Constant and rapid changes in technology undeniably impact consumer behavior and permeate nearly every shopping experience. In many ways, consumers know exactly what they want to buy before they leave the comfort of their own home, and in many cases they never do. In situations where consumers intend to purchase online, many use retail stores simply as a way to experience the products firsthand. But for buyers that still rely on brick-and-mortar stores, the ‘shelf’ has been virtually expanded, and go-to brands are subject to last minute shifts in intent facilitated by mobile price comparison apps. As a result, today’s consumers follow a path to purchase that’s difficult to describe, much less measure and optimize. Today’s typical shopping experience can include touchpoints that range from search engines and social commentary to the traditional point-of-purchase. The classic marketing funnel inadequately describes these pathways. We need a new model. A valid model would detail the steps consumers go through as they discover, evaluate, purchase, and use a brand’s products or services, while helping companies evaluate whether customers’ needs are being met at each step and how those buyers feel at key points in the process.
Introducing customer journey maps
Customer journey maps allow one to view the purchase path through a microscope. This atomic view isolates pain points and moments of truth, and helps to identify numerous opportunities for improvement. We believe that customer journey maps more accurately portray the consumer experience, by providing the structure that is needed to design messaging around these touchpoints and ensure messages that are timely and relevant. The pathways within journey maps can describe the inherent flexibility in the path to purchase. These flows should be augmented with insights into how customers actually feel and make decisions at each touchpoint. This perspective makes it possible to align consumer behavior with resonant messaging, making it possible for brands to reach consumers at the best possible points in the purchase lifecycle to trigger a purchase, and break into the consideration set at a critical point.
It’s easy to become detached from a process without consistent exposure. The first step in understanding a consumer’s path to purchase is to experience it firsthand. Go through the process yourself. Does it still feel as straightforward and simple as you thought? If so, then run through it again. You want to position yourself for nuances. Next, identify two groups of consumers: those who use your brand, and those who go with a competitor. Using an objective view of the process, seek to understand how each of these consumers moves toward a purchase. Ultimately, consumer journey maps should provide clarity around these five elements:
Customer processes How do customers interact with the brand across the lifecycle of the relationship? Where are the touchpoints? It’s important to identify every interaction, however small or insignificant they may seem. Often, once all the touchpoints are mapped out, interactions that may have seemed small begin to more clearly tie into a larger picture.
Customer needs What do customers need from the company during each interaction? Focus not only on the major outcomes, but seek to identify expectations ate every stage. How do consumers expect to hear about the product? How do they want to research and explore? Again, it’s important to be diligent when itemizing these needs, because they are the supporting details in the story.
Customer perceptions What do customers think and feel during each touchpoint? This line of questioning is critical, because it will often turn up needs and expectations that are more easily overlooked. If the customer has a memorable emotion, the interaction is a key to optimization.
Disconnects between interactions Are there areas where the process breaks down between touchpoints? Is there a point where data gets lost, or confusion sneaks in? Anything that breaks up the rhythm could potentially terminate or reset the purchase process and these situations typically the first to surface as action items from the mapping process.
Improvement opportunities When going through the process, and interviewing actual consumers, be attentive to any opportunities to improve, and ask the question overtly. This is the ultimate focus of the mapping process, and without clearly defined opportunities, the result will be seen as a simple inventory. What are the takeaways? What are the action items? This step is where the majority of the time should be allocated in consumer journey mapping.
It’s been said that to understand someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. This is a way to communicate such an experience. Customer journey maps provide an objective and complete view of the purchase process, and identify improvement opportunities both in conversion and consumer satisfaction in today's ever-changing landscape. Properly done, they expose the real world view to an organization, and bring the customers’ stories to life. What would you like to know about your customers?