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What is a Customer Journey?

Brian Ivanovick
Brian Ivanovick

VP Solutions Consulting

A customer journey is the story of the customer’s interaction with your brand as they step through the various phases of buying. B2B and B2C brands will often express the phases of buying differently depending on their industry and the way in which they interact with customers. More or less, however, the buying phases remain relatively aligned with the following 5 steps:

Awareness -> Consideration -> Decision -> Use -> Loyal Customer

The Classic Linear Customer Journey

Historically, the customer journey through these buying phases was fairly linear.

For instance, a first-time car buyer’s dealer makes them aware they’ll need insurance to register the vehicle. The consumer visits a broker who tells them about the features and pricing of various policies and carriers and answers their questions (consideration). The consumer makes a decision based on the best value, the broker’s recommendation, plus brand recognition from TV and magazine ads. After a good experience with a single claim, serviced by the brand’s call center and shepherded by the broker (use), they later decide to insure their next luxury car and new home purchase with the same carrier as well (loyalty).

In this classic linear journey, the problem awareness comes from a very specific single situation. Brand awareness is driven by mass media. Consideration, decision, servicing, and nurturing to loyalty occur mainly in a single channel: the brick-and-mortar location, all under the guidance of the brand’s agent. Most customers likely travel through a similar path from the awareness stage to loyal customer.

The Modern Nonlinear Customer Journey

In contrast, the modern customer journey is nonlinear and occurs across multiple online and offline channels.

In this scenario, our car buyer begins their journey reading an online how-to, found via a Google search, for budgeting and buying a car. Using an online tool, they calculate the price of insurance alongside different car options. Then, they use yet another online tool to obtain dozens of competitive quotes. After reading customer reviews and soliciting feedback from friends over social media, they decide on their first and second choice carriers and policies.

They initiate their application on the first-choice carrier’s website through their laptop, receive a follow-up in email, and open it on their mobile phone. Encountering a glitchy experience on mobile, they abandon completing the application. Instead, they initiate and complete an application with the second-choice carrier completely over their mobile phone.

From the approval email they receive, they download the carrier’s mobile app. They proceed to manage billing and claims through the carrier’s mobile app and occasionally speak with the call center when they need a personal touch. After two years of positive experience, and just before their policy renewal, they receive an in-app offer to bundle their home and car insurance at a discount. They accept the offer through the app and once again complete through the call center.

Rising Customer Expectations to Support a Complex Buyer’s Journey

This is the modern, nonlinear journey—and customers’ expectations that your brand will support it are sharply on the rise. For a potential customer, the awareness, consideration, and much of the decision phase takes place outside the confines of the brand’s owned properties. The first true experience with the brand is at the point of decision and during usage.

This user journey spans multiple channels—offline and online. Each potential customer travels a different path dictated by their personal preferences at each stage of the customer lifecycle. Strikingly, the prospective customer values the experience more highly than the product itself—so much that they opt for a different carrier purely on experience.

In fact, 84% of consumers say experiences are more important than a brand’s product or services. And 66% of customers prioritize experience over price. The opportunity to compete on customer experience is massive. But delivering outstanding, authentic experiences in an omnichannel world is challenging.

Navigating Complexity with Customer Journey Mapping

With a consumer experience that can include multiple touchpoints, online and offline, understanding the customer’s journey can be complex. One practice that has come to the fore to help marketers and customer experience (CX) professionals better understand the customer is customer journey mapping.

Customer journey maps aim to track the story of the customer’s experience from awareness to loyalty, including all their interactions across every channel and touchpoint. Maps may be built for different customer personas, and consider different attitudes and scenarios at each phase of a customer lifecycle. For example, at the time of an upcoming policy renewal, an insurer would want to consider journey scenarios for retaining a customer who’s likely to churn, or upselling a customer who would be receptive to it.

Customer Journey Mapping Pitfalls

When creating customer journey maps, many marketing and CX professionals struggle with stepping into the customer’s shoes to create maps that truly reflect customer attitudes, wants and needs. Rather, they overlay their own revenue and marketing objectives on top of the journey, designing pipelines that attempt to force the customer through the buying stages. The result is a subpar customer experience that negatively impacts revenue, customer loyalty and customer lifetime value.

According to Gartner, customer journeys are discovered, not created. Customer journey map discovery requires listening and learning from real world customer behavior, and putting in place a perpetual process of measurement, optimization and iteration. And at the heart of it all lies customer data.

Customer Data and Inter-Departmental Challenges

In a recent survey, CX professionals cited siloed systems, fragmented data and limited cross-department alignment as the biggest challenges in the way of delivering great customer experiences. With data underpinning every customer-facing system across marketing, revenue, product, customer service and other departments—and customer journeys spanning all of these systems—it’s easy to see how accessing data and insights to help discover and map customer journeys can present a major challenge.

What’s more, once valuable insight is gained, it’s critical to activate it to orchestrate customer experiences across all touchpoints. Again, siloed systems and departments present a major challenge.

Harnessing the Power of Your Data & Teams

Notwithstanding the difficulties, it’s never been more important for brands to use every bit of granular customer data available to them, from every source, to truly understand, optimize and deploy customer journeys.

With dozens of systems to coordinate between, and long standing departmental roles and goals that haven’t aligned in the past, the task can seem daunting. In recent years, however, customer data platforms (CDPs) have emerged as a technology of choice for bridging data silos and coordinating journeys and experiences across disparate customer-facing systems. CDPs help achieve this by:

  • Bringing together all your customer data, and providing your CX professionals (including marketing, service, and sales) with governed access to everything you know about your customer
  • Empowering all your teams with the customer journey analytics and tools they need to understand customer journeys, map them and craft differentiated customer experiences
  • Orchestrating every experience across all your customer touchpoints, so you can deliver what your customer needs, where they need it, along any journey path they choose

With a single source of truth for customer journey insights and activation, previously divided teams can share a common language to come together around the customer. They can better service their wants & needs, enabling outstanding and authentic customer experiences that instill loyalty and grow customer lifetime value.

Customer Journey Use Cases Supported by the CDP

With the data and insights you need to discover and understand customer journeys, and the ability to support those journeys across every channel, online and offline, you now have the ability to deliver new value for your customer and your business.

After implementing their CDP, one of the first valuable use cases implemented by our customers at ActionIQ is paid media suppression. Has your bank sent you a new credit card offer for a card you already carry? Has a brand you frequent promoted to you the product or service you just bought from them? As a customer, it comes across as tone deaf and makes you feel unappreciated. As a business, it’s a negative hit on customer satisfaction and customer lifetime value, all alongside significant wasted ad spend.

With a CDP, every team and department has a single source of truth about the customer around which they can collaborate to analyze, design, and orchestrate the sophisticated customer journeys demanded by today’s consumer.

With a CDP in place, however, you now have the ability to inform your marketing efforts with exactly who’s a customer and what they’ve purchased or subscribed to. You can then suppress those customers from your paid marketing efforts across every channel you choose—email, online, direct mail and more. ActionIQ clients often see millions in savings in the first year alone, along with improvements to NPS, customer lifetime value and other key customer metrics.

Other critical customer journeys supported by a CDP include personalized content journeys, next-best offers, precision upsells and cross-sells, retention, churn reduction, and more. Each deeply in tune with each individual customer lifecycle as well as their historical and in-the-moment interactions.

Ready to Support Next Generation Customer Journeys?

ActionIQ’s technology and experienced team can help you empower your organization with the intelligence and agility you need to enable the complex customer journeys that drive customer loyalty and growth. If you’d like to enact strategies spanning your people, process and technology that put the customer at the center of everything you do, contact ActionIQ today.

Brian Ivanovick

Written By

Brian Ivanovick
Author's LinkedIn Profile

VP Solutions Consulting

MarTech Consulting Leader with nearly 15 years of marketing technology and customer data experience. Prior experience includes stints at Offermatica (now Adobe Target), Omniture, Adobe, Causata, BlueKai and Oracle. Brian has led experience optimization engagements with enterprises such as Dell, Disney, Wells Fargo and Ally Bank.

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