Last month when I blogged about the cross-channel blueprint as a tool for planning the tasks and channels of an ecosystem, several people commented that it failed to fully account for user. Indeed, those comments helped me realize that the cross-channel blueprint is itself a system-oriented diagram—useful as a planning tool and for the concise overview it provides—but that it must be paired with a user-centered perspective. One such tool is an obvious companion: the experience map.

What is an experience map?

Sometimes called a customer journey map (a label which is unnecessarily narrow), the experience map is a tool born out of service design. It visually represents not only a user’s interactions with the system, but is also concerned with the emotional state of the user throughout the entire process. Experience maps help everyone involved put themselves in the user’s shoes.

Unlike the cross-channel blueprint that can be created in front of a whiteboard ex nihilo, experience maps rely on user research. Both quantitative measures such as log data and survey results, and particularly qualitative techniques such as field studies should be used to shape an accurate map of the user’s experience. In addition, the experience map can focus either on a group of users—portraying their behavior and attitudes in aggregate—or on an individual user, in which case an accompanying persona is valuable.

Experience maps come in many different forms. Chris Risdon of Adaptive Path uses five dimensions—the lens, the journey model, qualitative insight, quantitative information, and takeaways; Arne van Oosterom describes ten—including the customer journey, moments of truth, and the emotional journey; and James Kalbach has compiled a long list of related resources, each with a slightly different take on the tool.

Creating an experience map

Despite its many varieties, creating a basic experience map involves these three steps:

Once these basic components have been created, additional analysis can be added as needed. Here’s an example experience map I’ve created following these steps:

An example experience map

In summary, the experience map is an effective tool for understanding how users interact with an ecosystem, and is an ideal companion to the cross-channel blueprint.

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