A company’s relationship with a customer is dynamic. Even longstanding customers may one day decide to terminate a relationship and discontinue using a product or service. At the same time, companies and organizations evolve and learn, ideally becoming better able to meet customer needs. Customers mature with time as well, becoming more adept at utilizing a product or service and receiving value from it. Both customers and companies experience journeys, although it is the customer’s journey that is most important. Understanding these journeys and applying insights ensures vastly better outcomes for both parties.
Customer journeys have become quite a topic of discussion and buzzword of late. Much of the focus is on the stages leading up to becoming a customer—and for good reason. Such an in-depth understanding of journey stages hones the sales and marketing processes to achieve greater effectiveness. The pandemic has upset many of these, so companies are learning how to be effective given new circumstances. As important as the pre-sales journey is, the post-sales customer journey results in crucial outcomes, ranging from retention or minimizing churn to expanded revenue, upselling, and ultimately advocacy.
Demystifying Customer Journeys
When considering post-sales customer journeys, the first thing to remember is that each company likely has numerous types of customer journeys. Forcing a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all customer journey path on all customers tends to be a sizable mistake. Customer journeys generally vary with each product or service that a company offers. Journeys vary based on the size of the customer, too. A large enterprise will generally have a very different journey path, as opposed to a small or medium business. Journeys also vary between region, geography, or industry. Even a customer in the same industry, retail, for example, may have a journey that is distinct from one in another region or country. Within product, industry, and geography, there may be different types of buyers and use cases, requiring varied journey paths and stages.
The reason why a more detailed categorization of customer journey is important is to enable better understanding, assessment, and response to each customer’s particular use case. A small or medium business may have steps or requirements that an enterprise does not. The opposite might also be true. For example, in a small or medium business, a renewal process might require the approval of the CEO or CFO or both. On the other hand, there may be fewer procedures involved in engaging with a small or medium business. Similarly, customers in different geographies may have different styles of arriving at a consensus or may have different business and regulatory requirements to deal with.
Careful tracking and management of each customer journey is important, as it can provide a more precise status of each customer and better prescribe the next activities that could best advance the customer to the next level. The more fine-grained the tracking and understanding of journeys, the easier it is to apply automation to prompt the next activity or generate some needed check-in, resource, training, or support.
Customer Journeys are Non-Linear
The process of managing customer journeys is never static. Customers, companies, and markets change and evolve. In addition, a company’s understanding of customer journeys also evolves and becomes more fine-tuned over time. Initially, there may be fewer defined stages, and the associated helpful actions may be less. It is important to be able to set and define each stage and have the ability to add more while modifying existing ones. Each stage should have its own set of milestones and anticipated completion criteria before progressing to the next stage. Similarly, each stage of the journey should be actionable and have a prescribed set of activities.
While theoretically, customer journeys seem to be linear, in practice, they are anything but. Based on the unique use case, company size, and complexity of the product in question, customers may also backstage/skip multiple journey stages. For example, while conducting renewals, you send them a proposal and a customer gets back with their own set of suggestions. This might require another round of internal reviews, that may put the customer back a few journey stages.
Mapping for Success
The uncertainty and disruption during the pandemic strengthen the need and value for understanding and managing customer journeys. Journeys can be monitored more closely and temporary modifications can be made to stages to deal with present realities and challenges. In addition, largely work-from-home employee bases may cause some fragmentation of journeys since there are fewer group dynamics and more individual ones. Understanding journeys can help be a unifying force and can help guide both company and customer towards success.