Customer Journey Maps and User Personas

In this article, the main focus is on:

  • highlighting the importance of the use of personas in helping craft good customer journey maps (CJM).
  • how the Automatic Persona Generation (APG) system can help make CJM’s in a quick and effective way! 

Disclaimer: This article does not cover the topic of CJM in-depth but rather focuses on the marriage between CJM’s and personas! For a detailed breakdown on the what, why and how of CJM’s, refer to this customer journey mapping guide by the folks at UXPressia.

Let’s get to the exciting stuff now!

Making a customer journey map is crucial for identifying user pain points.(Source: Unsplash)

What is a Customer Journey Map? 

It can be challenging for an organization or a product team to get into the minds of its users. Often times, you might be left wondering why a user is spending so much time performing a particular action (an example could be on an e-commerce website where the customer is spending a lot of time adding products to their cart) or why does it take him/her several steps to get from Point A to Point B when it should only take a few! 

Whatever your issue might be, the root cause of this is that you don’t have a clear grasp of the customer journey. This is where a CJM comes into picture. 

CJM is a visualization technique which allows you to see how your users/customers are interacting with your business over time and across channels (e.g. mobile, website, laptop, social media etc.). 

A CJM allows you to:

  • Understand the entire journey which a user takes to accomplish their goal when using your product or service. 
  • Get a better understanding of (and subsequently improve) their experience when using your product/service. 
  • Retain users! 

Let’s take a look at the following example of CJM. In this CJM, there is a person named Eric who is impulsive, wants to buy a car and wants to do his research online. He has certain expectations of an “ideal” website which he can use to both search for new cars and also the dealership which will sell him the car. Specifically, Eric wishes that the website should have:

  • Ability to compare cars and their breakdowns. 
  • Good photography with closeups, inside and out
  • Video overview of car with demonstrations

He comes across a website and starts searching for cars and also dealerships. The following CJM describes his entire journey when he is doing all of this! 

It describes his frustrations, his expectations of when he is frustrated about how the website “should have been designed” and also some moments where the design of the website made him happy!  Now to flesh out this CJM is a cumbersome process.

A CJM depicting entire journey of a persona called Eric when shopping for a new car (Source: Nielsen Norman)

Using Personas in making a customer journey map

While there are several steps involved in making a CJM, the most important step is making a user persona


A user persona forms the backbone on the basis of which a good CJM is made.


If you take a look at the CJM template which I have shared below, you can see that a user persona is presented in the same CJM, and the pain points, expectations and frustrations of the persona would be represented in the CJM.

Simple customer journey map template depicting a user persona which would be used alongside a CJM (Source: User Interviews)

It would be safe to say that personas are a tool that helps you take a user-centric approach to customer journey mapping: they help you to really define the tasks that your users want to complete and their needs and pain points in doing so across the customer journey. 

By understanding these needs and pain points, you can start to define the ‘moments of truth’ that really matter to your users, where your business has a role to play and what you need to do to make this possible.

If there is one persona which you need to make, then this is a relatively straightforward process. Say for instance, you need to make persona for Eric (on whom the above CJM is based), then the process would look like: 

  • Contact Eric and users similar to Eric and agree for a suitable time for interviewing.
  • While interviewing, understand more about him, his needs and wants from an online car shopping portal. 
  • Make a persona which describes Eric the best. 
  • You observe Eric when he is searching for a car online and makes a purchasing decision. 
  • Based on your observations, you draft a CJM. 

There is no right/wrong, linear or prescriptive way to make a CJM. For the sake of brevity, I am simplifying the steps involved. 

Now imagine, if there is an organization which wants to understand the journey of most of their users when they are interacting with their product or services. Let’s take the example of the fictitious website which was used to draft Eric’s CJM “YourCarNext.Net”.

Assuming “YourCarNext.Net” is a popular company and has thousands of people who use it. If one day, the company decides that they want to understand how users in a particular city, say New York think of their website, what are their needs, pain points, frustrations and how do they actually use their website, then this would be a hugely cumbersome task. 

The organization might need to take help of many UX Researchers who would interview/survey all of these people, construct many many personas and then flesh out CJM’s. And this is not the end! Once they have all user personas and CJM’s in hand, they need to compare and analyse the common problems/frustrations/pain points/journeys of most users to be able to improve their service offering! 

Needless to say that this is a bummer!

Not just this but CJM’s also vary in their complexity! If your boss wishes to see many details in a CJM to understand different facets of a user interaction with your product or service,  then you might need to go the extra mile to get that extra information about your user! Take a look at the following two CJM’s – I hope you are able to appreciate the complexity of these CJM’s. 

A detailed CJM depicting the journey of an IT Manager who wishes to update her password (Source: Yale University)
A CJM depicting journey of a user when purchasing health insurance (Source: Pinterest)

So, we have established following things so far: 

  • CJM involves (lots!) user research.
  • Most important step in making a CJM is a persona.
  • Personas can take a lot of time if you have many users! 

However, an easy way to simplify all of the above is to have a good starting point to make CJM’s- an automatically generated persona which is representative of your user base by using the Automatic Persona Generation system developed by the APG team at the Qatar Computing Research Institute

Automatic Persona Generation System (APG)

APG is a tool for turning your data into personas. It works currently with YouTube Analytics, Google Analytics, Facebook Ads, and Facebook Insights (if you have enough video content). The system pulls data from these sources and automatically generates user personas that represent your most engaged audience segments.

The benefits of APG are:

  • Data-driven personas are created within minutes.
  • Data-driven personas are updated automatically every month, thus saving a lot of time for your product team in manually updating these. 

APG is both a methodology and a system for automatically creating data-driven personas from online analytics data!  

Say, for instance, your organization has a large and diverse customer base (like in the example above)  and collects digital information on them. Using APG would enable you to better understand all of them! 

Take a look at the following persona which is automatically generated using APG, without the need for manual user research! 

Example of a data-driven persona from the Automatic Persona Generation (APG) system. (Source: Book on Data-Driven Personas which the team at QCRI authored)

As you can see from the above figure, the persona which is generated using the APG contains anonymized names of all users of a particular organization. If I go back to the example of, a persona generated using the APG would look similar to the above and would list user needs, goals, wants, frustrations etc. 

Not only this, using the APG, one can also search for different users (all of whom will have unique problems, needs, pain points, goals etc.) using the APG system as shown below: 

Snippet of a data-driven persona cast from the APG system illustrating the range of user types with potentially unique problems, needs, pain points, and goals (Source: Book on Data-Driven Personas which the team at QCRI published)

Needless to say that combining customer journey mapping with data-driven personas generated using APG is an exciting research endeavor, one that is not time consuming and sustainable for you as a business! 

The customer journey concept relies on the notion that users or customers engage with an organization’s products and messages on various channels at various times. Data-driven personas can help isolate, conceptualize, and communicate information on customer segments that are specifically salient at each step of the customer journey.

Think of the countless hours you would save on interviewing users, manually drawing CJM’s and user personas! 

Would you like to learn more?

If this article got you intrigued, read our persona analytics research for more in-depth knowledge on persona development.

If you are interested in learning more about how APG can help identify user pain-points and inform design decisions for your team, contact us!  

Jansen, B. J., Salminen, J., Jung, S.G., and Guan, K. (2021). Data-Driven Personas. Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics,1 Carroll, J. (Ed). Morgan-Claypool: San Rafael, CA., 4:1, i-317.

Jansen, B. J., Salminen, J., and Jung, S.G. (2020) Data-Driven Personas for Enhanced User Understanding: Combining Empathy with Rationality for Better Insights to AnalyticsData and Information Management. 4(1), 1-17.

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