the modern customer journey mapImage courtesy of Gartner

The modern customer journey, as you can see from the customer journey map above, is a complex system guided by the choices consumers make as they interact with your brand. Guiding the customer journey are aspects of the customer decision-making process that looks like this:

  1. Need recognition — a gap between the consumer’s current and desired states, ie. hunger.
  2. Information search — which may involve an internal search of memories from past experiences and brand messaging exposure or an external search through any number of search options
  3. Evaluation of alternatives — an often unconscious preference based on fuzzy thinking, emotion, or heuristics. In cases involving higher risk or increased engagement with the purchase (involvement), the evaluation becomes more complicated and logical.
  4. Decision — the customer chooses a purchase, although factors such as availability and affordability may thwart the consumer’s efforts to consummate the purchase.
  5. Evaluation of the process and choice — commonly resulting in satisfaction/dissatisfaction although other evaluations are possible.

The modern customer journey

According to Business,

That means the customer journey starts before the customer is even aware of your brand and extends well past their first purchase. It includes how you acquire new leads and how you retain existing customers.

In fact, the customer journey might start by highlighting a need that hasn’t bubbled to the surface yet. For instance, showing images of pizza (especially the classic cheese pull) late in the evening highlights hunger the customer might normally ignore or actively avoid based on other concerns, such as health. A major tenet of marketing is that brands don’t create needs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t highlight those needs to bring them from the subconscious to motivate action.

Customer journey mapping

Developing a customer journey map is the first step in optimizing performance, and visualizations, like the one above, facilitate understanding such complex systems that represent the modern customer journey. According to Gartner:

The digital territory is wide and complex. To plan and manage effectively, you need a firm grasp on operational areas, applications, technologies and vendors — and how they relate.

The modern customer journey map involves many stations and a variety of transportation lines (to use a train analogy like the one above created by Gartner). Just as a real train system, customers choose their pathway (customer journey) based on their particular needs, preferences, the available options, and decisions made in earlier parts of the journey. Hence, if they stopped at one station along the journey, that decision impacts the options and future decisions they face.

The map contains business operations, such as web ops and data ops as neighborhoods within the map, while stations represent providers of specific business functions, such as data visualization, augmented reality, and geotargeting. Finally, each line represents applications, such as search and IoT. To help with this complex visualization, Gartner offers an interactive map based on the one contained above. Give it a whirl (although you must provide your email and receive marketing messages designed to convert you to a customer).

Take a few moments to view the customer journey map (click to expand the map on your screen). Consider how your business operations fit within the map, recognizing that you likely don’t need all the processes shown and you may have additional processes not contained in the map. Next, think about how customers move through the decision-making process. Involve others including salespeople and customers to gain a wider perspective on the multiple ways customers interact with your brand. Then, move on to learn some takeaways from the modern customer journey.

Key takeaways from the modern customer journey

Customized customer journeys

Gone are the days of a single or just a few customer journeys. The typical customer journey depicted by the conversion funnel (see below) is long gone, replaced by an iterative process whereby customers move fluidly the conversion funnel. Customers move up and down the funnel, as well as jumping off the funnel only to return later in their decision-making process or when facing a future decision.

Google adwords expertImage courtesy of Coast Digital

The lie of linearity

The typical image depicting a conversation funnel shows linearity that doesn’t fit with data generated across multiple platforms. First, your website, like your physical store before the explosion of e-commerce, isn’t the only effort needed to promote purchase. Instead, you must create a strong, supporting presence across all the platforms used by your customers at every stage of the journey, from awareness through customer service and repeat purchase, something Forbes calls omnichannel versus multichannel marketing. Customers now choose which platforms they want and their choice comes from the situation, their mood, and even their own preferences.

Hence, today’s connected consumers may start a search on a mobile device as a way to kill time between meetings or while waiting in line or even because watching TV doesn’t offer enough stimulation. By the same token, customers might first encounter your brand via social media and engage with the brand by reading reviews or asking questions on that platform or choose another option. Whichever channels they choose to interact with you, you must be there ready to answer questions, resolve complaints, offer solutions, and recognize your customers for the value they bring to your firm.

Remarketing is a significant part of this non-linearity, acting as a means to further engage visitors to your website. Hence, a visitor who leaves without making a purchase finds your advertising follows them to their social platforms. Visitors who abandoned their shopping carts receive emails reminding them of items left behind, even offering additional discounts to motivate purchase. Users who viewed a product in your app, get push notifications about special pricing or warning on limited supply.

Integrating payment within the customer journey reduces the impact of affordability on decision-making.

Extended customer journeys

In part, these efforts focus on driving customers to your commercial options (whether a website, a physical store, an Amazon or eBay store, or even a shop on Facebook).

A sale no longer forms the endpoint of the conversion funnel (as depicted in the image above), which now must focus on creating repeat customers, loyalty, and brand advocates that act as ambassadors for the brand to actively promote the firm’s products, answer questions, offer suggestions, and counter complaints against the firm.

Ultimately, these brand advocates ensure a bright future for a brand and, without them, firms must allocate large brand marketing budgets and still might not enjoy as much success as with strong brand advocates. Even influencers have less impact on brand performance than advocates.

Data, data, and more data

The data demands of the modern customer journey grow every year, it seems. Integrating data across platforms, monitoring the performance of omnichannel marketing efforts, and adding data from internal operations demands state-of-the-art data analytics and constant updates to drive insights to decision-makers within the firm.

Don’t stop data analytics with descriptive statistics. Go farther by using predictive analytics to anticipate needs as well as optimize performance based on prior responses to marketing tactics, such as pricing and promotions.

Data visualizations aid in driving insights but languish without careful efforts in designing the visualizations, as well as integrating them into your business processes.

New technology

Today’s novelty quickly becomes tomorrow’s standard. Technologies such as AR/VR will shift the future demands on websites to provide better tools for consumers, such as virtual design that allows customers to see products in the customer’s home or on their form. Customers increasingly expect firms to offer tools like these as part of the buying process.

Conclusion

The modern customer journey is complex and likely getting more complex over time. Knowing how your customers move through their individual journeys is necessary to improve each customer’s experience along the way, thus optimizing performance. A variety of tools exist using your input to craft a map reflecting typical customer journeys. Although I don’t endorse any mapping software, here are some options:

  • Adobe Experience Platform
  • Cisco WebEx Experience Management
  • WebEngage
  • Samply Customer Experience Hub
  • Totango

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