It’s said that to really understand somebody you have to walk a mile in their shoes. Analysing a customer’s journey, from prospect to buyer, lets you step into their shoes and experience your business from their perspective.
Professor Bernd Schmitt of Columbia Business School is credited with creating the concept of Customer Experience Management (CEM), which he defined as:
The process of strategically managing a customer’s entire experience with a product or company.
In other words, companies need to take control of and shape the interactions between themselves and their customers.
The Customer Journey, which is central to the CEM idea, is simply a way of looking at the experience of the customer from first contact, through completion of sale, on to post-sale support and ideally repeat purchase.
But isn’t that just the sales funnel by a different name? There are certainly similarities, but the funnel on its own is a somewhat crude way of visualising this experience. For one thing, it’s linear and assumes that customers pass through all stages uniformly, which is not always the case. And it’s also something of a ‘blunt instrument’ in that it takes a very high level view of the process.
Looking in more detail at the journey of the customer as they move through the funnel, and taking account of the unique nature of that journey in relation to your specific product, yields more useful insights.
Reach out and touch someone
The heart of the Customer Journey is the identification and analysis of the interactions, or touch points, that customers have with your company. Businesses need to understand the customer experience at each these touch point by asking:
- What are the customer’s objectives?
- What are the questions at the front of their mind?
- What are they feeling?
- What do they want from your organisation?
At each touch point there is the potential to either strengthen or damage the customer relationship, so it’s important to get it right. This process tries to get to the bottom of what customers require at each stage of their journey and then to assess whether your company is providing that.
So how do you translate the theory of the customer journey into practice? Through the Customer Journey Map (CJM).
The CJM puts you in the picture
The Customer Journey Map is the process of creating a graphical representation of the steps and stages a customer goes through to experience a product or service.
What does the CJM actually look like? There are many possible designs but the most common utilises a horizontal time line and a vertical category line.
In this example from Heartofthecustomer.com, customer decision time is shown on the horizontal axis while the four key stages are classified vertically. Both the nature of the categories and the main touch points which occur within them are shown.
Here a circular journey is visualised, but the essential elements are similar:
In practical terms, you’re aim is to identify the questions in a customer’s head at each stage. Early in the process, they will likely be evaluating the product from a bigger picture perspective: do we need it, what benefits will it bring to our business? Later, the questions will focus on you, the vendor: can you deliver a quality product, are there others who could do it better and/or cheaper?
Once you have thought through how this applies to your own product, you will be able to fill out those vertical categories.
Ok, but where do we get the rest of the data from?
Since companies are studying their own and their customers’ behaviour at each touchpoint, the research needed for the CJM is both internal and external.
Talk to individual departments about their customer experiences. For example, at the two ends of the process, salesmen and support staff will happily tell you the most common issues raised by potential customers.
At least some research into customer behaviour has probably already been done – formally or informally – by different departments. It may be at the bottom of a draw somewhere, but this is your chance to dig it out and make it work for you by putting it into a coherent framework.
Website analytics can tell you a lot about the kinds of information customers are seeking by showing the routes they take through your online resources.
The purpose of the map is to understand your customers. So talk to them! Do customer surveys, focusing on specific parts of the journey, asking at each stage:
- What did they actually do (what were they trying to achieve)?
- What were they thinking about?
- How did they feel about the interactions taking place with your company?
What the CJM can do for you
Identify problem areas
A good CJM will expose ‘friction points’ in the customer journey, highlighting where further investment is needed e.g. in personnel, customer service or educational materials for prospects. Of course, it could also identify weaknesses in the product itself.
Break down the silos
Most companies are divided, to some extent at least, into departmental ‘silos’. That can have a significant impact on the customer experience. Your prospects don’t care about your company’s internal structure, but they will certainly notice if their transition from one function to the next isn’t seamless. A CJM shows employees within each silo how their actions can make the customer journey a positive or a negative experience and ensures that a consistent message is sent at each touch point.
Solidify common goals
It’s much easier to talk about a common goal – a satisfied customer – when the entire process is spread out in front of all the relevant participants. This shows teams how their piece of the puzzle fits into the whole. It can spread knowledge across different teams within an organisation and can build consensus for action. Employees stuck in their own ‘vertical’ find it difficult to visualise a customer journey that cuts horizontally across all the difference corporate functions.
Identify the varied customer journeys
In B2B, there isn’t just one ‘customer’. The many people involved in a typical B2B purchase are different customers, all with different roles and different journeys. If you go on to construct a CJM for each of the key decision-makers you will be well on the way to a much more sophisticated understanding of how your customers tick.
It’s no good having all these insights if you don’t do anything with them. The CJM clarifies how you currently interact with your customers, but the real work starts with ensuring that all the touch points deliver the experience you want them to have.
Why does the CJM work?
The power of the CJM is that it turns the focus squarely on the customer, forcing the vendor to view the transaction from the perspective of the most important party. It puts the experience of the customer into a story format – stories are the way we have made sense of the world for thousands of years – and turns them from a concept into real flesh and blood. As Stanley Marcus (of luxury department store, Neiman Marcus) said:
Consumers are statistics. Customers are people.