Using a Customer Journey Map to Improve the Customer Experience
Customer Journey Mapping
While the topic seems self-explanatory, many B2B SaaS companies forget or don’t understand how important the customer journey map is. Typically, companies understand the need for marketing and are quick to get the basic pieces in place—email marketing, website, social profiles, etc., but they are missing key strategic opportunities by not mapping the customer journey, and what a customer experiences through the buying process.
By understanding the customer experience and tying it to the stages of the customer journey, you can fully realize gaps and missed opportunities for communication and connection with prospective buyers that had not been noticed before.
What is customer experience?
People have been debating the definition of customer experience for years. On one spectrum, it is defined as online interactions and experiences that involve websites or web apps. In other cases, customer experience is related to customer service.
Let’s agree, that to be successful on a long-term basis, customer experience needs to be seen as all of these things and more. It is the sum of how customers engage with your company and brand—not just in a snapshot in time, but throughout the entire buying process and post-purchase process.
Every time a customer interacts with your brand, you have a chance to influence their perception of your products, people, and business.
Once you understand the customer experience you can approach marketing in a more strategic way and then take the steps to move prospects and customers through the sales process more consciously.
One of the best ways to start mapping the customer journey is to bring your marketing and sales teams together to talk through the steps a buyer goes through in the sales process.
Stages in a Customer Journey
While not all businesses have the same process, they do almost always have a customer journey that is based on a timeline. The journey moves in a linear or cyclical fashion similar to the company’s sales funnel. A helpful hint—before building your customer journey, identify target personas and work through how each persona might interact differently throughout the journey.
Stages in the Journey
I like this graphic from BrightVessel because it shows both the stages and the steps a customer might take, the touch points within those steps and stages, and the department(s) involved.
What are the stages?
Awareness - This is where your target audience has their first interaction with the brand. This interaction could be anything from seeing an ad to visiting your site. This is also where the buyer starts to realize that your product might solve a problem they have.
Research/Consideration/Evaluation - For most customers, the first step in their research process is reaching out to their peers or friends and reading online reviews. During this stage, negative reviews are going to influence the buyer and their perception of your product. Buyers tend to create spreadsheets or pitch decks to internally discuss the different features, costs, and options of several product or service options.
Purchase/Acquisition - This stage is when the customer makes the purchase or receives approval from leadership that the tool or solution will fix the problem they are having.
Onboarding/Out-of-the-Box Experience/Service - During this stage, customers are educated on the product or service and begin the steps to get setup to use the product. Depending on the level of customization required in this phase, there is a high opportunity for success and/or failure. The product or service is only as strong as the customer’s ability to use it. This stage is critical for customer satisfaction and retention. Will your product truly solve the customer’s problem or create more work for them?
Retention/Loyalty/Advocacy - Once you have the customer on board, it is important to try to keep them. Happy customers leave great reviews and share their wonderful experiences with their peers. Unhappy customers do the same thing, except unsatisfied customers are often even more vocal than those who are satisfied and can have a seriously negative impact on your brand. I have a friend who is a walking brand ambassador or brand breaker. Any and every issue she has with a brand she tells her friends about the pain points she went through and how no one should ever buy from that company. Inversely, if she had a great experience even if there was an issue she’d tell everyone about it.
This friend of mine had an experience with a computer company (let’s call it CompX), that resulted in several pitfalls on their end and one unhappy customer. She bought a computer from CompX right before we started our MBA together and had purchased an extended warranty to protect her from incidentals that happen in life. During the year she spilled some water on it and it broke, resulting in her contacting their customer service to try and fix the problem. She owned up to the issue but knew she had purchased a warranty for that reason to help cover for these types of situations.
The process in order to get the computer fixed resulted in her mailing the damaged computer to CompX. When the computer came back the first time she realized they did nothing to fix the issue, they had just sent it back to her. Resulting in her contacting CompX again and letting them know the computer was not fixed. CompX had her send the computer back to them again and this time when it returned she noticed they replaced the screen, which was fine however it still did not fix the overall issue of the computer not working. Again, she had to call CompX and let them know it is still not working, their last effort to resolve the issue was to send someone to her house for three hours who, incidentally broke the computer further.
When she called back a fourth time they fought her on their ability to fix the computer so it could be useable, however, it was clear they couldn't. So, in trying to explain the situation fully to CompX’s warranty manager she presented a back-of-the-napkin cost analysis of how much they spent trying to fix her computer (4 lengthy customer service calls, 3 technicians time) vs. how much she spent to buy the computer ($800). She informed the manager of how she had been going back and forth with the department for 6 weeks at this point and how horrible of an experience this was till she finally got a full refund.
In all, my friend wasted her time, money, energy, and efforts to still have no working computer. She in turn, took any opportunity where we discussed customer service, brand loyalty, and or computers to recant the story again. She brought the story up and told it over and over again so much that a large portion of our MBA cohort knew of the experience. Let that sink in, one person informed around 40 people who all at some point in the next 2-3 years will most likely make a purchase or be in a role where they might have a say on what brand of computer to buy. I bet many of us will recall that story about CompX.
I tell you all of this because it is so important for brands to realize how one bad experience could create a ripple effect of a negative impression of your brand that costs your company not only in brand equity but in possible end profits.
Key questions to ask during each stage
It’s important to address the actions, motivations, questions, and barriers the customer goes through in each stage.
In this HBC case they address using the following framework to help think through what the customer is doing in each stage.
Actions: What is the customer doing at each stage? What actions will be taken by the customer to move to the next step?
Motivations: Why is the customer motivated to keep going to the next stage? What emotions are they feeling? Why do they care?
Questions: What are the uncertainties, jargon, or other issues preventing the customer from moving to the next stage?
Barriers: What structural, process, cost, implementation, or other barriers that stand in the way of moving on the next stage?
Overlaying Key Questions
This Customer Journey Maps incorporates the persona and attributes about that persona. It also answers what actions, motivations, questions, and barriers the customer has during each phase in this case.
Building a customer journey
Some considerations when building out your customer journey model.
Key Stakeholders - When you start to build out a customer journey map, bring together all of the key players. I stress key because you don’t need everyone in the room. But, you do need marketing, sales, IT, C-level players to approve the decision. By bringing everyone together who plays a part in the customer experience you can gather information about the different pain-points and opportunities that exist across all the departments are areas of the experience, instead of just those that exist within each unique silo.
Research - Try to collect all the information you can about the thoughts, feelings, actions, motivations, expectations, goals, needs, pains, barriers, and questions a customer may experience during their journey with your company. The more deeply you can get inside the buyer’s head, the better you can tailor your communications, products, and services. If possible, conduct surveys or in-person customer interviews to get as much first-hand information as possible. There is no better way to understand the customer’s experience than to speak directly to a customer.
Build - There is no “correct” way to format your customer journey map, but for each phase along the timeline, you will want to go back through the key questions during each phase we discussed earlier. This will help your team dig deeper into thoughts the customer might be having or thinking.
Identify Gaps - Talking out what the customer goes through will help teams see what might be missing and what could be identified as an opportunity for improvement. Don’t think of this as looking for errors or an opportunity to point fingers. Think of this as a learning moment for everyone to think of how as a team, you could create a better experience. Create an environment where there are no “wrong” answers, only creative ideas.
Implement Findings - This is the most important step. Use the information you collected and test your theories out. A good way to test your theories is to create A/B tests. Choose a group that continues through the existing customer experience and another group to test your new customer experience approach. This way you can see if there is any actual improvement. If there is, move the entire group over to the new method.
Customer Journey Mapping is an enlightening exercise. If you and your team feel as if you are doing your best to market but there is a lack of conversion or if you feel like there’s a gap in the marketing and sales strategy, sit your team down and build out the journey, see what opportunities arise. If nothing else, it will be a great group experience to get everyone on the same page.