey maps to inform a new CX capability tend to be more open-ended, to discover where problems are and to build an overall approach. As a result, they typically create end-to-end journeys.

Exact Sciences, the manufacturer of Cologuard®, used journey mapping to better understand two critical customer audiences, patients and physicians’ offices. Elsewhere, although ABC Software’s CX capability was not new, it did conduct an end-to-end journey map when it selected a new survey vendor.

Finding the business problem or opportunity

While there are many places you can look to help you identify a business need for journey mapping, the most common ones we hear about include customer surveys, strategic initiatives, customer activities, or governance.


Surveys frequently identify areas of customer frustration. Relationship surveys (surveys offered at regular intervals to understand the overall relationship) are particularly helpful, as they allow comparisons of different phases of the customer experience, enabling comparisons to find which segment of the experience most impacts attrition.

While there are many places you can look to help you identify a business need for journey mapping, the most common ones include customer surveys, strategic initiatives, customer activities, or governance.

A large B2B supplier to hospitals used a syndicated study of its customers and its competitors’ customers to determine that the implementation journey had a disproportionate impact on customer renewals. The analysis showed that when customers rated implementation low, they were more likely to switch providers once the contract expired, whereas a positive implementation correlated with an easier renewal. The importance of implementation led this organization to focus on mapping this journey.

Strategic initiatives

Look to where your organization is investing. Top initiatives are ideal opportunities to immerse yourself in your customer journey.

Digital disruption is one area that calls for better understanding of customer interactions. The CEB, a global best practice insights and technology company, identified that 57 percent of the sales process occurs before a company’s sales rep is engaged.2 Prospective customers spend considerable time self-educating through digital resources. As a result, companies may already have lost a buying decision before they knew a search was happening. This one article has led to multiple initiatives to map the pre-sales journey.

Exact Sciences, the manufacturer of Cologuard®, focused on patient test compliance — the percentage of patients who sign up, then go on to complete the screening test. Over one-third of patients who signed up never completed the test, and this was a major concern to leadership. Not only did this impact revenue (as they were only paid for completed tests), patients who didn’t complete the test weren’t properly screened for cancer.

Exact Sciences created end-to-end journey maps of the test process from both patient and physician perspectives to understand factors affecting signing up for the test, taking the test, and receiving the results.

Customer activity

Customers may be telling you how they feel outside of customer surveys. Look to customer activity to determine behavior for a certain customer type, or a specific line of business or product. These can include decreased sales or increased support calls.

Look to where your organization is investing. Top initiatives are ideal opportunities to immerse yourself in your customer journey.

Company KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) may also relate to customer activity and can lead to the need to map. Whether it’s basket size or cancellation rate, KPIs drive behaviors and sometimes journey maps.

Some customer activities increase costs to serve. This has the dual impact of frustrating customers and increasing costs. For example, a software company discovered a top reason for customer support calls was to get an explanation of the invoice. Customer journey mapping was initiated to understand the invoicing process from the customer’s point of view, to design a better process.

Executive presentations and governance meetings

You may not be invited to the executive meetings where strategic initiatives are discussed, but your executives may give hints about where to focus in their internal and external communications. Internal presentations are the best, since leaders are typically freer to discuss where they want the company to focus.

If you have a customer experience governance committee, this is an ideal team to prioritize where to focus. A governance committee reviews the current state of your customer experience regularly, assigning resources as needed. As shared in the case study below, Darin and Lisa used this capability to prioritize their mapping opportunities.


Your business problem may be obvious. You may have a clear need for improvements in retention or have a new CX capability requiring an end-to-end journey map.

Or you may know that journey mapping can help you, but not quite sure where the highest priority is. If this is your situation, bring some of the stats from the introduction to your business leaders, and look for the best opportunity to apply journey mapping.

Action Items

  • Bring together a cross-functional team to define the most important business problem, reviewing surveys, strategic activities, customer activity, and executive feedback as needed.
  • Meet with executives, including the CX governance committee if it exists, to gain agreement.
  • Find a sponsor.
  • Document the final business problem.
  • Use the business problem to define journey mapping objectives.
  • Carry this forward to the next chapters determining the right journey, customer, approach, and team.

How Hard Is It To Be Your Customer: Using Journey Maps To Drive Customer-Focused Change, by Jim Tincher and Nicole Newton, is available now: You can read more about it at

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