Companies have been mapping their customer journeys for many years.  But dig beneath the surface and it is often the case that we are mapping what we think customers are doing – or even what we wished they were doing if they followed the ‘happy path’ we have designed. But as behavioral science has proven, we are not a rational species. What customers actually do is often very different from what we think they do, or wished they would.

Brands need to analyze and explore the journey that customers embark on when they buy specific products. During the pandemic external events led to significant changes in customer behavior (and consequently customer experiences), depending on how quickly and successfully brands were able to adapt and respond. 

This brought into sharp focus the importance of understanding what customers are actually doing across a journey. So how can companies change how they look at customer journeys, and adopt a more strategic approach to designing and improving them?

An important question is where the journey begins and ends. This is very closely related to the ability of brands to build a closer relationship with their customers and especially the ability to measure customer lifetime value (CLV).

For example, a new Nissan customer may have been a fan of the brand since their parents used a Nissan when they were a child. The customer journey actually begins long before any advertising or marketing campaign may have influenced the consumer and long before an actual purchase. In this case, the customer journey is also not completed when a purchase takes place, because the brand wants to maintain an ongoing relationship that will eventually lead to an additional purchase.

A simple analogy that explains this subset of the customer lifecycle is the difference between buying a house and applying for a mortgage. The process of researching schools, hospitals, the local area, and then searching for a house all precedes a mortgage application and the financial transaction involved in purchasing a house. But even after moving in, there will be address changes, decorating, and new furniture to be purchased.

So we can see why it is critical that we look at the customer journey big picture, buying a house vs. applying for a mortgage. But we also need to recognize that when designing and improving customer journeys, it’s still important to drill down to look at the specific element of the journey relating to buying and using products and services. We need to design the Mortgage application journey as a subset of the home-buying journey.

The customer has a mission. They have a goal. They want to buy a specific product and the journey begins when they start on that mission. Everything that takes place from the moment they begin that mission, to the moment they are satisfied, is the customer journey we will explore. 

Taking this much broader view of a customer journey may reveal opportunities for innovation, for example new products and services that we might introduce at points in the journey value-chain, outside of where we currently play.

Defining The Customer Journey

When looking at customer journeys it is not uncommon for businesses to focus almost exclusively on touchpoints: those moments where the organization and customer interact with each other. 

This includes all correspondence, self-service tools, including FAQ articles and chatbots, and support via frontline staff. These are a critical part of any journey, but they’re not the entire story. 

In our work with clients, our view of customer journey mapping includes everything that happens prior-to, during, and after an individual touchpoint. The resources, processes, and systems an organization deploys along the journey (many of which may be invisible to the customer) can have a significant impact on their experience of it.

From the business’s perspective the goal of (re)designing any customer journey is to reduce inefficiency and wastage, whilst simultaneously removing friction and effort for the customer. However, to truly define the customer journey in detail requires a multi-dimensional approach. There are four dimensions of effort that a customer will encounter and they are all distinct:

Physical Effort: how many steps and tasks, physical and digital, does the customer need to carry out to complete the journey?

Cognitive Effort: how complex or confusing is it for the customer? Are the instructions easy to follow? Are the terms and conditions confusing? How complex is it to set up and use the product or service itself?

Emotional Effort: how does the experience of engaging with the brand (along the journey) leave the customer feeling? Does it lead to negative emotions such as frustration, annoyance or disappointment?

Time Effort: What is the total elapsed time from start to finish of the journey? Was it or did it seem slower than the customer anticipated at the outset?

Every customer journey occurs against the backdrop of individual expectations. Expectations are formed of personality, experiences, and perception. Our satisfaction with experiences across a customer journey are informed by whether or not it was better or worse, harder or easier than we were expecting.

This is an important consideration and has often been called ‘the Amazon effect’ by business journalists. Innovations such as the one-click checkout were introduced in the nineties. Amazon has been improving the customer experience for so long that their approach has created a consumer expectation across many other industries. Amazon has even managed to productize convenience through their Prime service. Customers paying an annual subscription can filter on products that offer rapid delivery to Prime customers.

Factors that influence expectations, over which you can exercise a higher degree of control include:

  • Brand Experience: How you position yourself, what you say, and how you conduct yourself as a brand all influence customer expectations. Luxury, premium or value for money. Traditional or innovative, white-glove or self-service.
  • Product: The product may be simple or complex. It may be cheap or expensive. All this also feeds into the expectation of the consumer. Did the product or service meet my expectations, in terms of features, quality, ease of use etc?
  • Customer Experience: How am I treated as a customer? How easy is it to get support and how quickly do you resolve my questions? How do you respond when things go wrong? How do you make me feel valued as a customer?

The Outcomes From A Good Customer Journey

The target outcome for a customer journey is to meet, or exceed the customer’s expectations. This doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘delighting’ them. If a customer describes their experience of a journey as quick, simple, and delivering the outcome they wanted, then we can view this as success.

Customer loyalty is not just the ability to drive repeat business. It is about creating a strong emotional connection between the brand and the customer that will be maintained even when facing competition from rival brands. Loyalty usually takes time to develop, and the primary driver will be experience of the brand on a positive customer journey.

The key aspects of customer loyalty that will resonate with any board executive are:

  • Repeat business: Loyal customers frequently return to make additional purchases. They also tend to increase their spend over time, often becoming major sources of revenue for a company.
  • Resistance to the competition: Loyal customers are less likely to switch to a competitor, even if the competitor offers similar products or services at lower prices. This is because the value they derive from their preferred brand, including emotional satisfaction, outweighs the financial savings they might gain elsewhere.
  • Forgiveness when mistakes happen: If a company makes a mistake, loyal customers are more likely to forgive them and continue doing business with them. The bar for a customer to consider switching is much higher. Mistakes will always happen, so this is an important consideration.

Customer advocacy is distinct from loyalty and is even harder to achieve. Some customers may remain apparently loyal out of inertia – they have all their details on your site and it works well enough for them to not consider moving to an alternative.

In contrast, advocacy goes a step further. This is when a customer actively promotes or recommends a brand, product or service to others. This can be to people known to them, for example friends, family, colleagues etc. it can also take place publicly to people they have never met, for example posting a review on Trustpilot or TripAdvisor.

Advocacy is extremely valuable and is hard to achieve because it relies on customers valuing a brand so highly that they will stake their own personal reputation on it by recommending the company, or product, to their own friends and family.

In summary, a complete awareness of the journey your own customers undertake is critical when building a customer-focused strategy. When taken in the context of customer lifetime value, this focus on the customer journey is really about building a closer, more productive, and more valuable relationship.

Drilling down into the journey – from stepping into a store to walking out as a satisfied customer – does allow a stronger focus on the critical segment of the journey. If you don’t make the sale then you can’t build a long-term relationship with a satisfied customer anyway.

Manage and understand your customer expectations and then explicitly consider the actions that will influence future loyalty and advocacy if you want to successfully manage your future customer journeys.


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