There are many components to a successful business, but one of the most important has to be your customers. No matter how good your product or solution is, you’re not going to stay in business long without satisfied customers.
To ensure that you understand your customers and are meeting their needs as effectively as possible, you’ll need to know the customer journey.
This article will look at what is meant by the term “customer journey”, how you can identify the customer journeys taking place in your business and how they can be used to optimize your sales and marketing efforts.
What does customer journey mean?
The customer journey (also known as the buyer’s journey) is the complete process customers go through when interacting with your brand. From awareness to purchase and beyond, businesses will often use a customer journey map to get a visual representation of every touchpoint along this decision-making journey.
The customer journey often focuses on the steps a new customer goes through to make an initial purchase, but it can also be used to track behaviors and actions throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
These insights provide you with a better understanding of your customers, their behaviors and actions while engaging with your company. With data in hand, you can reduce friction points, optimize what’s working to improve the customer experience and, ultimately, increase sales and decrease churn.
As an added bonus, studying the customer’s journey often allows you to make improvements and reduce unnecessary steps in the process, leading to lower costs.
Provide relevant experiences at every touchpoint with research
Data-driven research allows you to understand your customers and the jobs they need to do on a deeper level, so you can align the user experience with their needs and help them achieve their business goals.
Create accurate buyer personas
Before you can start the customer journey mapping process, you first have to understand who your customer is. Customers are more than just an account number – they have their own goals and objectives, with different concerns, motivations, challenges and roadblocks to overcome.
If you don’t already have buyer personas in place, now’s the time to establish them.
For example, suppose you sell accounting software to small business owners. As part of your customer personas, you’ll want to record relevant demographic and firmographic information to ensure you’re targeting and talking to the right people. This information can include details such as:
Where they’re based
What industry they work in
How many people they work with
How much they or their company earns
However, to lay the foundation for your customer journey, you’ll need to know more than just the who – you’ll also need to know the why. For example, say you work for a company that develops and sells accounting software. You should consider:
Why do they want to buy accounting software?
Why would they choose your solution over the competition?
Why is it a priority now?
Go beyond the obvious “to manage their accounting” and try to uncover the underlying motivations.
For example, maybe your buyers are looking to attract investors and need to understand their finances, or they’ve been using spreadsheets and calculators and the company has grown beyond that. Maybe the tax person is causing problems, investors are complaining or they can’t understand where the money is going in their business.
This might seem like unnecessary information; after all, what difference does it make why a customer buys, as long as they buy? However, those motivations are integral to the way they experience that customer journey. Knowing the “why” allows you to tailor the journey to the customer’s needs.
To continue with our example, if your buyers are worried about tax, ensuring information about filing tax returns is readily and easily available will make their journey more pleasant. On the other hand, if your customers want a better understanding of how money is being spent, then you can use your marketing and onboarding emails to highlight features that categorize spending.
Using different forms of research for a complete picture
Your buyer personas, as well as every other aspect of the customer journey, need to be based on facts, not imagination. By using a combination of both quantitative and qualitative research, you’ll get a deeper understanding of your customer behavior.
Quantitative research is all about the numbers, revealing detailed information about your customers’ actions. For example, Google Analytics can tell you how many people visit your site, how long they spend there and how they move from point A to B.
Quantitative research can also be survey-based, using metrics such as customer satisfaction (CSAT) and net promoter score (NPS) to collect customer feedback.
Qualitative research is ideal for finding out how your target audience feels, giving you insights into customer emotions and motivations in ways that can’t be expressed in a numeric survey. Interviews give you a chance to hear about the journey in the voice of the customer, while social media and review sites can uncover more details about their pain points.
Customer-facing team members, such as salespeople, customer success and customer support teams, are also a valuable resource of qualitative data, as they can share first-hand how customers react at different points in the journey.
Identifying all your customer touchpoints
While you might imagine your customers taking the most direct route, in reality, the customer journey is rarely linear. Your job is to identify the complete journey from beginning to end.
Market research helps you make educated guesses. For example:
Google Analytics can show you what pages a customer visits before making a purchase or attempting to solve a problem.
Surveys can help you uncover what steps people took to carry out a particular action
User testing gives you real-time insights into consumer behavior
Not all touchpoints will take place on your website or involve direct contact. For example, potential customers may first become aware of your product through Facebook ads, search for mentions on social media, then look you up on a review site, all before they visit your site.
For each stage in the customer’s journey, identify what the person is doing, why they’re doing it, and how they feel about it. Your customers are living, breathing people, not robots following an algorithm.
Each journey is unique, but, broadly speaking, all touchpoints will take place within five key stages.
Here’s one of the customer journey examples a SaaS company might have:
Awareness. Jane gets a reminder that the tax return for her business will soon be due. She hates filing tax returns and is always worried that she’ll get something wrong and end up with a massive fine. She starts looking for solutions using a search engine, where she sees paid adverts for accounting SaaS software and a blog post with a roundup of top tax return solutions. She also asks her network on LinkedIn for recommendations.
Consideration. Jane looks up the companies on a trusted review website, paying close attention to those that mention compliance with tax returns. She then visits the company websites and searches the product and blog pages for any mention of tax compliance. She arranges demos with the three companies that best meet her needs.
Decision. After evaluating her options, Jane decides to go with the top-rated solution. She replies to a follow-up email from the rep who handled the sales demo and confirms she’s interested in purchasing and requests an invoice. When the invoice arrives, she phones up to make a credit card payment.
Retention. Post-purchase, Jane is onboarded and walked through setting up the software to suit her needs. However, she gets an error message when she tries to use the software to submit her tax return. She searches the support section of the website, but there are no results for the specific error message she’s seeing. She sends an email to the support team, who reply within two hours. Once they resolve the issue, Jane submits her tax return in record time. When it’s time to renew her plan, she receives an email reminder and a special offer to upgrade to the annual plan at a reduced rate.
Advocacy. After being prompted by an in-app notification, Jane happily shares a positive review of the software on a popular review site. When peers in her network mention their fear of tax returns, Jane shares her positive experience.
These stages will look a little different depending on your business model. For example, with eCommerce, retention is more likely to focus on repeat purchases. A brick-and-mortar store will have to look at the customer’s physical journey, such as how long it takes them to travel to the store, parking facilities and nearby competitors.
If you’re struggling to document the journey, you can use a simple customer journey map template to ensure you include all the key points. Complete one of these for each of your customer segments, as they will all approach the journey and experience it differently.
Customer journey template
Monitor your customer journey to maximize satisfaction
A map is only valuable if you use it correctly to navigate to your destination. Similarly, knowing the different customer journey stages is only worthwhile if you use it to improve your processes.
Improving the overall customer journey
As you’ve compiled your customer journeys, you’ve likely seen both positive and negative aspects. Rather than brushing any issues under the carpet, your job is to find ways to eliminate or reduce them.
For example, your customer journey analytics might show that a significant number of potential customers spend a short amount of time on the product page before navigating away from the site, never to return. Clearly, this is a problem, but why is this happening?
Rather than guessing, examine your research to diagnose the issue. In this case, customer interviews and walking through the process yourself might reveal that the page is slow to load, doesn’t contain necessary information or isn’t displayed correctly on mobile devices.
By identifying the exact point where customers are most likely to give up on the journey, you can use your resources effectively to make the necessary changes.
Using the customer journey to optimize marketing
Prospective customers often carry out their initial research before contacting a supplier. For example, Gartner found that B2B buying groups spend 27% of their time independently conducting research online.
Marketing teams need to create content for the top of the sales funnel in the form of ads, articles and social media posts that answers the most common questions.
By thinking in terms of the customer journey, marketers can create relevant content for each stage of the process. Middle-of-funnel content can help prospects evaluate your product against the competition, while bottom-of-funnel content can give them the information they need to make a decision. This can then be sent directly to the customer as part of an email marketing strategy or shared with sales as part of your sales enablement program.
Using the customer journey to optimize sales
Your salespeople are usually the first point of contact for potential customers. As such, your sales team should have a thorough understanding of the customer and their journey.
Sales will usually be primarily involved in the consideration and decision phases, nurturing leads from the marketing team until they’re ready to close the deal.
To surpass customer expectations, you’ll need to know and optimize each touchpoint. For example, if customers are finding your sales demos aren’t relevant to them, then concentrate your efforts on better tailoring the demo to the prospect. If certain questions keep coming up in the initial touchpoints, a content library of relevant material might reduce friction.
This information could also be used to improve your personalized emails and phone scripts, giving customers the exact information they need to move on to the next stage.
Create an ongoing commitment to customer experience
Changes, both in your customers’ lives and in the way you carry out your business, can all have a significant impact on the customer journey.
The pandemic had a massive impact on global business and the way we shop. McKinsey reported that digital interactions with sales reps became an increasingly popular way of selling products in 2020, with a 41% rise in video conferencing and a 23% rise in online chat. Some of these changes will be permanent, while others are only temporary. To find out the difference, you’ll need to regularly talk to your customers.
In addition to such global events, other smaller changes are happening all the time that may still be significant to your customers. New technology, changing prices and new competitors can all have an impact on the customer journey.
However often you’re able to review your customer journey, whether that’s monthly or quarterly, take the time to review what’s going on in your business and with your customers. Although this takes effort, the results will allow you to continue optimizing your processes for the customer.
The customer journey is more than just a roadmap of different touchpoints between you and your customer. Done correctly, your customer experience map will give you deeper insights into how customers engage with your company. Out of this understanding, you’ll be able to create processes that prioritize the customer’s end-to-end experience.
By carrying out thorough research into your customers, their objectives and their pain points, you can use those insights to streamline the process and remove any unnecessary friction, leading to more sales, greater customer satisfaction and less churn