As discussed in “Consumerism – The Death of the Salesman”, understanding your consumers is a key component of any branding, marketing, or business development strategy. Though this is a common practice that most businesses recognize, understanding the customer journey is what ultimately leads to higher business conversions, and that is the focus of this article.
What is a Customer Journey
The customer journey is a deep understanding of a consumer’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings as they interact with a brand across all digital and analog touch-points. We will discuss the stages that make up the customer journey, however, you must first realize that the customer journey does not begin at the point of sale, it begins the very first time a consumer is made aware of the brand.
A customer journey can be mapped out just like a timeline. Each point of interaction that a consumer has with a brand must be identifiable and have an action plan associated. Let’s face it, if you cannot determine the steps that a consumer takes to become a customer, how is the consumer ever supposed to make it through the sales funnel.
Identifying Customer Journey Touch-Points
Touch-points are not some mythical creature, these are simply the various tangible and non-tangible events that a consumer experiences over time while interacting with your brand. A consumer may hear a radio ad, see a billboard, search on Google, or be referred by a friend. Any of these can and should lead the consumer into the first stage of the customer journey. So why does this matter? This is the first time a consumer is made aware of your brand, and if your brand message and call to action are not clearly defined and easily actionable, how can you expect the consumer to move onto the next stage of their journey.
To identify the customer journey touch-points, you need to physically map out all of the different methods of marketing that you have in place, as well as the steps a consumer goes through before, during, and after the sale. You should be able to compartmentalize each touch-point and see a next step for the consumer. If there is no next step, then there is no action, and if there is no action, there is no sale.
Stages of the Customer Journey
There are five stages of the customer journey; awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy.
The awareness stage is the first point of engagement when the consumer becomes aware of your brand through marketing and word-of-mouth.
When a consumer makes the connection that they have a need, and you have a product or service that may meet that need, they move onto stage two, the consideration stage, and the research begins. At this stage, a consumer is interested and wants to see if you actually have what they need, and the key is to provide educational content to the consumer that shows how your product or service satisfies that need. Be ready though, consumers will assess and compare you with your competition so be sure to have your material in-line with your brand identity, message, value proposition, and differentiation.
Stage three, the purchase stage, is the pivotal moment when the consumer transitions into a customer and makes a purchase. Remember, the reason they are making the purchase is that their perceived value of your product or service satisfies their need more so than the competition. So don’t let them down, an unhappy customer will be much more vocal to their friends and family than a happy customer.
Once you have a customer, you have to keep them, so we move onto the retention stage. Depending on your product or service, this is when you want to reach out to your new customer. Ensure that they are happy with their purchase, offer assistance to help them get started, and try your best to instill a level of brand loyalty. For repeat purchases or renewals, remember that this journey is cyclical and the customer may go back to stage two at the point of renewal, so you must know your product-sales lifecycle.
The last stage is advocacy. This is when your customer spreads the word about their experience with your brand, your product, and your organization. As stated earlier, an unhappy customer will be much more vocal than a happy customer. So having an advocacy strategy in place is critical to deal with criticism and showcase praise.
Identifying your customers’ journey, and understanding your customers’ behaviors, thoughts, and feelings across all digital and analog touch-points is ultimately what leads to higher business conversions. Ensuring that each stage is actionable allows you to analyze the data uncovered, and stakeholders can then make value-driven decisions in branding, marketing, and business development investments. Without data, you are only assuming, and we all know what happens when you (ASS*U*ME).