Table of Contents
What is a customer journey?
The customer journey, or customer lifecycle, describes the varying steps a customer goes through when interacting with a company, from the first touchpoint to the last. Discovering a product or service, researching it, purchasing, engaging with a brand on social media, using the product, and seeking support are all examples of interactions someone may have throughout a customer journey.
A customer journey differs from the customer experience, but the two concepts are closely related. The customer journey describes the interactions that occur before, during, or after the customer experiences a product or service, whereas customer experience is a customer's perception of those interactions.
For example, if a customer finds a product or service easy to use or they have an emotional connection to it, these factors could positively impact how they feel about the company, which would be their customer experience.
Customer journey vs. audience
A customer journey refers to the step-by-step process a customer goes through when interacting with a company. On the other hand, an audience is a specific group of people who share behavioral, demographic, or psychographic traits.
Still, audiences and customer journeys are closely connected. Your target audience is the people most likely to purchase your products or services, so you should design your customer journey with their wants, needs, and struggles in mind. For example, if your audience values convenience, you should prioritize ease of use and accessibility throughout the customer journey.
Your customer journey also affects your audience. If a customer has a great experience with your company, they might tell their network about it, helping you build awareness amongst your target audience.
Customer journey vs. buyer journey
While the customer journey encompasses all customer interactions with a company, the buyer journey refers specifically to the purchasing phase of the process.
For example, the typical steps of a buyer journey are awareness, consideration, and decision. In contrast, a customer journey includes stages beyond the sale, such as retention and advocacy.
Who is involved with the customer journey?
Since the customer journey involves every interaction with a company, naturally, many teams are actively engaged in the process.
- Marketing teams create awareness and build demand for a company's products or services
- Sales teams convert those interested prospects into paying customers
- Customer support teams help customers after they've made the purchase
All these different teams must work well together to provide a positive and efficient customer experience.
Customer journey stages
Each customer journey stage influences how consumers feel about your product or service and contributes to their overall experience with your brand. Here’s a brief breakdown of each step, from your customer’s first touchpoint to their last.
During the awareness stage, a potential buyer becomes aware of your product or service and begins researching it. For example, a customer might see an ad for a new phone while scrolling through Instagram.
At this stage, potential customers evaluate their options and compare solutions. For instance, a customer considering a new phone might read reviews, compare prices, and ask for recommendations.
Finally, during the decision (or conversion) stage, the customer makes a purchase. At this point, they’ve evaluated all options and decided your product or service best fits their needs. For example, after researching different makes and models, the customer considering a new phone purchased the iPhone 15 Pro. This stage is where a lead or prospect becomes a paying customer.
Customers reach the adoption stage when they start using the product or service they purchased. This stage determines whether your customer will be satisfied with their purchase. For example, the customer who bought the new iPhone starts using it and learns how to navigate the features.
The advocacy stage is when your customer becomes a loyal fan and recommends it to others. For example, the customer who bought the new iPhone may become an advocate if they love the phone so much that they recommend it to their friends and family. The customer may also leave positive reviews on your brand's website or social media pages.
Because each customer journey stage contributes to the overall customer experience, it’s critical to have a positive experience at every touchpoint. Ultimately, this drives brand awareness, lead generation, conversions, and customer retention.
How do customer journeys differ across industries?
Every industry has its type of touchpoints, customer expectations, and buying processes, which impact the customer journey. Factors such as customer behavior, mindset, and pain points also come into play.
For example, many retail customers still prefer to browse and physically touch products before purchasing. They also value speed and convenience. With these factors in mind, a retail customer journey may focus on creating a seamless and efficient shopping experience and involve touchpoints like browsing online and in-store, trying on or testing products, and talking to a sales associate.
In comparison, B2B customers often spend a lot of time researching before purchasing. They may have also needed help finding the information they need, slow customer service, confusing product or service offerings, unclear pricing or processes, and impersonal communication with other companies. As a result, a B2B customer journey will likely emphasize transparency and personalization, involving touchpoints like product demos, consultations, and negotiations.
Benefits of understanding the customer journey
Understanding the customer journey can benefit marketing, sales, customer support, and product development teams. Here are some of the critical advantages of knowing the customer journey.
Understand customer behavior
A customer journey will help you understand customer behavior and preferences to optimize your products, services, and marketing efforts. For example, monitoring customer interactions with your support team will reveal common concerns or questions. You can then use this information to develop more robust product pages or develop self-serve customer support resources that address their needs before they need to make a support request.
Identify effective touchpoints
How do your customers prefer to engage with you? Via your website? Social channels? SMS text? You can pinpoint the highest-converting touchpoints with a customer journey and optimize them to increase sales.
Diagnose product or service issues
A customer journey can help you see where customers are experiencing issues with your product or service and address them promptly, ultimately improving customer satisfaction and loyalty. For example, a website with a lot of traffic and a high bounce rate is a sign that you’re either attracting the wrong audience or your website messaging isn’t clear or compelling enough to hold your audience’s attention.
Support marketing efforts
Your marketing team can use customer journey insights to create targeted messaging and campaigns that resonate with customers and drive conversions. For example, if it typically takes your customers a month to move from the consideration to the decision phase, your marketing touchpoints and promotions should align with this timeline.
Increase customer engagement
The customer journey can help you anticipate customer needs and provide proactive support, increasing customer engagement, trust, and loyalty. Suppose customers who start using your product within 24 hours tend to have high retention and loyalty rates. In that case, you should develop an in-app tutorial or quick start guide to help get people up and running as quickly as possible.
Boost conversion rates
Fixing gaps in your customer journey can help you increase sales. Say you run an e-commerce store and notice a high drop-off at the consideration stage in the form of abandoned carts. To address this, you can boost conversions by simplifying your checkout process or providing multiple payment options.
Increase return on investment (ROI)
Personalizing your paid ad campaigns and tailoring your messaging to your prospect’s customer journey stage will make your campaigns more engaging, helping you achieve more bang for your marketing buck.
Improve customer satisfaction and loyalty
The advocacy stage of the customer journey is critical for driving customer satisfaction and loyalty, as it can help you build a community around your brand.
For instance, you can foster brand advocacy by hosting customer appreciation events, creating special offers for brand advocates, and sending personalized thank-you messages.
How do marketers use the customer journey?
Effective marketing is all about reaching the right people at the right time with the right messages — and the customer journey is an essential part of it. Understanding how customers interact with your business can help you tailor campaigns and messaging to their needs and preferences.
Here are a few specific ways marketers use the customer journey.
By studying the different stages of the customer journey, marketers can learn more about common customer pain points, motivations, and behaviors and, in turn, develop more in-depth customer personas.
For example, after reading customer reviews, a beauty brand marketing team might discover that many of their buyers learned about the brand on TikTok while searching for natural and organic products. Based on these insights, they could create a targeted TikTok marketing campaign with messaging highlighting their products’ natural and organic ingredients.
The customer journey can help marketers create content that addresses customer pain points and questions based on their journey stage.
A marketer for a software company might create an awareness-stage blog post that educates potential customers about product benefits. They could then create a case study or demo video for consideration-stage prospects that showcases how their product solves a specific problem. This targeted content strategy helps move customers through the journey more efficiently and effectively.
Delighting customers at each journey stage can help boost customer retention rates. For instance, a subscription-based meal delivery service marketer might send a personalized email with recipe ideas and cooking tips to a customer in the adoption stage. This proactive approach helps improve product satisfaction with customers and their overall experience with the brand, increasing their chances of repurchasing.
Marketers can support sales teams with tailored use case content that aligns with customers in the consideration stage of the journey.
Suppose you’re a marketer for a B2B software company. In that case, you might create a sales enablement toolkit that includes case studies, whitepapers, and product demos to help sales reps support prospects in making an educated purchasing decision.
Cross-channel and omnichannel experiences
Customers today have many tools and platforms to research and engage with brands — online search, customer review sites, social media, and so on. As a result, most businesses need to invest in cross-channel (using multiple channels to reach customers) and omnichannel (creating a seamless experience across all channels) marketing to capture their audience’s attention and convert them into paying customers.
For example, a clothing retailer may use email marketing, social media, and in-store promotions to reach customers. After reviewing the customer journey and marketing analytics, the retailer identifies that customers often click emails, browse online, and then visit the store to purchase. With this information, the store could send prospects coupons to redeem in-store or online based on products they’ve viewed online. Or, the team could trigger a post-purchase email with styling tips and care instructions for their specific item.
Identifying pain points and gaps
Digging into the customer journey also helps marketers identify touchpoints where customers may have pain points or gaps in their experience. For example, capturing demographic and industry data at the adoption stage can inform your onboarding emails and allow you to tailor them to a customer’s specific use case.
How to improve a customer journey
Keeping your customers happy and coming back for more is vital for any business. Here are some steps to ensure your customers have an incredible journey with your brand.
1. Start with a clear vision. Where are you now, and where do you want to be? How do you want your customers to feel while using your product or service, and what must you do to make it happen? These questions will help you spot weak points in your current customer experience.
2. Ask your prospects and customers. Want to know what your customers think about your brand? Just ask. Gathering feedback through surveys, forms, or interviews will teach you about their likes, dislikes, and expectations, which you can use to improve your customer journey and overall customer satisfaction.
3. Blueprint the customer journey map. Create a map of your customer's interactions with your brand to visualize your customer experience from beginning to end. Depending on the size and complexity of your audience, you might consider making multiple customer journeys for different audience segments to see how they interact with your brand. More on customer journey maps below.
4. Identify areas for improvement. Check your customer journey map for areas for improvement. Are there content or messaging gaps you could fill to address customer questions in the consideration phase? Or, your map may show that your primary persona spends time on social media and you need to build more paid resources on those channels.
A well-optimized customer journey should be seamless and frictionless, helping your buyers accomplish their goals effectively and efficiently.
What is the customer journey map?
A customer journey map visually represents a customer's interactions with a brand across various touchpoints — from the first point of contact through adoption and advocacy. A customer journey map includes:
- Customer personas
- Journey stages
- Customer actions
- Solutions or opportunities for improvement
The primary purpose of a customer journey map is to help businesses identify gaps in the journey and areas they can improve. Building a customer journey map involves gathering customer data, conducting customer interviews, and polling stakeholders on the journey process. Using that information, you can prioritize tasks that improve customer experiences, optimize customer interactions, and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
What tools do I need to visualize the customer journey?
There are several tools you can use to visualize customer journeys. Here are some popular choices.
1. Customer journey mapping software. You can use tools like UXPressia, Smaply, and Touchpoint Dashboard to create a visual map of your customer's journey while interacting with the company. .
2. Website visit tracking tools. Software like Google Analytics, Kissmetrics, and Mixpanel help you track and visualize customer journeys on your website. This tracking offers valuable insights into how customers use your website, from their initial visit to the final purchase.
3. CRM software. Customer relationship management (CRM) software like Salesforce and HubSpot helps you monitor customer interactions across multiple channels, including social media, email, and phone. These tools provide a 360-degree view of your customers and help you tailor experiences to their preferences.
4. Survey tools. Use tools like SurveyMonkey and Typeform to gather customer feedback at various customer journey stages to improve their experience and add personalization.
5. Whiteboard templates. The Business Model Canvas and the Lean UX Canvas are great tools for creating customer journey maps. The whiteboard format works well for team collaboration and visualizing the customer journey.