Hershey POV: The customer journey is central to guiding shoppers to where retailers want them to go — the moment of purchase. Retailers can make sure they are clear about how that works by creating a customer-journey map, showing what customers experience in comparison with what they want and expect through the various stages from interest to sale. Having a solid sense of the customer journey helps retailers predict shoppers' behavior and lead them to the desired outcome.
Do you get lost? I do. I’m infamous for my 180-degree wrong sense of direction. Come to an intersection and I will invariably go left when I should go right, north when I should go south, and so on.
It’s because I rely on instinct. (And, for many years of my life, I lived in a place where the sun barely shone, so I couldn’t look to the sky to light my path. But that’s another story.)
Back to instinct. It can be a helpful tool. Some swear by it. What does your gut say? What are you feeling?
If this question is posed to me in context of making a big life decision, I’ve got this. But if we are talking directions, I’m hopeless.
That’s where maps come in. They help me navigate my journey and arrive at my destination. But it’s not all right or left turns. I need landmarks. Visual cues.
Fortunately, modern map makers – like Google maps, for example – have figured this out. Today’s digital maps show those cues – like the Chevron on the corner, or the Starbucks on the right – that help guide drivers like me down the path.
I want to talk about this same principle in the context of marketing. Specifically, creating a customer journey map – and why you need to take this step.
The customer journey is the decision-making process through which customers take action. Ideally, they end on “buy.”
Forrester Research describes the customer journey this way: “The customer journey spans a variety of touch points by which the customer moves from awareness to engagement and purchase. Successful brands focus on developing a seamless experience that ensures each touch point interconnects and contributes to the overall journey.”
NTT Data adds, “A journey map is an illustrated representation of a customer’s expectations, experiences and reflections as it unfolds over time across multiple stages and touchpoints while using a product or consuming a service.”
Taking time to map a customer journey is an extra step, yes. But perhaps a valuable one. By knowing what customers may do – and guiding them to the place you want them ultimately to be – you could directly affect your sales and company outcome.
“It is the definitive first step in the process of converting a current ‘as-is’ state to a future state that promises an enhanced customer experience,” says that same NTT Data article.
In theory, you could create a customer journey for any campaign, but it may not be scalable for your business.
At minimum, this tool is especially critical when you’re overhauling your e-commerce website or releasing a major new product.
As a content marketer, you may also use the customer-journey mapping process in ideation phase. It can be a valuable way to help kickstart ideas. I had a colleague who regularly went through the exercise of plotting customer challenges and journeys onto a grid. She outlined their concerns, pain points, and challenges at each step of the way. Then, she mapped those pain points to the way her product could solve the customers’ problems. The exercise helped her know her customers better – and it also helped her generate a legion of ideas for future marketing collateral, such as blogs and emails. Try this quarterly or half-yearly with your team: put a meeting on the books and work through the exercise together.
We are talking about customer journeys – but let’s correlate this concept back to travel journeys. In this analogy, your customer is the traveler. You, or your company, are the tour director. It is your role to guide customers through a path, to get them to take a prescribed order of steps, one action before the next. You must carefully guide your customer along the path, entertaining and engaging them along the way. You must look out for their safety and best interests, and keep them fed.
A tour guide doesn’t go into this role without a plan. He or she has a map, has rehearsed the route, and has prepared for the journey by packing refreshments and snacks.
So too must you do some pre-work and set up the activities and planned milestones that you want your customers to take on their journey, and be there for them as they travel.
To effectively guide your customers, you’ll need to set up a planned route map. And remember, it’s not only about getting from point A to B. You want to point out neat things along the way or take short sightseeing diversions. These checkpoints – aka milestones, phases, or triggers – can help you keep your customers on track and achieving mini-goals before they reach the final destination.
You can correlate these milestones to the different stages of the sales funnel. For example, the first milestone may be your cold call on a customer, or meeting the customer at a trade show. The next is when you hand someone a business card and hope he or she calls.
But instead of hoping the customer picks up on the path you’d like him to take, what if you took more ownership in the process and orchestrated the steps? Get the customer’s contact info at that trade show. Enter her email into your CRM database (assuming she's given you permission to do so) right there. Get the customer on your path.
Once a customer is on your map, you can continue to guide his or her next steps. Set up a follow-up call for a product demo. Send the customer a series of triggered campaign emails. Invite the customer to a webinar or special event at your company headquarters.
Invariably, there comes a time in any journey when a customer has to make a decision – whether to buy your product or choose a competitor's.
What do you think the customer will do? Will he go left or right at that fork in the road? As much as possible, you want to predict her action. This can help you anticipate needed inventory, as well as project your sales data for the months or years ahead.
In order to predict your customer’s action, you can use a variation of a customer journey, a decision tree. These simplified, and sometimes cheeky, infographics are a visual map of “if/then” statements that can help you predict what your customers will do at a crossroads. Try creating a tree of the possible decisions your customer will face. Set up hypothetical scenarios – and possible answers. Then put yourself in your customer’s driving seat and imagine what he or she would do.
Of course, in order to effectively map your customers onto a journey and correctly anticipate their needs, you need to know them. Do you know them? What are their likes and dislikes? What about their pain points and challenges? How do they like to be talked to?
If you know your customers, you can predict what they’ll do at those forks in the road – and be there for them. And if you don’t know them, it’s time to. Send out surveys, poll them, talk with them informally at events, or set up formal interviews and roundtable discussions where you can get to know them better.
Also remember that things come up, and stuff happens. In marketing, as on a road trip, you need to be prepared for the unexpected.
You want to be there when your customer makes an unexpected pit stop – for example, on Snapchat or Instagram. Your brand may not have a presence on those channels, but if it does, you could show up at just the right moment, much like a much-needed rest stop.
Customers may also need fuel or other resources along the road. This may mean creating an emergency kit packed with goodies that your customers don’t know they need until they need them. Things like free white papers or other quickly digestible downloads that can help them in their business.
Not everything is cut and dried. Sure, you want to get customers to move from point A to point Z, seamlessly. But sometimes, they wander.
The reality is, your customer is going to take side streets, meander a bit as he explores – possibly even take alternate routes, such as looking at competitors.
So long as you are there alongside customers – with resources and customer service and helpful answers, which elicit trust and loyalty – you can help guide them to the ultimate destination: your product.
And if you do it right, this could be just the beginning of their travels with you – and a long-lived customer relationship.