What is the Customer Journey? Here’s how you can map it

Written by Yuya Takada, Founder & CEO at Commune

Since digital media has become more popular and advanced, the complexity of approaching customers has increased. In the past, it was common to have a business meeting with a salesperson first to gather information, but now many companies are comparing and considering other products and services on the internet before making an inquiry. 

The more diverse these customer touchpoints become, the more difficult it becomes to accurately understand customer behavior and sentiment. As a result, it is now difficult to deliver the right information to the right target at the right time.

Customer journey is an effective method to solve such problems.

In this article, we will provide a thorough explanation of the customer journey; the overview and its benefits, how to create it and what to keep in mind when doing so.

What is the customer journey?

The customer journey is a method of “tracing the chronological story of a customer’s decision to purchase your service/product from the customer’s perspective by identifying changes in their behavior, thoughts, and emotions”.

Since the customer experience is viewed as a “line” rather than a “dot,” the series of processes is likened to as a “journey” thus we call it the “customer journey”. 

By identifying the customer journey, you can understand the information below in chronological order.

Actions: Marketing channels, information sources and methods of searching, purchase channels

Thoughts and emotions: Problems customers are facing, the first impression of your product/service, why they are interested, information they have searched and their impressions on it, points of comparison with competing products, deciding factors for purchase

A “customer journey map” is a single picture that represents the customer journey. Since it is difficult to share the process only in text, it is commonly put into a drawing as a map.

What are the benefits of understanding the customer journey?


1. Enables action planning from your customers’ perspective

The first benefit of understanding the customer journey is to understand your customer’s perspective.

Since customers are the ones who use your product/service and judge its value, it is only natural that you need to make actions from their point of view.

However, it is difficult to actually stand in the customer’s shoes and think simply like, “What kind of products/services do they want?” If you think from the provider’s perspective, you may often ask yourself, “How can we get people to buy our products?” or “How can we get people to prefer our product over the other ones?”

This is where the customer journey comes in handy. By utilizing the customer journey, you can understand how customers recognize our products, what kind of information they come into contact with in which channel, and what kind of thinking leads them to make a purchase. This enables you to take a bird’s-eye view of the entire process and implement the appropriate actions for each channel and touch point.

 The “customer perspective” is not equal to “voice of the customer”.

A common way to understand customer perspective is conducting surveys, but you need to be careful not to confuse the “customer perspective” with “voice of the customer”.

The “customer perspective” refers to “a customer’s emotions and needs” while the “voice of the customer” is “a customer’s own verbalization of their emotions and needs”. The problem is that it is difficult for customers themselves to verbalize all of their emotions and needs.

However, something is “not verbalized” does not mean that it does not exist. Even if there is a latent need toward a certain feeling of discomfort or unhappiness, it is difficult to be aware of it. It is only when you are provided with something that fits such needs that you can recognize “this is the kind of product/service I wanted”.

I would like to introduce one example that illustrates such differences between “customer perspective” and “voice of the customer”.

A tableware manufacturer conducted a group interview with several housewives for their next product development.

The participants were asked to discuss the theme “what kind of plate would you like to buy next?”. Ultimately, they came to the conclusion that they want a stylish and cool black square plate that is different from traditional ones.

As a thank-you gift for the cooperation in the interview, the manufacturer prepared several plates and allowed the participants to take home their favorite one.

The participants all took home a “white round plate”.

When the manufacturer asked why, they gave practical reasons such as “we are a family of four, so there is no use having only one black plate”, and “most of the plates we have at home are round, so we would not be able to arrange a square plate in the cupboard even if we receive one”.


…Now, what do you think?

In this case, it would seem that the “black square plate” is the way to go if you take the “voice of the customer” into account, but what they needed was the “white round plate” that was actually taken home.

Thus, the “voice of the customer” and “customer perspective” are different.


The customer journey, which identifies customers’ touch points and analyzes the psychology of each situation, is the very essence of understanding the customer perspective. Drawing a customer journey map allows you to grasp the true needs of your customers, such as their dissatisfaction and points that can be improved.


2. Optimizes the whole process through shared understanding

By visualizing the customer’s inner life through the customer journey, each member that is in charge of customer touch points can share a common understanding. 

Marketing is responsible for a wide range of tasks, including creating websites and its operations, social media and advertising operations, writing articles or making contents, estimating their impacts, improving their quality, and planning and conducting seminars and events. Since each task is often segmentalized and distributed, it is surprisingly difficult for each person in charge to share the common understanding and to implement marketing measures in line with each other.

It is even more difficult to ensure that the whole organization is on the same page in terms of customers when you communicate not only with the marketing department, but also with sales, customer success, development, and other departments with different backgrounds.

With a customer journey map, you can gain a bird’s-eye view of customers’ behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, which allows you to proceed with activities based on a shared understanding. It will also facilitate communication among members, making it easier to determine priorities for which measures to take.

The goal of the company as a whole may be to increase sales. However, by utilizing the customer journey map, the organization can collaborate toward overall optimization rooted in the customers’ benefits.

Why is the customer journey becoming more important?

1. More diverse and complex customer behavior and thinking

In order to implement highly accurate marketing initiatives, you need to acquire a deep understanding of customer behavior, thoughts, and emotions. Otherwise, it is impossible to send the right message at the right time. Its importance hasn’t changed from the past to now. 

Until a few decades ago, when digitalization was not progressing, the only methods of communication between companies and their customers were one-way, mass-oriented ones, such as television, newspapers, and radio. As a result, the limited number of customer personas and touch points felt sufficient for companies. Customer behavior was not so diverse that it was conceivable for companies, and marketing measures based on a rough understanding of their customers were effective enough.

However, with the spread of smartphones and the emergence of various digital media, it has become extremely complex and diverse at which a company and their customers come into contact and make a purchase. Even for the same product/service, it is now different for each customer how they searched about it, how they gather information, and the deciding factors for their purchase. This makes it very difficult to collect customer insights and determine the actions that are based on them. 

In this situation, the customer journey is very effective. It not only identifies personas and targets, but also provides a timeline of possible actions and identifies internal changes of customers. It subdivides the complex and diverse behaviors of your customers, which allows you to take appropriate actions at any given moment. 

2. Increased obtainable action data logs 

The development of ICT technology and advanced digitalization has dramatically increased the methods you can take in marketing. Today, the quantity and quality of information that you can collect and analyze has increased to an extent that is unmatched in the past decade or so.

Many companies may be taking advantage of the newest tools such as marketing automation and ad technology. These tools allow us to develop marketing initiatives personalized to each individual customer.

As the variety of marketing methods increases, so does the need for clearer understanding of your customers.

Even if those tools have evolved and become capable of sending any message at any time, it is difficult to make full use of their functions if you do not know “when” is the right time and “what” is the right message.

In modern marketing, you need to define in advance what kind of experience at what kind of touch points is desired by a customer before they make a purchase, and execute effective and efficient measures.

The customer journey is an essential method for implementing this kind of modern marketing.

What are the steps to create a customer journey map?

1. Set the goal

First, you need to define the goal of the customer journey map you are creating.

As the goal can be set differently, such as  “increased inquiry”, “first purchase”, “repeated purchase”, or “post-purchase satisfaction”, you need to consider the range of phases and the information to collect according to your goal.


2. Identify the customer persona

Once your goal has been set, the next step is to determine specific targets to analyze.

A customer persona is “the most important and representative customer model for a company’s product/service”.

When you create customer personas, it is important to envision realistic human characteristics. A broad picture such as customer segments cannot describe the behavioral characteristics, expectations, dissatisfactions, and inconveniences of customers in detail.

Specifically, the following elements should be filled in.

  • What kind of personalities they have and how they feel about their daily life

  • What media they usually use to gather information and what topics have been on their mind recently

  • What their behavioral characteristics are and how computer literate they are

  • What is their job role, duties, and mission?


3. Set the frame

After you set the goal and customer persona, you need to determine a frame for categorizing the information gathered. The frame will be the backbone for the entire customer journey map.

There are various frames for customer journey maps, so you may want to choose one that is appropriate for the company. If it is difficult to determine phases, you can go to the next step first and identify a set of customer behaviors before categorizing them into phases. Regardless, the important thing is to determine phases that suit your purpose without sticking to a template.

The most commonly used frames are as follows

【Horizontal Axis】

Organize the customer’s behavioral process into phases and arrange it chronologically

e.g.) “Awareness”, “Interest”, “Gathering Information”, “Comparing”, “Purchase”, “Evaluation”, “Spreading”, “Repeating” 

【Vertical Axis】

Organize what actions customers would take and what thoughts/emotions they have at each phase created on the vertical axis.

e.g.) “Channels (media)”, “Touch Points (the points they contact with products or services)”, “Customer Behavior”, “Customer Thoughts”, “Customer Emotions”, “Company Issues”, “Measures”


4. Gather information

The next step is to collect information to fill in the content as the frame is already determined.

You should collect information from both quantitative research, such as offline/online data analysis and qualitative research, such as interviews and user testing.

There is data that is useful such as the information of past inquiries and history of customer support response, and for BtoB companies, you can also utilize information on business meetings and orders in SFA, questionnaires conducted at exhibitions and seminars, and so on.

5. Clarify the customer journey

Finally, you need to connect the information you have mapped to tell stories that lead your customers to their goals. Organize the information and intertwine the customer’s actions with their emotions and thoughts at the time to make it into a story.

At this stage, you may want to have more than one person working on the project to avoid bias in perspective. It is also important to provide an environment that encourages diverse opinions and ideas, such as by conducting the mapping process in a workshop format.

What kind of customer journey will fail??

1. The company’s perspective is incorporated

Company representatives must have more than a few thoughts about their customers in mind, such as “they will probably move from this article to this event registration page,” or “I hope this appeal point resonates with them. However, if these preconceptions and persistence about customers are reflected, the content will not be realistic.

The customer journey’s purpose is to help companies correctly understand the behaviors, thoughts, and emotions of their customers. If the companies’ wishes and speculations are included, the measures taken will be different from the customers’ point of view.

You need data to create a customer journey map in line with the reality of your customers. It is important to research the people who fit the personas and collect enough information such as response figures and interviews. If you are not sure about the quality of data, you should verify it thoroughly.


2. Personas are not concrete

The customer journey’s purpose is to collect insight about realistic customer behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. Therefore, customer personas should be as concrete as possible. If the personas are not fully detailed, the customer journey will be vague and ambiguous.

Therefore, you may not want to merge a large number of personas into one and map it with general trends. Each customer’s behavior, thoughts, and emotions are different. It is important to trace realistic personas in chronological order, so narrow down your target customer profile.


If you prefer to have more than one persona, you should prepare a customer journey for that number of people.

However, if you try to describe the customer profile exhaustively from the get-go, you will easily get stuck. Even if you do complete the process, it will be difficult to apply it to your actual marketing work if you have multiple personas. First, set up personas that are central to your target audience, and aim to complete them even if they are simple.

When you have a bird’s-eye view of the steps from start to finish, it will be easier to see where you need to back up with data since points with rough understanding will emerge. You can create a highly accurate customer journey map by looking at the entire process and gradually brushing it up.


3. The map is left unused

It is not very desirable to continue to use a customer journey that was created years ago. This is because the customer journey changes over time depending on the historical contexts and economic conditions.

In particular, purchasing activities today are much more closely related to various web services and digital devices. New purchasing channels will emerge, existing tools will no longer be used, and new customer needs will arise more frequently.

Therefore, a customer journey cannot be used semi-permanently. You need to continue operating the PDCA cycle of regularly verifying the journey’s effectiveness and adjusting any aspect that is incompatible with current reality. It is important to always pay attention to whether there is any gap with reality.

Understanding the customer journey takes some time and effort. However, a customer journey map based on a proper customer knowledge yields significant returns in terms of sales contribution. The need to have a customer perspective has increased considerably, especially in the current situation where customer behaviors and values are becoming more diverse and complex.

The customer journey is not only a marketing measure, but also a guideline for processes such as sales, customer success, and development, so why not create one?