Today, more brands are recognising the importance of investing in customer experience, and with good reason. There are numerous studies which link strong customer experience with increased loyalty, retention and lifetime value, as well as reduced churn, better brand equity, and a reduction in the cost of service. Whatever your marketing KPIs, these measures are all worth striving for, and so it’s no surprise customer experience is high on the agenda.
But how do you drive exceptional customer experience without firstly understanding the journey your customer’s experience? You can’t. At least, not fully.
Before we can really know anything, we must first understand it. In my experience working with a myriad of brands and clients, at the enterprise level and much smaller; the vast majority don’t have an agreed-upon or documented view of their customer journey. That’s not to say as an organisation they don’t have the insight, experience and data to map out the customer journey, but the knowledge is spread across the business silos with no process, impetus or champion to surface the knowledge, consolidate it objectively, and align the business around its outcomes.
As important for B2B marketers as it is for B2C, deeply understanding the touch points your customers have with your brand (from their perspective) is critical to building an exceptional customer experience. And here’s why:
1. Creates clarity
Customer journeys can resemble a bowl of spaghetti rather than a clean linear process, but what is sometimes forgotten, is the journey is often different for each customer group or persona. The first job to be done is to agree on which persona you’ll be mapping. From here, it’s important to define each key step in the journey from awareness of a need, right through to post-purchase engagement. Many customer journeys I see (particularly in B2B) resemble more of a sales process, which in truth is only a part of the full customer journey. Your customer journey should, therefore, incorporate your marketing touchpoints, sales process and customer service or success — all from the point of view of the customer.
When you sit down with your colleagues across the business to define this, you may find the journey varies across key personas. Below are two journeys we created as part of a marcomms strategy for NSW government agency recently – although quite similar, you can see one journey has more steps than the other to account for varying personas.
It’s also worth noting the intent is not to add complexity in defining the process. This is particularly important for B2B brands, where some journeys can be years long (example pictured below). Our goal is to create clarity on the key stages where shifts in internal or external factors can influence the customer, not to recreate the spaghetti bowl.
Having all key stakeholders across the business agree on the journey gives the team clarity of all key stages (not just those they have direct influence in), and a common language for identifying each stage.
2. Builds empathy
Understanding the process is one thing, but the real magic happens when we uncover all the other factors which give depth and richness to the customer journey. Factors such as the customer’s emotional state, their needs, their objections and influences. It’s here we start to see important differences across key personas and start to understand how the triggers which influence behaviour can vary.
There are several factors we can use to develop a rich customer journey (here’s a template to get you started), and although these can vary across brands, the most important for humanising communications, is understanding the customer’s emotional state. In our customer journey workshops, we always start with defining this first as we go through each stage of the journey, ahead of needs, channels and other factors. For considered purchases (especially B2B), emotions play a big role in purchase decisions. Starting here means we can immediately relate to the mindset of our customer, and how it shifts as they move through their journey. As key stakeholders across sales, marketing, customer service and the exec team start to empathise with the customer’s emotional state during these workshops, the conversation changes. Defences slowly come down, making room for more objectivity and willingness to challenge the status quo — the team start to align around the customer perspective.
3. Creates actionable insight
As we start to build a more complete picture of the customer journey along the key stages and across the key factors such as emotional state, needs, objections, etc; critical priorities and insights start to emerge:
- Which stages of the journey need the most attention? Is the bulk of the challenges in the early part of the journey where marketing has the most influence? Is the challenge with retention and post-sales activities?
- Are there gaps which influence the perception of the brand, or its ability to build credibility with a key group?
- Are there critical challenges that aren’t adequately addressed or mitigated?
- Do we have unnecessary hurdles or roadblocks which lengthen the process or make it difficult for customers to move forward? This may be due to handover points between different parts of the organisation, or internal processes that hurt rather than help the customer.
Often, there are a handful of ‘quick wins’ which can immediately improve the overall customer experience, remove friction points or simply help the brand communicate better – other measures will take more work and investment. Having a fully developed customer journey map gives you the clarity and insight to decide where the effort and budget should be directed; identify opportunities that might not have otherwise been visible, and create the business case to get them implemented.
4. Breaks down silos
If you’ve read this far, this benefit should not come as a surprise. By the very nature of customer journeys spanning all the touch points customers have with your brand, creating them needs buy-in and involvement across key customer stakeholders in the business – sales, marketing, and customer service (to name a few).
Vast amounts of knowledge are often held with key individuals and across teams, but that knowledge isn’t always shared, or not in a way that can be analysed and actioned. Bringing key people together to create the customer journey is a powerful exercise. It requires checking egos at the door, being open-minded, keeping the customer at the heart of the conversation and listening to all contributions whilst also bringing a healthy dose of devil’s advocate. This can often require an independent party to orchestrate with the right balance, but the outcome is powerful.
As people in the room start to empathise with the customer, they also start to share thoughts, concerns, expertise and opportunities. Sales start to appreciate to complexity that marketers face, and marketers start to understand why sales can seem demanding and impatient. Teams start to empathise with each other as they co-create a journey which enables them to collaborate for the good of the customer and building exceptional customer experience.