Journeys Aren't Straight Lines
Do you remember the time you went on a cross-country road trip and everything went perfectly? There was no traffic, there was no construction, you never got lost, you never had a flat tire, you drove straight through without ever having to stop, and there definitely wasn’t a time when you had to pull over so that someone could vomit out of the side of the car.
Of course you don’t! A long journey is never smooth and it’s always unpredictable. There will be starts and stops, U-turns, moments of indecision and doubt, and at some point you will want to give up.
Is this an accurate description of what most families experience when they take a long trip? Yes. But it’s also a good description of “the customer journey”.
What is the Customer Journey?
The customer journey is the story of all the interactions a person has and the subsequent decisions they make regarding a company's product or service. These occur before, during, and after a purchase is made.
When a company has a better understanding of the path customers are taking with their product, they can learn what improvements are needed to reduce friction.
Customer Journey Stages
Most people had crushes in high school, and the question they would often ask themselves was, “Does this person even know I exist?” If a relationship was ever going to form, the person you had a crush on had to be aware of your existence.
Similarly, if a company wants to sell their product or service to a customer, that customer first has to be aware the company exists. The most common ways for this to happen are through ads, blog posts, or word-of-mouth advertising.
These initial touchpoints are crucial, as a customer’s first impression of a company or product forms the foundation for all future interactions. This is where a company will want to make sure their branding is on point and their messaging is clear and consistent.
Back to your high school crush. If they were aware of your existence, then the next stage that would occur would be them considering a relationship with you. They might say something like, “What do you like to do for fun?” to figure out if you’re the right fit for them.
Customers go through the same consideration process with companies and their products. They will research and look for information, often via websites, reviews, or videos, to see if it’s right for them. In this stage, a company really wants to focus on providing valuable content and helpful information that will guide the customer in making a decision. It's also a good time to show off any unique selling points or differentiators that set their brand apart from the competition.
If you really want to know where you stand with your crush, you ask them out.
For a company that really wants to know where they stand with a potential customer, this is the stage where they find out. After doing research, comparing companies to each other, and possibly talking to a sales rep, a customer decides whether or not to buy.
If a customer chooses not to buy at this time, that may end their journey with a particular company. However, it's also possible they will return to the previous stage of consideration and weeks, months, or sometimes even years later come back to the decision stage with a different answer.
When you start dating someone, there’s a period of time in which you’re still getting to know each other, even though you’re officially together. In those first few dates, you learn some of their tendencies and how they operate as a person.
The onboarding stage of the customer journey is closely related to this. This is where, as a customer begins using a company’s product or service, they might need some help getting set up, or they might need to learn how to use it. Whatever the case, the company wants to make sure they have a great experience during this period.
If you’ve been dating someone for a while, and you really like them, you need to make sure you’re doing things to keep them in the relationship. Maybe you take them on a surprise trip or give them a card “just because”. The goal is to keep them happy and secure the relationship.
Companies feel this way about customers too. Often referred to as the retention stage, this is where increasing customer satisfaction and engagement reigns supreme. A company might offer a customer special deals, or might send them a survey to get their feedback. Whatever the case, they want to make sure the customer is still happy with the brand.
How do you know if your partner is really happy with you and the relationship? They tell other people about how amazing you are! It’s one thing if they admit in private that they love you, but when they want to shout it from the rooftops, you’ve done something right.
The advocacy, or loyalty, stage of the customer journey is really no different. This is where the customer becomes a loyal, raving fan. They might leave a review, tell their friends about a company’s brand, or even write a blog post. Whatever the case, they're now an advocate for that company, and they're helping them to attract new customers.
Customer Journey Management
Every company knows what the stages of the customer journey are, but not all of them are good at managing them. Customer journey management is the process of creating and managing the entire experience a customer has with a company from the first time they hear about it, to the final purchase, and beyond. It's all about making sure that every touchpoint with the brand is a positive, seamless experience.
- Happy customers = return customers/loyal customers
- Return customers/loyal customers = more money
- Unhappy customers = a PR nightmare (social media amplifies this)
Customer journey management starts with understanding your customer: Who are they? What are their pain points? What are they looking for? Once you have a clear picture of your customer, you can then map out their journey with your company. To do this well, a company needs to have a process in place for designating the team that handles each stage of the journey.
Responsibilities by Team
Each company is different, but in general:
- Awareness Stage: handled by marketing team
- Consideration Stage: handled by both the marketing and sales teams
- Decision Stage: handled by the sales team
- Onboarding Stage: handled by the customer support/success team
- Retention Stage: handled by the customer support/success team
- Advocacy/Loyalty Stage: not necessarily handled by an internal team
Touchpoints and Metrics
Next, it's all about optimizing those customer journey touchpoints. This can mean anything from streamlining a website which makes it easy for customers to navigate, to training the customer service team to handle complaints with a smile (even if it’s fake!). It's all about making sure that every interaction with the brand is a positive one.
It’s also vital to measure and analyze customer behavior. This means tracking metrics such as satisfaction, bounce rates, and conversion rates. Companies can use this customer data to constantly improve and optimize the journey.
Creating the Ultimate Customer Journey
When people are describing a long and arduous trip, they will often say, “It was a journey”. The last thing a company wants is for this to be the experience of their prospective and current customers.
Streamline processes by breaking down silos among teams, and decrease friction through optimizing operational gaps in the customer journey.