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A Psychological Approach to Journey Mapping

by Ian Roberts, Kelly Peters - 2022-02-17

Imagine that you’ve been browsing around online for new healthcare insurance when you finally find a policy that appeals to you, and you decide to sign up. The process of enrollment is simple enough, and as you fill out the online form, you are asked questions about your personal health and then your medical history. This process continues for the next thirty minutes, until you finally arrive at a screen with one last familiar question asking you to verify that the information you have provided is accurate and true before you are able to finalize your purchase. All done! Perhaps it was a bit long and tedious, but if you had to describe the sign-up process in detail to a friend, you could do it. “First, I entered my personal health information. Once I submitted that, I was asked to input information about my medical history,” and so on. What could be simpler? You could even draw a map of your journey—a Journey Map. 

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While such a drawing may be less interesting from a consumer’s standpoint, a detailed visual depiction of a customer’s sequence of interactions can be immensely valuable to a company. A Journey Map is a tool for managers to understand customers’ retail experience and can provide insights about how to improve that experience. Because this type of Journey Map is often aimed at capturing the operational touchpoints between a firm and its clients, we refer to is as an Operational Journey Map. While Operational Journey Maps are useful tools, they can fall short of giving the full picture of what a customer’s experience really looks like. A large reason for this shortcoming is the fact that they fail to take into account a customer’s psychological experience.  


How do customers’ Operational Journeys differ from their Psychological Journeys?  

The shortcomings of Operational Journey Maps have signaled the need for a new approach steeped in knowledge obtained from data and scientific experimentation. At BEworks, we augment traditional Journey Maps by rigorously developing and testing Psychological Journey Maps.

At each point within the operational journey, a customer's mind can go through multiple steps that are distinct in terms of the psychological mechanisms involved. To account for this, we divide up a consumer’s product purchasing experience into three phases: pre-purchase (what they think and know as they approach a retailer), purchase (how they choose and buy products), and post-purchase (how they use and evaluate the purchased product). In each phase, we can draw on different behavioral concepts to understand the consumer’s experience. 

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It is important to understand what consumers attend to and how it is perceived. People are constantly confronted with large amounts of information—far too much to process fully—so they must rely on ‘mental shortcuts’ when selecting relevant information and making choices. Moreover, perception is both subjective and idiosyncratic. Two people looking at the same information will interpret it differently.  

Common psychological barriers associated with pre-purchase stage: Low saliency of benefits, perceived hassle costs, information overload 



When it comes to making a purchase, a Psychological Journey Map examines how information presentation and the number and type of alternatives being considered shape a customer’s actions. Importantly, even once a customer forms a strong intention to purchase, a misalignment between price and perceived value can thwart a transaction before it is completed. 

Common psychological barriers associated with purchase stage: Choice overload, status quo bias, pain of paying 


Finally, after purchasing a product, a variety of motivational and cognitive factors can stand in the way of consumers sticking to their own commitments and goals when purchasing a product. Furthermore, many psychological barriers can prevent people from replenishing or renewing a purchase. 

Common psychological barriers associated with post-purchase stage: lack of reinforcement, procrastination.


How do Psychological Journey Maps help create solutions? 

Psychological Journey Maps and the data-backed experimentation they inspire can lead to important insights and significant differences in business outcomes.

For example, let’s return to the healthcare insurance purchase described at the beginning of this post. This scenario is based on a real case our team at BEworks was tasked with understanding. Recall the final screen you encountered asking you to verify the truth and accuracy of the information you provided. Something we neglected to mention before—and something that Operational Journey Maps would overlook—was that when you arrived at this final screen, the web page switched from a white background to one that was light red and contained an image of a large STOP sign in the center of the screen above the “buy now” purchase button.

From the insurance company’s point of view, this STOP sign makes perfect sense. They want to call attention to the possibility that the form may have an error requiring correction. They also want to put a potentially fraudulent applicant on notice.  

Our psychological analysis, however, led us to believe that the request for accuracy was presented in such a way as to intimidate customers into second guessing their purchase decision altogether—a hypothesis that was supported by web traffic data showing that the STOP sign page was a major drop-off point where a significant number of prospective customers exited the process without completing the purchase.

When we presented our analysis to company executives, they immediately had the page changed. This modification, along with other behaviorally informed interventions, led to a 33 percent increase in client acquisition, as well as a 40 percent increase in premiums per customer. Psychological Journey Maps that capture the operational process and layer on relevant behavioral data and psychological insights can provide a path to quick, impactful wins for both companies and their customers. 


What’s missing from most Journey Maps? 

  1. Operational Journey Maps are often built with the unspoken assumption that consumers are fully rational agents with unlimited mental resources at their disposal. However, real people do not (and often cannot) possess full knowledge about all possible outcomes, nor do they have unlimited energy or mental capacities. Instead, people take strategic shortcuts, and the shortcuts they adopt shape the outcomes they achieve.
  2. Operational Journey Maps tend to portray people as making decisions in a social vacuum, but this, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. People make joint, collaborative decisions with relationship partners, ask friends and family for advice, and learn from the behavior and experiences of total strangers. 
  3. Journey Maps often focus on one channel; but modern consumers now make purchases through a dynamic, multichannel approach (e.g., browsing online before buying in-store, or vice versa). Furthermore, technological interfaces (e.g., touch screen versus mouse click) and communicative mediums (e.g., phone call versus text message) have consequences for how consumers perceive and engage with companies and their products.
  4. A Journey Map that only depicts operational steps misses out on opportunities to be informed by data about what people are doing at each stage (i.e., if no one opens an email, is it really part of the journey?).  

With all of this discussion on Journey Maps, you might be wondering where you go from here. We've identified some of the common pitfalls of traditional approaches that miss key opportunities for improvement brought on by a psychological lens. 

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