This is the first of a two-part series on the various journeys we attribute to different constituents of our businesses. What are they? How do they differ? Why is it important to differentiate? And who needs to be involved and engaged when? That and more can be found in this series!
The customer experience is built on hundreds, even thousands, of journeys that start at the beginning of the customer lifecycle, when people first identify a need or a problem to solve, and typically end when they exit the relationship. (At least, that’s how most folks view it. But does it really ever end? More on that later.)
Journeys are often grouped into categories based on where an individual is in the lifecycle. Within each of those categories you’ll find hundreds of journeys that make up that stage.
Let’s look at some of the primary journey categories: prospect journeys, buyer journeys, customer journeys, user journeys, and churn journeys. What are they? What’s the difference? Why are they important to customer success and sales/revenue leaders?
The prospect journey is often referred to as the lead journey because it happens at the beginning of the buyer journey and is the first step in turning a potential customer into an actual paying customer. It includes the identification of the need or problem to solve, the initial awareness of a product or service, and becoming a qualified sales lead by filling out a contact form or scheduling a demo.
It’s an important part of the sales process, as it helps brands identify and qualify potential customers. By understanding the different steps of the prospect journey, as well as the needs and motivations of potential customers on this journey, brands can develop targeted marketing and sales strategies to attract, engage, and convert qualified leads into customers.
The buyer journey is the process that a potential customer or prospect goes through when researching and deciding whether or not to make a purchase. It includes identifying a need, becoming aware of various product and service options, doing research, considering and evaluating the various options, and then ultimately deciding which product or service to buy and actually buying it.
You’ve probably seen this journey depicted as a funnel, where a large number of potential customers sit at the top and a smaller number who make the purchase decision sit at the bottom. Ideally, businesses want to guide potential customers through the various stages of the buyer journey and then convert them into paying customers.
Interestingly enough, some say that the customer journey focuses on the overall relationship a customer has with a brand. Essentially, the term is often used interchangeably with “customer experience,” which I define as the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a brand over the life of the relationship with the brand and, importantly, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions about those interactions. I don’t differentiate between customer and buyer; to me, the experience starts the moment someone identifies a need or a problem to solve. That’s where “the life of the relationship” begins.
Customer experience is the umbrella over all of the various journeys discussed in this article. They are all a part of the customer experience. So, let’s not make that mistake. Let’s not say customer experience = customer journey. It’s only partially correct.
The customer journey begins after the buyer journey ends, after the prospect has made the purchase. Customer journeys are the process that customers go through post-purchase, from the moment they first interact with a brand, product, or service, through ongoing use and engagement, to potential renewal or repurchase. Installation, implementation, onboarding, usage, service and support, engagement, training, and renewal or repurchase are all parts of the customer journey.
The customer journey is a critical component when it comes to delivering value, ensuring customer success, and ultimately retaining the customer. During this journey, how well the product or service meets the customer’s needs and expectations and solves problems for her will be determined.
Brands need to understand the different touchpoints and interactions within the customer journey and proactively engage with customers to ensure that they are receiving ongoing value and support. By managing the customer journey effectively, businesses can drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy, and achieve long-term business success.
Customer Journeys vs. Buyer Journeys
What’s the difference between these two journeys? Quite simply, the difference lies in where the individual is along the customer lifecycle. Everything from need identification through purchase is the buyer journey. Everything that happens after the purchase is considered to be the customer journey.
Or is it?
You’ll often read or hear that the buyer journey focuses on the steps that lead up to – and include – the purchase decision and that the customer journey takes a holistic view of the experience after the purchase and considers how a brand provides value and builds long-term relationships with its customers.
But where does the actual purchase experience fall? And why is that important?
The line between the buyer journey and the customer journey isn’t always clear cut, and there might be some overlap between the two. Two examples of that include:
- The onboarding process after making a purchase can be viewed as part of the end of the buyer journey and the start of the customer journey.
- The renewal might be seen as part of both the customer journey and the beginning of a new buyer journey. (Remember, journeys are not linear!)
This is an important consideration because it’s a critical point in the customer experience. It’s where handoffs fail. It’s where the experience can break down. It’s where the first impression turns sour. It’s where customers start to think that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. It’s where customers draw that stark line between (a) the experience of considering the product and making a purchase (and being treated like a VIP) and (b) the experience of using the product and engaging with support (and being treated like a persona non grata).
How Can Brands Bridge That Gap?
To bridge this gap, businesses need to focus on creating a seamless, integrated experience that spans the entire customer journey, from need to post-purchase engagement and support to offboarding.
Some of the actions you can take to do this include:
- Align sales and success: Include your customer success managers in conversations earlier in the process. Have them participate in pre-sales meetings and keep them in the loop on communications with customers. This makes for a smooth and seamless handoff during and after the purchase.
- Align messaging and communication: Make sure that the messaging and communication used throughout the buyer journey is aligned with the actual experience of using the product or service. Set appropriate and realistic expectations. Don’t sell the dream and expect someone to pick up the pieces post-sale. That’s not a dream; that’s a nightmare.
- Provide education and training: To ensure customers realize the value of the product they are being sold/have purchased, provide education and training resources that help learn how to best use the product and reap the benefits/see value.
- Develop a solid pre-boarding plan: Along the same education/training vein, to ensure an eventual successful onboarding of new customers, begin the process early, i.e., pre-boarding. It allows you to set expectations, establish trust, and create a positive first impression of the product or service by outlining an transition plan and implementation timelines, explaining mutual tasks, and showcasing how willing the Customer Success team is to offer support.
- Offer ongoing support: Even after a customer has made a purchase, continue to offer the same level of support and resources offered pre-purchase to help customers succeed.
- Gather feedback and make improvements: Gather feedback from customers from their first touch and on; use that to make improvements and updates throughout the rest of the experience.
Ultimately, you must create a seamless, integrated experience that supports and drives customer success as well as business growth.
Next week I’ll share the second part of this two-part series in which I’ll write about user journeys, churn journeys, what this all means and why it matters, and a little bit about journey mapping and personas. Be sure to check back next week, as I put a bit more context around these journeys.
Sometimes the longest journey we make is the sixteen inches from our heads to our hearts. ~ Elena Avila
Annette Franz is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. In 2019, she published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is available to purchase on Amazon, Books A Million!, Target, Barnes & Noble, and thousands of other outlets around the world! Sign up for our newsletter for updates, insights, and other great content that you can use to up your EX and CX game.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.