5 Qualitative Research Methods Used In Mapping Customer Journeys

Customer Journey Mapping – 5 Qualitative Research Methods

Alex Allwood ALEX ALLWOOD, Customer Experience, CUSTOMER JOURNEY, Customer Journey Mapping, CX

“Let’s map the customer journey” is where the investigation into CX usually starts, but simply put, you can’t have a customer journey map without the customer!

If customer data is not used in the process of mapping the customer journey and the journey map is built by internal stakeholders, then the process is assumptive; that is, the process excludes the customer perspective and instead uses assumptions about the customer’s experience.

What is Qualitative Research?

Best practice customer journey mapping uses qualitative research (validated with quantitative research). Qualitative data describes the ‘why and how’ of the customer’s experience.

Qualitative research is customer data obtained through in-depth customer discussions or interviews, first-hand observation, focus groups and surveys. In CX, qualitative researchers study individuals to understand their context, culture and their customer experiences.

5 Qualitative Research Methods

  1. In-depth customer interviews – in person
  2. In-depth customer interviews – on the phone or online
  3. Customer journey mapping workshops
  4. Digital diaries
  5. Focus groups

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Considerations when Selecting a Qualitative Research Method for Journey Mapping

How do customers recall their customer experience story? A customer journey map communicates the very complex, very simply. Capturing accurate detail of the customer’s unmet needs, expectations and behaviour closest to the time of the experience is essential to documenting the customer’s story. Over time, interaction detail becomes less salient, recall of information can become biased and truths distorted. In selecting a qualitative research method, ensure your customer’s story is captured closest to the time of their experience.

How will customer emotion be captured? Emotions, how customers feel, are central to understanding the customer’s perspective. Customer emotions on a journey map are shown both visually, using an emotion graph, and with customer verbatim comments. The emotion graph uses graphics and verbatim comments are the customer’s own words and expressions. In selecting a qualitative research method, consider how to create a safe space to help customers’ express their feelings about their experiences.

How will the journey stages, steps, goals and touchpoint data be captured? Describing the customer’s experience requires capturing data that communicates the complex dimensions of their journey. A customer journey map is made up of many elements, such as steps, stages, goals and what customers are thinking, feeling and doing etc. Most common is a chronological order of journey events (even though journey steps may not occur exactly in that order). In selecting a qualitative research method, think through how to accurately capture the complexity and granularity of your customer’s journey.

What budget and resources are needed? Budgeting for funding and the allocation of internal resources are required for mapping the customer journey. The process includes a research method to listen to and capture the customer’s experience, synthesising and analysing this data for aggregated journey insights and building the journey map to visualise the customer’s story. In selecting a qualitative research method, consider internal team capability versus a CX consultant, time and resources availability, cost and effectiveness in selecting your approach.

Overview Qualitative Research Methods

  1. In-depth customer interviews – in person

In-person, in-depth customer interviews are also described as contextual enquiry. This type of qualitative research method enables researchers to observe customer behaviour in their environment, in addition to asking questions about their interactions with the product or service. The method provides richer data because a customer can demonstrate their behaviour in addition to explaining what they were thinking and feeling.

Good for: Capturing contextually rich behavioural and emotion detail and CX complexity

Pro: Most effective method for capturing accuracy of detail

Con: Higher investment and can be problematic geographically                         

  1. In-depth customer interviews – on the phone or online

In-depth customer interviews on the phone or online employ a similar technique without observing customers. A skilled researcher will be practiced in their interviewing technique; asking questions that facilitate a conversation and elicit a story. Whilst the method isn’t considered to be the ‘Rolls-Royce’ method, a recent study by Yale University School of Management found that our hearing may be stronger than our vision in detecting emotion, making this research method a good fit for journey mapping.

Good for: Capturing CX complexity and emotion detail

Pro: Delivers efficiencies in time and budget

Con: Trade-off between cost and effectiveness

  1. Customer journey mapping workshop

Just a quick reminder that you can’t have a customer journey map without the customer. A customer journey workshop is designed to bring a cohort of customers together at the same time to physically map their journey. Just as it is a requirement for In-depth Interviews, a customer journey mapping workshop will require recruitment of customers for participation. The workshop will require an experienced facilitator and support team to guide customers in recalling their experience step-by-step throughout their journey.

Good for: Capturing all elements of the journey simultaneously

Pro: Fast and cost effective journey mapping process

Con: Should only be used for topline investigation

  1. Digital diaries

Digital diaries provide a solution to observing customer behaviour in their environment when collecting real-time data remotely and over a longer period of time. Once a customer cohort has been recruited customers self-report, recording their behaviours, unmet needs and expectations while interacting with the product or service. This qualitative method is effective for capturing in-moment experiences that occur sporadically. Customers can use a variety of methods to capture this data such as writing, recording and photographing, and this data can all be recorded on their mobile phones.

Good for: In-moment data collection

Pro: Real-time data collection

Con: Data collection can be irregular and lack detail

  1. Focus groups

A qualitative research method traditionally used for market research rather than customer journey mapping. The focus group is made up of a cohort of representative customers and through guided or open group discussion, customer responses are built on the back of groups thinking and ideas.  From this, the researcher learns about customers’ views, perceptions and attitudes.

Good for: Lower cost topline investigation

Pro: Quick customer understanding

Con: Group think instead of individual experience

These are just 5 qualitative research methods that can be used in mapping the customer journey, whilst there are many more, these methods are best practice for providing accurate detail, understanding the complexity of the customer’s experience and capturing time sensitive data. For this reason, CX Leaders may opt to utilise a multi-research approach to their investigation.


Alex Allwood is a CX consultant and trainer. The Advanced Customer Journey Mapping online course is ideal for individuals and teams wanting to upskill, develop customer-centric capabilities and embed new CX skill sets into their businesses.

Click here for more information: https://alexallwood.com.au/customer-journey-mapping-online-course/