Mapping your Customer Journey: why you need agents, not participants

Acting naturally is one of the most difficult things you can try to do. If you want to start mapping a Customer Journey, it’s important to recruit the right people and, as importantly, ask them to do the right thing. The way to do that is surprisingly counterintuitive.

When I started observing consumers for the purpose of journey mapping, I gradually understood that the deepest analyses were in observing the observer. I then refined the definition: observing the agent. That was the challenge — to find agents who would simply “act as a consumer”.

Generally, when I recruited participants for a case, I would call them agents. The term reasoning goes beyond the spy-stunt coolness. The term was chosen exactly because I would like to stimulate their acting over services, not reporting or observing or complaining. And for anyone involved in doing research with participants, it’s a hard task to set participants in the right mode. It’s the constant challenge of “removing the interface” and letting things happen as naturally as possible.

Agent did sound a bit pretentious, but it was exactly what I wanted to say with the role I was assigning. By definition, an agent is someone who acts on behalf of someone else. Relates to agencyagent is a term elegantly rooted in the Latin etymology of “the one who acts” (age + ent).

That’s often the mistake recruits (and recruiters) do when assigning people for a service safari, customer journey mapping or similar projects: they end up asking people’s opinions, and people start giving them. In fact, their opinions don’t matter. It’s their experiences that actually matter.

Commonly, recruits take the role of criticizing every single misplaced detail, boosting the importance of minor flaws, or embedded into a self-entitlement to be treated as a restaurateur reporting to the Michelin guide. That’s now how things happen in real life (and there is the culprit of before and after big data availability when it comes to consumer research).

So when I started selection processes, I would disclose little about what we were looking for, and more about talking about the need of identifying moments along their journey (I’m making a post about this process, too). In order to set people in the right mode, what was shown to be an effective way was to deviate their attention and make the entire operation go around a specific task. Not a vendor, not customer service evaluation, not a review of what worked and what did not. The point becomes to report emotional states along the way, from assignment to completion of a task.

Agent, complete the task and report!

The best outcomes from this process is the ease in extracting a reasonably free view of what happened along the way. Pain points and delightful moments become evident, especially if a clear choice of words was taken in account (mind that these need to be coded into a certain framework, so you can understand the high and low points along the way; read this if you want to go into the details). And the way is then clear from the noise and focused in the obstacles and ease in completing a certain task.

The main ambition that an “agent” can have is to report as neutrally and as universally as possible how the factual routine happened along the way, along with the emotional changes. Unlikely we are led to believe, emotions are not strictly subjective and personal, individual and personalised. That’s because when it comes to being a consumer (or experiencing a service), we have loads of context already assimilated, and the exemplary behaviour of a consumer is already assimilated in culture. We are aware of our consumer rights, our obligations and what a reasonably good or bad service is. That’s the level we’re looking at in consumer journey mapping: the discoverable flaws, benegits and wins along the way.

Michelin stars are awarded in much deeper processes of refining, targeting and verifying the resonance of services and consumers.

Try this at home: recruiting people the right way for your Customer Journey Mapping

Recruit people to complete a specific task within a service, preferably one which results in a business goal or, in the least, a microconversion.

Ask timely and objective descriptions of what happens during the process.

 Ask them to report emotional changes during the process.


In a next post I will cover how to make descriptions timely, as well as some secret ingredients to report and decode emotions in the least intrusive way. I will also discuss a bit on the demographic needs of recruiting people for journey maps.

I’ve been involved in Customer Journey Mapping projects with some of the biggest companies in the Nordic countries, and developed an award-winning method for mapping what consumers do, feel and experience services in a data-driven and design-oriented way. 

There is a free ebook available from Ottoboni, if you want to know more. This and more articles on Consumer Science are available in my blog, at my LinkedIn profile