How much research do I need for Customer Journey Mapping?

So, how much research do you need to create a useful customer journey map? How much time should you allocate for research to create that useful map?

I see two common scenarios and problems regarding this topic.

The first one is that people tend to do no research at all. This is especially true in environments where people tend to think they already know what their customers want. It actually never crosses the designer’s mind to go outside and do research. They create maps solely based on assumptions and best experience.

But, the flip side is also true. I have seen a lot of instances where people spend so much time doing research, they end up understanding only a small portion of the customer journey, because they didn’t have time for the rest. They go into too many details instead of spreading out their efforts. They keep researching because there’s never enough research data—unnecessarily slowing everything down—including for the stakeholders around them.

So, how much research do you actually need to create a useful customer journey map?

Like Adam Lawrence said on the Show, if you do two things in service design, do prototyping and research. If you can only do one thing, do research. So, is it bad to create a customer journey map based on assumptions? Let’s start with that question.

You can absolutely make useful customer journey maps based on assumptions, even though Adam says you always need to research. Let me explain.

When you make a map based on assumptions, it’s really, really important to have a long term plan in mind. You can use maps based on assumptions similar to the way lot of people use the business model canvas. (If you don’t know it, Google it. It’s a tool to map a business model.) What often happens with the business model canvas is that people go into a workshop to map or plot out the business model, but they haven’t done a lot of research up front. They just go in and start filling out all the elements of the canvas.

During these sessions, people tend to come up with questions or insights about topics they don’t fully understand—that opens the path for research. I’ve seen similar scenarios with customer journey mapping.

You go in, without any research, and start mapping the journey based on past experience and assumptions. Throughout that session, people start to think, Is this really true? What happens here? Why haven’t we investigated that?

If you’re creating maps based on assumptions and experience, make sure you understand that this is just the first step towards research.

The truth is, at 31Volts we always do research to create customer journey maps. It can be for a day or a week, but we always do research. It’s a key part of our design process and it’s why clients hire us. They know upfront they will be getting that informative research as part of our services. And, that’s what they actually want from us.

But, how do we know how much research we actually need for our customer journey maps?

Our secret strategy is to timebox it. In general research is 25% of our design process. So, whether we have a one-week project or a one-month project, we spend 25% of our time doing research.

That doesn’t mean we always go out to do interviews. There are a lot of ways to do research—we always allocate 25% of our time and then try to get the most value out of that time.

Of course, there’s always more research, but allocating a percentage of your time will avoid the endless loop of constantly seeking new questions and new research. After the allotted time, move onto the next phase. Sometimes, if necessary, once the project has gone through the first iteration, we redo the research phase once again. It just depends on your clients’ needs.

Why do we always research our projects, even though you can make maps on assumptions?

Well, I want to make as informed decisions as I can! Doing research informs us, which informs the design process. It also doesn’t only give answers, it also helps us understand what the key questions are.

I know a lot of you out there have trouble selling research and getting clients to actually invest in it. In that scenario, I always try to get my client thinking about how much time we can lose by making decisions based on assumptions that turn out to be wrong.

Wouldn’t it be worth it to test a few of these assumptions early on, in this research phase, to avoid wrong assumptions from the beginning? If you pose it that way, a lot of clients start to understand the value of research, and at least give you some room to do that.

There’s one final secret I’d like to share with you:

It doesn’t really matter how much time you spent on research the first time for your customer journey map—when you adopt the mindset that customer journey mapping is an iterative process. Don’t treat your customer journey map as a deliverable aesthetic. If you can only do research once, you should treat it like a living thing, updated on a regular basis.

Then, it doesn’t really matter how much time you spent on research the first time, because you’ll get the opportunity to do more research to grow, expand, and evolve the map as needed. That’s the big mind shift a lot of clients (and even us practitioners) have to make. Make sure you treat customer journey maps as living and evolving.

So, to wrap up, how much research do you need before you can start creating valuable customer journey maps? Aim for 25% of the total project time. If you don’t have that and start making maps based on assumptions, keep in mind that it’s just the first step before research. You can flip the process as long as you know that research is a key part of the design process and that you, at some point, need to do it.

I’m really curious, how do you start making maps? Do you do that based on assumptions, or do go out and do research? If you do research, how much time do you usually spend? Leave a comment down below and let’s continue the conversation!

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