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User journey map: Definition, details & 5 steps to make one

Did you know that 88% of online consumers are less likely to return to a site after a bad experience?

User journey mapping can help you avoid that fate.

This visual tool tells the story of how users interact with your product, outlining their goals, emotions and actions at each touchpoint. In this post, we’ll explain what a user journey map is in more detail, why it’s important and how you can create one to improve user experience.

Key takeaways

  • A user journey map is a detailed visual representation that helps companies understand the sequential actions and emotional experiences users have when interacting with your software, app, website, etc.
  • Key elements of a user journey map include user personas, scenarios, phases, goals, touchpoints, actions and emotions, each providing deeper insights into the user’s journey and interactions.
  • Creating and regularly updating a user journey map benefits you by aligning your team around user-focused strategies to improve usability as well as user satisfaction and retention, ensuring the delivery of seamless, personalized experiences.

Understanding the user journey map

Complete, filled in user journey map example
Consider a user journey map as the storyboard of your customer’s expedition with your digital product or platform; a visual representation that brings to life the sequence of actions they undertake and emotions they experience en route to achieving a specific goal.

It’s the way to truly understand your product from the user’s perspective.

Where a user flow zooms in on individual tasks, a user journey looks at the bigger picture, weaving in user motivations, frustrations and triumphs to improve usability and overall satisfaction.

A user journey map is an indispensable tool, providing clarity on how customers interact with your product or service and where their journey may take an unexpected turn.

User journey map and customer journey map: What’s the difference?

User journey vs customer journey text on purple and pink background

You’ll often see these terms used interchangeably now, but there is a difference:

  • User journey maps focus specifically on the user’s experience with a digital product or platform, like a website or app. It details the steps a user takes to achieve a specific goal within that platform, including their thoughts, emotions and pain points at each stage. The goal is to improve usability and user satisfaction within the digital product.
  • Customer journey maps encompass the entire customer experience, from awareness of your brand and consideration to purchase to after-sales interactions and beyond. It includes all touchpoints, online and offline, that a customer might have with your business. The goal is to understand how to build a strong, long-term relationship with the customer.

They both focus on interactions, where customer journey mapping takes the broadest view and the user journey map zooms in on a specific interaction with your software, app or website.

A user flow then drills down even further to optimize individual tasks.

You’ll want to get a user journey map in the hands of UX and product team and a customer journey map is more for marketing, sales and support.

When in doubt, start with a user flow, user journey or customer journey map template.

Sidenote, a well-structured sitemap supports a seamless user journey and naturally will improve your user flows. When considering the broader picture of your digital strategy, understanding the distinctions between user flow vs sitemap, and why you need to optimize both, can be very beneficial.

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How to make a user journey map

User journey map template
Whether you get going with a user journey map template or plan to start from scratch, mapping your user’s actions requires a core set of elements to provide structure and depth; personas, scenarios, touchpoints, actions and emotions.

1. Personas

User journey map persona highlighting bio, wants & needs, favorite brands and frustrations
Personas are the main characters you’ll build this map around.

Note that, user personas aren’t literal users but rather avatars sculpted from your user research, representing the goals, behaviors and challenges of real individuals or groups.

A 35-year-old male in New Orleans making $67k a year is going to have a different journey in your app or on your site than a 49-year-old woman in New York City making $124k a year.

They’re both users but their touchpoints, user actions and pain points won’t be the same. Customer interviews are a straightforward way to build these personas out.

Avoid combining varying needs and prioritize a deep understanding of each unique persona, ensuring that the journey map reflects the authentic experience of your target audience.

In other words, yep, that means multiple journey maps, one for each demographic and behavioral segment. A dedicated path that honors the distinct ways key types of users interact with your software.

This segmentation allows for a more focused and effective approach to addressing the needs of each group, enabling tailored strategies that resonate with each persona’s journey.

2. Scenarios and goals

User journey map breakdown of scenarios and goals
The scenarios and goals are the plotlines of our map, outlining what exactly drives each avatar forward toward their desired result.

The scenario defines the situation you’ll be mapping out, defining what the user personas aims to accomplish and setting the stage for their journey.

The goals, meanwhile, act as the beacon guiding them, shaping their expectations and the actions they take to reach the outcome.

3. Phases

The phases of a user’s journey are the specific steps in the scenario you outlined previously.

If the scenario is turning a trial user into a paying user, the journey could be broken down into these phases:
User journey map example phases: sign up, trial, onboarding, first session, end of trial, conversion

  • Sign up
  • Trial
  • Onboarding
  • First session
  • End of trial
  • Conversion

These phases chart the course of the user’s evolving relationship with your product, each one a chapter in the story, capturing their progress and the pivotal moments that influence their decision-making.

4. Touchpoints, actions and emotions

Touchpoints and actions are the interactions and decisions that carry your user through their journey, representing the moments of contact between them and your system.

Each one of these is an opportunity to impress….or disappoint.

This is why it’s important to also track the emotions a user has at each action.

The spots where the emotional sentiment is negative are your friction or pain points. Finding those opportunities for improvement and fixing them is the whole point of mapping user journeys.

User journey map stages, touchpoints, actions and emotions

By charting every step and touchpoint through your product you get a full spectrum view of the journey, leaving no stone unturned in the quest to understand and enhance the user’s experience.

These are crossroads where expectations meet your brand’s performance. The scenes where your user’s story unfolds, and by capturing each one, you gain the insights needed to refine and perfect complex journeys.

It’s in the meticulous detailing of these touchpoints and actions that we find the clues to a more seamless, satisfying user experience.

5. Internal ownership

As your journey maps come to life, you may notice that there are quite a few stakeholders involved.

To ensure nothing falls through the cracks and the friction areas you uncover are properly resolved, assigning ownership at each phase is a good call.

Each team member can then focus on improving those specific tasks and the associated user flows along the larger journey.

Put everything together and you’ve got yourself a UX user journey map.

User journey map internal ownership section corresponding to each stage of the journey

Use this user journey map template

User journey mapping example

A bunch of explanations are all well and good, but how about we take a look at a user journey map example that puts it all together.

Spotify

User journey map example from Spotify about adding a music sharing feature
Using most of the steps outlined above, UX/UI designer Meghana Bowen put together a user journey map that ultimately enhanced key areas of engagement and highlighted pain points that needed to be smoothed over.

This is exactly the sort of end result you want to achieve. The one thing we’d add in is a row for internal ownership so you know who’s responsible for each phase where changes need to be made.

Watch the video below for a detailed breakdown of the Spotify user journey map:

Check out the entire case study.

Benefits of creating a user journey map

The creation of a user journey map is an investment in better understanding your users as well as keeping your product customer-focused and your UX/UI design sharp.

Improved user and customer experiences have ripple effects beyond just helping users. The mission of getting your software, app, site or platform to exceed expectations is something that should galvanize your entire organization and lead you towards achieving your business goals.

The UX journey mapping process helps you:

  • Optimize design
  • Improve usability
  • Address pain points
  • Organize information architecture
  • Smooth any friction users encounter within your site or app

This map isn’t solely about charting a path; it’s about delving into the psyche of your users, uncovering their needs and pain points to tailor experiences that feel personal and impactful. With this map in hand, you remain in lockstep with your customers, anticipating their needs and adapting to their evolving preferences.

Thorough user journey maps give your team the ability to polish each task and action a user takes AKA doing user flow optimization (learn how with these user flow examples).

When your product shines, it helps your whole organization.

Engineers and developers know exactly what to improve and how. Sales and marketing teams can be more effective in attracting potential customers. Customer success and customer retention teams can better nurture folks into becoming long-time users.

Best practices for effective user journey mapping

User’s journey maps are only as good as the process you use to create them.

To get a truly deeper understanding of who uses your product and how to optimize it, everything starts with thorough user research. Whether it’s customer interviews, user stories, reviewing website traffic, app usage or Google Analytics, pinpointing the right areas of improvement matters.

You’ll also want to take a collaborative approach to your UX journey map. Align your internal teams and get conversations going that dig below the surface of the customer experience. Avoid the pitfalls of operating in silos or disregarding the expertise of external partners, as these can lead to crucial oversights in your journey mapping process.

To chart the most effective user journey map, it’s critical to draw on a mosaic of perspectives, ensuring that the rich diversity of your customer base is reflected in the map. This collaborative approach creates a shared mental model.

Regular reviews and revisions of your journey map, guided by concrete goals, customer feedback and key performance indicators, ensure it remains a dynamic and accurate representation of the user journey.

Common pitfalls to avoid in user journey mapping

The road to an effective user journey map is fraught with potential missteps. Here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Failing to incorporate a wide range of perspectives can result in a map that fails to capture the full scope of the customer experience.
  2. Neglecting stakeholder input and continuous improvement may leave your map outdated and misaligned with current customer needs.
  3. Having too narrow of a focus on the product, rather than the entire user experience, can lead to missed opportunities.
  4. Underestimating the weight of each individual experience, the cumulative effect of the customer touchpoints with your product.
  5. Using ambiguous categorizations or emotions, can dilute the effectiveness of your map and fail to convey the nuanced user experiences.
  6. Overlooking divergent pathways can simplify the user journey to a fault, failing to reflect the complex, multi-faceted nature of real-world customer interactions.

By avoiding these mistakes, you can create a more accurate and impactful user journey map.

Tools and templates for user journey mapping

As you can see, there’s quite a bit that goes into creating meaningful user journey maps. So the first thing you’ll want is a project management tool like Trello or Asana to streamline the organization and prioritization of the mapping process.

In terms of crafting the map, our Diagram Maker provides the collaborative toolkit you need to build out user journeys and user flows with your team as well as a huge template library, including our user journey map template and customer journey map template.

The beauty of Slickplan is that in addition to creating journey maps, you can go straight into deeper UX work with a suite of website planning tools that’ll help you develop your website content, put together a more intuitive sitemap and more.

Summary

If your goal is to build the best product you can, squash each pain point users encounter and deliver improved UX, a user journey map is the way.

Armed with best practices and equipped with the right tools and templates, you’re now ready to create and refine your own user journey maps, avoiding common pitfalls along the way.

Use this guide as you navigate the complex terrain of your customer’s experience, charting a course that leads to enhanced customer loyalty, satisfaction and growth.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a user journey map?

    A user journey map is a visual representation that details the steps a user takes to achieve a goal, combining storytelling, visual design and empathy to create a comprehensive view of the user's experience through your product.

  • Why are personas important in user journey mapping?

    Personas are important in user journey mapping because they represent the different types of users who interact with your product or service, ensuring that the journey map addresses the distinct needs and behaviors of each segment of your audience.

  • How can user journey maps benefit an organization?

    User journey mapping can benefit an organization by keeping it customer-focused, enhancing product design and growth, improving user satisfaction and retention while promoting cross-departmental collaboration and internal ownership.

  • What's the difference between user flows and user journeys?

    User journey vs user flow : It's big picture vs. close-up. User journeys map the entire user experience with product, emotions and all. User flows focus on specific tasks within a product, outlining the steps to achieve a goal.

  • What types of journey maps are there?

    The main two are user journeys and customer journeys. User journey maps focus on digital products, while customer journey mapping covers the entire customer experience, including offline touchpoints. A third one would be a service blueprint map which goes beyond user experience to detail the internal processes that support those journeys.

Steve Tsentserensky

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