How many marketers truly understand the customer journey – and if not, how can you quickly?

How many marketers truly understand the customer journey – and if not, how can you quickly? Andy McCaul is director and co-founder of the Creative Digital Agency, The Bigger Boat. Andy has over 12 years experience in direct & digital marketing, SEO (natural & paid), conversion optimisation, business development and marketing strategy.

It may be a popular buzz-phrase but how many marketers have really got their heads around the role – and components – of a savvy customer journey, and what’s the answer to getting up and running if they’re a little behind?

‘Customer experience’ (CX) is without a doubt the most important phrase for anyone responsible for an organisation's service levels. And in the world of marketing, the phrase 'customer journey' should be just as pivotal.

A mechanism to ensure the CX is a living, breathing and achievable 'thing', a considered customer journey ought to be the backbone of any savvy marketing strategy. More than that, it can have an unparalleled influence on marketing's role within the wider organisation, and even the peripheral business processes that need to be in place if optimum CX is to be truly prioritised. An Econsultancy study certainly found that companies with a customer-focused strategy see a quantifiable uplift in their business activity.

Why then, do so many marketers look blank when pressed as to what the customer journey is within their brand?

The simple answer is that they may say that they prioritise CX. And they may understand the bottom-line value of doing so. But truly embracing it so that it is the foundation of every single touchpoint of communication activity within or beyond the business, is perhaps a different matter.

This is where the customer journey comes in. An often simple – yet sometimes convoluted – representation of how an individual ‘flows’ through their encounter with a business, the journey captures the process, behaviour, priorities and feelings from start to finish. It includes what happens when someone is just a prospective customer as well as the stages that arise once they are on board and – hopefully – contemplating loyalty.

When the journey – or map (below) – exists, it is possible to think about the potential obstacles that prevent someone from flowing from one point to another, on the road to becoming a customer. If these hurdles are identified, different channels can be used to nurture the varying target audience segments along. Messaging can be refined to overcome pain points and capitalise on opportunities. Lead times can be understood, and sales teams can be trained accordingly. The list of benefits goes on, but the underlying purpose remains constant – prioritising the CX at all times, for maximum reputational and bottom line impact.

The Bigger Boat team helps map out a customer journey.

So how can marketers get started if they’ve been missing a trick all this time? Here are some fundamental tips:

Realise this is an iterative process

The customer journey is likely to evolve as the business changes, so to aim for ‘perfect’ will simply hold the marketer back from making any progress. It will be too big a beast to tackle. Instead, aim for a V1 and remain agile and attentive so that it can be iterated from there.

Keep the customer journey at the forefront

Once the time has been committed to devising it, it needs to remain in sharp focus if it is to have any influence on CX. Don’t let it get forgotten about. See it as the crucial prelude to defining – or reshaping – the marketing strategy and the tactical activities that form a part of its execution.

Commit the time

Some businesses, especially younger entities, may find this a quicker and easier process than others with more established and perhaps multifaceted sub processes in place. This therefore does require a level of commitment if it is to be done properly.

Think about ‘who’ should be involved in the journey mapping exercise

Marketers of course need to be present, and ideally they should own the project. But other stakeholders may have a valuable input to add too. Considerations include someone in a sales role – they are at the coal face and know first-hand what does and doesn’t float a customer’s boat; a director or senior decision-maker would ideally be present to ensure buy-in – this will be crucial ahead of encouraging a wider business commitment to the journey once formed; a customer service representative will know what leads to positive or negative feedback once an individual has bought from the brand; and an external pair of independent eyes and ears often helps maintain perspective, if not offering a fresh one. Some brands may even choose to select a pool of customers to be involved, rather than relying on assumptions.

Think about the ‘where’ too

Leaving the office and undertaking this exercise together, in a different and ideally inspiring environment, will help encourage people to think beyond the humdrum of daily life. Clear, honest and bigger picture thinking matters. 

Be open minded

This process will hopefully provide reassurance that the marketing team and wider company has been doing lots of things right until now. But it may also provide a stark wake-up call in other instances, therefore a receptiveness to constructive criticism and change is essential. Otherwise the outcome of the journey mapping process may as well be brushed under the carpet with no doubt many other opportunities before it.

Create a ‘to do’ list of what to do next

There will inevitably be some glaringly obvious marketing priorities, such as redefining the email marketing plan or reshaping a key area of the website. It may highlight the need for sales and marketing departments to better communicate with one another, or it may evidence the negative impact that office politics has been having on the bigger CX picture. The latter is obviously trickier to manage, but uncovering the issues is the first important step.

Benchmark and better the journey

Linking back to the earlier recommendation to see this as an iterative process, it is important to test, measure, refine and improve the journey moving forwards, if it is to have the biggest business-wide impact. Marketing is a strategic communications function after all. It can have a vast bearing on the whole organisation, if its voice is heard. Key to this is knowing not only how to talk the talk, but how to walk it too. Think of it like going to the gym. Investing in a membership is the first important step – far better than simply talking about getting fit. But the membership will have zero benefit if there is no commitment to using it.

Interested in hearing leading global brands discuss subjects like this in person?

Find out more about Digital Marketing World Forum (#DMWF) Europe, London, North America, and Singapore.  

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