The Customer's Journey
By Ibby Smith Stofer
The Customer’s Journey is a path every employee of every company should understand. They can even accompany their customers on the journey, at least virtually, by recreating the paths we ask them to take.
The Webster dictionary defines journey as an act or instance of traveling from one place to another. In the context of a Customer’s journey, we need to think of it as a cross-country stagecoach ride. It will have a beginning and ending point, but there can be many stops along the way. Back in the mid 1800's Wells Fargo owned and operated the largest stagecoach empire in the world. Their stagecoaches took passengers from one coast to the other and made frequent stops along the way. All traveled along a predictable path but there were times when adjustments were needed. Sometimes a detour needed to be taken or maybe a holdup for the unlucky ones. Wells Fargo was able to make changes in order to ensure that their passengers made it to their destination. Now we must do the same for our customers.
You may be the first point of contact in an effort to sell the customer your product or service. On the other hand, you could be the person responsible for answering the company’s toll free number, or the one who manages social media, or the one who must call on delinquent payments or respond to customer complaints. It really does not matter which touch point you are. Rather, in every role that can ever interact with a would be or existing customer your response, your tone, your ability to listen and demonstrate understanding all can influence how the customer perceives the journey and often whether they will choose to travel with you and your company.
Let’s look at the customer’s journey with a fictional company as an example. This could be any company offering any product or service to any market or customer. So please read it with the perspective that the following is your customer's journey.
Customer personnel are usually introduced to the company through the interaction with the sales or service representatives. The key customer contacts may or may not have done business with the company previously. Let’s assume that they have not had any experience with the company.
When a customer is seeking products or services to meet their needs they will often turn to the Internet or trusted colleagues and associates. Research indicates that they are looking for both information and recommendations. Once the need for a product or service is identified, over 80 + percent of the time, initial online research is done before anyone speaks with or sees a representative. This certainly has had a major impact on the traditional sales process. Online purchases are growing so rapidly that many of the traditional stores are either closing locations or going out of business. These are not mom and pop outlets, but major department stores like Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sports Authority, and others.
The online purchasing trend goes well beyond retail. It includes almost any and every product one can think of buying. This has been attributed to the fact that price is one of the top criteria used by online shoppers. Another criterion that is equally, if not more important is the ratings and reviews of the company and or product. People want to buy from those that will stand behind their offers, be available, resolve issues quickly, and offer quality products and services. When shopping online the reviews and comments provide insight into the company and its reputation. That translates into the 2nd step in the customer’s “buying” journey.
They will look for reviews and testimonials that appear fair and honest and from people or companies that they trust. After selecting a product do you look at Consumer Affairs ratings, or do you go the Better Business Bureau site to investigate further? Again, over 80% of the customers who utilize online research or ordering make this stop along their journey to confirm their soon to be made decision. They will read testimonials and customer feedback on the company site as well as independent “expert” sites. They will also ask colleagues and friends if they have purchased the product or service and from whom.
However, our fictional company does not sell online. We have a trained and knowledgeable staff ready to assist the customer in making the best choice. They do have an extensive website with pictures, testimonials, product descriptions and a request for a quote link, as well as a toll-free number and email contact information.
At this point the customer may contact the company directly via email or phone. This is truly an interactive step in our joint customer journey.
Whether it is an email or phone request, how we respond is a make or break point. Is the phone or email response quick? Is it welcoming or just matter of fact? Does it reflect the desire to meet the customer’s needs or is it just another thing to complete today?
Often the initial impression is formed via our quote, phone or email reply. Simple, easy to understand terminology, along with accuracy of the information and format all matter. Those individuals in phone response, sales, marketing, and customer service are key to this first impression. We may or may not know how we are perceived based solely on this one connection. The next series of interaction and follow up will provide a better indication of how the customer journey is going from their perspective.
Questions and Answers
Generally following the initial contact, questions may arise and that is the next stop on our journey with the customer. Are we flexible, responsive, and willing to listen? These characteristics can set the company apart from competitors and are essential to building trust, getting the business and repeat business. This is also the stop or step where you can and should ask for the business or what it will take to earn it.
Making The Purchase
The main goal of this journey is for the customer to make a purchase. Each stop in the journey that has led up to this point is critical. If the customer has a bad experience it is very easy for them to turn around and never look back. When we have created a positive and memorable experience for our customers' it makes it much easier for them to make it to their destination. Documentation as well as prompt acknowledgement of their decision to purchase is not only expected, but critical to securing the business.
The customer journey does not end at the close of the sale. A critical waypoint is often when the first bill is received. Is it accurate, clear, and consistent with the customer’s understanding of what was offered? Does it convey our thanks for their choice of doing business with us? Have we considered offering that appreciation via a direct email or voicemail from us? Going that extra step may make the customer see us as a company who truly values having a relationship with them. The communication could come from any employee, including our leadership. While it may have been a business decision to use our services, or buy from us, it is still nice to be appreciated.
So far, things are going great. But why stop there? Let’s put a follow up on the calendar to assure that 3 to 6 months later the customer is still happy and that they may need additional product or services and are unaware of the various options your company can offer them. Don’t miss this opportunity to educate the customer on the wide range of services we provide.
Remember that the majority of customers who are buying products or services do online research well in advance of any interaction with product representatives or companies. So, what does your company’s website and other digital media say to prospective and current customers? Do a Google search on your company and it is amazing what one finds with this simple inquiry. Both the good and the bad are there for all to see. It is important to continually check Yelp and other review sites so that you can respond to any negative feedback and minimize the damage they can cause to your company’s online presence.
Don’t let your lack of understanding of the customer journey be like the hold ups and rough rides that the stagecoach passengers experienced. Stagecoaches were not well equipped to absorb the bumps in the road but, with today’s advancements in knowledge and technology we can give our customers a smooth ride on their journey. The journey we ask customers to take will often determine the fate of our company’s longevity. Invest in understanding their touch points, improve where necessary, and invite the customer to enjoy doing business with both you and your company. There may be additional touch points in your company’s customer journey. Take the time to walk in the customer’s shoes to find both the strengths and weaknesses in your process.