There are many reasons to bring a customer focus to your product planning. While product teams may have clarity around the business goals, they may get stuck in a zoomed-in view of the product details without a clear understanding of how it fits into customers’ lives and creates value. Incorporating a focus on the customer can provide a necessary anchor point to your product strategy as a source of alignment and new product opportunities.
For teams looking for ways to drive product strategy with a customer focus, the good news is that there are lots of design strategy tools out there that can help. The bad news is that in a sea of available options, it can be difficult to know which approach is right for where you are in your product planning.
Journey maps are a great tool for building empathy with customers, establishing a shared vision for the product, and providing strategic product direction. But not all journey maps are the same. Nor is there one map that fits every phase of your product planning.
To get the most out of your customer journey map – and to take the most effective route to get there – you need to choose the right course of action.
Customer Journey Maps as Powerful Product Strategy Tools
Journey maps shine a light on the broader customer context for your product and reveal new opportunities for product strategy and planning.
Not only do they serve as data-informed models of how customers engage with your product (and/or the broader goal your product supports), but they also serve as a bridge between customer research and product decisions in different ways.
- As a thinking tool. A journey map is key for understanding the full customer journey from beginning to end. And it enables you to identify areas of opportunity along the way. Through the process of creating the map, you may discover your intended experience is disjointed from the customer’s perspective. Understanding when and how these customer pain points occur illuminates the way to new possibilities.
- As a design tool. Are you in need of new product ideas? A journey map is perfect for inspiring new concepts and uncovering unmet needs to solve through design — all leading to a more effective and desirable product or service experience. A clear picture of the customer’s process and needs gives teams a new resource for designing with tangible goals in mind.
- As a communication tool. It’s hard to move a product forward when different teams aren’t on the same page. A journey map will align teams around a visual model of customers’ experience, helping establish a shared understanding and product vision. Maybe you find that some team members’ beliefs about your customers’ needs weren’t quite accurate, and those false perceptions have bled into the UX.
There’s More Than One Way To Create a Customer Journey Map
Because your product, customers, and journey goals are unique, your journey map should be, too. Far from a black-and-white path from A to B, a journey map can be customized to conquer any myriad of issues, questions, or ideas your product or service may be facing, no matter what stage your product is in.
The idea of a journey map can be applied in different ways to:
- Capture an existing customer journey or envision a future customer journey.
- Focus on the customer’s interaction with your product or focus on the customer’s broader process outside of the product.
- Provide a high-level overview of the full customer experience or dive deep into a targeted slice of the product or service experience.
Finding the Right Journey to Fit Your Product’s Stage and Goals
Though completely worthwhile, a journey map takes time and effort from your team to produce. To get the most out of your map, you need to use the right approach. This all depends on where you are in your product planning.
At Everyday Industries, we’ve carved out three main types of customer journey maps: define, diagnose, and direct.
1. “Define” Journeys: When You Need to Define the Parameters
“Define” Journeys map your customers’ steps, interactions, and timing for a current process that does not yet include the product. These types of journeys are ideal for teams in the product definition phase when a concept and business case are established, but many of the components, features, and overall user experience need to be defined.
This type of map plays a critical role in ensuring the product or service fits into users’ lives by understanding their present-day processes. There are many ways you could go about conducting and collecting research to inform your map including contextual inquiries, diary studies, or shadowing exercises with target customers.
The participants are the experts, and the research focuses on understanding the steps of their journey as well as the different interactions and timing.
When we worked with kids’ clothing company Rockets of Awesome, we conducted diary studies with parents. They described how they shopped for kids’ clothes, highlighting their considerations, steps in the process, and pain points. Then, we conducted interviews with participants to dig into what is most important to them and their kids and how each plays a role in decision-making.
After learning how parents approached the shopping process, what their priorities were, and the nagging pain points, we were able to forge ahead with new ideas. We worked with the Rockets team to develop key moments in the new product journey and define differentiators of the service.
When equipped with a model of a customer’s existing reality, product teams can craft the full product experience to meet customers where they are and provide truly meaningful value.
2. “Diagnose” Journey: When You Need to Assess the Current Experience
“Diagnose” Journeys map customers’ current interactions with your existing product or service. They work best for teams who need to look under the hood of their product experience to identify issues, gaps, and points of friction from the customer’s perspective.
This type of journey is the most useful when teams know that something isn’t right with the customer experience — and they’re not sure exactly where the breakdowns are happening. So, while it may be tempting to jump into redesigning aspects of the experience, you’d miss the opportunity to create a more holistic experience, and therefore leave the more effective solutions on the table.
Conducting research for Diagnose Journeys could include the same methods as the Define Journey as well as immersion exercises, moderated usability studies, and in-depth customer interviews. The research may be focused on a targeted aspect of the customers’ journey (based on the identified problem area), with a goal of understanding each step and where the product supports or does not support their process.
M. Gemi, a luxury shoe company, wanted to improve its return and exchange experience to not only reduce returns but improve the customer experience when the shoe didn’t fit perfectly. We mapped the touchpoints within their existing return experience and found effective ways to better meet their customers’ needs along the way. As a result, we designed a return flow that led to more exchanges and fewer returns overall. All thanks to an updated journey map that focused on the ideal customer experience.
3. “Direct” Journey: When Your Product Needs a Roadmap
“Direct” Journeys map customers’ current interactions with the existing product or service as well as their experience outside of the product. Think about it like a hybrid of Diagnose and Define, with the goal of identifying and prioritizing new product opportunities inspired by customers’ unmet needs.
Direct Journey maps work best for inspiring fresh ideas for an existing product, particularly for teams looking for a new product or feature ideas for their roadmap.
You could use any number of research methods to gather your data for this type of map. But keep in mind that your research is not solely focused on the customer’s experience with your product but the broader context of use. This includes other products, tools, services, or workarounds they use in conjunction with (or instead of) your product.
Think about a healthcare app aimed at connecting individuals with service providers and scheduling their appointments. Research for a Direct Journey could look at how a user:
- Searches for a provider with the app
- Uses any outside tools or resources to research and weigh their options
- Schedules the appointment itself
- Completes any follow-up steps after the appointment is over
While only a few of the above steps are completed using the app, a map with this expansive framing of the user’s process can be priceless. On one hand, it can reveal opportunities where the product can better support users with its existing features. For example, you may find that the user needs more context on the provider before making a decision to schedule an appointment with them.
Zooming out and seeing the bigger picture can also illuminate where the product can offer added value through new product features that solve for unmet user needs, like providing the user a better way to manage their care plan across providers.
Whether your product is at the beginning of its planning or has already racked up some mileage, there’s a customer journey map that can take your product where it needs to go. And if you need help along the way, we’re here for you.