The customer journey is the series of steps — starting with brand awareness before a person is even a customer — that lead to eventual customer loyalty.
● A customer’s experience with a brand is made up of the customer journey — and the series of interactions that occur within that journey.
● In marketing, a good customer experience is the direct result of creating and exposing customers to relevant content and other brand interactions that the customer perceives as useful or meaningful.
● A brand should address what a customer needs when they need it, while also introducing new products or upgrades when appropriate.
● Customer journeys don't really have a distinct end, because brands should always aim to please even their most loyal customers.
● Savvy marketers know that a good customer journey plan could always be better. There is always room to optimize, especially if you listen to your customers' needs.
Kevin Lindsay is director of product marketing in Adobe’s Digital Experience (DX) business. He has been a product marketing leader for Adobe DX for over ten years. Kevin focuses on things like optimization, personalization, digital asset management, and customer journey management.
Q: How does customer experience relate to the customer journey?
A: A customer’s experience with a brand is made up of the customer journey — and the series of interactions that occur within that journey — or touchpoints. A customer might have multiple journeys in their experience with this brand, depending on life circumstances and the nature of the brand relationship.
Sometimes marketers think that “experience” means content, like a particular web page. While it is true that a customer can experience the content, experience is not synonymous with content. In marketing, customer experience is the direct result of creating and exposing customers to personalized, relevant, or meaningful content and other brand interactions.
Q: What are the different stages of a customer journey?
A: Let’s say that you are a potential customer of a niche brand. You wanted to search for a brand that makes pens for left-handed people. The customer journey begins when you’re first aware of the brand. First, you find the brand's social media page by searching online, and then start to look at products, considering becoming a customer. Finally, you either buy something or sign up for their left-handed pen newsletter.
On the marketer side, the marketing team is trying to figure out communications and onboarding. When a person has their first consensual interaction with a brand, marketers work hard to comfortably transition that user into a new customer. They ask relevant questions like, “Have you set up your account? Have you downloaded the app? Are you ready to start using our products?”
Customer experience is not always smooth. Let’s say you ordered a left-handed pen, but you can’t figure out how to activate the tip. You’ll have to reach out to the company's customer support. Hopefully, your simpler questions are answered easily, and more complex issues are addressed in an engaging and reassuring way. This customer support interaction could also be considered a stage in the customer journey.
Another stage of the customer journey could be outreach from the brand. Let’s say you’re pleased with your left-handed pen and leave a review. The brand notices your customer satisfaction and sends you an email about their left-handed spiral bound notebooks. Excited, you order one and discover that it’s a perfect complement to your pen. You start buying more left-handed supplies from this store as gifts for your Local Lefties club and find yourself excited when they announce a new product: left-handed pencils. At that point, you have had enough positive interactions with this brand — even with customer support — that you are now a loyal customer.
The left-handed pen example demonstrates the need for a brand to nurture their customer relationships during all touchpoints of the customer journey, even once the customer has become loyal. A brand should address what a customer needs when they need it, while also introducing new products or upgrades when appropriate.
Customer journeys don't really have a distinct end, because brands should always aim to please even their most loyal customers. In return for customer satisfaction and loyalty, a brand not only gets revenue, but can also receive free publicity if a loyal customer starts spreading awareness by recommending the brand. Let’s say that your Local Lefties club loves their special gifts so much that they ask you where you got the products, and you tell them about that amazing brand. In turn, you’ve created a cycle — thanks to you, every member of the club is now aware of the brand — and starting their own customer journey.
Q: How should marketers plan customer journeys?
A: Marketers shouldn't use a rigid, one-size-fits-all customer journey map template. Instead, they should plan flexible, individual types of customer journeys, whether based on a certain demographic or on individual customer personas.
The best way to start customer journey mapping is to look at patterns in customer touchpoints and pain points, and the specific routes taken to each step of their customer journey. If you see repeating patterns that indicate certain buyer personas, you might be able to apply them to a different customer journey plan.
Another way to start the mapping process is to make goals. Ask yourself, what is our brand trying to do? How do we get customers? Based on what we've seen previously, what are some typical journeys that customers take with our brand? What are some user behaviors that indicate potential customers?
The only way to document and analyze long-term customer behavior is by using data. Let’s say a potential customer bought a pair of jogging shoes on a retail website and used their email for a special membership discount. That same email user signs up for a trial subscription with your organic sports drink delivery brand and attached to their email address is all the data suggesting they’re an avid runner. Maybe they've engaged with your brand before, and there’s data for this as well. Your brand has the opportunity to map out these journeys and anticipate what steps this particular customer might take. Then, you can optimize their customer experience for a positive customer journey.
Examples of optimizing the customer experience include predicting the next best action, or the next best offer. Across a company's customer base, there are potentially several different ways that a customer's journey could evolve. Marketers need to be responsive to different changes in customer behaviors and transform the customer journey map accordingly.
It's important to understand the customer's perspective and actively listen to customer feedback. This also means being responsive to unexpected actions. For instance, after a terrible brand interaction with customer service, a loyal customer might immediately cut ties with a company, leaving a terrible review on their website. The company might not have even expected or known about a negative customer service experience, but if they don't take action soon after the customer cuts ties, they could lose that customer permanently. The marketers would plan a personalized offer or email in an effort to make the mistake right, and potentially save that customer relationship.
Q: What are the differences between B2B and B2C customer journeys?
A: One of the main differences between B2B and B2C is the buying process for customers, and the corresponding engaging process for marketers. For B2B, at some point in the customer journey, there's a shift in the people involved. The people who start the journey won’t always be the ones going through the middle or customer loyalty stages.
For instance, a B2B buyer might buy some software for their company from your software enterprise. You hope that the entire company will end up using your software, which would mean contacting a lot of stakeholders. But to achieve this goal, you have to bring this client through a carefully planned customer journey, involving the right people at the right time. It also means checking in with the stakeholders and making sure that they’re enjoying and deriving value from their purchase. This is a lot different than B2C customer journeys — larger brands don’t usually maintain close individual relationships with customers, because they don’t have to rely on one account for a large amount of revenue.
This complex buying process makes it harder for B2B marketers in some ways, but easier in others, as B2B brands generally don’t have to worry about millions of distinct consumers or different market dynamics. B2B also usually means much higher levels of investment that you're trying to preserve and renew at the end of a cycle.
Q: Should you keep updating a good customer journey plan?
A: Savvy marketers know that a good customer journey plan can always be better. There is always room to optimize, especially if you listen to your customers' needs.
It's also important to remember that the customer journey is never over. There is always something that your brand can do to create a positive interaction, even if that person is no longer a customer. We’ve found that customers who only make a purchase once in a while still want to stay engaged with the brand to some degree. Finding the right level of engagement is the key, whether through helpful content, useful tips, or even just showing that your brand pays attention to customer behavior.
A brand’s customers are all having different experiences. Some might be frustrated, while others might love the products and leave positive reviews and ratings. And then you've got a middle area of customers, who are neither satisfied nor displeased. You might not hear from them, but you should still reach out and create opportunities for interaction.
Not every brand is going to have the capacity to keep an eye on their customers. That's why companies need to lean on technology to make that job a little easier. Planning the customer journey is important, but it's just as important to have ways of measuring response and getting feedback.
The bottom line is figuring out what it means to stay engaged with your customers and fine-tuning the right balance of staying in touch, being useful, and delivering on your promises.