Nate Brown, Co-Founder, CX Accelerator

Nate Brown is a perpetual student of the world’s greatest experiences and the people who create them. Having spent the first decade of this career managing a complex technical support environment for Occupational Health and eLearning software, Nate transitioned to Customer Experience in 2015. After authoring The Ultimate CX Primer, Brown was dubbed the “CX Influencer of the Year” by CloudCherry in 2019, and a top global CX thought leader by ICMI, Exceeders, Netomi, Martech and many more. Nate also co-created CX Accelerator, a first-class, non-profit community to help Customer Experience professionals grow and succeed in every stage of their career journey.


Ah the journey map. The magical “ace up the sleeve” of nearly every CX professional. It’s become nearly synonymous with the work of Customer Experience like rebooting a machine for an IT person.

The inconvenient truth is that for all the journey maps I’ve witnessed, precious few have made a meaningful difference inside of the company. It’s yet another resource lost to email trash cans and forgotten office filing cabinets. The journey map becomes a map to nowhere…an experience dead end.

And if the journey map fails, guess what else people will lose confidence in? That’s right…the overall Customer Experience initiative.

This is a steep price to pay. Credibility is so crucial in this work that is dependent on our ability to earn supporters across the business. If we are going to invest the time, energy, and resources to do a map, we need to know how to stick the landing.

This article will briefly explore when is the right time to do a journey map, pitfalls to avoid, and ways to make the process meaningful for all stakeholders. If you are wondering what a journey map is and what the foundational elements are I’d highly suggest this piece to get you going.

To Map or Not to Map

“There is no map to human behavior” – Bjork

What is it we are looking to achieve with a journey map? This is an extremely important question to ask. And sadly, one that does not get asked enough. 

If we do not begin this process with a clear outcome in mind, it’s extremely likely we will not achieve one. If done really well, there are a number of wonderful things that can happen as a result of a journey map. Here are three of my favorite possible outcomes:

  • Connecting every employee, regardless of where they fit in the company, to a specific customer journey.
  • Revealing the true nature and complexity of the customer’s experience through THEIR lens…not the lens of the business we typically see through.
  • Illuminating critical friction points and “moments of truth” that have a tremendous impact on the overall journey.

If you are hoping to use a journey map as part of a larger strategy to awaken a customer-centric culture, you are probably on the right track.

There are many situations where a journey map is NOT the best fit. These include:

  • When executives just want to see a diagram of the journey through their own lens and in their terminology, not that of the customer.
  • When the business is trying to visualize the relationship between various internal components, such as technology, process and people. Check out a “Service Blueprint” for this need.
  • You’ve got 2,000 post-it notes and two hours to kill during an executive offsite. The only “lasting” impact of this activity would likely be sticky residue on the walls.

Bottom line: The journey map CAN BE a highly valuable education piece, accelerating a customer-centric mindset across the business. It also can be (and sadly usually is) a total waste of time. How can we tip the scales in our favor to make this a meaningful activity?

Here are a few things you SHOULD do:

Have a very specific and well-defined customer persona ready to map. If you try to merge different personas together, the map becomes unintelligible.

Use REAL customer data. If you are slapping assumptions from executives on to sticky notes you are not journey mapping. You are hypothesizing. There is a time and place for a “hypothesis map” to awaken curiosity…but it’s far better to actually have data across the customer journey BEFORE you try to map it.

What you may be seeing is that there are many critical steps that come before a journey map. Namely a strong “Voice of Customer” engine (to use a Jeanne Bliss term) and well-defined customer personas. So often organizations short-cut these steps and end up with a map to nowhere.

In these situations, I’ve started doing something I call a “listening path map.” This is a perfect primer to a true journey map, and an extremely helpful exercise in-and-of itself.

The primary goal of the listening path map is to clearly show the current gaps in the Voice of Customer engine. This is done by selecting a customer persona, identifying all the major milestones in that customer’s journey, and listing under each milestone the structured and unstructured listening paths. Every time I’ve done this exercise, it’s revealed several major oversights in the design of the Voice of Customer program.

So much good will come from identifying and addressing these VoC gaps. And one such relevant outcome will be having the insights you need to do true journey maps indefinitely into the future.

In my opinion, the absolute biggest DO THIS is premediating a creative way to bring the journey map to the people it’s meant to serve…your employees.

One of my favorite examples of this comes from a software organization I used to work inside of. There was a new piece of technology that was released that somehow had garnered a negative reputation with many of the employees. Naturally, this perception was spilling over into customers…which was the last thing we needed.

I decided to probe deeper and start asking employees where their perspective was coming from. What I found is that few of them had ever even logged in! It was a bunch of “he said, she said” rumor mill. As childish as this sounds, water cooler talk should NEVER be underestimated. Countless multi-million dollar ideas have crashed and burned in the fires of internal chit-chat. But how to reverse the trend?

Enter the journey map, wrapped in a clever hands-on scenario. We actually simulated a “workplace incident” that involved the Kool-Aid Man bursting through the wall. Our employees came in that day to an “urgent communication” in which they had to login to the new software and perform a role similar to that of our customer. Successful compilation of this task earned them entry into a free lunch, in which we also presented the journey map! It was a huge hit and went a long way in improving both internal and external knowledge of the technology.

I’d go as far to say that the way the journey map is introduced to your employees is as important as the map itself. Think of a great way to BREAK the mental pattern your employees are in. We want them to really consider what life is like as a customer, and the role they play in that relationship. Make the map jump off the page in an unforgettable way!

I hope this piece will help you to avoid the dreaded “journey map dead end” that has befallen so many. Don’t hesitate to reach out if I can be a resource during your next map quest!

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