Customer journey mapping: 5 traps and tips from the trenches

Whether you’re looking at a road map or a customer journey map, one question matters more than any other: will this map get me where I need to go? After all, even the most elaborately detailed, graphically illustrated map is useless if it leaves you stranded with no clear direction forward. That’s an especially bad place to be when your customer relationships are on the line. 

At our customer experience firm, Method Garage, almost every client engagement these days includes a journey mapping component—often after the company has already tried to create a map on its own. As a result, we’re all too familiar with the many ways journey mapping can go wrong. Fortunately, we’ve also seen what it takes to make sure it goes right. To help you get the most from your journey mapping initiative, here are five traps from the trenches—and tips to steer clear of them.

Trap 1: Mapping for mapping’s sake

Launching a journey mapping effort because “I’ve been told it’s an important step in the playbook” is like starting a trip without a destination in mind. It’s also a one-way ticket to the shelf for the resulting map. To get real value from your journey map work, it needs to be tied to a real business reason—a problem you need to solve or a goal you want to achieve. For example:

  • Understanding why one customer segment is seeing so much more churn than the others

  • Designing a faster onboarding experience to accelerate revenue and support expansion

  • Helping customer success teams move beyond high-touch models and provide the same great experience with fewer resources to low-touch customers

  • Aligning the company around the customer’s perspective to understand which customer experience priorities to focus on first (a well-designed journey mapping initiative will always deliver this result, along with whatever other objectives you’ve set)

Tip: Get laser-focused on the desired business outcomes for your journey mapping initiative before you begin


Trap 2: Customer interaction by proxy

This is one of the most common traps, so I’ll be blunt: we can’t do journey mapping without actually talking to customers. Teams think they can get by on their existing data and surveys, or bring in a few subject matter experts to talk about what they think is going on, but it takes more than abstractions and second-hand anecdotes to develop real empathy.

 We were asked by one client to lead a full-day journey mapping exercise for the entire leadership team. This was a division of a multi-billion dollar tech company, smart and savvy. From their perspective, they already “got it”—they even reviewed NPS comments on a regular basis—and they saw no need to complicate the day with the customer empathy activities we suggested. But we persevered, they relented, and soon these execs and directors found themselves immersed in a “day in the life” session, which included navigating a typical customer touchpoint as well as listening in on live calls to their tech support team.

You probably see where this is going. At the end of the day, it was the customer empathy activities that proved most valuable. For all their NPS homework, these execs and directors still couldn’t believe how hard it was to sign up and use their product. They also gained new insight into who their customers actually were, like the guy who was struggling to perform the steps recommended by a tech support agent because his phone cord wasn’t long enough to reach the room where the computer was. They’d assumed that their customers were as digitally literate as they were, but in reality, the majority more closely resembled their parents.

Tip: There is no substitute for direct customer interaction

Trap 3: Touchpoint inventory? Done.

People often think that journey mapping simply means taking an inventory of every kind of customer interaction. That’s a classic inside-out approach, taken from the company’s own perspective—when what we really want is to understand the customer’s point of view. A touchpoint inventory might include items like “sales qualification call,” “project plan development,” and so on, but no customer uses terms like that. Instead, they’re thinking “I need to get my head around this project, put together a team, choose a vendor …” As they proceed, they may intersect with some of the touchpoints you’ve listed, but it’s their specific journey you’re interested in, not the matrix of every possible interaction.

Here’s a typical touchpoint inventory. Quick—what’s it like being this company’s customer?


Don’t worry if your eyes glazed before you could make any sense of it; that’s what usually happens. Now here’s a current state journey map we did with a client last year. (It’s sized for a larger format so the details may be hard to see—sorry about that!)


Here you see each experience in sequence, illuminated along the way with quotes, emotional state, business value, and the moments that matter most. Everything is framed from the customer’s own point of view—including moments that might not have anything to do with you as a vendor, like assembling the project team, but help create a more complete understanding of the customer’s journey with your product.  

Tip: It’s your customer’s moments that matter. Make sure you’re taking an outside in approach to journey mapping.


Trap 4: Mapping in a closet

Stakeholder buy-in is critical to the success of every customer experience/customer success initiative. It can be tempting to take a big-reveal approach to journey mapping—huddling with a crack team, developing a brilliant map, and then springing it on the rest of the company like the best birthday gift ever—but we can’t count on an enthusiastic response from people who haven’t been part of the process all along. Instead, bring stakeholders into the loop from the very beginning, and include some customers while you’re at it, so they fully understand and appreciate the customer perspective you’re working to capture. By working more openly and transparently, we can also use journey mapping as an opportunity to drive alignment across silos and create company-wide momentum for the following elements of your initiative.

Tip: Map with stakeholders, not for them.

Trap 5: Stopping at your current state

Remember the first trap & tip above? Our ultimate goal isn’t a journey map—it’s the business outcome the journey map helps you bring about. Current state research can be powerful, but to turn the corner and drive real change, we also need a vision to lead your organization forward. Design thinking comes into play here as well; we want to engage our team in reimagining the future, not just empathizing with the present. Ask yourself: what are the eight big initiatives we need to make our customer experience what it should be? What design principles can we draw from the insights we’ve gained, and what new experiences do they suggest? Some of these future state concepts will involve new product capabilities; others will result in playbooks that can be implemented directly in your customer success platform.


Tip: Don’t get stuck in the present. Follow your current-state journey map with a future-state roadmap.


Journey mapping is one of the most important aspects of a customer experience initiative, helping you understand your current state, the problems it presents, and how it needs to change to achieve your objectives. It’s also an intensive undertaking in terms of effort and cost—so you want to make sure it pays off in terms of concrete value for your customers and your business. Avoid these five traps, and you’re well on your way.