What do customers want? How do they find your business? What motivates them? These are all questions that business owners must ask themselves in one form or another. In doing so, they create a picture in their mind of their customer so that they can serve their needs. This exercise in empathy is called the customer journey, and it’s a hot, hot, hot concept right now.
In this article, we discuss what a customer journey is, why it matters, and how you can visualize it. From there, you can use these powerful insights to improve your business by putting your customers’ needs first.
First things first, let’s define “customer journey.” Survey Monkey’s definition is pretty good, so we’ll start with that. “The customer journey is the complete sum of experiences that customers go through when interacting with your company and brand. Instead of looking at just a part of a transaction or experience, the customer journey documents the full experience of being a customer.”
“Okay,” you might be saying, “that’s a pretty broad definition.” It’s that way for a reason. All customers are seeking to meet certain needs when they make a decision to buy a good or service. Some needs are very basic such as hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. Other needs are very abstract like a need for social status, creative freedom, or self-actualization.
As an exercise, the customer journey allows us to imagine our customers as heroes overcoming the demands of their needs. Think of every situation where a customer will interact with your brand – your website, social media, customer service desk, feedback surveys, your store, and so on.
Take Fulfillrite’s customer journey, for example. Many people find us by searching for fulfillment companies online. They land on our website, which explains our services. Then they request a quote, and someone from the support team follows up. From there, they have a consultation about the potential client’s needs, and we determine whether or not Fulfillrite is a good fit.
When onboarding new clients, we provide instructions on how to send inventory to us, set them up in the Client Dashboard, and provide assistance integrating their systems with ours. They subscribe to our weekly emails and hear from us frequently there, and eventually send us feedback through one of the periodic surveys we send.
This journey can play out a number of ways. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. The point is to imagine this experience for your customers so that you better understand what they are going through. This lets you find better ways to address their needs!
If this reminds you of the concept of customer experience, that’s no coincidence. Customer journeys and customer experience are closely related concepts. You want the customer journey to be a productive one, so as the business, you must facilitate a smooth customer journey.
As poetic as the customer journey concept may be, it suffers from the same issue that many disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and liberal arts run into. It’s really important, but explaining why can seem difficult.
So let’s bring it down to earth and talk about real, tangible business benefits that come from mapping out your customers’ journeys.
It’s virtually impossible to discuss customer journeys without also discussing customer journey mapping. This practice allows you to create a visual representation of the customer journey. It will help you to find touchpoints; identify customer actions, motivations, and questions; and to identify obstacles.
This is not an entirely new concept either. Indeed, this article from Harvard Business Review shows that customer journey maps have been in use for over 10 years. Mapping customer journeys is not a fad – it’s an effective, tested, thought-out way to make your customers happier so that they will buy more.
So with all of the above in mind, how do you go about mapping out a journey that is unique to your customers? As we see it, there are seven basic steps.
As with all business initiatives, you should begin with the end in mind. What exactly are you trying to solve by creating this map? Think about your business objectives as a whole, whether they are focused on customer satisfaction, increasing revenue, or something else entirely.
For some people, it helps to imagine customers as having different personas. These are fake customers who share a lot in common with your typical customer (or your desired customer). Some people find it easier to imagine a fictional customer when creating their map.
Naturally, your analysis at the end of the creation of the map will depend on your goals. If you are trying to satify customers, you want to find things that dissatisfy customers or, alternatively, could be tweaked to bring customers unexpected joy. Likewise, if you’re seeking revenue, you need to identify places where customers are losing interest and failing to purchase. Alternatively, you need to find opportunities to upsell and remove obstacles toward doing so. You get the idea!
Considering your own goals is necessary, of course, but this map is really about your customer. Imagine what they want out of your company. Sometimes you have a good sense of what customers want without asking questions. Other times, you need to do additional marketing research.
Understanding your customers’ goals stems from building relationships with them. Ask them what they’re trying to do, what they expect, and where they are getting stuck. When asking questions, do so informally through natural conversation and formally through surveys. Be sure to read online reviews and customer service correspondence, as well. Often what you find will be eye-opening and will help you to empathize with the customer.
For many people, it helps to imagine customers not just as an abstract entity, but as fictional people. In order to do so, many businesses choose to create customer personas, each of whom undergoes their own customer journey.
Imagine five or six different people, each of whom come to your company for different reasons. Think long and hard about what spurred them to research your industry and find you in the first place. Then create a narrative around them, describing them as if they were a character in a book.
Still tough to get your head around this idea? That’s okay. HubSpot has a wonderful free resource for creating customer personas, which you can find here.
At this stage of the process, you want to identify touchpoints. That is to say, you want to come up with a list of all the different times your customers and potential customers will interact with your brand. Here is a list to get you started:
This is not an exhaustive list, either. Branding looms large in society, and customers can interact with your brand in more ways than you can likely count.
At this point, you want to start mapping out customer journeys. How you do this depends on your goals, but at a minimum, you want to map out the current customer journey and your desired customer journey.
There is no standard process that must be followed when mapping out your customers’ journeys. Indeed, some people do so by writing a story of how a customer comes to find a company in prose. Others draw it as a diagram.
To show you what just one example looks like, here is a customer journey, written in prose, borrowed from CrazyEgg:
A young woman is surfing the web for a dress, and your website catches her eye. She has never heard of your brand, but her attention is immediately grabbed by how neat everything looks.
The drop-down menu on the women’s clothing landing page is easy to click on and search.
There’s an option for price ranges (she doesn’t want to spend a fortune), and she also has the choice to click on the clearance box. Each product is fully described and includes measurements for different countries, materials used, and care instructions.
When the customer chooses the perfect dress, she quickly checks out and decides to sign up with a new customer account because she liked the experience so much.
She bookmarks the website for future reference. This is the time when you collect her email address or zip code for marketing purposes. You should also ask her to fill out an online survey once she’s received her first order.
The customer is so happy with her first purchase that she shares photos with her friends on social media. In her post on Instagram, she mentions your store and how easy-to-use your website was.
As simple as it sounds, most companies, once they’re established, do not take the time to experience their business as their customers do. Take a few hours to play-act as a customer, find your company, and make a purchase. See what the experience is like. Does it live up to the desired customer journey? If not, ask yourself where it falls short and how you can correct this.
After you experience the customer journey firsthand, update your map to reflect information you gained in the process. It’s possible, and even likely, that in your first pass, you omitted steps from the customer journey map. It’s very easy to do.
By going back and filling in the blanks, you turn this from being an intellectual exercise to being a practical one. Your customer journey map will reflect the real experiences of your customers, and not merely what you expect their experiences to be.
Understanding the customer journey is the ultimate exercise in empathy. Spending time thinking about the experiences your customers have helps you understand how your business interacts with them. This makes it easy to identify areas for improvement so that you can continue to please your customers and thrive as a business!