Since customer journey mapping is quickly gaining grounds in the (digital) innovation domain, we thought it would be worthwhile to zoom in a very important step in the design thinking process: reframing a pain point into a design opportunity.

What is a ‘pain point’ anyway?

A pain point in a journey, is a step (more multiple steps) in which the user experiences problems, irritation, annoyance or any other negative emotion due to a sub-optimal touchpoint (a touchpoint is referred to as a ‘moment of contact’ between the user and given company/service, such as visiting a website, calling a store, or opening a product packaging). Because of this negative (temporal) emotion, the overall rating of the entire customer journey might devaluate as a direct result of such a pain point. To create an awesome service, you need to overdeliver, not underdeliver (resulting in a dysfunctional service, rather than a service people will advocate).

By the way, the opposite of a pain point is often referred to as a ‘gain’, signifying what a user ‘gains for the experience’. Dissatisfiers and satisfiers are also often heard terms in this context.

Examples of pain points in finance
An often-heard pain point in the financial industry is the amount of paperwork that needs to be filed when opening a new bank account or insurance. Recent digital transformations in the industry helps solving this issue by digitalizing paperwork, often using digital solutions for quotations and online contract signing. Other pain points in finance: not having an aggregated visual overview of expenses and income, hidden costs and fees, long queues in the branch and when calling the help desk, slow customer on-boarding (to name a few that we often hear of).

Turning a pain point into an opportunity

To turn a pain point into an design opportunity, we need to take 3 steps:

  1. Map customer journey (including ‘pains’ and ‘gains’)
  2. Pick 1 or 2 focal pain points
  3. Turn pain point into brainstorm question

1 – Map customer journey

Customer journey mapping can be done in many ways and there is not one ‘silver bullet’ in which to do so. However, if you want to learn to make a customer journey, have a look here, here or here. In general, be sure to include:

  1. Overall (high level) journey steps
  2. User goals per phase & jobs to be done
  3. Channels that are used
  4. Emotional curve (what are current pains and gains?)

A simplified template example of such a journey could look like this:

2 – Pick 1 or 2 focal pain points

Now, we decide which pain points we are focusing on. Before, we’ve written about guiding and design principles are an important tool to achieve focus and to prioritize your resources. These principles should be tightly related to your brand vision and what you aspire to be for you customers (what benefits are you creating for them?).

Apart from your design principles, select pain points, based on:

  1. Their overall impact on the entire journey
  2. Their emotional effect on the user (anxiety, stress, confusion, etc.)
  3. The ability to control and improve this part of the journey (who ‘owns’ this journey phase?)
  4. The desire to innovate’: do we want to apply best practices or be an industry leader in a particular matter?

After it is clear in what parts of the journey you desire to reach the earliest (and best possible) results, you take the select pain points and isolate them. Of course, in the end we will want to focus on the overall, holistic journey (and not just a part of it), but for best results and an efficient brainstorm and design process, finding and defining a clear, concrete and ‘boxed’ goal is better.

For example, we could take a pain point like:

“Users have problems understanding which personal documents they need to find and upload in our financial contract portal”


“Many users don’t know which tasks can be done in the self-service part of our branch, extending unnecessary queues at our counters”

 3 – Turn Pain point into brainstorm question

Then, when we have clear which part of the journey we want to improve, we turn them into a ‘brainstorm-ready’ design question.

To do this, we often apply the ‘how could we’ technique: we take our pain point, which is not formulated as a question, but rather as a statement, and convert it into a inspiring, tempting brainstorm question that can be used as starting point for ideation. But before we can do this, there is one more thing that needs to be done: understanding and applying your brand and design principles.

What do we mean by this? Let’s take an example where the guiding principles you have defined (based on desired brand positioning and customer research), are:

  1. To offer the fastest, most accessible banking products
  2. Pro-actively advice customers on their financial situation, reducing cognitive load and financial anxiety
  3. Offer the best functional benefits possible, while creating emotional benefits to increase engagement and loyalty

So, with this in mind, the reframing of the pain point:

“Many users don’t know which tasks can be done in the self-service part of our branch, extending unnecessary queues at our counters”

Could result in:

“How could we inform and guide users which self-service tasks they can take, in the fastest, most accessible way?”

A couple things are important to note here: first, we use ‘could’ rather than ‘would’ or ‘should’. We do this because we want to ‘tease the imagination’ and keep our minds open for radical or silly solutions, as these ultimately could lead to a viable and feasible solution (when tweaked in right way). Could has a less forcing connotations than e.g. ‘should’.

The second thing is that we apply the desired end-state at the end of the sentence (in this case: ‘fastest, most accessible way’). In general, we can use the following ‘formula’:

“How could we [reframed pain point] in a way that is [desired end-state]?”

Reframing a pain point into an opportunity – overview

A simple tool for entering ideation

By following this simple method, we are able to pick any pain point and turn into a usable, inspiring brainstorm question, ready to be tackled by the team. Reframing statements to brainstorm questions is an essential and unmissable step the design thinking process, not only to create focus and prioritize initiatives, but also to match brand vision with a desired experiential end-state. 

Want to know more about how we can help you do customer journey mapping and find exciting opportunities to capitalize on? Contact us today.