User journey map: the ultimate guide to improving UX | Appcues Blog (2023)

What is a user journey map?

A user journey map is a visual presentation of how your customer moves through your marketing and sales funnels. Much like directions guide a driver’s progress through physical space—a user journey map tracks a customer’s progress through time.

Your customers take a trip from unaware all the way through to being a paying customer. User journey maps are an attempt to capture each potential customer touchpoints along the way, giving you roadmap-like view of customers’ experience with your brand and product.

Creating a user journey map

Creating a user journey map forces you to identify potential points of friction and opportunities for UX improvements by experiencing your product from the customer’s point of view.

Before you can map the user journey, you need to gather the appropriate data. You’ll need to pull this data from multiple sources to get the best sense of user interactions. Your marketing metrics will detail how customers are brought in.

Meanwhile, your product and behavioral data will enlighten you as to how your customers are using your product. User research can provide a great deal of event-to-event analysis of the customer journey. Market research such as customer interviews and surveys can fill in any gaps in the buyer’s journey and help determine the perceived quality of each interaction.

The benefits of user journey mapping

Simply creating user journey maps often reveals insights into your customers’ experience with your product. These completed user journey maps can then be used to enhance:

UX improvement

It’s easy to become nearsighted as you scrutinize your UX. It’s understandable: you’ve been staring at your product for a very long time. However, prospective customers are not likely to be as empathetic. A single snag in their experience can derail an otherwise positive process. If your customer support team is dealing with reports of a steep learning curve, your journey maps may help rectify the situation.

A user journey map allows you to visibly identify pain points in your UX design that may have escaped you during development and in-house testing. Furthermore, a user journey map should be embraced by the entire product team as a way to triple-check your work and vet product usability. Someone else on your team may identify a potential problem area that you were unable to see yourself.

Product and feature adoption

A frictionless UX lends itself to stellar onboarding. Your analytics and market research will reveal to you the critical events that lead customers to fully engage with your product and features. When your user journey is laid out visually before you, it’s easier to identify ways to shorten the distance between signing customers up and converting them into long-time users.

For example, let’s say you know that filling out a user profile doubles the rate of product adoption. An analysis of your user journey map reveals that there are 3 steps that occur between initially signing up for your product and filling out a user profile. Instead of hoping that you don’t lose your newly onboarded customers before they fill the profile out, you could add the critical profile fields to the sign-up form and set your customers up for immediate success.

This same process also helps pinpoint opportunities to direct customers to underutilized features. Features are designed to enhance overall product engagement and increase retention, but some excellent features can be buried within a UI and thus go unused. Mapping their journey would reveal the best places within their journey to send in-app messages or emails highlighting the wish list feature and describing its benefits. This helps you clearly draw the line between certain features and customer pain points.


Your user journey map + Appcues = 👋 low feature engagement

  • Use our product adoption platform to improve feature adoption
  • Increase feature usage w/ in-app guidance and education

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Company-wide empathy

Team members from every department benefit from understanding the customer needs. Understanding potential frustrations builds empathy for customers and keeps their issues in perspective. It allows others to see how a customer’s experience affects their likelihood to upsell, churn, or even advocate for the brand.

Wisdom can be trapped in departmental silos. The insights of others outside the product management team are integral to creating a fully realized user journey map. Meeting with key stakeholders within your company is a critical component of the research stage of mapping as they can provide outside insights that the product team can’t gather analytically.

Components of an effective user journey map

So, what actually goes into an effective user journey map? That depends who you're asking. If you're asking us, we'd say there are a few key traits to them all.

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1. Protagonist creation

Different folks use varying terms to describe the individual who actually goes through the user journey. Worse yet, some companies imagine themselves as the heroes in their own stories. In reality, the character at the center of this odyssey is the user—and that's why we give them the title of "protagonist" here.

To chart a user's journey, you have to understand their point of view. The protagonist in a user journey map isn't unlike a buyer persona. Who they are and what they're trying to accomplish will make their journey unique. That's why it's helpful to imagine them as protagonists in a story. Create a narrative arc around each user type to start user journey mapping.

2. Journey stages

In a story, a protagonist experiences rising action, complicating circumstances, and, hopefully, resolution. Each of these different parts are what make novels and Hollywood movies emotionally resonant. They're also at the heart of the user journey.

The stages to your protagonist's' (user's) journey will vary depending on what you sell and how they use it. In the case of B2B software, the journey stages might roughly track against the following steps:

  • Awareness
  • Evaluation
  • Negotiation
  • Purchase
  • Adoption/value perception
  • Retention
  • Advocacy

3. User thoughts and actions

This one is pretty straightforward: what is our protagonist feeling and doing at each step of the user journey?

Putting yourself in the shows of your users as they navigate the process of using your product is a useful exercise because they help you understand where things can improve or where the experience is suboptimal, which leads us to our next points...

4. Friction/pain points

Where are users running into problems? What's stopping them from getting the best overall experience? Answering this question helps you identify the opportunities to improve your user experience throughout the journey. Whether your users are running into problems during the purchasing process, onboarding, or while actually using the product, taking a good hard look at the stumbling blocks will only make your user journey more seamless.

How to build a user journey map

The actual contents of an experience map will vary depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but there are several features common to most versions: phases, experience qualifiers, and interactions. Keep in mind that there are many different types of user journey maps that each address specific purposes. For this example, we'll build a basic type called an experience map.

1. Outline your phases

A user journey map is a single quadrant of a coordinate graph. Each interaction your users have is given a visual representation as a point on this graph. Before you start logging these points, you need to define the values for each axis.

The horizontal axis of your map measures the time and sequence of your customer journey. The point furthest to the left of the graph should be the first interaction, and the furthest to the right should be the last interaction. Seeing as how a customer’s journey from discovery to power usage might contain dozens of points, it’s best to divide the horizontal axis into multiple phases. Commonly, user journey maps for products are segmented into the following phases:

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Conversion
  • Adoption/ongoing usage

Visually, the first stage of building a journey map template might look something like this:

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Adding phases to your map delineates the different stages of a customer’s life cycle. A customer experiences your product in a specific sequence. They can’t use your product without first becoming aware of it. Setting up the correct framework of stages establishes how each touchpoint is affected by the one preceding it and affects the event that follows.

2. Identify experience qualifiers

Not all interactions with your product are equally positive. Onboarding struggles or software bugs are downright frustrating. Thus, the vertical axis of your user journey map should track the quality of each interaction. Drawing a line between good, bad, and even neutral experiences will help you identify potential problem areas (and solutions!) upon later evaluation.

Such a user journey map would look something like this:

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3. Plot user interactions

With your life cycle phases fleshed out, you can start adding interactions to your map. It’s important to remember that you’re not trying to map out every possible user interaction of every possible user. Instead, you’re trying to brainstorm how a particular user persona is likely to interact with your product. For each customer persona you’re attempting to understand, you should create a new customer journey map.

Keep in mind that customer experiences occur across sales and marketing channels. These omnichannel interactions with your brand include:

  • Social media platforms
  • Email campaigns
  • Digital advertising
  • Your website
  • Your product itself
  • In-app modals

For best results, your user journey map should note the channels in which these interactions happen to ensure that you engage with the user in the right place. For example, if a customer talks to a pre-sales agent, you should note if that’s expected to happen over the phone or through an online live chat.

Once your initial touchpoint is established, you can begin to move through the phases in logical order. As you add each event to the graph, determine whether each event is positive, negative, or neutral, and log them on the vertical axis accordingly.

Done correctly, your finished user journey map should look something like this:

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Build better customer experiences with user journey maps

User journey maps aren’t one-size-fits-all. Many variations on the core concept exist to fit your needs. Perhaps you just want to zoom in on a particular phase of a customer’s life cycle. You might not even want to map your customer’s current experience at all and instead use a future-state map to flesh out their journey through the next iteration of your product.

The dynamic nature of a user journey map only increases its value to your product strategy. Your needs and objectives differ from every other company. You can read a book on customer experience to gain general UX guidance, but a user journey map allows you to capture a snapshot of the unique relationship between your product and your customer base.

The mapping of your user journey eliminates so much of the guesswork from strategy and innovation. Think back to your friend who gives terrible directions. You can continue to rely on their bad directions every single time you embark and slowly go mad. Alternatively, you could do a little research yourself ahead of time and build your own accurate map that clearly shows the way forward.

And if you use Appcues, you can effectively build user journey maps within the platform to better plan and visualize in-app experiences. If you're intrigued, learn more about Journeys or start a free trial to embark on your own journey of building exceptional experiences.

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