The customer journey refers to the way businesses attract and keep customers. The term is most commonly used in the realm of online marketing, but it applies equally to retail and other brick-and-mortar businesses.
Customers interact with a brand, across a growing number of online and offline touchpoints, because they connect emotionally and/or need a problem solved. Thriving companies drive this strategic growth by delivering experiences that meet these customer needs, generating relationships that leave customers wanting more.
A successful interaction hinges on the brand meeting these expectations in a meaningful way. Simply put, if this core connection doesn’t exist, customers will go elsewhere. The key is finding an effective tool to formulate and deliver this customer experience.
Journey mapping does just that by encouraging stakeholders to consider the customer’s needs, wants, emotions and questions, and to create the path to fulfill those needs. A customer journey map is a tool that should be included in every brand’s digital strategy.
A thoughtful customer journey map helps marketers get into the mindset of their customers. They serve to cultivate a better understanding of the specific decision points encountered along a customer’s path of product consideration, from awareness through to purchase and then loyalty. The crucial junctures along a customer’s journey are points when delivering the right marketing materials at the right moment can make all the difference.
Understanding what goes into this process can provide key insights into any current gaps (or additional opportunities) where fine-tuning your marketing strategy can increase your success.
The Five Stages of the Customer Journey
Customers proceed through five well-established phases when considering a product or service they might need. Though not always linear in their application, we can easily deconstruct and possibly reform our customer experience based on this analysis. A typical customer journey includes these stages:
Before you can acquire a customer, he or she has to know about you.
There are many ways this can happen. Customers may see an advertisement. They may happen to pass by your business and stop in. They may find your website by doing a search, or a friend might recommend you.
At this stage, focus on the WHY — the buyers motivation. Ensure the brand is visible to the customer and demonstrates the brand’s value as a solution fitting the need at hand.
Consideration and Decision
After a customer is aware of you, he or she then has to decide whether to give your product or service a try.
Like the awareness phase, this can come down to many factors, including impulse, trust, the attitude of your customer service team, the presentation of your products if you have a store, online reviews or comments made by people they know.
This is the stage where they are comparing your product or service to other solutions on the market. This is where they are doing price comparisons, reading customer reviews, checking out competitors, and learning more about the details of your product or service to see if it could, in fact, be what they have looked for. Ensure that they have all the information they need to move to the next stage in the customer journey.
Answer the question on your prospects mind which is “why should I choose you?” Demonstrate the brand’s advantages and win customers over by showcasing specific differentiators and the results a customer can expect. Market a simple effective solution in the context of WHO and HOW— who will benefit from it and how it will make it easier to conduct business.
This is the moment when customers decide to buy from you, whether it’s an in-store purchase or clicking on the “buy” button on your website.
At this stage, remove friction by providing a clear and inviting path to completing the purchase.
Post-Purchase and Retention
It’s far easier and roughly 5 times cheaper to retain an existing customer than it is to acquire a new one. It’s hard to build enough trust with a prospect to turn them into a first time buyer. Once you’ve gain their trust and their business, work hard to maintain it.
Follow up with your client to get their opinion on the product or service that they purchased from you. Solicit testimonials from previous customers and showcase them on your website and other places where prospects will be visiting to find out more information about you, your company, and brand.
Most customers will have ongoing purchase needs, and are more likely to buy from a brand they’ve purchased from before. Accentuate these advantages with current customers through remarketing tactics and providing positive experiences that keep customers coming back for more. Ensure that the customer journey does not come to an end simply with a purchase by creating a well-rounded customer experience susceptible to growth.
This is the last stage of the customer journey when the customer becomes an active advocate for your brand. They say great things about you and your company, refer their friends and family to you, and generate the most powerful kind of marketing your company can ever have which is word-of-mouth.
The customers who becomes loyal to your brand will be more interested in the relationships that we build throughout the other phases of the customer journey. Nurture them every step of the way through the earlier stages with value, attentiveness, and respect.
When a person has a great experience with a product, service and company, they will want to spread the word and tell others about it. It’s human nature. Encourage this by asking them to tell their friends and let them know how much it will be appreciated by you and your business. Some of the most successful companies today are built on powerful referral and word of mouth marketing.
“Where does my customer stand?” is a questions that challenges a business operator to examine their affairs through the perception of the customer. Breaking down the customer journey into the stages listed above allows us to separate out areas that we would maybe group together and helps us to put our customer interactions under a microscope.
Being able to deliver a customer experience that includes all the specific actions along the way will result in a business more apt to attract, and keep, the customer journey going for many years to come.
Identify and Optimize Customer Touchpoints
The five stages of the customer journey outlined above are fairly broad. You can break it down more precisely into various touchpoints.
A good exercise to go through is to create an inventory of all the touchpoints you currently use, and then alongside that create a list of other touchpoints that could be deployed or used. Once the list of existing touchpoints is created, work to understand which customers are using each and why. For example, do high-value shoppers regularly use your mobile app? Do more convenience shoppers gravitate to your website?
You can then extend the inventory of the touchpoints, thinking through the “mission” of each touch point and its role in growing brand awareness, customer acquisition, growth and retention. Core to this is making every interaction across each touchpoint contextually relevant to the customer.
Every customer engagement at every touchpoint provides an opportunity to learn more about the customer and, for digital touchpoints, provide a more personalized experience. To do this requires identifying the customer as quickly and easily as possible so that you respond with relevant offers and information.
- Create and maintain a list of customer touchpoints used. Consider grouping the touchpoints such as digital, print, in-store, etc., to better understand your capabilities.
- Create a “mission” for each touchpoint, which forces you to think through how it can be used to support customer acquisition, growth and retention.
- Work to create a platform infrastructure that “feeds” each touchpoint to create the seamless—and relevant—experience customers want.
- Use every touchpoint and customer engagement to learn, improving the relevancy of the engagement and learning to make the touchpoint more valuable.
- Digital touchpoints should be fed by real-time intelligence reflecting the latest interactions the customer has had with you.
Identifying, understanding and fine-tuning touchpoints and stages of the customer journey can help you develop more effective marketing plans and form stronger relationships with customers. While the customer’s journey is never a precise map, it is a valuable tool for businesses to grow and constantly improve.
Remember, a narrow focus on maximizing satisfaction at touchpoints can create a distorted picture, suggesting that customers are happier with the company than they actually are. It also diverts attention from the bigger—and more important—picture: the customer’s end-to-end journey.
For many companies, combining operational, marketing, and customer and competitive research data to understand journeys is a first-time undertaking, and it can be a long process—sometimes lasting several months. But the reward is well worth it, because the fact base that’s created allows management to clearly see the customer’s experience of various journeys and decide which ones to prioritize.
Drawing on existing research, might be sufficient to find the most significant journeys and the pain points within them—the specific service shortcomings that damage customers’ experience. That research is typically fragmented and often includes data on the customer volume in a given journey, and obvious gaps in performance—for example, discrepancies between promises made in marketing materials and services actually delivered.
Defining the journeys that matter and deciding where to begin the transformation requires both top-down, judgment-driven evaluations and bottom-up, data-driven analysis, to varying degrees. Pursuing these efforts in parallel whenever possible, is recommended.
Finally, no single picture could ever adequately explain your customers and what they experience interacting with your company and services. You should run a mapping session multiple times based on a nearly countless set of extrinsic factors to generate a realistic reflection of your customers.