Many brilliant ideas are based around identifying needs, or problems, and solving them intelligently and efficiently. When an opportunity is identified, and indeed solved, we may have a great product or service ready to market to our identified target market- but, often brands encounter unexpected problems trying to communicate effectively or managing to achieve positive customer interactions that lead to a happy, and loyal, customer base. One highly effective tool for optimizing your marketing, is to map out 'The Customer Journey'.
The Customer Journey is the full experience that customers go through when interacting with your brand, from initial discovery through to completing purchases and developing lasting impressions. The journey considers all potential brand 'touching points' and helps to optimize the experience to meet customer expectations, and brand aims.
This sequential mapping exercise allows team members to step back from their brand, and remove their own bias and knowledge, to fully imagine how their target market will perceive their brand- and indeed how the customer journey can be influenced positively at each stage.
Identifying the Stages of your Customer Journey.
Each product and service can vary in a way that changes a Customer Journey; During the planning stage you may identify new steps or perhaps be able to reduce the number of steps required. Generally speaking, the typical journey can be broken up into the three sections:
Further to these three core sections, we might choose to create subsections. For example:
- Before: Discovery and Initial Impressions
Finding the brand, and the first feelings evoked by the content.
- During: First Interaction and Sales Process
How the customer first interacts with someone* from our brand, and how the sales process functions.
- After: Sale Completion, After-Care & Customer Influence
What happens once the sale is complete, how the customer feels and how the brand continues to interact with the customer. Finally, how the customer experience may trigger future brand activity such as reviews, awareness, and general word of mouth.
From our original three sections, we've expanded to seven sections for the purpose of this insight. While walking through your own journey you may find points that don't fit in to any of these categories (in regard to your own unique Customer Journey), in such cases it's always useful to create a new step to help keep everything organized.
Examples are always best illustrated with a case study, even imagined ones. For our Customer Journey, we'll focus on a t-shirt brand with a single shop in the city centre.
Mapping Out Each Step of the Journey.
It's often useful to create 'personas' when running through a journey, this helps you ensure your brand is aligned for the target market. For example, if you're planning to create trendy designs that you believe would appeal to an 18-30 year old demographic, based on current music, fashion and political trends, then it helps to focus your journey imagination based on hypothetical characters.
We might spend some time mapping out four or five key personas that we believe will be key customer types, and if necessary we will create bespoke journeys per customer type if we find a 'one-process-fits-all' approach is not suitable.
Let's assume our first persona is as such:
Mike (Always helpful to name your characters)
- Age 27
- High deposable income
- Rents a small city centre apartment
- Works as a young professional, as a lawyer
- Enjoys nightclubs, and hanging out in trendy coffee shops
- Regularly attends gigs for any touring bands and musicians
- Cares about using the latest tech
- Is very image-conscious, and cares about most vanity issues
Firstly, let's assume our customer hasn't heard of our company/brand yet.
We need to consider, how will they find out about our business?
There are multiple possibilities to consider. Perhaps they'll walk past our store, or perhaps they'll be told about the brand from a peer. maybe they'll search for our type of product or service on Google or social media. There are many other ways that the customer might first discover our brand, and as such, we need to consider what the ideal experience here should be.
If the customer walked past our store, we may want to create intrigue and excitement. To do this: Our external branding on the storefront should be bold and reflect our messaging; Our window displays should be well thought-out, with our popular products on display to coerce higher footfall, or perhaps with sales offers and our best deals clearly on display; Maybe we could be clever and create a sense of wonder, with an artistic window design that tells a powerful brand story from first glance. First impressions are important, so we want to ensure we've spent a lot of time making sure that we're able to create a positive impact upon discovery.
Word of mouth is powerful, but also potentially problematic due to the lack of control a brand may have on peer to peer discussion. A satisfied customer may relay great information, but there's no guarantee that they'll correctly describe our intended brand image. Conversely, a disgruntled customer may turn their bad experience into a whirlwind of negatively influenced potential customers that will suddenly be unlikely to use our brand - or at least will require much extra persuasion to trust the brand. When planning for the customers that may discover our brand this way, it can be useful to consider ways we influence people positively, ways we can encourage positive reviews and business information sharing, and even ways we can attempt to psychologically influence how people perceive and discuss our brand.
The same is equally important for digital discoveries. Consumers spend a high amount of time on social media, or generally surfing the web on their phones and computers, so this is a clear opportunity for the brand to be discovered. If we run a t-shirt store and our ideal consumer googles 'designer clothing near me', our target would be to appear as the very first search result. For this to happen, we'd need to focus our SEO efforts, or run intelligent Search Ads to ensure competitors don't appear before us and potentially claim the sale. Further to this, appearing first may get our copy read, but we need to ensure our copy is of good quality to excite the customer and leave a good first impression. We can use the customer persona to envisage the types of language that may appeal most to target individuals.
After the brand discovery, if the desired intrigue is created, then the customer should move to the next step of exploring the brand for the first time. This could be by entering a physical store, clicking on a link (organic or advert) to visit a website or social media page, or by using information to contact a brand by phone or e-mail.
Again, when mapping out how a customer's initial experience may be shaped - we should identify potential 'pain points' (bad experiences or problems) whilst also figuring out how we could, and should, create the best possible impression.
When a customer steps in to the shop, we can ask ourselves questions such as:
- Is the store tidy?
- Is the lighting right?
- Is there background music at the appropriate level, and of the appropriate genre/style?
- Does the store smell nice?
- Is the floor-plan optimized, and easy for the customer to navigate/move between sections?
- Is the decor appropriate for our brand image?
- Are our items priced well, to meet the image we are promoting?
The company website and social media pages may also be the first impression, and we may identify questions such as:
- Is our website aligned with our brand? (I.e. Does it reflect the brand personality traits we want?)
- Is it easy, and intuitive to navigate?
- Can the customer find the appropriate information to either contact us, or make an informed purchase directly from our digital platforms?
- Do our landing pages sufficiently address the content that the customer will be seeking? (If they're searching for a new t-shirt, they won't be interested in landing on a blog about picking a store fragrance, or a careers page, they'll want to land on a page centered around the t-shirts sold- and why to choose this particular brand).
When thinking through the customer journey, it helps to be creative and really put yourself in the customer's shoes. You may think of unique marketing ideas to help your brand, for example, if you're considering how a customer gets in contact with a brand you may find inspired ideas: Imagine instead of a boring, standard e-mail address like: 'email@example.com' or 'firstname.lastname@example.org', you thought further about the experience and decided you wanted to make a personal touch, like a team member name, or a quirky message like 'email@example.com'. Even the smallest detail such as an e-mail address can cause an emotion, a positive reaction.
Whilst we may have been able to build a great customer experience so far, based on initial discovery and impressions of an intelligently designed brand, a key aspect of the brand is the team behind it. The website, the physical store or office, the press releases, and the social media can all set the scene, but the interaction the customer has with the business will ultimately shape opinions further. Whether the customer speaks with a representative in person, over the phone, over a messenger platform or e-mail, or even if they're interacting with an A.I. bot, a brand must identify the customer expectations and plan for how the team should behave.
Having a clearly defined Brand Pyramid is a great reference point when discussing team interactions. For example, you may have 'Professionalism, Friendliness, and Innovative' as your brand personality traits, and as such you might want your team to follow such direction as:
- Ensure all clients are acknowledged and greeted when entering the store. Also ensure they're thanked for any sales, and that the team say goodbye.
A further consideration is that the 'hello' and 'goodbye' could be developed to follow a certain tone. Hollister, a trendy surf brand, demand that their staff use buzzwords and particular language- saying "what's up" instead of "hello", for example. There's a big difference between saying "hey", and "hello sir/madame, I'm * Name *, welcome to * Brand *, be sure to let me know if you need anything".
- Ask for a client name, and refer to them by their name throughout the interaction for the personal touch.
- Never use negatives like 'bad' (or 'not bad!'), or 'not expensive'. And, never use low-value words like 'cheap'. Instead always use positives like 'could be better' or 'great value'.
- If you can't answer a customer question, confidently tell them you'll find the information for them promptly with help from your expert team.
A business might have a good product, and expect a customer just to: go in to the shop; pick up the item; take it the counter; pay for it; leave. However, there can be multiple unexpected steps and thought-processes to consider in the sales process. We have to map out as many possibilities as possible, to make sure we're prepared and optimized for encouraging as many sales as possible.
For example, on payment alone we might look at:
- Will the cash register always have enough change to handle large notes for small value items?
- Do we have functioning credit card facilities, and if the internet goes down, do we have a backup process?
- Can we offer monthly payment options on the more costly items?
- Can we offer modern payment options like scanning a QR to pay via mobile?
Even before that, what might stop a customer getting to the till?
- Do we have sufficient signage to advise customers to ask us for sizes not out on display?
- Can we make our stock seem in high demand, and perhaps time sensitive to encourage snap decision making? (E.g. 'Autumn collection, limited run, awesome one-off sale price - when it's gone... it's gone!')
- Are we aware of what our competitors are doing, and can we ensure that the customer doesn't decide to go elsewhere for similar products?
- Is there clear signage for the fitting rooms. And, if there all fitting rooms are in-use, is there comfortable seating to wait - perhaps even time-killing distractions or potential up-sell promotions?
It could be tempting for a business to 'switch off' the moment the sale is made. After all, they've made the conversion, right? However, when we think of 'lifetime values' of customers, or the potential referral value that a loyal, and/or happy customer can bring, we need to think of the bigger picture.
When a customer has committed to buying our product or service, how has the transaction made them feel? Are they happy with the product? Are they comfortable with the amount of money they've parted with? Did they enjoy the service? Do they feel valued?
There are lots of interesting ideas to explore at this point in the journey, to turn their sale into a moment to celebrate, not just for the business, but for the customer too. You could have customized receipts, perhaps peppered with messages designed to evoke the appropriate emotions for your brand. Perhaps, your team have a sign-off procedure, such as a short thank you script and assurance of a warrantee, before smiling and wishing the customer a pleasant day.
After-Care & Customer Influence.
Once the customer has purchased your item, it's worth considering the future interactions and experience they'll have with your brand. You may imagine the procedure for any problems they may face with the item, and your policy on solving them. Other points to consider, is how you can remind the customer that your brand values them, and perhaps to tempt them into leaving positive reviews, recommending friends, or making another purchase.
We've grouped After-Care with Customer Influence, as the lasting impression the customer has of your brand may shape how, and when, they influence others in regards to your business. If the customer is enthusiastic about the product, and proud to share it on their social media - you're doing it right.
It's key to imagine of ways that customers can positively influence other potential customers, whilst also considering how the brand can encourage such helpful behavior. This could be from outputs such as:
- Posting photos of the product on social media with a good review
- Posting testimonials online
- Privately (or publicly) praising the product to peers
- Defending the brand on social media platforms and in discussions
- Actively supporting, researching, and following the brand
- Seeking a career within your business
- Financial investment in your brand
From plotting out this insight, our minds began unravelling with a long trail of ideas and potential questions (and answers) a Customer Journey can create. Rather than provide a 10'000 word essay on ideas to copy-paste, we hope we've inspired how to adopt the practice, and discover better ways to optimize your brand experience at each stage the customer will travel through.
And no matter how meticulously you plan out the journey, no matter how many points you address to create the perfect experience, you must always be prepared to revisit this exercise as trends change (such as new technology, consumer habits, new competitor strategies, and your brand evolution).
As may seem evident, this exercise involve a huge amount of information plotting, and idea generation. To display a Customer Journey effectively, we use KanBan boards via Bloo - so that we can map everything digitally with a clear structure. Traditional mapping is simply on large sheets of paper, the bigger the better for visual impact!
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