Understanding the mobile customer journey


This is a brief guide to the definitions, distinctions, methods and use of some oft-confused, but very useful methodologies for understanding mobile customers.

Where marketing, web, design, UX and development collide there is bound to be a confusing mishmash of terminology and confusion of definitions. One of the best (or worst) examples of this is the mobile… customer journey, user journey, path to purchase, use cases, user stories etc.

Done properly, with research and analysis, leading to careful mapping and descriptions these techniques are really useful ways of:

  1. Focusing attention – of the business, project team etc. – on the customer/user
  2. Understanding how they use their mobile devices to get things done, including interacting with and purchasing from organizations/businesses.

It’s also an excellent way to help justify investment in mobile to business people.

As user experience expert Paul Boag says:

If you need to convince management that digital transformation is required — map your customer journeys.

Whether it is customer journeys or user journeys, it’s clear the concept and methodology is taking root with big business. The Royal Bank of Scotland takes this so seriously that it has employs specialists in mobile journeys. A role we’ve not seen elsewhere… yet.

Martin Young, senior mobile journey manager, Royal Bank of Scotland tells ClickZ:

The mobile journey makes up part of the overall omni-channel. Lines are becoming ever more blurred as our customers are starting to demand fulfilment and self-service capability regardless of the touch point they interact with.

To quote our CEO Ross McEwan “Our busiest branch in 2014 was the 7:01 from Reading to Paddington – 167,000 of our customers use our mobile banking app between 7am and 8am on their commute to work every day.”

The mapping of the customer journey within mobile is continually evolving as operating platforms change user behavior and device types grow. As these habits change so will the way our customers interact. An example of this was the Apple Watch, as it’s an extension of the iPhone the question was how the Banking App would translate onto the watch face.

Staying continually engaged and in touch with your customer is the best way to carry out research. You are almost letting them drive and guide you in your decisions. Data plays an important part but if you torture it long enough it will confess to anything. It’s important to build a balanced view taking all areas into account before moving forward.


The need for definition

In the business context, a problem arises where all these terms – customer journey, user journey, path to purchase, use cases, user stories – are used differently, wrongly or interchangeably by business, marketing, designers and developers.

This isn’t surprising considering that the definitions for these terms tend to be a little fluid. One person’s customer journey maybe another’s user journey, is another’s…. you get the idea. (This problem certainly isn’t reserved to mobile).

To avoid confusion within mobile project teams and between the team and business, it is important to decide on what terms/methods you are going to use, define them, and explain how you are going to use them and what using them will achieve.

Customer Journey

The easiest way to think about the customer journey is as the big picture of the customer relationship with the business/brand. The important thing is to work out where mobile fits or could fit into the picture.

The customer journey is a favorite with marketers. It is often associated with following five stages or a variation thereon:

Awareness -> consideration -> purchase -> retention/loyalty -> advocacy…

In a multichannel world, mobile could play a part at any or all stages, influencing purchase if not actually fulfilling the transaction:

  • Awareness – exposed to brand/product by a mobile ad or social media.
  • Consideration – researching for reviews or price comparison.
  • Purchase – m-commerce; redeeming m-voucher or paying by mobile instore.
  • Retention/loyalty – special offers by email, notification, encourages re-engagement.
  • Advocacy – posting reviews or sharing the love by social media.

As Ross Sleight, chief strategy officer, Somo advised in a previous column:

Identify what your customer journey is – from awareness to consideration, research, purchase, post purchase and servicing. Identify where mobile is used on this journey by customers, and where it could be used, as well as how mobile interacts with other platforms (e.g. research a purchase on mobile, then buy on desktop or in store).

Next, identify where problems, barriers and friction lie for customers today and where these occur in your business and processes. Map these to the customer journey and prioritize to (a) improve customer experience (b) generate greater efficiency/ROI for your business. This gives you a roadmap for mobile.

There is no set methodology for mapping that journey (as illustrated below). It will be based partly on customer research, such as surveys, web analytics, social media listening and partly on conjecture, perhaps assisted by the creation of empathy maps.

An image search on “mobile customer journey mapping” on any search engine will reveal the lack of consensus around meaning and mapping methodology. The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):


Path to purchase

Path to purchase and customer journey are commonly used interchangeably. One of the few explanations of the difference (assuming there is one) comes from Brandify.

The Path-to-Purchase refers to series of channels that customers use or are exposed to in order to convert into a ‘purchase’. These channels include everything from emails, apps, search engines, brands’ websites, loyalty programs, review channels and social networks.

The Customer Journey refers to the experience consumers have in the process of purchasing an item from a brand. We are referring to the customer’s actions within these channels that influence them to either proceed or drop off from the journey they are on.

An image search on “mobile path to purchase map” or “mapping” reveals a notable lack of path-to-purchase mapping, just marketing materials from tech vendors and repeats of customer journey maps.

The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):


Touchpoints and moments of truth

The points where the consumer is exposed, interacts or could potentially interact with the brand on the path to purchase is often referred to as a touchpoint.

This is the point where the business should be making that right time, right place offer, based on contextual relevance – e.g. a known user, conducting a mobile search, using key terms, in a retail environment.

Marketers will also refer to touchpoints as moments of truth. This term moments of truth or “zero moment of truth” may be reserved for touchpoints where the user is very close to purchase.

User stories

User stories, use cases and user journeys are much more closely associated with design, user experience and development (than the customer journey or path to purchase).

These focus on how the consumer interacts or could potentially interact with this specific channel i.e. the website, app, service that is being designed, developed, tested and/or is under review.

The user story is commonly used in agile development methodologies such as Scrum, which is commonly used in mobile/digital projects. The user story is a simple description, articulated by business or in business terms, of who will use this service, and in what circumstances. A designer will typically use a storyboard to illustrate this.

Typically the user story boils down to:

  • As a [persona/role]
  • I want to [goal/task]
  • So that I can [benefit/value]

An image search on “mobile user story map” again reveals a variety of approaches to user stories. The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):



The user story will be partly based on knowledge about the customer and partly on conjecture. It is a hypothesis that needs to be tested out with potential users.

Start by showing people the storyboard and asking if they understand and relate to the scenario. Then test the hypothesis using surveys, A/B testing and user testing.

Use case

The use case is the detailed technical description of the user story.

There is still considerable discussion even within the development community, from whence the terms originated, as to the precise differences between use case and user story.

This is how the useful Usability.gov (from the US department of Health) defines use case:

A use case is a written description of how users will perform tasks on your website. It outlines, from a user’s point of view, a system’s behavior as it responds to a request. Each use case is represented as a sequence of simple steps, beginning with a user’s goal and ending when that goal is fulfilled.

An image search on “mobile use case” well illustrates the considerable difference in approach between the user story or customer journey. The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):


User journey

The user journey takes the user and their goal as specified in the user story and use case and tracks/plots the progress of the user through the site/app as they strive to complete their task/achieve their goal.

The user journey is usually depicted as flow diagram showing the users progression through the site, perhaps including details of:

  • Source of entry e.g. referring site, search engines, online/offline ad, social media, email click-through.
  • Known or hypothesized behavior and context prior to point of entry.
  • Point of entry i.e. landing page.
  • Pages visited, products viewed.
  • Points of interest and interaction on page.
  • Method of navigation from one page to the next.
  • Items placed in basket.
  • Forms filled.
  • Check-out.
  • Purchase, method of purchase.
  • Known or hypothesized post purchase behavior e.g. review written.

The user journey is routinely evaluated and improved, from concept, through design, development and testing, and throughout the lifetime of the service.

Evaluation of the user journey aims to establish three things:

  1. Did the user achieve the goal? If not, why not?
  2. Was this achieved with ease and efficiency? This is “usability”. If not, where were the pain points?
  3. Was the experience enjoyable and rewarding? This is “user experience”. If not, why not?

Per Holmkvist, Chief Digital Officer & EVP | Zmarta Group, a leading Nordic online marketplace for bank and insurance services.

At Zmarta, we work hard to simplify the user journey with a mobile first approach (2/3 of our customers come via mobile devices). For example, working in close cooperation with Swedish banks and lenders over 15+ years, we have gradually reduced the number of fields required when a customer applies for a loan from 35-40 down to just 17. This is a cumbersome task when each change needs to be agreed with over 20 banks. But it is important because simplifying the flow, reducing words and clutter and fewer words to input all makes for a better experience, not least on mobile.

We also work on moving our “moment of truth” closer to the start of the user journey, to reduce share of drop-outs. Our moment of truth at Zmarta is the initial part of the loan or insurance application, this now occurs after just a few fields. Everything else, such as employment or living info comes later, when the customer is already well on the way to conversion.

Being mobile first also means minimizing the number of fields a customer needs to fill in using a mobile keyboard. If analyzing the data shows that for every 10 options 50% of customers choose option A, 15% B, 10% C and 25% other, rather than having to type the common responses, we want to give them the opportunity to just tap button A, B, C or other. Using data to anticipate probable choices, simplifies and reduces the time spent on the user journey and thus increases the chance of conversion.


An image search on “mobile user journey map”, ignoring the false results, gives a few variations on the flow diagram approach used by Zmarta. The following screenshot is from Google (the rights to all images belong to their owners):


This is Part 18 of the ClickZ ‘DNA of mobile-friendly web’ series.

Here are the recent ones:

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