The Complete Guide to Customer Journey
Understanding the customer journey means better customer experience & more revenue for businesses. Learn what it is and why it’s important for your company.
Understanding the customer journey means better customer experience & more revenue for businesses. Learn what it is and why it’s important for your company.
If you’ve ever purchased anything, you’ve taken a customer journey – but you’ve probably never thought of it like this before. A customer journey includes all the interactions a customer has with a brand leading up to and after their purchase.
Think of it as a path a customer follows from the moment they learn about a business to when they buy and beyond. It can be a bit different for each person, but the overall process is pretty much the same for everyone.
If you’ve never heard of a customer journey before, that’s because the concept is still relatively new. In fact, most companies don’t know much about what their customers go through to find them and make that decision to buy from them.
This process used to begin with prospects seeing print ads or a company’s sign on their brick-and-mortar, but now, 67% of the customer journey is done digitally.
Customer journey is not the same as customer experience. The customer journey is the sum of all the experiences a customer has with a company or brand, whereas, customer experience is how the customer feels going through the customer lifecycle.
Customer experience deals with questions like:
Understanding the customer journey allows for optimization of the customer experience. If a company doesn’t know what their customers go through leading up to their purchase, how can they implement meaningful improvements? Not having this information could result in wasteful spending or poor marketing tactics.
Consider a company that offers a free trial as a means of attracting new customers. You might assume that it’s almost guaranteed to get a customer. But, that’s not always the case. If a company offers a product that’s complex, a customer probably won’t learn the ins and outs of the program in the short period of the free trial.
This was exactly the case with SuperOffice, who learned what their customers actually wanted by mapping the customer journey. They spent 3 years promoting a free trial only to find out that a trial was not part of their ideal customer’s buying process. Their target audience wanted live demos, which were hard to find on the website. SuperOffice didn’t understand their customer buying cycle and their approach made it difficult for consumers to buy from them. They’ve since made their main call to action a demo request and have seen these requests more than double.
Marketing expert Trish Bertuzzi explained why free trials aren’t always the way to go and cites cases like SuperOffice. Without knowing the customer journey, the experience and sales funnel cannot be enhanced effectively.
The LEGO Group is another example of success derived largely from customer journey mapping and customer experience metrics measuring. The LEGO Group uses the Medallia platform to measure and analyze customer experience. Through real-time feedback and other insights, The LEGO Group knows what drives their customers so they can focus on these areas. They use this information to make regular improvements as well as create long-term business plans. And it’s worked. The LEGO Group has seen higher revenues in both online and brick-and-mortar stores and increased consumer satisfaction. It hasn’t gone unnoticed. Forrester Research recognized them for their outstanding commitment to customer success, awarding them with a Forrester Research Outside In Award.
A customer’s journey consists of specific phases, and the better a company understands them, the better they can guide customers through them.
There are 5 stages of the customer journey:
Other names for these stages exist, and some might even break them into more than 5 parts. For example, the “Consideration” phase may be referred to as “Evaluating Options”, and some discussions of customer journey might include a preliminary step referred to as “Problem Recognition”.
The first stage of the customer journey is when a potential customer is aware of their problem and has actively started searching for the solution. Companies have the chance to make a good first impression – in only 7 seconds!
The way to make a good first impression is to educate your prospects:
The Awareness stage is vital because, if a business fails to reach its potential customers, the sale is lost before the process has even begun.
Today, the vast majority of research for purchases is done online. It’s critical to have a strong online presence and communicate value through a screen.
Important content to be delivered during this stage includes:
At this point, the prospect is evaluating all their options. Here’s what this stage might look like:
Jane is contemplating buying a blender. At the Consideration phase, she’s done the basic research and narrowed down her options to just two companies – ABC Blenderz and XYZ Appliances. To make a final decision, Jane does some more research, taking time to thoroughly check out both companies. She compares prices and features and reads reviews. Jane comes across several positive reviews and even pictures posted by customers of ABC Blenderz. This seals the deal for her and she goes with ABC Blenderz.
Customer reviews are so important. They have the power to tip the scales in your favor during the Consideration phase. But, more on this later.
Since customers will be scrutinizing and comparing companies, a business will want to position itself well to be compared to their competitors.
Want to have an edge over the competitors? Consider these questions:
Make sure your competitive advantage is clearly stated for prospects to see. Potential customers might reach out for more info via contact forms or social media. But, it’s also a good time to reach out to them if they do not initiate contact.
How can you deliver value at this stage? Provide the following:
Also called the Decision stage, this is when the prospect becomes a customer. They’ve done all their research, evaluated their options, and now they’ve chosen the company they believe to be best.
At the Purchase state, you can deliver content, like:
Now, back to customer reviews. 95% of buyers say they’re influenced by customer reviews – this is major! In fact, just displaying some of your customer reviews can increase conversion rates by 270%! It is clear that businesses that showcase reviews from their customers have a much better shot at securing sales.
Video testimonials are especially effective because viewers can see and feel the emotion – more so than can be achieved through text alone. A brand can tell a story through visual images and audio that motivates viewers to take action.
According to a report by Wyzowl, 88% of video marketers said that video gives them a positive ROI and 80% said video has directly resulted in increased sales. Video content can be shared easily, converts more, and has a higher retention rate. The same report by Wyzowl states that 66% of people prefer to watch a short video to learn about a service than read text. It’s also been found that video testimonials are among the top 3 most effective types of video content.
It’s not surprising, then, that big companies like Slack, HubSpot, Dropbox, and Microsoft have video testimonials. If you’re going to invest the resources, be sure to check out the most well-known companies’ videos to see what works best.
The deal is done, but the journey is not over. The Retention stage is perhaps the most significant. Getting a new customer is one task – keeping them is another one completely.
Did you know...
Did you know that it’s FIVE TIMES more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain one?
Let’s go back to Jane. Say she isn’t happy with her blender purchase, she’ll most likely never shop at ABC Blenderz again. She might even go as far as to write a negative review. Just one negative review can affect a company’s reputation, lower Google search rankings, and drive away potential customers. In a 2018 report by ReviewTrackers, it was found that negative reviews persuaded 94% of consumers to avoid a particular business.
Indeed, it is an ongoing effort to keep a customer’s trust and retain them as a customer. Therefore, during the Retention stage, a company must acknowledge customer loyalty. There are a number of ways to recognize and keep a loyal customer like a points program, a community for customers or special offers and discounts. (More details on this in the next section about Loyalty.)
Businesses can maintain the relationship and determine effective customer loyalty efforts by using:
The final phase of the customer journey is the Loyalty, or Advocacy, stage. It’s perhaps the most difficult part of the process. The end game is a customer that advocates for its service/ product provider.
Beyond giving a good buying experience and a product as promised, businesses must be attentive and nurture customers to gain their loyalty. Loyal consumers can do more than just become a repeat customer, they can refer your services to others. In most cases, companies can simply ask their customers to spread the word and recommend their products.
There are a variety of ways to ask for reviews and recommendations:
One interesting method in the B2B world is to offer to interview the client and write the review for them. This is what Jodi Amendola of Amendola Communications suggests. But, keep the review balanced – if it sounds too over the top, you’ll lose credibility.
Every business should also be sure to have profiles on relevant review sites, like Yelp, Google Local, Yahoo Local, TripAdvisor, etc. Consumers that are pleased with the product and their buying experience can be a priceless marketing resource by providing testimonials, reviews, or simply sharing through word of mouth.
Loyalty programs can increase the likelihood that customers will recommend your business. However, in an ever-changing market, different generations have varying feelings about loyalty programs. Overall, customer service and product quality are the main determinants in whether an individual will be loyal to a brand. That’s not to say that loyalty programs don’t have a value – they do if they’re done right. Nowadays though, consumers want to see programs with more customized and personal offers.
One company that’s especially good at achieving customer loyalty is Amazon. Their loyalty program goes both ways – when customers spend lots of money they get immediate rewards. When devising their loyalty program, Amazon Prime, Amazon listened to customer feedback and addressed their biggest pain point – shipping costs. Prime members pay for their membership but receive a host of benefits, including free shipping and fast delivery.
And this program, which began in February 2005, has resulted in almost 50% of U.S. households being Amazon Prime subscribers where members spend 4.6x more money. Amazon maintains a loyalty program that is increasingly valuable to its members by regularly refining benefits. And it works; more than 80% of Prime members who’ve been part of the program for at least 3 years say they trust that Amazon will treat them as a valued customer.
However, in the ever-changing economic landscape, providing a good experience, product, and/or loyalty program might not be enough to secure customer loyalty. With more than half of millennials saying most loyalty programs are too complicated, a loyalty program might not be the way to go. On top of that, in light of the current pandemic, consumers are less loyal than they’ve ever been. During the COVID crisis, 75% of US consumers have tried new shopping behaviors, and 36% have tried new brands.
Nowadays, the top priorities for customers are: convenience, availability, and value.
Products need to be available – in store and online -, easy to purchase, and with a competitive price. Organizations should make it a point to personalize the experience for each customer with specific product recommendations or unique discounts based on their buying habits. As personalization evolves and matures, organizations can develop stronger relationships with their existing customers while at the same time attracting new ones.
Winter is approaching and Joe needs a new coat. He searches online for the “best winter coats.” He clicks on an image of a coat he likes which brings him to the brand’s website. (Awareness) Joe reads the description and browses other coats. He does some research on other brands he likes, compares prices, materials, and customer reviews. (Consideration) Later, he receives an email with a discount code from one of the sites he visited. Joe likes the idea of saving some money, spurring him to buy from this brand. (Purchase) Joe is happy with the coat – it’s warm and high quality for the price. He snaps a selfie wearing his new jacket and shares it on social media. He recommends the brand for their convenient ordering system, fast shipping time, and quality product for a fair price. Since Joe was so pleased with his purchase, he buys another coat for his son. (Retention & Loyalty)
“You can’t transform something you don’t understand. If you don’t know and understand what the current state of the customer experience is, how can you possibly design the desired future state?”
A customer journey is not the same as a customer journey map or customer journey mapping. A customer journey map is the process of drawing out the journey a customer goes through.
Customer journey maps serve to improve the customer experience by viewing the process from the customer’s perspective.
There are 4 main types of customer journey maps. Each type has a different purpose, and adapted by businesses to fit their industry, goals, and vision.
The three most common are: Current State Journey maps, Future State Journey maps, and Day in the Life Journey maps. There is a fourth, less common type: Service Blueprint Journey maps which we’ll discuss below.
As the name suggests, this type of map helps companies understand how customers are interacting with them right now. It’s used to find out if a customer is unhappy with any part of their experience.
Current state journey maps are one way to customize the customer’s experience from start to finish. It’s like taking an inventory of your pantry before writing your grocery list.
Future state journey maps are designed to predict and create the ideal path for customers. When mapped correctly, this process should benefit both the customer and the business. Future state maps ask the question: how would customers act under certain circumstances?
These maps seek to find how customers actually behave, rather than how it’s thought they should behave. Companies that understand this can better set up their services.
Future state maps are mostly used for:
However, only 26% of businesses use this type of map.
This map helps profile customers by detailing customer activities that are unrelated to the business or brand. It looks at everything customers do, think, and feel in a specific area.
Imagine having a document outlining a day in the life of our dear Jane. It would include things like, she wakes up, checks Instagram and then reads the news. She has a smoothie for breakfast every morning but hasn’t been able to find a good, reliable blender. She feels overwhelmed with the number of options on the market and all the technical jargon in the product descriptions.
Day in the life journey maps examine the customer’s behavior on a day-to-day basis. It includes pain points and how these issues influence their decisions. This information allows businesses to create strategies to integrate their brand into the lives of their customers.
It answers questions like:
Considered a “bonus” map, the service blueprint map brings together the customer journey and the company’s journey. This map is layered with the other types in order to ascertain which systems are required to make the customer experience excellent. These systems may include employees, technology, and best practices.
The service blueprint map enables businesses to predict the future behavior of their customers as well as anticipate their needs, so they can serve them better.
The basic customer journey looks something like this:
(Image source: https://www.bopgun.com/customer-journey-mapping/)
Here you can see part of the customer’s journey and what content they are looking for and interact with:
(Image source: https://blog.hubspot.com/customers/bid/109543/why-your-content-needs-to-be-aligned-with-your-buyers-journey)
Here’s an example of a customer journey map:
(Image source: https://www.ethosplc.com/customer-experience-journey-mapping/ )
Along with internal data sources, companies are now exploring external resources. Combining internal and external sources of information is beneficial in measuring KPIs and creating a more customer-centered experience.
Companies are increasingly mapping out their customer journeys, and those that aren’t – well, they’re planning to. Of the 60% of companies that don’t have a customer journey map, two in five say they’ll develop one in the future. Part of the problem in creating the maps is a lack of awareness across all levels of an organization. Another issue is that maps require frequent updating – since it’s a living document -, which demands a lot of time and resources.
Some companies believe journey mapping will directly affect the bottom line. 81% of organizations that have maps say it’s worth the time while 75% say the financial investment is well worth it.
An interesting note here is that B2B companies are least likely to use journey maps as they witness higher variability in buyer demands, have longer sales cycles, and have detailed knowledge and experience in niche industries, making maps less necessary.
More companies are recognizing the importance of listening to their customers and are launching Voice of the Customer programs. The numbers show that works, with companies who employ VoC programs seeing an increase in revenues of nearly 10 times.
Collecting data through VoC programs can include using:
VoC programs help map the journey of customers by filling the gaps in what customers experience and what they’re saying about the company. It enables companies to measure customer experiences at crucial touch points in real time.
A few other benefits of listing to the VoC include:
In this increasingly technological age, it’s necessary for businesses to be flexible – regularly evaluating a customer’s journey and modifying it to meet the demands of today’s consumer. Organizations should take advantage of disruptive technologies and redefine employee roles to cater to customer success in a meaningful way.
With customers being so involved in the process of researching and finding a customized solution, businesses need to pivot from a point of selling a product to forming and nurturing a customer relationship.
When it comes to creating your customer journey map, there are some things to keep in mind.
Why are you making this journey map? What do you hope to accomplish by creating it? A customer journey map can yield all kinds of insights if you have clearly defined goals set out from the start.
Consider these questions when determining your objectives:
Do you really know who your customers are? Learning about them gives you an advantage. Create a detailed buyer persona – a profile of your typical customer. Check out your analytics to get an idea of who’s currently engaging with you and keep an eye on the competition. Who are they targeting?
Ensure you’ve collected the following information to fully construct a buyer persona before drawing out the rest of your journey map:
Touchpoints can include: landing pages, social media channels, product pages, and calls to action. You need to list all of the ways in which your buyer might interact with your brand during the various stages.
You need to make an inventory list of your available resources to determine what you are missing in order to improve the customer journey. The map will help highlight gaps in service, which can lead to implementing the right tools to better manage customer demands.
Knowing the points where a customer might need to move from self-service to assisted service will make the journey more efficient. Brands can reduce the stress on consumers by connecting touchpoints by using reminders and proactive notifications.
AI and machine learning can make the experience seamless and smooth. Drawing from the data collected, these technologies provide the best path for customers, as well as determine the factors that influence customer interactions with the company. It’s also useful for optimizing operations.
What better way to know what your customers go through than to put yourself in their shoes? Test the journey by taking it, keep detailed notes of the issues and positives that you experience along the way. Try to imagine things from your customer’s perspective. Install analytics if you haven’t yet and gather data – track traffic, engagement, etc.
As we briefly touched on, COVID-19 has significantly impacted the customer journey. Since physical distancing and stay-at-home orders began, online shopping has increased dramatically. This behavior is likely to stay as US consumers plan to continue to shop online after the crisis is over. It’s estimated that 15-30% more buyers will shop online post-COVID.
As mentioned earlier, customer loyalty has taken a hit. Consumers are changing brands at unprecedented rates. Economic pressures, changing priorities, and store closures are causing this switch. “Big, trusted brands” and private labels are experiencing the most growth. Marketers need to rework their strategies to be able to quickly identify when shoppers are moving from one company to another.
Other areas of the customer journey that have been affected are Consideration and Purchase/Decision. More than ever, people want to see strict hygenic policies in place before they’ll make a decision to buy, or even shop at your store. Businesses need to clearly communicate that they’re following proper health protocols.
There’s also evidence that people will continue to prefer contactless purchasing options – curbside pickup, grocery delivery, self-checkout. In fact, 79% of consumers plan to use or increasingly use the self-checkout counter in stores, and 60% intend to continue buying online and picking up their purchases in store. What’s more, Americans are spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 crisis. And they’re spending this time differently. They’re playing games, reading and watching the news, and browsing social media more frequently.
This shift in behavior means the primary way of making potential customers aware of your business is digital marketing. With less foot traffic in malls and shopping centers, there are fewer opportunities to capture your audience through traditional channels, such as signs and flyers.
Businesses should consider the following so they’re aligned with “the next normal”:
TOV, a US based furniture designer and manufacturer, is a business that grew by 200% by mid-April. TOV had sold the majority of their furniture through partners like Wayfair.com and private labels; selling direct to consumers wasn’t really part of their business model. This changed with the onset of the crisis – they had to sell online directly to customers. It presented new customer service challenges; but they adapted, hiring more personnel and investing in marketing programs. The president and founder, Bruce Krinsky, cites the importance of data and measuring metrics in being able to pivot and adjust as market demands dictate.
Well, if you didn’t know what a customer journey was before, you should have a clear idea now. It’s not the same as customer experience. Many companies still haven’t mapped their customers’ journey, but the benefits of doing so are numerous. From cost savings to more effective marketing strategies, understanding what a buyer goes through to discover and purchase from your business gives you the edge over your competitors.
Each of the five stages – Awareness, Consideration, Purchase, Retention, and Loyalty – involves different actions and requires content geared to that phase of the buying cycle. Guiding customers through the process is possible only if a company thoroughly understands its own customer journey. This starts with mapping the journey.
There are special tools to help with mapping. There are also questions that must be asked and answered when drawing out the path your customer takes from the point of becoming aware of your brand to being a loyal customer. You need to know how and when your potential customer finds you, how they conduct product research, and how they feel interacting with your business. The final result reveals gaps and areas for refinement.
However, while technology has greatly impacted how consumers shop and how businesses reach their target audience, the recent COVID crisis has completely shaken the market. It’s more essential now than ever to listen to the customer, stay up to date on trends and technology, and to reform business practices to meet new consumer demands and behavior.
Take a cue from Amazon, as an online shopping platform that employs a premium loyalty program to retain customers and increase sales. Regularly revisit and update your customer journey map to ensure its relevance, since it informs marketing and content tactics and employee roles.
Mapping your customer’s journey provides invaluable insights for your business. It’s especially important to understand what drives your customers and how your business can excel in these unprecedented times of digital transformation and a global pandemic.
For more information on the customer journey and related topics, check out these resources:
Updated: November 10, 2023
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