Customer Service

What Is the Customer Journey?

Jul 6, 2022

Understanding customers’ expectations can help you enhance their experience and increase retention. Learn more with this primer on the customer journey.

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Lauren SpillerSr Content Writer
What Is the Customer Journey?

According to Gartner [1], 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.

Why is the customer journey important?

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.

What kinds of businesses most benefit from using the customer journey?

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:

  • Retail

  • Consumer goods and services

  • Hospitality

  • Recreation and travel

  • Professional services

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.

What are the stages of the customer journey?

The five stages of the customer journey are awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy.

Customer-journey-stages

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.

What is a customer journey map?

A customer journey map is a visual aid to help you better understand the customer journey. Customer journey mapping allows you to customize each customer’s experience across all channels.

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.

uxpressia

Image of journey mapping feature from UXPressia

The image above is from a customer journey mapping tool that allows you to create customer personas [2] 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.

Tips for customer journey mapping as you scale your business

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.

What does it look like to implement the customer journey into your customer service strategy?

The rise of omnichannel customer service [3]—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 [4] 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.

Enhance customer experience with the customer journey

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.


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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About the author

Lauren Spiller

Sr Content Writer
Lauren Spiller is a Sr Content Writer at GetApp covering customer service and customer experience with a focus on customer acquisition through SEO. She has an MA in Rhetoric and Composition from Texas State University and has presented her work at the European Writing Centers Association, Canadian Writing Centres Association, and the International Writing Centers Association conferences.

She is currently developing content for a workshop series on SEO writing.
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