How to create a better customer journey

With social networks, mobile devices, web sites, and blogs, consumers have more resources to inform their purchasing decisions than ever before. As shopping experiences become increasingly complex, it's necessary to explore new methods of communications planning. Linear models which fail to portray fundamental shifts in consumer behavior must be replaced with flexible, multi-directional approaches. Customer journey maps are growing in popularity to solve for this problem. They reveal the best opportunities for brands to engage with customers along dynamic paths to purchase.

What's a customer journey map?
Customer journey maps show the interactions that occur between people and brands. They make it easier to understand how shoppers engage with a company's employees, processes, messaging, products, and services. Most importantly, customer journey maps reveal factors that have the greatest impact on purchasing decisions. Some customer journey maps cover the entire purchasing lifecycle while others focus on individual phases and micro-conversion events occurring throughout the funnel. In recent years, user generated content has brought more attention to post-purchase activities, such as the out-of-box experience, which increasingly influences loyalty and advocacy in social channels.

Touchpoints are a key feature of all customer journey maps. They are centered on understanding the needs, expectations and motivations of shoppers. Touchpoints represent activities such as exposure to product packaging, dialogue with sales associates, visits to brand web sites and advice sought from social networks. Touchpoints are often moments of truth and reveal opportunities for building consumer confidence and removing barriers to purchase. They also provide a reference point for measuring the influence of previous journey steps and ensuring future steps are part of an overall cohesive experience.

Benefits and uses of customer journey maps
Opportunities to engage customers in mobile and digital channels have increased the complexity of many shopping experiences. Purchasing paths nowadays bear little resemblance to classic conversion funnels as expanding sources of influence such as location-based marketing, daily deals and social chatter have scattered a linear sequence of steps. Customer journey maps provide the structure that is needed to plan communications around these touchpoints ensuring that it's meaningful and relevant. Routes shown on journey maps can accommodate flexibility in purchasing paths and reveal how shoppers actually think and make decisions. This makes it possible to align shopper behavior with the right message, at that right time, in the right place which is far more effective than a singular approach.

Marketers who aim to acquire and convert more shoppers must do better than their competitors at simplifying purchasing decisions and increasing consumer confidence. Mapping the customer journey isolates points of tension and reveals barriers to purchase that lead to indecision or selection of competing alternatives. Each touchpoint offers a chance to understand why shoppers buy, and often more importantly why they don't.

Customer journey maps also make it possible to develop attribution models for comparison of need states, stimuli and purchasing paths. Marketers can use this information to identify high-value audiences and messaging touchpoints. Performance benchmarks can be set for individual steps and optimized over time (e.g., engagement, memorability, satisfaction, and trustworthiness.) Active governance ensures brand experience remains consistent across the journey map.

How to create a customer journey map
A customer journey map starts with identifying the experience you want to capture and specifying target audiences involved. You'll then determine the rational and emotional triggers that prompt shoppers to action. While this information can come from people within your company who interact with customers directly, it's always best to speak with customers themselves (provided you have the resources to do so.) In-depth interviews are preferred over surveys and focus groups because they leave no answers open-ended and avoid potential bias.

Let's imagine you want to map the journey of wireless customers who are shopping for a smartphone. You might discover that a rational need of a business persona is to keep up with the constant flow of email while traveling outside the office. On the other hand, a teenager concerned with showing off the latest technology to the delight of a peer group has an emotional need for the same kind of product.

After exploring need states the next step in mapping the customer journey is to identify stimuli that create awareness of a brand. Stimuli might include display advertising, paid search links, a catalogue, direct mail, or product review seen on Facebook. In between these stimuli are a myriad of brand engagement touchpoints. This is where customer journey maps become most actionable. At each touchpoint, you'll want to understand what customers expect, their motivations, issues, and potential roadblocks. Here are a few questions to get you started. The insights conveyed will ensure every interaction a customer has with your brand is a positive one.

  • What kind of touchpoint is this? (e.g., web site visit, phone call, product packaging, blog post)
  • What is the customer's motivation here?
  • What did the customer experience before this touchpoint?
  • What questions, barriers, issues or concerns are customers expressing here?
  • How does this touchpoint align with our brand platform?

Finally, determine if a touchpoint is a moment of truth, and get a sense of how you're going to prioritize optimization efforts moving forward. Don't be surprised if you learn about shoppers adding to consideration sets even after starting the process of narrowing down options. It just validates the importance of staying relevant and top-of-mind throughout the purchasing lifecycle.

Charles Wiedenhoft is director of business planning and optimization at Red Door Interactive.

On Twitter? Follow Charles at @chastwied. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

 

Comments

Jennifer Kramp
Jennifer Kramp January 6, 2012 at 8:02 PM

Good insight — thanks for sharing. I appreciate you including your 5 questions that provide food for thought on how to start mapping. That is one of the things our company (Touchpoint Dashboard) hears a lot: "How do we get started on building a map?” What tools/software do you use when creating touchpoint maps? Thanks again!