Understanding the Customer Journey: What, When, Why and How

Louisa Thistlethwaite

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    Creating an unrivalled customer experience is an aspiration of every organisation today but how to achieve this? The customer journey has long since been looked upon as a lens for experiential examination - but should you get on board the bandwagon? And what can you gain from doing so?

    What is the ‘Customer Journey’?

    The phrase ‘customer journey’ describes each and every encounter a customer has when interacting with your brand or service; these may be direct or indirect. The journey includes purchase experiences of course, but it extends beyond that – right from the early moments where a customer becomes aware of your brand to their post-purchase experience, any loyalty creation efforts you employ and ultimately, brand advocacy. It is important to note that the customer journey of every organisation is unique.

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    "It is important to note that the customer journey of every organisation is unique"

    The Traditional Customer Journey

    Traditionally, businesses have taken a touch-point approach to understanding the customer journey. This means identifying key points of customer interaction (i.e. marketing materials, point-of-sale, support episodes, etc.) and measuring/monitoring the effectiveness of them. Metrics on each are used to identify problem areas and initiate positive change.

    While the intention here may be to develop overall customer experience, it can be argued that this approach does the opposite. Firstly, the touch-points are defined by the organisation, in terms of their goals, not the customer. So what if these touch-points aren’t the ones that really matter to the customer?

    Secondly, you are at risk of bulking all of your customers into one bag – one bag; one set of touch-points; one order; one journey. This ignores every essential nuance of the journeys followed by differing personas: details which are the difference between a good customer experience and an exceptional one.

    And finally, what you are looking at with this approach is a snap-shot of performance from each touch-point as a single independent entity - what if the experience you are creating at one point isn’t matched by the experience at another? What is the knock on effect?

    The End-to-End Customer Journey

    The strength of the ‘end-to-end customer journey’ approach is its recognition that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. A customer does not view their experiences with a brand as a discrete set of unconnected interactions – judging each on their merits - it is a cumulative experience; with each new interaction re-shaping their opinion. From this perspective, it becomes imperative to manage the relationship holistically, not as isolated elements – as at any one time a negative communication could stop a customer in their tracks.

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    "The end-to-end customer journey approach recognises that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts"

    In seeing the customer journey as a dynamic continuum a new perspective on meaningful customer engagement and heightened customer experience can be brought. I am not suggesting you forget touch-points, far from it. But rather let your customers tell you what they are, i.e. introduce customer intelligence at the process outset – as opposed to the midpoint – and be aware that the connections between touch-points are equally as important as the touch-points themselves.

    Understanding the End-to-End Customer Journey

    So how do you go about understanding the end-to-end customer journey? Customer journey mapping is both a popular and effective method. Briefly, personas of key customer groups are created, the stages of their journey are mapped and the various touch-points within each stage identified. The key characteristic – mapping is fuelled by the customer.

    Once the customer journey map has been established, it’s time to determine to what extent the current customer experience is meeting the customer expectation, where improvements can be made and what these improvements are. Customer needs, motivations, actions and barriers to action should be considered at each stage of the customer journey. What motivated that persona to perform that action for instance? What need does it satisfy? What would motivate them to move to the next stage of the journey? What obstacles might they face?

    Primary research using qualitative methodologies is a necessity in understanding the end-to-end customer journey if you don’t want to risk making assumptions about your customers. Big data certainly has a place in customer journey mapping but it is limited to the journey stages, i.e. what your customer groups are doing and when. Qual is what tells you why they are doing it and this is where business is won or lost.

    Online research diaries, VoC communities and interviews all have the capability to provide the rich insights required if conducted correctly. They give the customer an outlet to share their thoughts on, and perceptions of, their journey with you. Keep in mind that in using these tools your purpose is to understand customer’s journey, in context, in its entirety - their goals, emotions, expectations, etc. It is in this level of detail that opportunities for added experiential value are identified.

    In Summary

    Once you understand the customer journey end-to-end, from the customer’s point of view you can truly see where customer experience lags are present, focus back in on them and develop. Imagine a ‘join the dots’ picture. You carefully connect each element, when you have finished you stand back to view the image created as a whole, then hone in on any errors. Remember though - the customer journey is constantly evolving – the picture will change and there will be more than one dependent on customer grouping. Examining customer feedback regularly will support a dynamic customer experience development program.

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