CloudCherry is now part of Cisco.
Learn More About Cisco
customer journeys

The Changing Face of Customer Journeys

Vidya VenugopalanVidya Venugopalan | December 21, 2017

One of the most important things a company can do is to map the customer journey. Not long ago, mapping that path was relatively easy. However, the consumer is evolving at the speed of light, and, thanks to technological advancements, the customer journey is changing just as quickly.

How the Customer Journey Has Changed

The customer’s journey through a sales funnel was linear and predictable. Thus, companies were able to determine exactly what a customer would do when they’d make the decision to buy, or how they would look for information to help them make that decision.

Essentially, companies could determine the triggers as well as the methodology behind the customer journey quite easily.

Consumers used to be significantly more passive, and certainly had a higher level of trust in brands and the promises they were made. They also had fewer options, both in terms of brands but also resources to obtain information. Additionally, brands had fewer ways in which to connect with customers. So, the journey was linear and very simple. It was also quite a quick process from the initial exposure to the moment of purchase.

Nowadays, though, the journey has transformed so much that it has become unpredictable to a large extent. This transformation is owed in large part to mobile technology and social media. However, it’s also because of how products and services are now being marketed.

New Technology Has Led to the Evolution of the Consumer

People are using new platforms and methods to communicate, and they are obtaining information in different ways as well.

For example, a mere decade ago, Instagram, WhatsApp, smartphones, tablets, and many other communication devices and platforms didn’t exist. At the time, everyone communicated with each other in large part by voice, while social media platforms were just starting to take off. In other words, most people communicated with a limited circle of friends and acquaintances.

Now, though, people communicate using everything from text and images to voice and video. They do it whenever they want, and wherever they want. And they do it with many more people than anyone could have envisioned a few decades ago.

Consumers nowadays have massive circles of friends and acquaintances, many of whom they’ve never met in person. Yet, they still communicate with these people regularly.

As a response, companies have also significantly changed how they market their products. It’s no longer enough to throw up an advertisement on TV or on a billboard, and then wait for the customers to come. Now, companies have to build relationships and engage their customers. They have to offer amazing customer experiences, and not just sell a product or service and then forget about the consumer.

Of course, this change in how companies market has also resulted in further changes to the consumer’s journey. It’s a bit of a vicious cycle: technology advances, consumers evolve, companies respond, and consumers evolve even further based on those responses.

Consumers Are Using More Touchpoints Than Ever to Interact with Brands

It’s interesting to look at the number of touchpoints consumers use to interact with brands. According to Raconteur, in 2000, 66.2% of consumers used 2 touch-points when making a purchase, with only 7.3% resorting to 4 touchpoints. At the time, no one used more than four. Fast-forwarding to 2015, we find that a little over 74% of consumers use between 3 and 7 touchpoints to interact with brands.

The problem is that many companies are still focusing on individual touchpoints rather than looking at the customer journey as a whole. This means they’re only looking at a small part of the equation, which is why it’s difficult to create a truly outstanding customer experience.

Without understanding the path the consumer takes, it will be virtually impossible to create a delightful customer experience or to influence the customer’s journey in any way. The goal is to achieve an experience that is memorable and delightful across all touchpoints and that the move from on to the other is seamless.

The Stages of the Customer Journey

The good news is that while the transition from one touchpoint to another might be unpredictable, the stages of the journey are relatively constant.

Discovery or Awareness:

This is the first stage where the consumer discovers the need or desire for a product or service. It can be internal or external. For example, the consumer decides they want a new refrigerator, or they have to replace their old one because it broke down, which is an internal trigger.

However, the trigger can also be external. The same consumer might not be considering the replacement of their refrigerator until they receive an email, or see an ad on a website, with an amazing deal that gets them thinking. This would be an external trigger, coming from the brand.

Research and Evaluation:

Before, with an external trigger, the consumer might have gone out and purchased the refrigerator right away. Even with an internal trigger, their options would be limited.

Now, though, research and evaluation has become the norm, even for consumers who see a product in a physical location. So, the consumer will go online to conduct a search for refrigerators. They might do a general search if the trigger was internal to see what brands have the best reviews, and to find the best deals.

If the trigger was external – i.e. they saw the refrigerator in a store – they will likely research that particular brand and model to see what people think. They might just read reviews, but many will also go on social media and ask their circle of friends what they think about that particular brand and model.

Of course, they’ll also research prices and deals, to make sure they really are getting the best possible offer.

Taking Action/Making the Purchase:

At this point, the consumer decides what model of refrigerator they will buy, where they will buy from, and how they will take delivery. For example, if a consumer saw the refrigerator online, they might choose to go to a physical store to interact with the unit and then purchase it from there.

Or, the consumer might decide to go back home and order it from an online source as it might be easier to organize delivery of the refrigerator.

Post-Purchase Action/Experience:

This is the point that can really make or break a brand. It’s the point where the customer starts sharing their experience. If they were treated well, if the purchase was simple, if the product is great, if the brand went out of its way to help them, they’ll be happy. And they’ll let everyone know.

However, if the experience has been terrible, they’ll still share it. In fact, they’re more likely to share a terrible experience with others than a good one, which is why brands have to be on high alert. At this point in the process, brands have the unique opportunity to turn a bad experience into a good one by reacting quickly and remedying the customer’s problem.

Loyalty and Advocacy:

This is the point where the consumer decides whether they will purchase from the same brand again, which will depend on a number of factors. However, customer experience is quickly becoming one of the most important factors.

Using the Stages to Map the Journey

It’s clear that at every stage of the journey, customers can use various touchpoints to interact with the brand. Understanding how customers flit from one channel to the next and how their path progresses from awareness to loyalty is essential to ensuring that once they do reach that final stage, they decide to offer your brand their loyalty and become your advocates.

It’s a matter of ensuring that your customers have a great experience throughout their entire journey, and not just at each touchpoint. Brands have to remember that it’s not just the touchpoints themselves that make up the journey, but also the “space” between the points. In the world of the consumer, that refers to making sure they have a great experience at every touchpoint but also that their experience transitioning from one touchpoint to another is just as delightful.