A Road To Nowhere: Why Customer Journey Maps Fail To Deliver Results

Interested in customer journey mapping? Prepare to be disappointed — unless you follow these tips.


Customer journey mapping is all the rage these days, but this oft-used tool for customer experience improvement frequently leads to a rather disappointing destination.

Journey maps are visual illustrations of the customer experience (CX), designed to depict how the experience unfolds, what customers are thinking and feeling, and where the highs and lows lie in the encounter. In theory, the journey map should help organizations deconstruct and then differentiate their customer experience.

But the reality is quite different. According to a recent Gartner study, 83% of customer experience professionals report that their organizations have struggled to use customer journey maps to advance their CX improvement efforts.

That’s partially a consequence of poor execution. There are a host of common pitfalls that can undermine customer journey mapping efforts, and companies often fall victim to many of them. Examples include:

  • Confusing journey mapping with process mapping. Customer journey maps are supposed to depict the experience from the customer’s perspective as opposed to the company’s (internal, process-oriented) perspective. That means good journey maps capture customer activities and tasks with which the business might have no current involvement, yet could represent areas for future experience enhancements or product expansions.
  • Focusing on potholes instead of peaks. Businesspeople are problem solvers at heart, and so they tend to approach customer journey mapping as an exercise in “finding and fixing” the pain points that plague the current experience. That’s a worthwhile exercise, but it must be complemented with efforts to “discover and delight” – identifying opportunities to deliver something unexpected to the customer (something they never felt was missing), thereby creating an experiential peak that elevates their overall perception of the encounter.
  • Neglecting the psychology of customer experience. Good customer experience design is an exercise in memory-shaping (because it’s how customers remember the experience that will ultimately drive their repurchase and referral behavior). Customer journey mapping generally fails to account for this, viewing touchpoints discretely, without regard for how they could be more strategically sequenced and sculpted to accentuate positive memories while muting negative ones.

Companies are often enamored with creating beautifully drawn journey maps that hang in conference rooms like works of corporate art. These graphical illustrations of the customer experience are usually developed by cross-functional teams who hole themselves up in a meeting room over the course of a few days, armed with stacks of post-it notes and an array of colored markers.

Journey maps can be helpful for developing a shared understanding across functional areas about how the customer experience unfolds and how different organizational units influence its delivery. By design, however, journey map visualizations are meant to fit snugly on a piece of paper, a poster, or a whiteboard. As such, they are high-level depictions of the customer experience.

And that is where their greatest deficiency lies. Many companies invest in the creation of customer journey maps, only to come out of the exercise wondering, “Now what do we do?” That’s because, while journey maps might highlight apparent customer pain points or unmet needs, they simply do not incorporate the level of detail required to be actionable.


Many companies invest in the creation of customer journey maps, only to come out of the exercise wondering, “Now what do we do?”


Customers’ hearts and minds are not won at the 30,000-foot level, which is the high altitude perspective associated with traditional journey maps. Rather, brand impressions are forged on the ground, in the trenches, through the often minute details of each interaction point.

An 800-line navigation menu, the organization of a billing statement, the phrasing used in a confirmation e-mail, the flow of a website transaction – these are all examples of important experiential details which simply cannot be thoroughly explored through typical journey mapping exercises.

It’s for this reason that the most successful customer journey mapping exercises are those that go well beyond cursory evaluations. They dive deeper, studying the customer journey at a much more granular level. They look not just at high-level “lifecycle episodes” in the journey (e.g., Awareness, Consideration, Purchase, Delivery, Support), but at every material live, print, or digital interaction that the customer might encounter during the experience.

This is customer journey mapping on steroids, and it’s not an exercise for the faint-hearted. It takes time and requires a sustained organizational commitment. It is, however, necessary, because absent this level of rigor, any journey map that’s created will likely trigger more questions than it answers.

So, if you embark on a traditional customer journey mapping exercise, just keep in mind that it’s not an end point, but a starting point. It must be accompanied by a much more granular accounting of the experience and a correspondingly detailed CX evaluation. That way, instead of ending up with another piece of corporate artwork, you’ll get a truly actionable roadmap for turning your customer experience into something exceptional.

[A version of this article originally appeared on Forbes.com.]


Jon Picoult is founder of Watermark Consulting, a customer experience advisory firm that helps companies impress customers and inspire employees, creating raving fans that drive business growth.  Author of “FROM IMPRESSED TO OBSESSED: 12 Principles for Turning Customers and Employees into Lifelong Fans,” Picoult is an acclaimed keynote speaker, as well as an advisor to some of world’s foremost brands.  Follow Jon on Twitter or Instagram, or subscribe to his monthly eNewsletter.


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