According to Gartner , the customer journey is a tool that helps business leaders understand the series of connected experiences their customers want and need from their company. These experiences can include the completion of a desired task, such as having an issue resolved by a customer service representative, or simply traversing the journey from prospect to customer to loyal advocate.
If you’re a small-business leader looking for ways to improve customer experience and increase retention, the customer journey is a powerful tool to have in your belt, especially given the rise in popularity of omnichannel customer service. Below, we’ll walk you through some commonly asked questions so you can use the customer journey at its fullest potential.
The customer journey helps business leaders gain perspective on customer experience by putting themselves in their customers shoes for the full duration of the customer lifecycle—in other words, the moment a customer gains awareness of a brand to when they no longer shop with that brand.
Say a potential customer is scrolling through social media and sees one of your ads for a water fountain for her cats. She clicks the link in your bio, which takes her to your website. She gets a pop-up for 10% off her first purchase, so she enters her email address. She buys the water fountain. You send her a thank you email and offer her 25% off for each friend who makes a purchase using her referral link. She refers her friends and continues to purchase other products from your website.
With this example, the customer’s actions give you a sense of her thought patterns, as well as some insight into her interests and motivations. She’s a cat owner, for one. The ad successfully grabbed her attention. She appreciates a discount, and she’s friends with other pet owners. These insights can help inform future marketing emails, or reinforce that your ads are working.
Although each customer interaction went smoothly in this example, that’s not always the case. The customer journey helps you identify which interactions, also known as touchpoints, are resulting in your desired outcomes and which ones could use some work.
Any small-business leader looking to better understand their customer needs would benefit from the customer journey. But if your business is struggling to acquire customers or having to compete with similar businesses, the insights gained from the customer journey can give you a leg up.
With that in mind, there are a few industries that would benefit more from using the customer journey as a tool to enhance customer experience. These industries include:
Consumer goods and services
Recreation and travel
Customers who use these businesses tend to have more options available to them, and may spend more time shopping around before making a purchase. This is why it’s important that small-business leaders from these industries know how to appeal to their customer base and understand their needs.
The five stages of the customer journey are awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy.
The awareness stage refers to the moment an individual becomes aware of your brand. Awareness can happen through word of mouth, a Google search, or an ad, as in the example above.
The consideration stage is where a prospective customer decides whether they want to give you their business. They might browse competitor sites, read reviews, compare price points, or sign up for a trial at this point. They also might add an item to their cart and let it sit there a while.
The purchase stage is when a customer hits “complete purchase.” You can also officially consider them a customer at this point.
The retention stage involves everything you do to keep that customer. Customer retention strategies include implementing a customer loyalty or referral program, soliciting customer feedback through surveys, or revisiting your customer service strategy.
Advocacy is the end goal, where the customer so strongly believes in your product or service that they tell all their friends and continue to be a loyal customer. This stage has the added benefit of lowering your customer acquisition cost, since it doesn’t cost you anything to acquire the prospective customers your existing customers are bringing in through word of mouth.
Of course, not all customer journeys make it to the advocacy stage, or even the purchase stage. In our example above, the cat water fountain could have not met customer expectation. Or perhaps the customer emailed your customer support team with a question that went unanswered. Or, maybe she was never offered a discount in the first place, and went with a competitor brand who did offer a discount.
You can create a customer journey map without software, but it makes the process much easier. Customer journey mapping software is similar to customer relationship management (CRM) or customer experience management software in that it gives you a 360-degree view of the customer experience. It can also track each customer touchpoint and automate marketing and communication tasks.
The image above is from a customer journey mapping tool that allows you to create customer personas  to predict customer behavior and expectations. A customer persona, also known as a buyer persona, allows you to split your customer base into subsets who share similar goals, needs, and motivation factors. For example, if you own a gym, you might create one persona for patrons who come in every day versus more casual customers.
Personas are powerful tools that aid in marketing and customer experience planning, as they offer insight into what customers want and how they will engage. They can be used to design messaging, service experiences, and product features to meet customer needs and expectations.
If you just recently launched your business, you can get away with using sticky notes and a whiteboard to create a customer journey map. But as your business grows, you’ll want to invest in software in order to use customer journey mapping to its fullest potential. Some additional features of journey mapping software that will help your growing business are listed below.
Behavior tracking allows you to monitor data including what the customer is looking at, what’s in their cart, and their previous chat history to identify conversion opportunities and connect at the most effective time.
Conversion funnels enable you to see where customers are abandoning processes such as creating an account or checking out.
Marketing automation lets you send mass emails to customers in a certain subset.
The rise of omnichannel customer service —or the delivery of customer service across multiple customer touchpoints such as telephone, social media, or web chat—has made it more important than ever for businesses to create a seamless customer journey for their client base.
However, Gartner  suggests that this emerging trend has resulted in disconnected customer experiences, and provides the following three recommendations for ensuring the customer journey is at the forefront of your customer service strategy:
Make sure your customer service representatives (CSRs) have the necessary context for customer interactions. Customers usually turn to chatbots and website pages before connecting with a CSR. The CSR needs to know the history of the customer’s journey, particularly when there are multiple dialogues across channels.
Equip agents with the skills to provide customers with seamless experiences. The best voice agents have not always made the best chat/email agents, and vice versa. Train and retrain CSRs when needed.
Only blend synchronous and asynchronous communication channels. For example, it’s not feasible for a CSR to manage a phone call with one customer while engaging in a web chat with another. Phone and email can be blended because a CSR writing an email can be interrupted by a phone call and return to the email afterward.
Again, any business that wants to better understand its customer needs would benefit from the customer journey, particularly as consumer behavior trends toward omnichannel shopping experiences. We encourage you to share this information with fellow leadership, either as a use case for investment in customer journey mapping software, or to propose that your customer service training be updated.
For more information on the customer journey, check out the following blog posts:
Note: The application referenced in this article is cited as an example to show a feature or function in context and is not intended as an endorsement or recommendation.
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