The Customer Journey from Beginning to End

Just as contact centers evaluate analytics, customers evaluate the experience support agents deliver. Most importantly, purchase decisions are often made off of those evaluations.

Assuming your customers are happy isn’t enough. You need to know the realities of the experience you’re providing. Often, customers have a different experience with a product or service than the brand expects.

Understanding the beginning-to-end customer journey provides the opportunity to develop a meaningful and intuitive customer journey map.

The True Beginning of the Customer Journey

Figure out exactly where the customer journey begins. For example, an airline may assume that the majority of the customer journey is the same as the physical journey, i.e. when they’re in the air. However, customers know that the journey starts much earlier and ends much later than the flight itself. The customer journey for travelers begins when they’re thinking about where they should go. During the brainstorming and planning stages, they search for information about destinations and travel deals. Airlines, in turn, can provide this information on their blog and in their newsletters. While data may not be able to capture the exact moment when a potential customer is thinking about travel, the airline can make sure that helpful information is there when a person goes looking for it.

Discovering Your Most Important Customers

Who is your brand most appealing to? What do they need in order to meet their immediate goals and then to be satisfied and impressed beyond that? For example, if an airline’s main customer base is made up of business travelers, it’s a given that they need WiFi access and a business lounge. While business travelers may be on a work trip, though, they’re not robots who eat, sleep and breathe their job. Treating business travelers to relaxation (massage chairs in the lounge) and niceties (gourmet in-flight meals) that they may not get once they arrive at their destination makes for an enjoyable and memorable trip.

Customer personas specify the customers that need your focus. Job title alone won’t help with categorization, though. Instead, consider their role as it relates to your brand. For example, if you sell Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), you’ll have several types of customers for each transaction:

  • The marketing manager, who understands why your product is so important.
  • The person in charge of the budget, who makes the ultimate decision about whether or not to spend the money on your product.
  • The head of the IT department, who knows how to use the software.
  • The person who’s going to sign the contract and finalize the purchase.

While each of these people are your customers, they need to be handled differently.

Outlining Customer Stages

Depending on the complexity of your brand, you may have as few as two customer stages or more than twenty. For most brands, the customer journey map follows a basic formula: research, compare, choose and purchase. These four simple stages can be built upon as the map is fine-tuned and expounded.

While the full spectrum of the stages should add up to one complete journey, each customer will not fit neatly into every stage. Some personas will skip entire stages, starting later or ending earlier along the journey than a different type of customer. For example, the marketing manager may be the only person to research SaaS, while the person in charge of the budget may come into the journey toward the end.

Setting Goals Throughout the Customer Journey

In order to create an empathetic customer journey map, brands have to understand what the customer wants to do. For example, when travelers fly, getting to their destination is just one of their goals. They want to get to their destination without changing flights multiple times, without killing time during a long layover and without losing luggage. Beyond that, they would probably also love to travel without being hungry, thirsty or bored. Certain goals are functional (getting to where they’re going as quickly as possible), while other goals are emotional (enjoying the flight instead of wishing for it to end).

Each customer persona and step of the journey has its own goals. Some will overlap and others will differ entirely. The focus should be on meeting the needs of the customer while staying on course to meet the overall goal of the brand. Each goal can be broken down into two aspects:

  1. What does the customer want to accomplish in this stage?
  2. What will help move the customer along to the next stage?

Here are general goals that most customers and brands have during the four main phases of the customer journey:

Research: The customer’s goal is to find interesting and up-to-date solutions that will meet their needs. The brand’s goal is to showcase their thought leadership.

Compare: The customer’s goal is to compare the solutions they find during the research phase in order to narrow the list down to a few front runners. The brand’s goal is to stand out from competitors.

Choose: The customer’s goal is to figure out the brand they most want to work with. The brand’s goal is to be chosen by the customer.

Purchase: The customer’s goal is to make the final decision and select the brand they’ve chosen to work with. The brand’s goal is to have the invoice paid, the contract signed or whatever it takes to close the deal, and to make it easy for the customer to take this step.

Setting Up Touch Points

Today’s customers are setting the trends when it comes to how they’re shopping. From mobile apps to “Buy Now” buttons on social media, it’s important to know the new ways for your company to connect with customers during each stage.

Once you’ve determined the personas, stages and goals to add to the customer journey map, specify the tools that should be available along the way. Here are common touch points that are used during the four main phases of the customer journey:

Research

  • Blog posts
  • Case studies
  • Conferences
  • Newsletters
  • Seminars
  • Webinars

Compare

  • Demos
  • Reviews
  • General pricing sheets
  • Product descriptions
  • Testimonials

Choose

  • Email support
  • Live chat
  • Meetings
  • Phone calls

Purchase

  • Contract explanation
  • Detailed pricing sheet
  • Guide with implementation steps
  • Supporting documentation

Analyze Important Data

Making decisions about the customer journey map shouldn’t be based on hunches and guesswork. Analytics can help you identify stages and touch points you may not have noticed yet as well as show you if what you’ve been doing is working. You’ll also determine how long it takes for customers to pass through each stage of the journey. For example, if the customer is spending more time than expected in the research phase, is this because they can’t find the information they need? Is there additional content you can offer or a different way to deliver that content?

When further developing the customer journey map, figure out the data that’s most important for the customer experience. Long-term goals are more important than short-term successes. Creating a good relationship with customers will pay off down the road. Forcing a sale may bring more cash flow at the moment, but could be a turn-off to customers and prevent them from returning.

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