Improve Your Customer’s Experience With Experience Mapping

Part #1: Planning Your Experience Map

How do you plan for an unplannable world?

If the last 20 years have shown us anything, it’s that trying to prepare for the future is a fool’s errand. We can only see so far.

We (meaning businesses, organizations and everyone in-between) think technology causes change. It doesn’t. Instead, change is driven by how people use technology – often in different or unexpected ways.

Because we scramble to predict the future, we miss that story. We focus on what we think will happen, rather than what our customers are actually doing. So we invest millions in products and features that we honestly think will work…and no one uses them.

But if we just stop listening to the story we tell ourselves for a few seconds, and start listening to our customers instead, they’ll tell you everything you need to know.

There’s another problem…

We live in our own ecosystems. Social media, remote working, terabytes of data. All great. All challenges. As organizations become used to new technology and trends like flexible working, we become splintered. There’s a reason why you can find dozens of articles about breaking down information silos. It’s a problem we’ve never had before at this scale.

If your business has teams all across the country – the world – how can you hope to hold each other accountable, explore and interrogate ideas, and question each other in vigorous debate?

And if you can’t get the team on the same page, how can you expect to follow the customer?

Unless, of course, you find a way to do just that.

An Experience Map will tell you a customer’s entire story

The good news is, you don’t have to know what’s coming. You never will. Instead, you just need to be completely focused on one thing: your customer.

By tying yourself to your customer’s decision making process, their complete end-to-end experience, and by understanding the psychology behind their activity, you’ll make customer-centric decisions instead of being driven by technology trends.

That’s where an Experience Map comes in.

An Experience Map is a visual representation of a customer’s literal experience with your business. It’s a physical map that shows what the customer does, what they feel, and what they think along every step of the way. From the moment they see an advertisement, to when they take up a free trial, all the way to chatting with customer support with a problem and beyond.

Informed by data, decision-makers across the business, the people who deal with customers everyday and the customers themselves, is about identifying what your customers are doing, thinking and feeling right now and prioritizing opportunities to improve their experience in the future.

It’s the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Using an Experience Map means you can identify:

  • New trends
  • Problems in the customer journey
  • Opportunities to advance or invest
  • Areas to distribute customer insights or training

Why an Experience Map?

If those reasons aren’t enough, here are some more:

  • Using an Experience Map keeps the focus on what the customer actually does, and not what your business thinks they do
  • The Map acts as a constant guide to the customer experience, even amidst organizational changes to structure, positioning, location, or collaborative methods of working (like remote employees)
  • The Experience Map is an comprehensive way to catalogue every touchpoint, channel and moment your customer interacts with – it puts their experience at the beginning of your decision-making, not your guesses
  • With enough data behind the Experience Map, it starts the discussion – but never dominates it
  • The Experience Map is strong enough to guide you, but flexible enough to change when customers start doing new things – or new opportunities arise.
Any point where a customer observes or interacts with your brand, from the onboarding process to customer service chat.
The methods by which your business communicates information or messages to the customer. E.g. an app, a website, print media, etc.

The disadvantages of not completing an Experience Map

It’s hard to consider what benefits an Experience Map might have until you compare, side-by-side, what the effects might be of not doing one. So let’s take a mortgage brokerage – “Mortgage Success” – as an example.

Without an Experience Map

The Mortgage Success firm – and the entire industry – has a problem.

They build trust and value through the reputation of their brokers, who form a huge part of the customer relationship. Looking forward, the company wants to incorporate more technology and create a self-serve experience as well.

The company sees this as a way to future-proof the business.

But brokers aren’t happy. They think the service will impact their relationships, and so the initiative is delayed. Once it launches, brokers only interact with the application when they have to. It isn’t fully adopted.

Plus, customers lose faith because the experience becomes disjointed between the self-service portal, and the relationship with the brokers.

The firm’s reputation suffers.

With an Experience Map

By using an Experience Map, Mortgage Success is able to visualize not only what the customers are doing at each point of contact, but what they’re thinking and feeling as well.

As part of the mapping process, brokers, underwriters, and stakeholders come together to give their first hand experience of working with the customer.

The map shows opportunities to infuse the existing relationship with technology to enhance the experience, not merely replace it. It’s tech combined with human connection, guidance and expertise.

With brokers fully on board with this approach, the company launches a portal that brokers feel they actually have ownership of. It’s a tool they’re proud of, which drives further engagement, and more satisfied customers.

Experience Maps come in all shapes and sizes

Typically, Experience Maps are kept focused on a specific experience or project. It just makes them easier to create by limiting the number of people involved, the time you need to dedicate, and the complexity of including multiple data points and voices in the room (we’ll get to “the room” soon).

But you can make your Experience Map as focused or as holistic as you want. You can create Experience Maps for:

  • An entire customer journey across a business, from the time they first see a digital ad to when they chat with customer support
  • A specific project, like creating an app – focusing purely on the digital experience that starts when they download, and ends when they leave satisfied
  • A touchpoint, like a troubleshooting problem or a customer service call
  • A specific channel, like a television ad, or an in-app experience

Start planning to create your Experience Map

Are you committed to creating your Experience Map?

Let’s get started, then.

This is a five-step process:

  1. Planning your Experience Map
  2. Customer research
  3. Running the workshop
  4. Creating your Experience Map
  5. Using your Experience Map

The best and most comprehensive way to create your Experience Map is with a workshop, bringing together all the relevant voices and data in a single room. This event requires some planning to make sure everything stays on track, so you’ll need to decide on several things first:

  • Scope. Like we just described – what are you measuring in your Experience Map? Once you agree on that, that will help you decide…
  • What voices need to be heard? Experience Maps are by definition cross-discipline (counteracting the propensity to shut ourselves off in silos, like we just talked about). So you need to determine who should be there, including colleagues from:
    • Customer support
    • Online development
    • Engineering
    • Product management
    • Executives
    • Development
    • Creatives
    • Any people on the frontline – including customer service staff (such as call centre workers, or even employees like waiters from a restaurant, even receptionists)
  • Where will they be attending from? Remote working shouldn’t be a barrier to getting the right people in the room. Think about the technology your attendees have access to, and start thinking about ways to help facilitate their access (we’ll talk about this more in the next section…). Not convinced? Here are some more reasons to invite your remote colleagues:
    • It’s faster and environmentally friendly
    • Every member feels as though they will be valued
    • It creates an understanding that remote members are an equal part of the process
  • Are there any time zone differences? Be sure to set a time that works for everyone.
  • What data do you need? Creating an Experience Map relies on more than opinions and subjective anecdotes. You need facts, too. Bring together elements like:
  • User stories
  • Calls
  • In-product tracking and usage
  • A/B test results
  • Analytics

This is typically an all-day workshop, even for a specific project. So the more people you get on board, the more material you gain, the better experience you’ll have.

Start doing the pre-work as soon as possible

After you’ve identified all of this, you’ll probably notice that you have a lot of gaps in your knowledge. Some of that will be taken care of by customer research (which we’ll cover in the next section), but some of that can be helped by people in the room.

Which is why you need to schedule a kick-off meeting.

As any effective project manager knows, creating consensus and building momentum is key to getting anything done. Once you’ve identified who you need, what information you have, and how this is going to run, schedule a meeting to lay out and determine:

  • The background
  • Who is going to be responsible for what
  • What is the scope of the Experience Map?
  • Who is the customer?
  • What gaps do we need to fill?
  • Do we need to conduct any research to fill those gaps?
  • Who is going to take part in the research?
  • What do we want that research to find?
  • What is the successful outcome of this project?
  • What can do we in-person versus remotely?

You should make it clear this is a hybrid workshop, so remote attendees are just as welcome as those in the room (we’ll give you some more practical ways for remote attendees to participate in section #3).

Start creating online channels to communicate, in Slack, Mural or with whichever tool you like most. The main goal is to make everyone feel included.

Don’t be afraid to literally ask: what do people want to get out of the Experience Map session? You might be leading it, but as a collaborative task building momentum and a joint vision is crucial to any success.

Remember, you need to remind colleagues you aren’t discussing an Experience Map for the sake of discussing it, you are building a tool that will be used throughout the entire organization.

This means you need buy-in not just for the experience of creating the tool itself, but in using it as a decision-making catalyst afterwards as well.

Once that’s done, you’re ready to move on to the next phase: your customer research.

Step #2: Conduct customer research for your Experience Map

Start filling the gaps in your knowledge

So you’ve identified who should be in the room, the scope of your project, and the outcome you want. By now you should understand what gaps in your knowledge exist, and how to start filling them.

There are a couple of ways to build out your information. The first is by literally speaking to your customers and asking them a range of questions that relate to their experience with your company.

The second is by asking every workshop attendee to ask a number of questions that relate to their own role.

Surprised? Don’t be! When you create your Experience Map and track what your customers do at every touchpoint, it’s also good to track what happens internally as well. This is one of the ways you can identify efficiencies and opportunities, which we’ll talk about a bit later.

You should prepare for this to be a lengthy process

This isn’t something you can accomplish within a few days, so you need to plan accordingly.

Finding multiple customers along their journey will require some coordination. Speak to the various people attending the workshop to find customers who represent one part of the journey.

The smaller the business or project, the easier it is to find customers. But keep in mind, a customer doesn’t have to have experienced the entire journey to give valuable information.

We’d plan for this process to take between 3-5 weeks, for an Experience Map that’s focused around a specific project.

Create a survey to interview your customers

You don’t need to interview as many as possible – five is a good sample, and is typical of how many customers researchers usually interview. But you also need to ask them the right questions, and for that you’ll need to understand how to ask questions.

Remember, you’re trying to determine a few things:

  • What customers actually do
  • How they feel while they’re doing it
  • What they’re thinking during that entire process
  • And anything else you identify as a knowledge gap in your particular project

Any questions you ask should be completely essential to the process, so cut out anything that’s just filler. Let the conversation flow naturally, too. If the customer says something interesting – pick up on it. Ask more. Don’t just rely on the questions in front of you.

For instance, let’s imagine we’re interviewing customers relating to Mortgage Success. We must want to ask questions like:

  • What were your impressions of the onboarding experience with Mortgage Success?
  • Describe what you typically do when you shop for a mortgage product.
  • Let’s talk about your meeting with the broker. What are you hoping to get out of that first meeting?
  • What were your first impressions of the digital Mortgage Success experience?

Notice how we’re asked open-ended questions here, rather than closed-ended questions. Any question that ends in “yes” or “no” isn’t descriptive enough. These questions also removal personal bias from on the part of the interviewer.

For instance, we wouldn’t ask a customer “what did you like about the mortgage application process?” because that assumes they liked it in the first place.

Instead, we ask “did you like the mortgage application process?”

If they respond with yes or no, you can follow up: what did or didn’t they like about it? Customers in these types of interviews will always feel pressure to say the “right” thing, so it’s important to not lead them to an answer.

Remember, even though your Map may be specific to your project you still want to cover the main themes of any Experience Map:

  • What are your customers doing?
  • What are they thinking?
  • What are they feeling?
  • What devices are they using?
  • At what times are they interacting with your business?
  • What devices are they using?
  • What relationships do they forge along the way?
  • What channels do they use?
  • What touchpoints do they use?

Try and cover off as many of those in your customer interviews as possible.

Interview your stakeholders as well

Just as your Experience Map measures how your customers interact with and respond to your business, it should also reflect what’s happening internally. As a result, you should conduct interviews with:

  • Front-line staff, including call center workers, reception staff, waiters, etc.
  • Marketing executives and managers
  • Developers
  • Business analysts
  • Engineers
  • Analytics
  • Executives
  • …and anyone else in your business who you feel is important to the process.

The more people you have access to who actually interact with the customers closely, the better.

Your research will form background for your Experience Map workshop

At first, you might receive pushback from stakeholders. They’ll want to know why you’re taking so long to complete the customer research. Shouldn’t internal information be enough?

You need to stress you need updated information about every single part of the customer journey, not just one or two. You can’t take anything for granted. It’s better to take a few weeks and start fresh than spend money on products that don’t work.

You don’t want to start operating on a lie.

Plus, you can explain to each division how they can help tailor their experiences and management based on what the customer is thinking and feeling at any time. This isn’t just an opportunity to create external change – it’s to create internal change too.

That should get the ball rolling.

General research principles
If you don’t have a UX researcher available, be aware of some good principles to start with:Be sure to tell the customer they can’t give a “wrong” answer – you just want to learn about their experiencesSet about an hour for each surveyThis isn’t a usability test, so you won’t be asking customers to complete “tasks”. Make sure to let the customer know this just a discussion, and their results are kept anonymous (if necessary)Feel free to offer drinks and refreshments – the more comfortable they are, the better answers they’ll give.Don’t be too prescriptive with your notes. You want to start organizing it and categorizing it, but don’t think about interpreting it too much. This is what the upcoming Workshop will be for.Remember to understand what the customer’s overall journey is like. This isn’t to pre-empt the material that you’ll have access to in the workshop, but instead to broaden and enrich the scope of the information you’ve been given.

Gather as much quantitative data as you can

Alongside your qualitative data (customer surveys), you should start gathering quantitative data as well. Together, these two sides of the same coin will help show what users say and what they actually do.

For instance, you can collect information like:

  • A/B tests
  • Analytics
  • In-product data
  • Financial metrics
  • Heatmaps

However, be wary of using data as an exclusive, objective talking point. Information is a great way to inform a conversation, but it has limitations. For instance, an A/B test might tell you whether customers prefer one version of a website or app than another, but it doesn’t tell you why. In this way you begin to understand what your data can tell you and what your data cannot.

Gather this information, distribute it, but be careful not to lean too heavily on it. (You may want to mention that in your workshop, too.) In other words, be data-led and not data-defined.

Collect and distribute the research with the team

Once you’ve gathered everything together, start placing it in a central place for everyone to read. You want as many insights as possible, and you definitely want participants as informed as possible for what’s about to happen next.

SECTION #3: Conduct your Experience Map Workshop

By Justin Tan, Design Director

It’s time to bring this all together

When you have enough customer research that you feel the plugs have been filled, it’s time to move on to the main event: the workshop in which you’ll start bring together all the elements to create your Experience Map.

But before we start planning the actual content of the workshop, you need to do some preliminary work to make sure everyone is productive as possible.

This may seem overkill, but it’s necessary. A badly run workshop can cause disunity and may sow discord among trying to create this type of document.

In practical terms? First, that means getting ready for the people who will be attending remotely.

Helping remote workers participate in the workshop process

We’ve already established that your workshop is made even better by having as many voices in the room. For remote workers, that means helping them participate in every single activity just as they would if they were there.

Which means you need to make sure the following things are set up:

  • Do remote attendees have the ability to sign in? Ideally, you would operate in a room with a fixed camera system that would allow remote attendees to see what’s happening at any one moment.
  • Are the remote attendees able to speak and be heard by the entire room? Every person should have a voice.
  • Can remote attendees hear what’s going on? Make sure the microphone setup is adequate enough for everyone – no one should miss a word.
  • Can remote attendees present any documents or sketches of their own? A system like Skype for Business, Slack, Zoom, or any other broadcasting technology should give them the ability to present a screen.
  • Is there an easy way to communicate online? You don’t want to create a situation where one conversation is happening in person while another is happening online, but you should have a channel open for messages to come through in real-time. Slack or an equivalent would be ideal.
  • Is the meeting actually taking place at a good time? Think about time zones! You might need to have two workshops with smaller teams if you can’t get everyone in the room at the one time.

We’ll give even more information about how to help your remote attendees throughout this chapter, but you should at least be thinking about these challenges now.

Start collating all your information and requesting input

Take all your customer research, including all of your quantitative data like A/B test results, analytics and so on, and start collating it.

Organize it, place it in a digestible format, (like a Confluence page, or even printed pages as handouts for the actual workshop for people to share).

Then, make sure you start distributing that material before the workshop even starts (you should have been communicating through a dedicated online channel for the workshop to build momentum).

Be sure to tell everyone: this is just preliminary information. They’ll have a chance to talk about it in the actual workshop. But while you’ve got them on the hook, literally ask your attendees: what are they hoping to get out of the session?

Create an agenda and share it with the team

There’s nothing worse than a workshop that doesn’t go anywhere, or falls apart from lack of direction. As the facilitator, it’s your job to make sure the workshop ends with enough information to create your Experience Map. As soon as you see things getting off-track, you need to push it back on the right path.

In fact, it’s even better to have someone with you to help guide the conversation. Don’t let the burden fall on yourself.

Distribute a schedule to your attendees. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive:

  • Introduction (10 minutes)
  • Background (15 minutes) – you might want to prepare some slides for this
  • First activity (60 minutes)
  • Break (15 minutes)
  • Second activity (60 minutes)
  • Break (15 minutes)
  • Group presentations (45 minutes)
  • Group discussion (45 minutes)
  • Break (15 minutes)
  • End session and conclusion (30 minutes)

That’s just an example, but you can create whatever you like based on the content we need to get through. And we’ll get to that in a moment, but first…

Set up the room

Alongside the technology, make sure you have everything you need in the room:

  • Butcher paper
  • Tape
  • Sharpies
  • Sticky notes
  • Camera
  • Handouts with instructions
  • Have folders full of all the data and distributed to every person

Some final things before you start…

  • Have snacks and refreshments ready. Make the meeting catered if you need to. Make sure everyone is comfortable so you can focus on the work.
  • Every activity you do in the room needs to have a technological equivalent (again, we’ll get to that)
  • Use online tools like Slack to share photos in real-time.
  • Consider having the meeting transcribed in real-time online. Have a “stenographer” who uploads conversations and quotes.
  • Use a tool like Mural to share the mapping process visuallyshow
  • Always have a plan B for every piece of technology, including if the internet connection goes out.
  • Timebox everything, and be sure to stick to your schedule
  • Always welcome questions, and get people to share their questions online – even if they have suggestions for how the workshop should differ from the schedule
  • Don’t let teams in person dominate the conversation? Make sure people are allowed to speak up, and steer off-topic conversation back towards the topic at hand
  • Use tools like:
    • Mural or Miro for remote workshops
    • Slack to communicate constantly
    • Photo boards
    • Miro
  • Have a no technology rule. It can be distracting, but allow for ways to cooperate with the other team members online

If you have everyone on the same page for creating the goal, then you should already have done most of the work. But you should also reiterate what type of framework you’ll use for h0creating the map.

Stres to your attendees that what you’re creating is a narrative. A customer experiences a story, and that story may be surprising or challenging at times compared to what you currently understand.

Alright, let’s get started.

A guide to your Experience Map workshop

Step #1. Review your material

Prepare a presentation to the group that summarizes all the material you’ve collected so far, including your customer research. Show patterns in your findings, and try to break those findings down into three categories across multiple touchpoints:

  • What are customers doing?
  • What are they thinking?
  • What are they feeling?

Based on that information, you can start a discussion: what does everyone think about those findings? Are there are any gaps or edge cases here? What should be brought up but hasn’t?

Feel free to get people to write down their submissions and put them as sticky notes on a wall. You’re going to use them later.

(Remember to ask online attendees for their thoughts too – they can use a tool like Mural, displayed on a large screen, to participate as well and have others view their contributions.

Once you’ve had a general discussion, it’s time to get down into groups.

The Anatomy of an Experience Map

Before we go any further, it’s probably best step and say: what does an Experience Map actually look like.

There isn’t a “best way” to do this, but a typical Experience Map can look like this one we prepared for Mortgage Success.


Each step in the journey is a column, with each row representing some sort of key information. For instance, who are the customers speaking to? What technology are they using? What are they doing? What are they thinking? What are they feeling?

In the “questions” row, we’ve listed out the types of questions the customers are usually asking themselves. We’re also asking the “key actions” customers might take, and then list out the specific tasks they perform.

We also literally “map” their emotions in the lowest row, judging whether they feel optimistic, pensive, excited, etc.

Now, you don’t have to ask your attendees to literally create this map (at least right now). But what you can do is start sorting through this information to make it easier when you do.

How to organize and conduct group activities

Make sure each group has a few members in it, and ensure that these are cross discipline. Don’t have more than one person from the same department in the group, share knowledge as much as possible. How many teams you have will obviously depend on how many people are in the workshop.

It’s often best to have all the remote attendees form their own team. It’s much easier for them to speak online than have to interact with individual teams. It helps everyone feel part of the group.

Now, the activity you give your teams can depend on how you want to go about creating your Experience Map.

Generally, we find it’s easiest to give each group a “step” in the journey. For example, using the Mortgage Success map, we’d give one team the “first introduction” column, and another the “submit application” column, etc.

This way you cover the most ground.

Then, each team can get to work identifying:

  • The specific touchpoints of that step
  • What the customer is doing, thinking and feeling
  • What questions they have
  • What emotions they feel
  • Any key actions they need to take
  • And any other information you feel is relevant at that step

Help the teams keep it nimble!

Make this super easy with a few ideas:

  • Tell groups to put their thoughts on sticky notes, and then on to a piece of butcher’s paper. (This is so you can just take photos and transport this material once the workshop is done – no need to collect hundreds of stick notes).
  • Touchpoints: always ensure everything your customers see, interact with, speak to, etc, are on there. Do they walk into a store or start online? Do they ever speak to a person? Write it down.
  • What touchpoint do customers interact with at every stage of their journey? Where do they go? How do they do it? Who are they speaking with? Record everything. Nothing is too detailed to include.
  • What next steps does the customer feel they need to take?

You may want to divide this work into a couple of half-hour sessions, with a break in-between.

Dividing up journey steps between groups is just one way of holding a workshop. You could identify the steps beforehand, then have each group tackle a “row”, like “key actions” or “touchpoints”. However you think is best!

Bring the group work together

Once you’ve finished your group work, have each group present to the room as a whole. Have them select the best presenter of the group, then let them show the work to the group.

Encourage discussion and open feedback. Then, as more input comes in, have the team take notes and place them down alongside their own. This is all valuable information for when you create the Map later on.

As each team presents, you’ll likely find insights not just from what the group presented, but as others give feedback and their thoughts on each step too.

Hopefully, you’ll start to see a type of narrative emerge as the groups begin to consolidate their findings.

Bonus: have the team create an Experience Map sketch

If you’d like, you can even inform your Experience Map creation process by having everyone in the room create a sketch of what the Map should look like.

Remember, you’re forming a narrative. So encourage everyone to be creative outside of the map structure you’ve provided so far:

  • Try being rapid. Have each person sketch out a few ideas of what the Map could look like.
  • After looking at the sketches, place them on the wall. Have everyone place plus marks on the ones they like.
  • What patterns do you see across sketches? Bring the groups together and compare the best among them. What do we begin to see emerge?
  • You might begin to see opportunities start developing already. Write these down as opportunities and put action items against them so they aren’t forgotten.

Catalogue everything and prepare to begin mapping…

Take pictures of all the material. Take all the sketches and catalogue them too. You’re about to start putting your map into a final form.

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