Editor’s Note: This article is also part of a series that explores the impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on the business world. Each article is designed to help you navigate your marketing strategy during this time.
The last few months have been extremely difficult for the entire global community as we adjust to a new normal amid the coronavirus pandemic.
From a personal point of view, many of us are practicing social distancing by staying inside, cancelling plans, and avoiding crowded spaces.
From a business perspective, the majority of people are working from home, uncertain of when we’ll be allowed to return to our usual place of work.
Businesses are facing a multitude of challenges from changes in demand, retail closures, supply chain issues and staff retention to name just a few.
Importantly, now is the time to consider the impact this pandemic is having on our businesses and what adjustments need to be made, in the short term at least, to ensure survival.
This process involves a review of our marketing strategy, beginning with target market definition, followed by brand positioning (see previous articles) and now exploring changes to your customer’s journey.
Changes To Your Customer’s Journey and How To Map Them
In order to understand the changes in your customer’s journey that have occurred as a result of COVID-19, it’s important to firstly understand the concept of Customer Journey and Customer Journey Maps.
The customer journey, when drilled down to its essence, is a roadmap that highlights how a customer became aware of your brand and their interactions with your brand, up until purchase and beyond.
Customer Journey Definition
The customer journey represents the sum total of all the experiences that customers go through when interacting with your brand.
It involves looking at the big picture in terms of the entire customer experience, rather than focusing on just one part of a transaction or experience.
When considering the customer’s journey, it’s important to understand that a customer’s path to purchase is not as linear as the old buying funnel suggested.
Buyers and browsers have more ways to interact with businesses than ever before, and the emphasis today has shifted from getting people into your funnel to delivering an exceptional customer experience.
In order to deliver an exceptional customer experience, it’s pivotal to understand the 5 key stages of the customer journey, so that the changing needs of the customer at each stage can be specifically addressed.
The 5 Key Stages of The Customer Journey
The awareness stage is where the customer has identified that they have a particular need, be it associated with a problem or desire, and have become aware of your brand as a potential solution to their need.
How they became aware of your brand will vary from customer to customer, but examples include;
• Word of mouth from a trusted friend over coffee
• A search of the search engines including Google, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest (Yes, social media platforms are search engines)
• A social media post from a friend
• Search Engine Advertising (eg Google Ads, Facebook Ads)
• Traditional media such as TV, Radio, Print, Outdoor and Signage
• Casual browsing, both online and offline
At this early stage of the journey, customers are seeking broad information about the product / service and possibly the category itself.
They are not yet interested in buying so any attempt to sell at this stage is likely to fail. Rather, customers are looking to be educated, informed and satisfied that your brand or business is credible and worthy of further consideration.
This is where content marketing has been particularly successful online, where tools that can assist the customer at this stage such blogs, guides and checklists etc. are generally well received. The more helpful they are, the better their impact.
Clearly, during COVID-19, online forms of communication have far outweighed many offline activities such as outdoor advertising, instore browsing and social gatherings.
The consideration stage of the customer journey takes place after the initial research stage where different options have been identified, and now it’s time to evaluate them on a comparative basis.
Here people weigh up the pros and cons of each brand placed on the potential list, taking a closer look at features and benefits, relative points of difference that best meet their particular needs, all the time asking in the back of their minds, “what’s in it for me”.
If the brands being considered are new to the customer, then potential fears and cynicism need to be met with sources of information that boosts credibility and trust.
Tools that play an important role here include any form of social proof, such as testimonials, case studies and celebrity endorsements (from trusted and respected celebrities).
Comparative tables that highlight the features and benefits of your brand versus your near competition can also work very well.
During times of social and financial crises, people tend to think harder about spending money and what represents real value. Credibility is always important but even more so in times of great uncertainty.
At the decision stage of the customer’s journey, the different brand options have been evaluated and the customer is now ready to buy.
Great you may say, let’s go, but not so fast. At this stage of their journey the customer may still need a little push, a little sweetener or reassurance to get them over the line and hand over their credit card details.
At this point it’s important to consider the following;
• Reinforcement of how their life will change for the better with use of your brand (ie the benefits and the transition that takes place as a result of those benefits)
• A guarantee of performance
• A limited time bonus or discount voucher
• Free trials
The impact of COVID-19 on consumers has resulted in an even greater desire for value for money and reassurance that they are making the right decision.
The service stage of the customer journey occurs post purchase and represents the greatest opportunity to turn customers into raving fans, spreading glowing reviews of your brand across the internet.
Unfortunately, this is where most businesses let themselves down by failing to recognize the important of this stage.
It’s often the little things that count here such as a follow up phone call, email or text to check that the product arrived in good condition, that the product has been shipped and it’s on its way or that the customer was happy with the service they received.
It’s the role of the product and service to delight the customer by not only delivering what was promised, but going a step beyond by showing that you genuinely care.
A recently delighted customer is also the best person to ask for a review or testimonial so the story of your exceptional customer experience can be spread virally in the words of your customer.
Such stories play a big role in reassuring customers that your business is the right one to deal with especially in times of crises when people need a little extra TLC and reassurance.
The 5th and final stage of the customer journey involves loyalty expansion. Loyalty expansion involves keeping in touch with your customers in order to continue to build the relationship.
If done correctly, loyalty expansion can significantly increase the Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) which as the term suggests, reflects the value in dollars spent by each customer over time.
Repeat business from your existing customer base is so much more profitable than generating new customers.
Loyalty expansion can include such activity as emailing newsletters, blogs, special offers in invoices, loyalty rewards programs and surveys.
In essence, it involves showing existing customers that you appreciate and value their business by offering some additional value.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the value of being able to keep in touch with your customer base. Businesses that have built and nurtured an email list over time, have reaped the benefits during times of social distancing.
For example, small wineries whose only sales channel has been via the cellar door, have been hit hard compared to those that have taken the time and effort to build an email list, supported by e-commerce.
This demonstrates why loyalty expansion and a focus on exceptional customer experience is the way forward in 2020 and beyond.
What Are Customer Journey Maps?
Now the customer journey concept has been explained and how changes have occurred thank to COVID-19, it’s important to know how to map them in order to guide changes in your marketing strategy.
A customer journey map is a visualisation of an end to end customers experience, illustrating all of the places and touch points where customers came in contact with your brand.
This visualisation can be in the form of a diagram, an infographic or any kind of graphic that illustrates, from your customer’s perspective, the experiences they have enjoyed (or not enjoyed) when engaging with your brand.
The Real Purpose of a Customer Journey Map
From a strategic marketing perspective, customer journey maps are a way of allowing businesses to get inside the heads of their customers and gain insights as to how well your business is serving their needs.
Today’s consumers expect their experience with a brand to be seamless and easy.
They expect businesses to know and remember who they are and what they’re looking for (even across multiple touchpoints), so that they can pick up where they left off, without having to repeat or clarify their needs.
A well- constructed customer journey map will provide your business with a better idea of the needs, wants and pain points of your customers and help you to identify any parts of your product/ service and process that is failing to deliver.
By placing yourself in the shoes of your customer, you will have greater empathy for how they think and feel and be able to reflect these insights into your products, services, processes and communications.
The COVID-19 crises represents an ideal time, if not critical time, to empathise with your customers and create a customer journey map based on current experiences.
Many of the changes we’ve recently seen in consumer behaviour, even if forced by government intervention and subsequent restrictions, are likely to remain for the longer term.
This especially applies to e-commerce and information sourcing.
How To Create Your Customer Journey Map
There is no definitive template when it comes to creating a customer journey map. It very much depends on the individual preferences of businesses doing the mapping and the particular service or product involved.
Follow these 6 steps in creating a basic customer journey map first and then be as creative as you like with its visual representation.
Create Your Customer Avatar
The first step in creating your customer journey map is defining who the customer is, taking the journey.
This person can also be termed your ‘ideal customer’ as their profiles and needs are a perfect match for what you are offering.
Describe this person in as much detail as possible including demographics and lifestyle habits, going deep into their likes, dislikes, problems, hopes fears etc.
This is where you begin to really focus on the customer and not your business. By really getting to know who you are targeting, the easier it is empathise with them and begin mapping their journey (see article 1 of this series ‘Who are your target markets?’.
It’s important to be aware here that although you may be referring to the same person at each stage of the customer journey, they will be changing based on their increased knowledge and experience as they travel the journey.
The way you talk to a customer at the beginning of the journey will obviously be very different than when they are at stage 5.
Defining Your Customer’s Goals
Once you have your customer avatar built, the next step is to dig deep and understand what they hope to achieve as they go through the customer journey.
Think about what your customers’ ultimate goals are in each stage (and remember that these may change as the process unfolds).
Some examples might be:
- Researching the different options that are available
- Ensuring that s/he is paying a fair price
- Seeking reassurance that s/he has all the necessary information about the product
- Looking for examples of how other customers have used the product and their level of satisfaction
A great way to go about doing this is to first identify the paths that your visitor may take on your site. If your visitor is a member or pre-existing customer, the first thing that they might do is to login.
Other activities include browsing, searching for products, comparing products, and more – once you’ve nailed down a full list of these activities, you’ll be able to identify all your touchpoints and the goals associated with each touchpoint.
Once you have included the goals for each customer step of the journey clearly on your map you’ll be able to examine how well you are meeting those goals and answering customers’ questions.
Map Out Buyer Touchpoints
A “touchpoint” refers to any time a customer comes into contact with your brand – before, during, or after they purchase something from you. This also includes moments that happen offline/online, through marketing, in person, or over the phone.
Some touchpoints may have more impact than others. For example, a bad check-in experience at a hotel can taint the entire stay.
You’ll want to take all potential touchpoints that occur between your customers and your organization into account. That way, you won’t miss out on any opportunities to listen to your customers and make improvements that will keep them happy.
How to identify touchpoints
Because there are so many different ways for customers to experience your brand, the idea of figuring out all potential touchpoints may seem daunting at first.
However, you can make this task easier by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and walking yourself through their journey step-by-step.
Ask yourself the following in light of COVID-19:
Where do I go now, and how do I get there, when;
- I have a problem that your product or company solves?
- I discover the product or business that solves my problem?
- I make my purchase decision?
- I encounter the business again after the purchase?
This should reveal all touchpoints pretty clearly.
Another way of accomplishing this task would be to ask customers directly about their experience with your brand – or put the above questions into a survey.
Additional tip: Use Google Analytics
If you have Google Analytics set up for your website, there are two reports which you may find useful:
Behaviour flow report
This report displays how a customer moves through your site, one interaction at a time.
It’s great for helping you understand how customers behave, what paths they take while navigating your website, and which specific sources, mediums, campaigns or geographical locations they come from.
Additionally, it can help you identify any pain points on your site where users may be struggling.
Goal flow report
The goal flow report displays the path your visitors follow to complete a goal conversion.
It helps reveal how traffic navigates through your funnel, and whether there are any points with high drop-off rates or unexpected traffic loops that need to be addressed.
Identify Customer Pain Points
At this point, it’s time to bring together all your data (both quantitative and qualitative) and look at the big picture to identify potential roadblocks or pain points in the customer journey. You may also want to note down areas where you’re currently doing things right, and figure out ways to improve.
To do this, ask yourself questions, and interview customers and customer-contact staff.
Some might include:
- Are my customers achieving their goals on my website?
- Where are the main areas of friction and frustration?
- Where are people abandoning purchases (and why)?
Once you know where the roadblocks and pain points are, mark them down on your customer journey map.
Prioritise and Fix Roadblocks
If you look at it from a micro perspective, here are some questions you can ask yourself: What needs to be corrected or built? Is there a need to break everything down and start from scratch? Or are a few simple changes all that’s necessary for a big impact?
For instance, if customers frequently complain about how complicated your sign-up process is, it’s probably time to revamp it and make things easier.
After you’ve identified these roadblocks, take a step back and look at the big picture from a macro perspective. Recognise that the end goal is not to optimise each step or touchpoint just for the sake of optimising it, but so that you can push your customers down the funnel, and bring them one step closer to converting.
At the end of the day, you want to be getting more conversions. So everything you tweak in each customer touchpoint should all be contributing to that one goal.
Update and Improve
Your customer journey map shouldn’t be left to gather dust on the shelf once it’s completed. Because your customers are constantly changing and evolving, your customer journey map should be doing the same as well. Consider it a living document that will continue to grow and develop, well after corona virus restrictions are lifted.
If possible, test, update and improve your customer journey map every 6 months or so. In addition, customer journey maps should also be tweaked accordingly whenever you introduce significant changes to your product/service.
Visualizing your customer journey
Let’s talk about the technicalities. You now know what you should be including in your customer journey map – but how exactly should you bring this map to life?
Most companies find it easiest to draw everything out on a large piece of paper, or digitise the information on a spreadsheet.
There are also plenty of tools available to help you map out your customer journey, like Touchpoint Dashboard or UXPressia.
The team at Baker Marketing have a wealth of experience in marketing strategy and a number of us have lived and worked through times of economic and financial crises.
If you are ready to get strategic about your marketing give us a call on (08) 8352 3091 and talk to a senior marketing consultant today.
Click here to find the next article in the series titled Get Your Messaging Right