A customer journey is a concept that refers to the complete experience a customer has with a company or brand, from initial awareness through to post-purchase interactions. Companies can break this concept down into several stages (as you can see below), each of which represents a different part of the customer’s experience. However, optimizing the customer journey requires a better understanding of user behavior so you can create customer journey metrics. And, that’s our topic for today.
Understanding the customer journey
Above is the typical customer journey, also called the conversion funnel for the shape it takes as consumers drop off along the journey because they discarded your suitability to solve their existing problems. However, we now think of the customer journey as a series of cyclical movements rather than a linear process. Hence, the customer journey likely looks more like the one below, taking into consideration modern visions of the process.
Whether you consider the process cyclical or linear, it commonly involves the same five stages shown below. Moving between stages isn’t a foregone conclusion, so we still need to understand why consumers jump ship partway toward the end, which is where customer journey metrics can help us optimize the number of consumers who complete all five stages. First, let’s start with the stages in the customer journey.
- Awareness: The customer becomes aware of a need or problem and recognizes that your product or service might offer a solution. Sometimes awareness of the problem comes from seeing your content suggesting a solution but it’s important to recognize that needs pre-exist purchase. No company can create a need. Instead, successful companies seek out unmet consumer needs to build solutions for them.
- Consideration: The customer starts to gather information about your product and compares it with others on the market. This is where they consider whether your offering meets their needs and preferences. In this stage, companies try to create positive attitudes toward the brand as a means to promote purchase. Among the strongest attitudes are emotions. Hence, companies try to link their product and emotions using content like storytelling and living shared values. Consideration also involves situating the product within the norms of the society. That’s why influencer marketing and user-generated content work so well at moving consumers to the next stage of the process.
- Decision/Purchase: The customer decides to purchase your product or service. As we’ll see below, a number of problems can occur at this stage between the purchase decision and actually completing the transaction. Again, this is a topic for our discussion on customer journey metrics that follows.
- Retention: After the purchase, the customer’s experience with the product and the brand influences their likelihood of becoming a repeat customer. This stage includes customer support, quality of the product/service, and overall satisfaction.
- Advocacy: If the customer is satisfied with their experience, they may become a brand advocate, recommending your product or service to others and promoting it through word of mouth or social media. Often, this advocacy involves rating or reviewing your product. Creating content showing them using your product is another minor form of advocacy. A deeper form of advocacy involves creating user-generated content showing how to use your products or promoting your brand. At the pinnacle of advocacy, you have those rarified customers who will defend your brand when others seek to disparage it.
Understanding the customer journey is crucial for businesses as it helps in optimizing the customer experience at every touchpoint, ensuring satisfaction and loyalty. Businesses often create customer journey maps to visualize and better understand this process, identifying areas for improvement and opportunities to enhance the customer experience. However, we can’t stop there. To improve market performance, we must assess customer journey metrics and identify where problems arise in the customer journey so we can find solutions that encourage more consumers to complete the process.
Customer journey metrics
Customer journey metrics are powerful tools for businesses looking to improve their market performance. Here’s how it can be effectively utilized:
Understanding the customer journey
Begin by mapping out the customer journey and identifying all touchpoints where customers interact with your brand. This includes everything from initial awareness and consideration to purchase and post-purchase interactions. For instance, here’s an example of a customer journey that went wrong. Take a look at it and we’ll discuss how to create a better customer journey.
Dysfunctional customer journey
This dysfunctional customer journey is easy to fix. First, we can eliminate search that ends in clickbait by improving the SEO of our content so our content shows up above those clickbait links. That might mean choosing keywords more closely aligned with user intent or creating content that ranks better in search. A site that isn’t optimized for mobile not only frustrates users but also contributes to the poor search performance of your content. Linking mobile users to website content also helps improve performance by allowing users to begin their search on a mobile device, and then finish on another device. Studies show that 83% of users combine mobile search with desktop in a single purchase. A user shouldn’t have to start their journey over just because they switched devices.
Cognitive overload occurs when consumers face too many choices. That’s why your site should offer filters so consumers are left with a manageable number of products to choose from. Having either too many choices or too few makes consumers unhappy and delays or defeats their efforts to choose a suitable product. Reviews are a tool used by consumers to help them choose better products. However, too many companies feature fake reviews on their website so consumers don’t know which product to choose and they may simply choose to buy nothing. Amazon, once the leader in eliminating fake reviews, now appears to feature too many fake ratings from users who didn’t bother to post a review, which is a red flag that these ratings are meaningless.
When consumers can’t get the information needed to make a decision from your website or reviews, they may call the company. Some companies don’t offer a number to call or bury it so deeply that users can’t find it. Some offer chatbots, which are great if adequately trained to answer most questions but frustrating when they don’t offer accurate results or can’t answer a question. Ensure you offer sufficient human resources to address questions and concerns raised by prospective buyers as these are also part of the customer journey.
A customer experience audit
Good customer journey metrics include a customer experience audit. Once you have your customer journey map, you can conduct an audit like the one above looking for both key metrics (KPIs) that form additional customer journey metrics and identify areas where friction might derail the customer journey.
Collect data from various sources like your website, social media, customer service interactions, and in-store experiences for points along the audit. Integrating this data provides a comprehensive view of the customer journey. Use these analytics to understand how customers move through the journey. Look for patterns and trends in their behavior, such as common pathways to purchase or points where they drop off. Analyze the data to identify areas where customers face difficulties or where their needs are not being fully met. Also, look for opportunities where you can enhance the customer experience.
For instance, GA 4, the newest version of Google Analytics, provides both funnel and path funnels to visualize how visitors move around your website so you can find indicators of friction, such as an unusually high number of exits from a page or shopping cart abandonment. You can even develop a more nuanced view of friction points by breaking these reports down by source or visitor demographics/ geographics. Solve these areas of friction and you can vastly improve market performance.
Use the insights gained to personalize the customer experience. Tailored marketing messages, recommendations, and offers can significantly improve engagement and conversion rates. For instance, if you see a particular demographic group experiencing a higher rate of shopping cart abandonment, consider crafting messages that resonate better with this group to increase conversion rates. If you see repeat visitors experience high bounce rates, consider ways to integrate across visits so these repeat visitors can easily pick up where they left off. As an example, I was ordering swag for an event. I logged in and chose some items, customized them with my information, and added them to my cart. I wanted to get insights from another of my staff before ordering so I shared my login with that employee. However, when that person went to the site using my login, my cart was empty. Now, it was easier to start over with another provider rather than face the problem again.
The average conversion rate for an e-commerce store is only between 2.5% and 3%. That puts a lot of pressure on your brand to optimize your conversion rate as much as possible if you want to succeed.
A good UX contributes to higher conversion rates because visitors can find the content that motivates them to make a purchase more easily and the content flows toward conversion. But CRO (conversion rate optimization) doesn’t stop there. Consider your conversion funnel using the graphic below.
Thus, you should spend significant effort to reduce any stickiness in your conversion funnel, so the maximum number of visitors flow through the funnel to the thank you page, representing a sale. While this might sound obvious, shopping cart abandonment rates average 70% (the midpoint in studies between observed values of 56% and 81%). Potential customers might leave your landing page without making a purchase if the information provided isn’t accurate or sufficient to make a purchase decision. For instance, when shopping for a wedding dress, consider the most important decision variables such as price, length, color, and material so you can provide filtering that reduces the cognitive load in making a decision, as we discussed earlier. Try to display no more than 15 options according to a study by Caltech.
Among the factors contributing to shopping cart abandonment are:
- High shipping costs
- Unexpected charges or higher price than expected
- Forced to create an account, always allow customers to check out as a guest
- Limited payment options, try to include PayPal or Venmo (same company) as options for customers nervous about sharing their credit card information with you
- Website security concerns, you can’t take payments unless your site uses the HTTPS protocol but there are other ways to demonstrate that your site is safe. Guard your data like it was Fort Knox.
Try to streamline your conversion funnel by removing unnecessary steps to increase the conversion rate. For instance, Amazon offers a 1-click conversion for registered users, resulting in higher conversion rates.
Continuous monitoring and improvement
Customer journey analytics is not a one-time exercise. Continuously monitor customer behavior and market trends using customer journey metrics, and be prepared to adapt your strategies accordingly. Establish a feedback loop where customer feedback directly informs improvements in products, services, and the overall customer journey.
Utilize predictive analytics to anticipate future customer behaviors and market trends. While predictions aren’t always accurate, predictive analytics is a great tool for estimating performance so you can identify when there’s a concern you should address because the actual performance doesn’t match predicted performance.
Building predictive models in themselves is a great exercise as it points to customer journey metrics with the biggest impact (highest Beta) so you can focus on improving those metrics given you can’t always afford to fix every metric and sometimes fixing one metric means a different value decreases. Hence, predictive analytics are great for guiding decision-making so you can optimize performance.
By leveraging customer journey metrics, businesses can gain a deeper understanding of their customers, tailor their offerings and communications more effectively, and ultimately drive better market performance.
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