How to Code Journey Mapping Interviews

It’s all about imperfectly capturing the important things

Photo by Maria Agudo López on Unsplash

You’re in the middle of your first journey mapping project. Congratulations!

You’ve assembled a team. Picked a point of view of your map. Created a field guide and a data packet. Identified and interviewed target customers.

And now it’s time to code.

Coding journey mapping interviews can be a bit daunting the first time around. Customer interviews can go upwards of an hour, giving you a lot of information to sift through. And if it’s your first time journey mapping, it can feel like a lot of responsibility to be the person in charge of translating the customer’s perspective into a journey that will shape key decisions within your organization.

There’s no one right way to code. Each CX or product design agency will have their own unique approach. After leading many teams through their first journey mapping engagements, we’ve found a process that works well for Highland and our clients — whether they’re first-time journey mappers or seasoned CX practitioners.

So let’s break down what coding is, why it matters, and share a few lessons we’ve learned on what it takes to code like a CX pro.

What is coding, exactly?

Coding is the systematic documentation of interview insights that allows researchers to effectively analyze qualitative data.

Coding is not about capturing everything perfectly. It’s imperfectly capturing the important things.

Professional CX researchers have two key goals when coding:

  1. To listen intently for the key insights that feel important to the customer’s journey
  2. To use the interviewee’s language as much as possible

With these two goals as your guiding principles, you’ll be able to draw patterns across interview data that will help you construct an effective journey map.

Let’s get into a few more specific tips that will help you feel more confident when coding.

Tips for Coding Your Journey Mapping Interviews

1. Use a coding document

All good coding uses a structured table or some other kind of thematic ordering to organize qualitative data. Without this, it can be hard to decipher themes from the information you’ve collected.

We use a very simple spreadsheet in Google Sheets to code our journey mapping interviews:

At the beginning of your journey mapping project, you should define clear learning goals with your team (see the “Charting the Course” section here). Those learning goals will guide the structure of your coding document.

When journey mapping, you typically have two learning goals:

  1. Understand the stages of the customers’ journey
  2. Understand the components that make up that journey — the customers’ thoughts, feelings, actions, touchpoints, and channels

Definitions for each of the journey mapping components

Your journey mapping coding document should reflect the journey components on the Y-axis, and the stages on the X-axis, like so:

Photo by Maria Agudo López on Unsplash

You should use a new sheet for each customer interview. Capture any helpful information about your interviewee at the top of the document, and then fill in the cells between the stages and the components as you listen to the interview.

Now let’s unpack how to actually code the interview.

2. Identify the stages of the journey

At the end of your interview, you should always ask participants to reflect back on the journey they just narrated and identify the key stages in that journey. We often ask interviewees to name the stages in their journey as episodes in a series or chapters in a book.

When you start coding your interview, skip to the last few minutes of the interview first to capture what these stages are. Find where they name the stages of their journey and capture each stage in its own column in your coding sheet.

Be sure to clearly identify where one stage stops and another begins. When you analyze for patterns later, you will need to be clear about what happened during what stage.

3. Capture the details of each journey component

After capturing each stage, rewind to the beginning of your recorded interview for the next step.

Listen back to your interview, honing in on each of the five journey components. This is typically a very fluid process — not a linear one. As the interviewer, your job is to try to draw out as much as you can so that you can understand what was happening in these five components.

Here’s a bit of advice on how to identify when an interview is speaking about each of the journey components:

  • Thoughts: How did they evaluate their choices or actions? What decisions did they make? How were they processing those decisions? What were thoughts along the way? How were they reacting to things that happened?
  • Feelings: This can be the hardest component to capture because people might not want to talk openly about their feelings! As an interviewer, you want to draw that out of people, but sometimes you need to infer based on the type of language that they use or the energy that they have when answering the question. Try to be diligent about asking interviewees what they actually felt and not just inferring.
  • Actions: What did they specifically do? What happened to them? What happened within the experience? What are all the specific actions that are happening in that moment?
  • Touchpoints: Where was there a moment of contact between the customer and the organization/people/service they were interacting with? For example, when someone checks into a hotel, the reservation is the touchpoint between the need for a room and the hotel’s ability to meet that need.
  • Channels: How was the person’s need met? What was the mode of connection? For example, when checking into a hotel — did the interviewee get their reservation via email? A phone call? An app notification?

Lines often blur between the journey components, so it can be easy to get confused about where each insight should land in your coding document. Try to trust your gut here. Remember: coding is about imperfectly capturing the important things.

4. Capture details first, identify priorities later

Since you’re hungry for insights on your customers’ journeys, it can be hard to resist the temptation to start identifying themes and patterns as soon as you start to see them emerge. We encourage you to resist this urge!

Try to focus first on capturing the detail about what happened in the person’s experience, without trying to prescribe a theme or pattern to the data. You’ll be able to identify patterns later on when you start mapping.

When capturing details about your interviewee’s journey, it’s important to use their actual language as much as possible. Don’t translate what they said into the organization’s understanding. If the organization’s language is “registration” but the interviewee calls it “check-in, ” that’s an important detail to note.

While you want to capture as much detail as you can, you don’t have to capture everything that an interviewee says verbatim. Discern the most important bits that get the details across, and try capturing those in a bulleted list.

A tactical tip that will come in handy while coding: If you’re not sure how to create multiple lines within one cell, hold option + enter to do so.

In the context of journey mapping, you want to make sure you’re capturing details about when things break down so it’s clear what actually happened when there was an expectation that was not met by the organization.

5. Prepare a packet for collaborative mapping

When you’re done coding your interviews, you should have a tab for each interviewee’s journey. To analyze insights of those interviews, you’ll need to print out each sheet so that your entire journey mapping team can have all of the customer insights in front of them when it’s time to map.

We encourage you to try to fit each customer journey on one sheet of legal paper. This will be tiny text, but it’s worth it! (Don’t be ashamed if you need to get out a magnifying glass.)

If your customer journey is split over several sheets of paper, it can be really difficult to make sense of all of the stages and how they fit together. By printing everything on one page, you’re able to hold someone’s entire journey in your hands.


Now that you’ve identified stages, captured details that are relevant to your learning goals, and printed out your insights — your interviews are ready to be mapped!

Have questions about coding or advice from your own experience coding CX research? I’d love to hear from you. Send me an email or leave a comment below!


At Highland, we help our clients understand their customers and design digital products that fit their needs.

Learn more about our Customer Experience services including customer journey mapping, design sprint facilitation, Jobs to Be Done research, and CX roadmaps.