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What is the customer journey?

The ‘customer journey’ has become a bit of a buzzword in customer service and marketing circles, but a helpful one. It refers to the entire customer experience a consumer has with any one business – from the very first time they hear about the business right through to enjoying a product or service post-purchase or choosing to not purchase and going elsewhere.

Each interaction that a consumer has with a business – be it reactive or proactive or passive – is known as a ‘touchpoint’. Understanding a customer journey and each touchpoint along the way allows for businesses to improve their service offerings and the overall customer experience.

Delving deeper into the likes of online shopping behaviour, consumer psychology, customer perceptions and expectations as well as their lived experiences with brands can help inform, enhance and advance business decisions moving forward. This research will help brands to learn and grow into a business that prioritises customer retention.

Why should businesses map their customer journey?

Many businesses choose to map out their customer journeys. This gives clear visibility of all possible touchpoints and brand interactions, making it easier to identify areas for improvement, areas for continuity and areas for concern.

Mapping a customer journey is usually completed visually. Writing out every point at which a consumer can be exposed to or interact with a brand maps out the journey from the very first time they come across the brand, product or service and displays the multitude of opportunity for positive brand perception and experience.

There are very few instances where a purchase is made without any prior interaction or knowledge of a brand and so mapping out the customer journey proves all of the steps and potential steps that can be taken to build a relationship with consumers; and to develop it from transactional to strategic.

The customer journey: touchpoints

Taking on the persona of a target customer, imagine every point at which they may have an interaction or passive observation of the brand. This can be anything from seeing a social media advert to receiving a targeted personalised email or coming across the business’ website when searching for something online.

Once each touchpoint has been identified, more information can be added to them. Businesses should analyse:

  • Customer actions – the actions the customer is likely to take from this point. What is the typical consumer behaviour when at this point? Is there more than one?
  • Customer motivations – the motivations or incentives that have got them to this point, as well as what could influence them to move them further down the desired customer route or elsewhere
  • Customer questions – are there any points at which they may have questions to ask of the brand, product or service? Can these be answered without them taking further action?
  • Customer obstacles – is there anything in the way of them progressing further down a strategic customer route at this point?

Unless all customer touchpoints are perfect (hint: they won’t be), this will highlight areas for improvement or testing; as well as any unnecessary touchpoints that may be wasting internal resource.

The customer journey: touchpoints that can’t be controlled

Not all touchpoints along the customer journey can be influenced by the business they relate to – and although that can be difficult to navigate, it’s OK! Brand interactions can happen pre- or post-purchase that are completely outside of the business’ control, and these should be included in customer journey mapping, but can be managed in other ways. This is where the discipline of Online Reputation Management can be utilised to better curate an external brand image.

The customer journey: next steps

Once the customer journey has been mapped out and thoroughly understood and investigated, improvements can begin to be implemented. Understanding consumer behaviour and modifying brand interactions and touchpoints to better nurture the journey in the desired direction can ultimately increase custom and profits.

Changes don’t need to be implemented immediately based on assumptions and there may be instances where testing can identify tweaks rather than full shifts in approach. If potential improvements aren’t obvious, these can be easily highlighted by speaking directly to customers who have undergone (or are currently undergoing) the customer journey. Indeed, direct communication can be helpful even in instances where there are already notable action points – as those external to a business almost always hold different perspectives and perceptions of it to those internally.

Customer journeys encompass every opportunity that a business has to ‘do good’ and deliver a positive experience to those who use it. They should not be underestimated nor under-resourced in their investigations – and, in truly putting the customer journey under focus, a business can rest assured it is doing everything it can to meet the needs (and wants) of those it looks to serve.

Infographic created by Clover Network – retail pos systems