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COVID-19 Makes Journey Mapping More Important Than Ever. Here’s How to Build One.

Originally posted in April 2020. Updated September 2021.

It feels like there have been a lot of plans made…only to be disrupted.

There was a brief moment in time when it felt like we were planning for a post-pandemic future, only to find it continues to be our present.

I’ve said it before and will say it again – if you have a journey map, it’s a great time to use it. 

COVID-19 and the ongoing fallout from it — workers in and out of the office, changing budgets, disrupted supply chains — are competing for your attention, but don’t let your journey map collect dust right now. It’s one of the most useful tools you have in your customer experience toolbox at this moment.

If you don’t have a journey map, now is a terrific time to create one. Or maybe two.

The next normal is still not standard or static. There are unpredictable journeys ahead of all of us as the virus continues to cause outbreaks and workforces shift and change. 

Journey mapping can help plan for the future, based on what is known and what we might have to guess. Consider journey mapping a strategic planning tool to consider various options in the customer experience.

Everything outlined here can be applied to more than one map. So go ahead and explore what would happen IF…

  • Supply chain disruptions continued for a certain period of time
  • Employees couldn’t return to the office as planned
  • Labor shortages continued or specific roles were not filled
  • Customers required additional service through better delivery or pickup options
  • Automation was introduced to the customer journey

What If… is a great question to ask right now as we look ahead. Regardless of how many journey maps you think you need, it’s important to just start. Start with one and get a better understanding of your customer’s experience today and tomorrow.

Related Article: How to Pitch New CX Initiatives & Overcome Objections of Decision-Makers

Why Journey Maps Matter Now More Than Ever

Customer Journey Maps are a great resource, especially in times of change like these. Consider how you can use a journey map to understand how your customers experience your brand:

  • To find points of friction for your customers so that you can reduce the effort for them
  • To uncover duplication of efforts or ways our siloed organizations create inefficiencies or irritations for your customers
  • To stress-test new processes, products, services, or offerings for your customers
  • And to envision long-term changes to improve the experience for all your customers

Journey maps are not about the ultimate deliverable, nor are they an outcome unto themselves. They are a way to understand your customer’s real journey, not the one you think is happening. That knowledge can inspire actions throughout your organization to create better experiences that lead to real business outcomes.

Now that we know the future is not about “how it was before,” we need to plan accordingly. What goals are most important right now to your organization?

  • If you’ve been asked to review or reduce expenses, a journey map can help you identify ways to reduce service costs.
  • If you are looking for ways to improve retention rates, journey maps can help you identify where to add value for your customers at key points in their journey.
  • If you are launching a new product or communicating to a new audience, a journey map can help you provide a more seamless experience to customers who need what you offer right now.

If you’re ready to build a customer journey map, I commend you. You’re about to create a path to better outcomes for your business and your customers.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, that’s ok: You can do this. This guide is designed to help you get there.

How to Create a Journey Map (Even virtually!)

Ready? Here are ten high-level ways to get things done using digital tools, virtual meetings, and solid best practices.

1. First things first: know your goals.

Before you can set out on any successful journey, you should have some idea of where you want to go.

  • What are you trying to do?
  • What problems are you looking to solve?
  • What business outcomes are priorities right now?

Don’t jump into mapping something just to map it. Determine what goals you have, so it’s very clear what actions to take once you gain the insights you’re seeking.

When it comes to journey mapping, don’t jump into mapping something just to map it. Determine what goals you have so it’s very clear what actions to take once you gain the insights you’re seeking.

2. Know what you’re mapping.

While we’d all love to be able to say, “let’s map every journey possible for every customer,” this might not be the right time for such grand plans. Start with what you know you can manage.

For our purposes, I recommend starting with one customer persona and one journey. Choose a simple one to begin with, and you can always build out other journeys from there.

Here’s a recent example: The onboarding process for a certain type of customer was a known pain point at an organization. They decided that now was a great time to journey map their 90-Day post-purchase onboarding journey. Once the 90 days are mapped, then they can decide to continue mapping this journey. But in the meantime, they are able to act on the outcomes and lessons learned, improving the experience for customers as they go.

What pain point or moment in the journey creates confusion, effort, or frustration for customers? That might be a great place to start today.

We’d love to map every journey for every customer, but now’s likely not the time. Start with what you can manage. What pain point or moment creates confusion, effort, or frustration for customers? That’s a great place to start.

3. Know your customer.

Personas help your teams relate and empathize with your customers.

A persona is a fictionalized customer profile. Your persona for that customer will have a name, some demographics like age and income, as well as what her needs, concerns, and points of interest are.

Think of her as a whole person, not just as your customer. What are her concerns beyond your brand? What are her hobbies? The more we can define our customer persona, the more we can engage our teams to show her empathy as we do our best to step into her shoes.

You may have many customers across many demographic and psychographic categories. For the sake of a simple and successful start, I like starting with one customer persona.

This doesn’t mean you can’t include other personas, especially if you have the resources to do so. But if your goal is to take quick action based on your journey map, then starting with one persona will get you there faster.

Which persona should you start with?

Typically, you may want to use the persona of your most representative customer… But in today’s environment, you may want to address a specific customer type who is especially challenged by the circumstances surrounding our new normal.

You don’t have to limit this planning to just customers. Employees and workplaces are directly impacted by the unpredictability of the near future.

For example, you may want to consider a persona for any one of these customers or employees:

  • Those who have delays in receiving their products, due to factors like supply chain disruptions
  • Those employees who want to return to working in the office
  • Those juggling working and caring for their family from home

Don’t allow indecision about which persona to start with stop you from moving forward. You can always adjust your persona down the line and create additional personas to fill in your customer roster. Do what you think is right, then begin.

When creating customer personas for journey mapping in today’s environment, prioritize specific customer types who is especially challenged by the circumstances surrounding our new normal.

4. Evolve your approach.

I’m the first one to say I don’t think there’s a perfect formula for journey mapping. Customers and their journeys are nuanced and complex, so no map will perfectly capture it all.

The goal here is to understand the customer’s real journey, gain valuable insights, and turn those insights into actions that lead to outcomes.

It can sometimes feel a little overwhelming because some organizations have SO MUCH data about their customers. And some organizations have almost NO DATA about their customers.

So where to start? Consider a recipe to gain the insights you need. Use a dash of this and a pound of that.

  • If you have too much data: Narrow down what you’re really looking for before you start.
  • If you don’t have any data: Consider places that can give you some, like customer service case codes and social media discussions.

I consider three categories when gathering data for journey maps.

  1. Customer feedback and emotional data
  2. Customer behavior and actions
  3. Systems, procedures, and touchpoints

With the technology and tools today, we can gather a lot of this virtually.

Look at your existing Voice of the Customer (VoC) and behavioral analytics data if you have it. Some areas to investigate:

  • What trends are you able to identify?
  • What are customers telling you in their open-ended feedback?
  • Are certain customers visiting your support pages more?
  • Are they traveling through your site differently?
  • What are the channels, touchpoints, and systems your customers are using?
  • Is your mobile app more popular right now?
  • What happens if a customer starts on the app but has to call your contact center? Will they have to repeat themselves or access information that is hard to find (like an account number?)

Challenge yourself and your team to consider more places to play detective.

  • What are your customers saying on social media?
  • Are there user forums or online communities where they gather, with or without your brand?
  • What emotions are they expressing?

Finally, tap into the people in your organization who already know your customers.

Interview front-line employees like contact center agents, account managers, and delivery workers. Hop on a video conference and talk to them about what they are hearing about the journey. They can often see a trend before it becomes an actual trend line on your dashboard.

Why collect all of this data? So you can really start identifying what’s most important to the customer.

One word of warning: Data can often be used to confirm what we already believe, so be aware of that inherent bias. Instead of seeking out data that confirms your existing beliefs, look for data that helps you ask other questions to bring to your mapping initiative.

Consider three categories when gathering data for journey maps: 1) Customer feedback and emotional data; 2) Customer behavior and actions; 3) Systems, procedures, and touchpoints.

5. Workshop virtually.

Journey maps usually start with an internal group of people who start to identify the known opportunities and challenges of the customer journey. This is usually a cross-functional team who can share their assumptions and hypotheses about the customer’s perspective and experience.

This is totally possible virtually. With robust platforms like Zoom , you can even send groups to breakout rooms to solve issues and report back to the larger group. Just like an in-person workshop, there are virtual whiteboards and sticky notes to create in-real-time with the group.

Mural is a popular whiteboard app that lends itself well to this. You can also do this with simple techniques like Google Slides .

Planning this workshop is even more important, so you can set fair expectations for everyone’s involvement and set the stage for a productive session.

  • You want everyone who attends to stay actively involved and contribute. Consider ways to keep up engagement.
  • Set expectations for time together, time to work in small groups, and breaks, just like you would for an in-person workshop.
  • If you can, send some pre-work like collecting specific data points or reviewing specific challenges.
  • You can even use digital tools like real-time polls to vote on moments of truth or prioritize next actions.

Technology makes virtual journey mapping easy to do successfully. Consider Zoom’s breakout rooms to solve issues and report back, virtual whiteboard tools for brainstorming, and real-time polls to vote on moments and next actions.

6. Involve customers.

Interviewing customers is a great way to find out if the map you’ve built so far is reflective of the true customer experience.

This step can also be handled remotely. In fact, some techniques actually work better virtually.

For example: recording your interviews is a great way to use real customer quotes. Just transcribe the audio and pull out specific quotes from customers to help everyone really internalize what’s happening to customers and use that to build empathy.

Another example: I’ve never been a fan of traditional focus groups. I find they aren’t as valuable as we want them to be, and some people just take over or don’t speak up enough. With virtual focus groups, you can hear from many people at once but get their honest feedback.

They aren’t competing with all the voices in the room, and they don’t see what others are saying in the same way as an in-person focus group.

Some of the tools available, like CX Workout , tap into artificial intelligence to help rank the responses.

Customers are one of your most valuable resources. Collecting and reacting to their true feedback will virtually always create better outcomes than trying to predict their wants, pain points, and goals.

Customers are one of your most valuable resources. Collecting and reacting to their true feedback will virtually always create better outcomes than trying to predict their wants, pain points, and goals.

7. Synthesize the information and insights.

Once you’ve included objective data, internal insights, and customer commentary, it’s time to put it all together. Review what you’ve collected for what are the most important moments to customers.

  • What are the high points?
  • What are the low points?
  • How do those moments relate to your original goals and the business outcomes you’re looking to achieve?

That’s the story you want to tell. But it’s not the ONLY story. There are lower-priority stories that are still valuable, and while you may not (and arguably should not) be able to get to them immediately, you don’t want to forget about them entirely either.

The solution is simple but easy to overlook: Make sure you have a centralized place to gather and rank those customer issues and opportunities, even if you aren’t addressing them right away.


8. Produce a journey map template that works for your organization.

I’m often asked for journey mapping templates. Companies want something that’s easy to plug and play, and they want something beautiful to share and display.

If you’re on the look out for a journey mapping template, good news: We’ve got one, and it’s available both as an Interactive Google Sheet  and bundled as part of our Customer Journey Mapping Workbook .

Now I understand that after all this work, it’s nice to produce a really beautiful map. It’s tempting to want to spend a lot of time making a well-designed document to share.

But first we should ask, how are we sharing this? With whom? And WHY?

The truth is, there’s no single customer journey mapping template that works for everybody.

I’ve seen all sorts of maps work:

  • Interactive, shared journey maps are available via many of the tools like UXpressia and CX Workout . This is a great way to work collaboratively and share throughout your organization.
  • An engineering client decided their best journey map template was a color-coded spreadsheet. For the purposes of driving the behaviors that would have the most impact quickly, the spreadsheet worked because it was already a format their employees understood.
  • Simple, one-page journey maps to tell a specific story are great when they are designed well. Design tools (and designers themselves!) can be extremely helpful in getting this right.

While your journey map framework will vary from others, most journey maps have these common characteristics:

  • A visual representation of the customer’s journey that includes their actions, emotions, and thoughts.
  • The customer’s journey phases and touchpoints
  • Potential next steps or recommendations for each phase.

A great journey map can use complex software or a simple spreadsheet. It can be a static document or a robust, interactive experience. The important thing is to stress how whatever you use, the map is a tool to a greater good. This is about improving the customer’s experience.

A great journey map can use complex software or a simple spreadsheet. It can be a static document or a robust, interactive experience. The important thing is to stress how whatever you use, the map is a tool to a greater good.

9. Share and prioritize.

A journey map is not something to keep to yourself!

Since social distancing began, we’ve all participated in some sort of “videoconferencing party.” Leverage all those great online meeting tools again and host a prioritization party.

  • What needs to be addressed first?
  • Who owns it?
  • What will they do?
  • How will you hold everyone accountable?

The important takeaway here: Share, share, share!

  • Offer to run through the findings with leaders who should know.
  • Ask for more input.
  • Share feedback.
  • Repeat.
  • Ask other departments if they’d like to host a “lunch and learn” hour.
  • Get creative!

10. Take action.

Once you have your map, you’re ready to take action. But don’t let the map become a relic.

It’s important to follow up, revisit your journey maps, and repeat these steps to see if those improvements are working. Use your maps to guide you and to create some sense of urgency around what needs to happen.

As things settle down and your available resources increase, you can also move on to the next phase, the next customer persona, the next journey.

But your customer journey map is never something to consider “done.” It’s a living, evolving tool… and in today’s environment, it may be changing at an especially rapid pace.

Don’t let your customer journey maps become a relic. Follow up to see if they are working and improving. A journey map is a living, evolving tool… and in today’s environment it may be changing at an especially rapid pace.

Additional Journey Mapping Resources

Workbooks & Guides from Experience Investigators

Journey Mapping Courses & Educational Resources

Want some more detail about how these steps are handled regularly? I’ve created two journey mapping online courses in partnership with Linkedin Learning. (Note: The links below are affiliate links for my courses.)

Each course is under an hour and built to help you and your team feel more comfortable and successful with your journey mapping efforts.

If you’re new to Linkedin Learning, you can get 1 month free — plenty of time to take these and many other courses.

Customer Experience: Journey Mapping

If you strive for a customer-centric culture, you have to understand the customer’s journey—every step of the way. Customer journey mapping is a powerful way to find pain points and opportunities in your customer experience. This course gives organizations a resource to plan their entire customer service program, and create maps that reflect each of the customer’s touchpoints with your company. Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) Jeannie Walters shows how to set up a customer journey mapping program for success, introduces tools and techniques to execute the journey mapping process, and explains how to go deeper to test your understanding and take action.

Learn more about the course and enroll here

Journey Mapping: Case Study in Action

Customer journey maps can be a powerful tool for businesses, offering a clear view into the customer’s true experience with a brand, service, or product. In this practical sequel to the introductory course, instructor Jeannie Walters walks through creating an actual customer journey map from start to finish. Jeannie covers each step, including setting goals, gathering data, facilitating a journey mapping workshop, interviewing customers to validate the map, and more. Along the way, she offers plenty of tips and techniques to help focus the process and move your team toward an actionable goal. The course wraps up with ideas for presenting and sharing the completed map, leveraging the findings, and other ways to use this important tool.

Learn more about the course and enroll here

Customer Experience: Service Blueprinting

Creating a seamless customer experience is no accident. It takes planning and creativity. Service blueprinting is how the best organizations keep their customers coming back. Blueprinting helps you plan the customer’s journey and the employees, processes, and activities to support that journey. This course covers the steps to creating a blueprint for exceptional customer service. Jeannie Walters describes how to gather feedback and data, map customer and employee actions, and hold a workshop session to find solutions to pain points and validate your findings. Jeannie also explains how to make your blueprint accessible, so that employees can implement it. The course includes examples and templates to help you blueprint as you go, and tips to connect the dots between what the customer sees and what goes on behind the scenes.

Learn more about the course and enroll here


Recommended Virtual Journey Mapping Tools

To make things easy, here are the services and tools mentioned in this post. None of these are affiliate links, nor have I received any compensation for mentioning them here; they’re simply tools we’ve used at Experience Investigators and found success with.


Closing Thoughts

A true customer experience strategy includes not just gathering feedback but creating real strategies to take action on behalf of your customers and your brand.

While a  customer journey map is one tool in that CX toolkit of yours, there are others like micromapping, storyboarding, and service blueprinting that can be helpful, too.

Now more than ever, there’s no perfect formula for reacting to customer needs. But leveraging journey maps could be one of the best ways we can create empathy, reduce effort, and improve the brand relationship with our customers.

Sounds like a winning formula to me.

About Jeannie Walters, CCXP, CSP

Jeannie Walters CCXP CSP small square photoJeannie is an award-winning customer experience expert, international keynote speaker, and sought-after business coach who is trailblazing the movement from “Reactive Customer Service” to “Proactive Customer and Employee Experience.” More than 500,000 people have learned from her CX courses on LinkedIn Learning, and her insights have been featured in Forbes, The Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal and NPR

Get Jeannie’s insights in your inbox each week by subscribing to The Weekly Win and follow her on LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.

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