When you google “the customer journey” the majority of the results are about customer journey mapping. While tracking the touchpoints customers’ experience with your company can help you identify points of friction in your sales and product/service delivery processes, it’s hard to collect the right data without knowing what the customer journey encompasses.
What is the Customer Journey?
The customer journey is a way of tracking a customer’s experience with your company.
“[The customer journey] is really a framework for a greater philosophy of client nurturing,” says Client Success Manager Dylan Berno. “By providing the right segmentation, by triggering the right actions in an approach to proactively progress your relationships, it allows you to be responsive to your client.”
The customer journey is not one-size-fits-all. What the overarching framework will look like depends on numerous factors, including your industry, sales cycle and product or service.
For example at New Breed, we start tracking the customer journey when they complete onboarding. Prior to that, we use the buyer’s journey to understand prospects’ experiences, and onboarding bridges the buyer’s journey with the customer journey. The touchpoints that occur during the sales process influence how customers begin their customer journey and better buyer’s journeys lead to better customers. But, since the bulk of our customer experience occurs post-sale through service delivery, our customer journey tracking focuses on the experience we create for our customers when they’re receiving services.
However a company with a shorter engagement, like a B2C e-commerce store, has a very different customer journey framework. The bulk of the touchpoints forming their customer experience occur leading up to the purchase with the post-sale touchpoints consisting primarily of receiving the purchase and using it.
The customer journey of a B2B SaaS company leveraging the freemium model would also differ significantly from those two. A B2B SaaS company has many touchpoints occurring post-sale through product delivery, implementation and usage. However, the customer can also get direct experience with the free version of the product before they make a purchase. While some SaaS companies may consider all product users to be customers, from the customer’s perspective, they may be in the consideration stage of their buyer’s journey exploring different potential solutions. In that case, the buyer’s journey and customer journey are overlapping.
Regardless of how the buyer’s journey relates to the customer journey in your company, you can’t ignore the impact the experiences occurring pre-sale have on the customer journey.
The sales process plays an important role in setting the stage for a positive experience: Your solution has to be scoped correctly. Expectations have to be realistically set. The customer needs to understand what they’ll be getting and how it will help them.
The Structure of the Customer Journey
The customer journey doesn’t have a linear progression. Customer experience isn’t linear: there’s no set start state or end state, and things can change at any moment.
“What is an experience? It’s an emotional and sensory reaction to the moment. It can be measured by how you react and what you take with you — and most organizations just leave it to chance,” Dylan says.
Tracking the touchpoints that make up the customer journey can enable you to act in a way that provides the most value to your customers.
“By cataloging this, we can understand how our clients are feeling and the level of volatility associated with their current experience,” Dylan says.
The stages or statuses you classify customers as should reflect how the engagement is functioning between your customers and your company. Because it’s a reflection of the unique experience your company creates, you should set up a structure that your teammates can use to improve customer relationships. Don’t just copy labels or organizational stages from another company that has a completely different customer experience.
At New Breed, our customer journey stages include:
The stages describe how our relationship with our clients is based on their experience with our services.
“I focus on the fundamentals of a journey when customizing to a client-base,” Dylan says. “For many organizations, you could designate the stage that’s furthest from partnership as ‘unengaged’ and devote resources to nurture from there. As we frameworked our journey, we determined that our spectrum progresses from ‘reactive’ to ‘proactive’ to ‘strategic’ to ‘partnership.’ It’s a natural flow.” Dylan says.
Clients might not move through all these phases and that’s OK. Not everyone can — or should — become a partner. For example, a client might be looking to outsource a one-time project while they build out their team internally, but not want to work with a partner long-term. Ideally, you’ll still manage to foster a proactive or strategic experience, but you can still create an adequate customer experience by merely delivering what they ask for.
The goal of tracking the customer journey is enabling your company to tailor your solution to the customer’s needs. Creating stages that don’t accurately reflect your customers’ experience won’t help you do that.
“At any point, your customer can bounce to at-risk or churn and they’re out. Their journey’s effectively over,” Dylan says. “At any one of these four stages in this spectrum, they can become at risk.”
That’s why in addition to tracking the overall status of your customers’ experience, you should also look for specific triggers that might indicate a rapid turn for the worse.
“Everyone is going to have at-risk clients. That’s business. People want to take chances, and they want to move if they’re not having a good experience,” Dylan says. “it’s really challenging to create a high-quality experience for every client.”
Some triggers to look out for include:
- Poor sentiment
- Under delivery
- Poor expectation setting
- Organizational change
- Low product usage
- Financial hardship
- Lack of Adoption
- Support concerns
How Can Your Company Leverage the Customer Journey?
Looking at how customers are moving through the journey can help you deliver a better experience.
“To be really successful here and allow your clients to have some influence, you have to track qualitative data points,” Dylan says.
Quantitative data points like whether or not your solution is helping your customers hit their goals only show part of the picture. They are important to know, but in addition to asking questions like “are we hitting their goals” you also need to know “how do they feel about that.”
“Not every client wants the same cadence and communication style, and at different stages, they want different things,” Dylan says.
For example, one client might fall short of their goals one month but be having such a great experience with your company that it doesn’t matter as long as they reach their goals for the quarter. On the other hand, another customer might be exceeding their goals with your company's help, but not feel like they’re receiving adequate support and communication. In both cases, quantitative data fails to capture their experiences.
In addition to goal attainment, data points you can track to understand how your customers are experiencing their customer journey include:
- Customer sentiment
- Progressions or regressions in the customer journey stages
- Risk level
- Tiered prioritization
- Who’s using the product or service
- What aspects of the product or service are being used
“If you’re cataloging this for every client, every month, then over time you’re going to have some really interesting data points, especially as you aggregate them — and there’s a number of ways you can aggregate them: by vertical, by persona, by whatever retainer services you’re using,” Dylan says.
This data can help you better understand customer experience, customer lifetime value and recurring challenges, which can help you improve the experience you create and keep you focused on your customer and end-user.
“That’s what’s so amazing about the client journey: not only can you focus on client experience and helping support retention and solving for at-risk clients and their challenges, but you can collect insights and stay in touch with the end-user so you can advance all your products and services,” Dylan says.
While researching, drafting and editing this post, we had numerous debates about where the customer journey actually begins. Once a prospect becomes a customer, their buyer’s journey is definitely part of their experience. However, prospects can start the buyer’s journey and never become customers, in which case, is it fair to say they started the customer journey?
To that end, perspective comes into play. If you define the customer journey from the customer’s perspective, it might not start until they’re actually a customer, or very close to becoming one. However, a company might determine it starts when a prospect starts engaging with them.
That gray area is just one more reason why it’s difficult to concisely define what the customer journey is. However, what’s most important about the customer journey is not when it starts or ends, but how businesses use it to create a positive customer experience. Understanding customers’ wants, needs and challenges and treating every prospect the way you treat your most valued customers will go a long way toward creating evangelists for your company.
“What we’ve found is that to be most effective and let our clients influence their journey, is that we leverage the journey as a framework for the greater philosophy of, or commitment to, nurturing our clients at all times,” Dylan says.
“It’s about identifying and setting clear goals, and then analyzing each step as you’re making progress toward those,” he continues. “Inherently, you’re going to have regressions. You’re going to have progressions in the relationship and in performance. By understanding fundamentally what our clients think those challenges are, we can over support our teammates and our clients with resources as we progress toward partnership.”
Quinn is a writer and copyeditor whose work ranges from journalism to travel writing to inbound marketing content.