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What's the difference between a journey map and a customer experience map - and which do you need?


Customer journey maps can be a crucial tool to drive change and improvements. But sometimes, it’s not a journey that you need to map.

30th Jul 2020
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At Heart of the Customer, we’re known for creating world-class journey maps. But sometimes, it’s not a journey that you need to map.

When a potential client contacts us to inquire about journey mapping, one of the first questions we ask is, “What are you looking to learn?” If the answer is “the customer journey,” we’re going to be asking a lot more questions.

“What is the right journey?” is the second question in our Five-Question Framework. At the extremes, you would map either the end-to-end experience or a specific sub-journey. Some CX folks refer to these, respectively, as a customer experience map or a journey map, so I’ll use those terms for this post.

At the risk of oversimplifying, you need a customer experience map when you don’t know exactly where the problem is, and a journey map when you do, but need to go deeper.

In early 2019, CustomerThink CEO Bob Thompson put together an excellent piece of research that homed in on what separates successful CX programmes from the rest (you can read my thoughts on it here). The critical differentiator was that the best programmes started with a customer experience map to understand the overall experience and biggest opportunities, then created multiple journey maps to explore those findings in more depth.

Experience maps go wide

Experience maps work well when you need a broad understanding. Some use cases include:

  • Inform new leadership (including a new CX leader) on the current state of the customer experience.
  • Build a listening post strategy across the entire experience.
  • Understand a specific customer segment, such as a generation or a new market.
  • Diagnose challenges with customers of an acquired business.

About a third of our projects focus on an experience map. (Check out our book, How Hard Is It to Be Your Customer?, to see how “ABC Software” created an experience map to build their listening strategy for a segment of banks.)

In the “AquaLabs” sample map below (with anonymised text), a medical device company gained an understanding of a specific segment of health care practitioners (HCPs) who were only buying from them sporadically. The company needed to learn how these HCPs worked with patients, so they could build programmes appropriately.

[Click to enlarge]

New patient experience map

Now look at the Meridian map pictured below. Notice how far more real estate is dedicated to what customers do than in the Meridian map? Emotions are displayed in both, but they’re a relatively small part of the top map, unlike on Meridian’s, where they play a larger role. That goes back to AquaLabs’ goal: to understand what the HCPs do.

[Click to enlarge]

New patient journey map

Journey maps go deep

Journey maps work best to diagnose a specific portion of the overall experience. Some common examples:

  • Customer attrition after a specific interaction.
  • Poor surveys scores for a portion of the journey.
  • New business initiatives that need to be informed by the voice of the customer (such as a new website or communications programme).

As an example, the map just below is based on work we did with a life insurance company. They had an initiative to change their underwriting and wanted to understand how their customers – in this case, financial professionals – felt about the existing journey. Notice again that a fair amount of space was used to show what customers did. This isn’t true of most of our maps, but again happens to be the case here. Also, as there is little joy in underwriting, it only shows levels of friction, as opposed to the Meridian map above, which reflects both positive and negative emotions.

[Click to enlarge]

meridian map

The Meridian map, featured in both Jim Kalbach’s Mapping Experiences book and ours, is from a journey mapping initiative conducted for Meridian Health. For that project, Meridian wanted to focus exclusively on the advanced radiology journey, from test scheduling through receiving results back from the doctor. The steps of the journey were well-known, but Meridian needed to find out how customers felt about them.

Selecting the right scope for your mapping initiative is one of the top three requirements to effectively drive change through journey mapping. There isn’t one choice that will be right for every situation. It comes down to fully understanding the current state of your experience…and the changes you need to drive to improve it.


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Dr. Graham Hill
By Dr. Graham Hill
31st Jul 2020 13:55

Hi Jim

Your article on the differences between experience maps and journeys maps illustrates everything that is wrong with journey mapping today.

The three maps used have two core problems; that afflict the vast majority of journey maps I see today.

The first problem is they are driven by hypothetical customers and not real CUSTOMER JOBS. Customers have jobs to be done, they interact with a range of actors to get each job done. The series of interactions constitutes the customer journey. We should base customer journeys on the jobs customers are trying to do, not on spurious customer personas.

The second problem is that they don't explain how customers make DECISIONS about what to do next. As customers progress through their journeys they are continuously confronted by decisions. Is the journey working for me and should I continue ? Would I be better off talking to another actor? What is the right channel for the next interaction? None of the journeys show any of this decisioning complexity.

The journey maps have other serious problems as well, but these two problems are more than enough to get started with.


Best regards from Köln, Graham

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