The term “customer journey” describes the experiences a customer makes between the first contact with a brand and their final purchase decision. This model assumes that a customer rarely decides spontaneously, but rather gets in touch with a brand, a product, or a service at different points during their journey, called touchpoints. These can be at least partially influenced by a company. By optimizing these touchpoints you can positively affect customer experience and direct them towards a purchase decision. In online business, companies benefit from the fact that most of the digital customer journey can be monitored.
Customer journey models
There are several models in the marketing field that aim to map and analyze customer journeys. One of them is called “AIDA” and has been used in sales psychology for more than a hundred years. AIDA defines four steps for the customer journey, starting with “Attention”. In the second stage (“Interest”) customers have an initial buying interest in a product which is reinforced by “Desire”. At last, “Action” is the moment when a business transaction takes place. In many cases, the steps of this AIDA model are supplemented by touchpoints such as “consideration”, i.e. product comparison, or the decisive trigger for action (“intent to purchase”).
Each touchpoint along the customer journey can be analyzed and optimized. For example, attention can be created through advertising for a product whereas interest can arise through in-depth product information on specialist portals. The actual purchase can be pushed by providing an online experience that is convenient, fast and secure. Therefore, each customer touchpoint can be considered a “moment of truth” as for each stage, there is a chance that customers jump off. Ideally, these moments of truth will encourage potential customers in their decision-making process during their customer journey, so that they are satisfied and become regular customers or even recommend your offers to others.
While you can control the customer journey and touchpoints on your website, other moments of truth are outside of your direct influence. A critical media report or negative experiences of other customers are factors that can severely disrupt the AIDA approach at an early stage. For this reason, you should concentrate on analyzing the collected data during the customer journey and draw conclusions in order to increase conversions.
Mapping the customer journey
To fully understand the journey of your customers, you can create a customer journey map that allows you to visualize the process. This is more than just illustrating when and where interactions between your company and customers take place. As you also have to consider a customer’s feelings and emotions, a customer journey map should include all of their experiences at each touchpoint. Such a map can help to research where your company is doing good and where you need to improve.
How does understanding your customer journeys benefit your marketing?
Analyzing and understanding your customers' journeys can have a positive effect in many ways. For example, if you notice that customers often cancel during the order or payment process, there is obviously a need for optimization at this touchpoint. Then you have to find out whether this is due to hidden additional costs, complicated navigation, or other details and correct it accordingly. The same applies to other touchpoints such as online ads not leading to clicks or an unfulfilled demand for information of potential customers. Enterprises track customer journeys to ensure they know what is happening to their target audience and where customers are hesitating or dropping out before reaching their primary goal - making a purchase.
Another benefit of analyzing the customer journey in depth is that you can take advantage of positive side effects. At which point in the decision-making process are customers willing to share their email address and subscribe to a newsletter? When do they expect personal service? Which advertising measures are effective?
Cookies and other tools for tracking the digital customer journey can help to transparently capture and evaluate touchpoints. However, marketing is finding its limits here.
Possible problems when mapping the customer journey
There are three major problems that can occur when trying to map your customer’s journeys. First, touchpoints outside the internet are difficult to map reliably. Touchpoints like the first moment of truth cannot be captured by the instruments of online mapping. Did it take place through newspaper advertisements or private recommendations? Do retailers present the product in an appealing way? This information would, however, be helpful in measuring the success of strategies regarding the customer journey.
The second major challenge in digitally tracking the customer journey is that internet users are increasingly suspicious of cookies and other tracking mechanisms. Web browsers such as Apple's Safari and Google's Chrome suppress many cookies that allowed you to track customer journeys across multiple websites in the past. EU regulations for the protection of personal data and the use of ad blockers are additional factors that make the mapping of customers’ behavior difficult or even impossible. While most marketers would like to completely track customer journeys from start to finish, many consumers are sensitized and actively protect themselves against such measures.
The third problem is that more and more purchasing processes and touchpoints take place in social networks or on other platforms, which share their customer journey information only partially or not at all. Facebook, as an example, only shares a small amount of what it knows about its users with other companies. Thus, the customer journey only becomes partially transparent.