Helping colleagues transform their thinking from technical requirements to journeys.

The business of customer

Think about the last great customer experience you had.

Now, try to pull out all of the little details about that experience that made it great.

Customer experience is a fuzzy concept. As consumers, we can quickly name multiple different companies with great customer experiences, but struggle defining exactly what components make each experience exceptional.

Top-tier organizations understand they’re in the customer experience business and are focused on optimizing every interaction and impression their customers have with their products and services.

According to McKinsey, understanding your customer experience has an impact on your bottom line by, “achieving revenue gains of 5 to 10 percent, and reducing costs by 15 to 25 percent within two or three years.” Customer experience may be a hard concept to define, but it’s a competitive differentiator.

Building a great customer experience requires all departments to come together to better understand the entire journey of being a customer. A hands-on service is one of the most effective ways of bringing different departments together to better understand your customers.

I like to create service design workshops that incorporate multiple different types of user-centered methods with specific hands-on activities to go along with each method and demonstrate how the techniques can be used in their processes and work. For experience mapping, I use empathy maps, customer journey maps, and product roadmaps to help attendees learn how to:

  • Build empathy and understanding with their users
  • Visualize the current customer experience
  • Determine opportunity areas
  • Create visual, accessible and clear product roadmaps

The depth of experience mapping

One of the great things about experience maps is their wide range of fidelity. There is no wrong or right way to design a map, the crucial part of the process is everything that comes before the creation of the map. I often show examples of different maps using post-its or whiteboard sketches to demonstrate the broad variety of mediums someone can use to build an experience map.

Any type of customer experience map MUST be built using actual data, not internal assumptions. A customer’s experience cannot be defined by a set of five individuals sitting in a room throwing out their assumptions. Always stress this concept to your colleagues, and offer some quantitative research methods to gather this data.

My favorite way to visually describe the mapping process to other colleagues is through an iceberg analogy. Educating colleagues about this process during your workshop provides context to the different mapping methods.

The very tip of the iceberg is the mapping artifact or visualization shared with stakeholders. However, there are many more steps that go into building the foundation of an experience map.

1. Building a team

No one person should be leading a customer experience mapping project. It’s a lot more fun with teammates.

2. Internal Investigation

Typically, there is one person in an that is customer facing and has developed insights into how your customers think about your product. Reach out to these individuals to gather internal knowledge about your customers and use this data to formulate early research goals or questions.

3. Assumption Formulation

Debrief with your mapping team about the information you gathered during your internal investigation. Where are the gaps in your research? What do you assume are the major pain points for your customers? Write down each of your assumptions to help the team acknowledge and detach from them when evaluating your end user research.

4. External Research

Mission Critical. Get out and talk to your customers. Study their actions, body language, and their environment. Ask about their feelings towards a specific product or service. There are a variety of qualitative research methods to gather this information. I typically recommend user interviews with colleagues that aren’t experienced in user research.

Building Empathy Maps

Nielsen Norman Group (NNGroup) defines an Empathy Map as, “a collaborative visualization used to articulate what we know about a particular type of user. It externalizes knowledge about users in order to create a shared understanding of user needs and aid in decision making.”

One of the most desired skills of a UX Researcher is the ability to empathize with their users. Empathy maps are quick tools to help teams build out early ad-hoc personas and learn how to empathize with their customer’s needs. I recommend colleagues use this method when they are trying to define a set of unique users with separate needs and goals.

Tips for a hands-on activity with Empathy Maps

  • Pair up individuals into teams of two and provide a template of an empathy map. You can download and use my empathy map template.
  • Spend some time discussing what each of the different quadrants corresponds to: seeing, hearing, saying, and thinking.
  • In order to reinforce the idea of using real data to build out the maps, have one person in the pair be an interviewer and the other person be the interviewee.
  • Provide interviewers with a relevant experience to interview their partner about. A good generic topic for different groups is asking about the last major purchase the interviewee made.
  • Interviewers should use the empathy map as a notetaking tool.
  • Always timebox the interview between 5–10 minutes.
  • Wrap up the activity by asking pairs what they found helpful about the tool and what they found the least helpful. Sometimes the insights gained from this discussion can be beneficial to your mapping practice.

Building Customer Journey Maps

Customer journey maps are robust tools for user researchers. NN Group defines customer journey maps as, “a visualization of the process that a person goes through in order to accomplish a goal. It’s used for understanding and addressing customer needs and pain points.”

Unlike empathy maps, these maps are chronological or sequential. They’re extremely helpful for teams that are trying to visualize pain points along a timeline and identify opportunity areas. To keep a narrow scope, make sure you’re focusing on a 1:1 relationship — one user, one experience.

Tips for a hands-on activity: Customer Journey Maps

  • Gather the pairs back together and provide a template of a customer journey map. You can download my customer journey map template.
  • Spend time discussing the sentiment and sequential characteristics of the customer journey map.
  • In order to reinforce further the idea of using real data and practice interviewing, have the interviewer and interviewee switch roles.
  • Provide interviewers with a relevant and recent experience to interview their partner about. Try to gauge your audience to make sure the topic is recent for the majority of the people in the room. Interviewees do less recollecting and generalizing about an experience if it is fresh in their mind.
  • Interviewers should use the customer journey map template as a notetaking tool.
  • Always timebox the interview between 10–15 minutes.
  • Wrap up the activity by asking pairs what they found helpful about the tool and what they found the least helpful. Sometimes the insights gained from this discussion can be beneficial to your mapping practice.

Brainstorming Opportunity Areas

Opportunity areas are summations of all of the pain points discovered through the experience mapping process. One of the most difficult parts of user research for teams is the bridge from research to actionable opportunity areas. By investigating the peaks (high high’s) and valleys (low low’s) of a journey map, teams can brainstorm a list of opportunity areas based on solving user’s pain points.

“Every problem is an opportunity for design.

Tips for a hands-on activity: Opportunity Areas

  • Gather pairs back together and provide an opportunity areas worksheet. You can download my opportunity areas worksheet.
  • Spend time discussing how to derive insights from the peaks and valleys of a customer journey map. What parts of the high points along the experience can be applied to improve the low parts?
  • Teams should use the opportunity area worksheet to translate problem areas into design opportunities.
  • Always timebox the activity between 5–10 minutes.
  • Wrap up the activity by asking pairs what they found helpful about the tool and what they found the least helpful. Sometimes the insights gained from this discussion can be beneficial to your mapping practice.

Bringing it all together

I like to tie all of the hands-on activities throughout the workshop together by bringing in the concept of accessible product roadmaps. A great way to incorporate research findings and opportunity areas into a product’s overall strategy and design is through collaborating with a product owner or manager to build a product roadmap with the customer in mind.

My favorite format for a product roadmap has no dates attached to it. This roadmap format was adapted from ProdPad’s flexible road mapping method and is based on features a team is building now, next, and what’s in the pipeline. It helps reinforce the idea of a product roadmap to focus on the big picture.

Themes should be based on an organization’s overall business strategies. I like to find a list of a company’s strategic goals to help colleagues in the workshop begin to see how they can incorporate this type of roadmap into their processes. These answer the ‘why are we doing this,’ question across the company.

Strategic features should be actionable items that are less detailed than a task but more detailed than an overall initiative. They should be built from opportunity areas identified in the generative research phase of a project.

Trello is a great, free, online tool to build out this type of roadmap. I also recommend adding user stories to the different feature cards to provide specifics. Cards in the pipeline don’t need specifics, but cards in the now column should always have a user story attached to narrow the scope of the feature.


Every great workshop needs some time dedicated to discussing the major takeaways. From this session I have four major takeaways I want attendees to walk away with:

  1. The high-level process for any mapping project.
  2. How to empathize with your users.
  3. To begin thinking in terms of users and journeys instead of requirements or technical specifications.
  4. Ensuring the voice of the customer is embedded in every step of your product roadmap.

Coming out of this workshop, teams have the foundation they need to start incorporating these methods into their processes.

Great Sources and Further Reading

Source link—-819cc2aaeee0—4


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here