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The ultimate guide to understanding the customer journey

Understanding the customer journey is key to optimizing your customer experience. Learn how to map out the steps and tailor your email marketing to effectively engage and retain customers.

Customer expectations are changing all the time. On average customers connect with brands on 10 channels making customer journeys increasingly complex. This makes it difficult for marketers to ensure a great customer experience.

We can no longer concentrate on experiences in silo. Email marketing is consistent in every customer journey. It’s there throughout every key touchpoint but it’s not good enough to focus on improving the email experience alone.

Modern customers are more impatient than ever. They want things now and they want it across every channel. For brands to meet and exceed these expectations, we need to dive deeper into the customer experience. What do customers want, what are their motivations, what potential pain points might get in the way, and how can you anticipate these to drive customer retention and loyalty?

What is the customer journey?

The customer journey tells the story of your customer’s experiences and interactions with your brand across all touchpoints. Traditionally customer journeys can be considered to have five key stages:

  1. Reach: this is your chance to reach new customers while their deliberating, researching, and comparing products and propositions.
  2. Acquisition: when customers land on your website or subscribe to your email marketing they’ve officially been acquired. This stage should be about building trust.
  3. Conversion: after you’ve educated your new audience and customers are ready to convert you should be providing value and building a strong relationship.
  4. Retention: to retain your newly converted customers you need to be showing customers that you care about how they feel and the benefits that come with their loyalty.
  5. Loyalty: brand loyalty is of the utmost importance; loyal customers turn into brand advocates and that’s the name of the game.

Mapping the customer journey

Whether you’re an ecommerce, B2B, or non-profit business, how your customers interact with your brand will be unique. You need to consider all experiences customers have when interacting with you.

Mapping your customer journey can be particularly helpful to identify motivators and potential obstacles across customer touchpoints. While customer journey maps are often depicted as timelines, modern customer relationships are lifecycles.

The cyclical nature of lifecycles means there’s no end to the journey. Driving customer loyalty is the ultimate goal. Brands have to continually deliver relevant, timely, and personalized messages to retain customers. If you don’t, you’ll not remain at the top of customers’ minds and brand awareness will quickly fade.

Visualizing the customer journey will help you pinpoint key channels for each stage. When you know which channels to target, conversion and retention will be easier to optimize.

Why are customer journeys important?

Understanding your customer journey makes it easier to determine what customers expect from their experiences with your brand.

In marketing, emailing especially, expectations keep changing. From personalization to privacy, we’re in the middle of an irreversible revolution. Customers want personalized experiences, one-to-one conversations, relevant messages, and timely notifications. At the same time, they’re increasingly wary of brands, reluctant to hand over their personal information unless they get something in return.

The needs, wants, and motivations of your personas will vary according to the channel they prefer at each touchpoint. Customer journeys are also important for you to develop a customer-centric approach to your marketing. By understanding your customer’s journeys, you can tailor the experience to their needs.

The more you offer personalized, relevant marketing across your marketing channels, the happier your customer will be. And a happy customer is a loyal customer. Ultimately, you’ll find retaining customers and turning them into brand advocates far easier.

How to improve the customer journey

Maintaining good marketing results requires continuous optimization. As customer expectations adapt, so must your strategy. You should be regularly reviewing your customer journey to ensure you’re providing customers with the most seamless experience possible.

Stage 1: reach

To effectively target your audience, it’s important to collect customer data such as zero-party data. This is information customers willingly and intentionally share with you. It’ll help you build personas for your audience that can be used to create targeted ads on Google and social media.

Ensuring you’re reaching the right people will provide you with a much stronger list of engaged contacts. But, remember, you should only be collecting necessary customer data and you shouldn’t be collecting any information you don’t need to use.

Stage 2: acquisition

You don’t want to lose a newly acquired customer by sending them irrelevant messages. 37% of customers are willing to unsubscribe from brands sending them impersonal and generic email marketing.

Ask customers what they want to hear. Or, better yet, offer a self-service content model where your subscribers can pick and choose what subjects they hear from you about. Irrelevant messaging will only make customers lose trust in your brand, so avoid it as much as you can.

Stage 3: conversion

Conversion is the point where marketing and customer service come together. Both departments should be working in tandem to ensure customers have as smooth an experience as possible.

Channels such as live chat can help remove blockers on the path to purchase, but can also be used as a data collection tool. You can discover areas on your website that need improving or find out frequently asked questions about your products or services.

By collecting customer data along the way, you can create engaging and delightful post-chat email automations to improve overall experiences and help build strong, long-lasting relationships with your new customer.

Stage 4: retention

This is the stage where your customer data really takes on a life of its own. You should only be collecting data that you intend to use to personalize experiences and post-purchase is where you should be focusing.

Using explicitly expressed interest as well as purchase history data you can deliver personalized product recommendations or content to keep customers engage and retain them for longer. You can also team zero-party data with eRFM or lead scoring to create distinct pathways for highly specific and targeted customer segments.

By using customer data to personalize your marketing messages and offers, you can create a more relevant customer experience that is more likely to drive conversions and build customer loyalty.  

Stage 4: loyalty

The loyalty stage is all about making the customer feel valued. By optimizing the earlier stages in the customer journey you’ve already earned their trust, demonstrating your commitment to using customer data appropriately and that you value customers’ privacy. Now you need to level up the relationship.

Inviting loyal customers to join review panels or loyalty programs can create even stronger bonds with your customer. It will help them feel more invested in your brand giving them a reason to stick around and continue to choose you over your competitors.

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