Have you ever walked into your favorite department store, and felt a disconnect in the way that fave brand talks to you via email, or snail mail, or catalogs versus how their in-store experience speaks to you? Do their call center customer representatives utilize the same care and attentiveness that the in-store associates do? Sometimes yes… and sometimes no, right? One aspect most top-shelf brands, such as Tiffany, Ritz-Carlton and Tesla, have in common is a consistent customer experience across all points of interaction (we call these touchpoints) from their emails, to the way their employees greet you. This doesn’t happen by accident—your journey as a customer has been intentionally designed.

Tesla is now world-renowned for providing a customer experience that is not only holistic, but practically seamless. As you can see here, visitors to their stores can tinker with their car's features from inside the store with a helpful expert by their side. Brilliant.

From the moment you engage with one of these brands—regardless of whether that interaction begins on the company’s website or when you walk in the door of their brick-and-mortar store—you’re treated to one, unified experience. But how do less established brands or brands that don’t offer luxury products and services, create these holistic, omni-channel experiences for their customers? “Where to begin?” can quickly become a crash course in, “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.”

Enter Experience Mapping: A unique process for uncovering how your customers or users feel as they engage with your product, or service’s touchpoints—a journey from the beginning to the end of their engagement with your brand. Using this step-by-step approach to Experience Mapping helps you uncover the insights and breakthroughs you need to make your customer’s experience better. And, most importantly, how to ensure that all your customer’s touchpoints function holistically, friction-free.

Article Highlights:

A Beginner’s Guide to Experience Mapping

Your organization, regardless of the departments comprising it and the product or service you offer, must have a customer-first philosophy, if you hope to control the customer’s experience. It’s about making each touchpoint that your customer interacts with feel holistic and part of a cohesive whole. Creating a branded experience that fulfills their desires for engaging with it in the first place is paramount. But where to begin?

Step 1: Understand the Customer’s Journey—Actions & Tasks

What is your customer’s very first experience with your brand typically like? To begin to answer this, your must first understand the customer’s journey. The first step of Experience Mapping is to map everything your customer does during an entire engagement with your product, service or brand. This is called Actions & Tasks.

For instance, if you’re a mortgage lender, the first step your customers may take to your business is when they pick up a flier for a home for sale in their neighborhood. Or if you’re a brand new department store, your potential customers may engage when they happen to walk by your store at the mall. These are all Actions. Either way you slice it, make sure to capture the very beginning, middle and very end of their entire experience.

Actions & Tasks Process:

1. To support the Action & Tasks process of experience mapping, you must start by unraveling the customer’s journey using your customer’s feedback and this begins by either interviewing your customers, or panel interviews and/or a survey. This is extremely important. If you are unable, for whatever reason, to have access to customer feedback, at the very least, bring your Sales and Customer Service Teams together to see if you can fill in the gaps with their knowledge. This is a collaborative process: it take a village to map your customer’s journey.

2. During the Actions & Tasks process, as aforementioned, you will need to discover what activities your customers attempt during their engagement. Still keeping with our department store example, let’s remember, they perhaps first engage when they’re walking by your store in the mall. Here you are understanding and analyzing all the interactions that your customers may have with your brand across all channels. Maybe they don’t first engage with your store in the mall, you discover. Maybe many of your potential customers receive your “New Store Opening” flier in the mail or via email, too. Make sure to capture this in your customer’s journey.

customer journey

Step 2: What are Your Customers Thinking and Feeling?

As you move past the big bulk of the work of mapping the entire customer’s journey, you’re now ready to begin attaching emotions to their journey. We call this Thinking & Feeling. Although this may seem weird, to wonder how your customers are feeling or what they’re thinking, remember: you should have surfaced these emotions in your customer interviews or surveys. Make sure to ask questions in Step 1 that surface these insights.

The emotional aspect of the customer journey is extremely important. You might find that there’s a simple, very cost-effective way to manage your customer’s expectations and happiness with your brand just by noting one, common gripe that a majority of your customers are feeling. Here you can discover their ups-and-downs, as well as: what their expectations were and whether they were met.

Your best bet is to think of this process as telling a story. Every story has a beginning, middle, and end, but a good story has some meat to it. The story isn’t just the Actions & Tasks of the protagonist, right? Well, your customer’s experience with your brand, product or service is no different. Tell a few stories about your customers or, once again, invite your Sales or Customer Service teams in again and ask them to help you surface more feelings and thoughts about the journey. Compiling the data from your customer interviews and surveys in conjunction with your customer-facing departments are the best avenues to accurately capture this information.

Another key benefit of this part of the exercise is that it gives context for how you should be speaking to your customer. If they’re worried about taking a next step, your copy tone should be reassuring. If they’re excited, you should be excited, too!

Step 3: Touching all Their Touchpoints

Next, let’s talk about touchpoints again. Quick refresher: Remember, touchpoints are any interactions and communication between your customers and any person or thing with your product, brand or service. These interactions take place at particular moments in your customer’s journey and are obviously driven by the context of that interaction.Typically, the intention of the interaction is your customer attempting to meet a specific need that your product, brand or service could, would or should meet.

Make sure to note all the tangible things and people that your customers see, touch, interact with. Does your business use Square for payment? Do you have a self-check-in kiosk at your brick-and-mortar business? Are your customers expected to fill out forms online or in-person, or both? You may find there’s friction in these experiences! For instance, maybe you discover that your customers feel you never have pens that work, or that your waiting room has no decent reading material to facilitate a good waiting experience. Remember, these touchpoints are attached to an Activity & Task and probably already have a Feeling & Thought attached to it. Whatever your touchpoint discoveries are, make sure:

1. A touchpoint is anything that can be designed. It’s not the weather, traffic or things out of your control. If people report that your waiting room lacks decent reading material to keep them from being bored while they wait, heck, that’s a touchpoint and an Insight. Maybe you just need to add magazines to your waiting room. Cheap, easy fix that really moves the needle for the customer’s experience.

2. During this process, you may begin to note common themes that continue to arise, or perhaps you see common words and phrases that customers are using to describe these interactions: Capture these in your Experience Map. These common tropes and themes could lend themselves to a major Insight.

Step 4: Set the Stage(s)

Lastly, you can now begin to see the big picture, huh? Pretty cool. Take a step back, and take a good long look at the whole Customer Journey. What do you see? Like any good story, you probably see some chapters emerging in the beginning, middle and end. Now you can begin segmenting the Customer Journey into Stages. Like chapters of a good book, this helps you to chart the journey better so you can see what stages need the most help. Are there more low points in the beginning of any engagement? You can note these as Opportunities and Insights and offer light solutions under each stage to help make the map more than just an experience, it now becomes a strategic tool.

Labeling the chapters or stages of the journey only helps that process. To help, let’s look at our department store example. If you’re assigning Stages, perhaps Stage One is “Shopping at the Mall,” then Stage Two is “Discovering Your Store,” then “In-store Experience,” “Review Process,” and “Returning Product” or “Using the Product” could be next. As you can see, the options are endless, you just need to ensure that the Stage represents all the Actions, Tasks, Feeling & Thoughts, and Touchpoints that your customer engages with.

But, How Do They Do It?

Now that you know the brass tacks of experience mapping, let’s look at an example of a real world experience and map it, so we can identify opportunities for improvement and, most importantly—show you how DT does experience mapping.

How to improve wait times with a variety of uncontrollable constraints

Let’s talk about the California DMV. <Ugh, inward groan.> The DMV in my fair state is not a fun place to visit. Now, how has the DMV attempted to make its process better? But let me begin by qualifying the DMVs “behavior,” though. The last several years in California haven’t been kind to the budgets of the state’s bureaucratic entities. The DMV has been no stranger to massive budget cuts that have shortened hours of operation dramatically and pushed many services online, reduced full-time, in-house staff, all in an attempt to automate some of the easy stuff while saving money for more budget cuts.

Shown here is the California DMV's Book An Appointment feature. As you can see, it's not offered in other languages, nor does it indicate wait times on the homepage, or inside the feature.

One quick-fix that the DMV has always tried to improve upon is their wait times. The Make An Appointment (online appointment booking) feature is one way they’ve tackled this but using DT’s experience mapping techniques, let’s see how it could be better. Basically, as of now, if you own a smartphone or a computer, this is the only way you can make your DMV experience way better: merely book a dang appointment. Cut that winding line that wraps around your DMV like an egregious boa constrictor and register that car, or renew that license, etc. etc., way more quickly. But you’d be surprised!! Many (actually quite intelligent) people I know have no idea that this service exists. And even worse of, many people are still experiencing drastic wait times. Let’s begin.

Here’s DT’s (light) Experience Mapping of the Calif. DMV:

WHAT HAPPENED (ACTIVITIES & TASKS): 1. I got a notice in the mail from the DMV: my license is about to expire and I need to come in to renew and take a new photo. 2. I head over to DMV.ca.gov and take advantage of that Book An Appointment feature.

THOUGHTS & FEELINGS: 1. Getting the notice in the mail made me feel anxious. 2. I started thinking, “How am I going to find time in my busy work day to visit the DMV for so long?” 3. Hopefully booking an appointment online will help, I wonder.

TOUCHPOINTS: Notice of License Renewal. Online Book An Appointment Feature.

DISCOVERIES AND INSIGHTS: 1. Non-English speakers are not able to book an appointment unless they can read/write English. 2. Booking an appointment doesn’t guarantee a shorter wait time or provide any parameters for the wait time.

OPPORTUNITIES: 1. Offer other language options for Notices, Renewal Letters as well as the online Booking feature. 2. Provide an estimated time of service or estimated wait time based on the number of appointments for the day so at the time of booking, customers can have a light understanding of the wait they could potentially experience. 3.) Once customers are inside the actual brick-and-mortar DMV, display an estimated wait time for those WITH and WITHOUT an appointment.

STAGE(S): 1. Booking an Appointment at the DMV. 2. Attending the Appointment 3. Getting my Picture Taken 4. Leaving, Parking Experience 5. Finally Receive New License in Mail

At this juncture, the DMV marketing team (is there even one?) might attempt to tackle these opportunities and begin to queue strategies to address them.

In Summary: Map your Customer’s Journey (so they don’t get lost)

As you can see, mapping a customer’s journey can surface so many useful insights. Insights that can help make your product, your service, your brand or business provide way better experiences to your customers. Experiences that could not only yield more ROI and greater loyalty, but also yield better reviews, testimonials and social proof—all fodder for an improved overall experience with your brand for potential customers, too. Even if your services are 100 percent required for survival as it were, like getting your driver’s license renewed, it’s still imperative to provide an exemplary experience. You don’t want to be the butt of jokes about crap service forever, do you? DO YOU?!?

Now What?

If you’re just chomping at the bit and you’re ready to try this out, here’s some more helpful tips to move you along:

1. Remember, the Journey always represents the customer. Focus on finding at each stage of the journey and at each touchpoint of all channels: their feelings; what they’re thinking; what they’re doing.

2. Also, don’t forget about the context of each stage. What touchpoint are they experiencing at each stage? What channels are they interacting with? What places do they go, and when, and who do they experience along the way: your employees, your online help desk, your in-store greeter? Uncover all the activities and tasks that bring customers to your brand to first engage to the end of their engagement.

3. Make sure to note all these touchpoints, activities and feelings, and begin to translate those ups-and-downs, highs-and-lows, into Insights which become Opportunities for improving the overall experience. Remember: Once you to start identify those Opportunities to address any pain points or friction in the Journey, you can start creating strategies to solve them.

4. Pro Tip—In regards to the people (touchpoints) they interact with along their journey with your brand, make sure to map their relationship to these people and the timing of the interactions. This will all help give you a 360-degree view of your brand’s’ entire omni-channel experience.

5. Lastly, don’t forget to collaborate with all teams in your organization. Gather as much data and insights from these teams and departments to help get you started and help you craft a Customer Journey that’s spot-on from the beginning, middle, to the very-end.

experience mapping

Interested in learning more about Experience Design and Experience Mapping, check out these interviews from our Practitioner Series. Several folks in our UX community have been ruminating with us about it and have some really interesting insights—check ‘em out and enjoy.