Defining customer journey stages

Every buyer has a journey before they make a purchase. It can be easy to forget that it’s more than someone just hitting the “BUY NOW” button but it’s important to recognize as marketers. The customer journey doesn’t start when we first encounter them and end when they purchase our product or service. It starts when they decide they have a problem we can fix and goes on (and on) throughout their lifecycle as a customer. 

By taking ourselves out of the marketing silo and into the mind of our customers, we can uncover fixes to problems we didn’t even know we had, ultimately leading to more sales. Using tools like journey mapping (we’ll get to that soon), you can find customer pain points to create the opportunity to fix them, ultimately giving you a leg up on your competition.  

What is a customer journey?

So, what are we talking about when we say customer journey? A customer journey begins when someone realizes they have a problem that needs to be fixed or a pain point that needs to be cured. It ends (sort of) when they find a solution with you. The reason we say sort of is that a customer journey is never really over. Long-term customer relations and retention are all part of a successful growth strategy. 

Depending on your industry, another way to look at the customer journey is to consider the all the stops along the way for someone to move from a complete stranger to a buyer and brand promoter. 

Journeys can vary in length, platform, complexity, and scale. In general, the smaller the purchase, the smaller the journey and vice versa. For example, shopping for new dishes likely is a shorter journey than shopping for a new kitchen.  

So how do you wrap your head around your customer’s journey? Let’s dive into journey mapping. 

Journey mapping

Journey mapping is generally defined as the process of writing and visually organizing (or mapping) a document of your customers’ journeys based on touch points along the road from problem to solution. It can be physical (think whiteboard or post-it notes) or digital (think spreadsheet or thought map).  

The idea is to get into the mind of your customers. How did they get to the point of purchasing (or not purchasing): what worked, what didn’t, where were the pain points? Those pain points become opportunities to smooth out your conversion process.  

Here is an example of what a customer's basic journey might look like: 

  1. Awareness:
    -John’s blender breaks down so he can’t make his morning smoothies 
  2. Consideration:
    -He asks his neighbours and coworkers which ones they use
    -Googles “best blenders 2022”
    -He starts researching the recommended types of blenders, and similar ones show up along his search
    -Reads reviews and explores Reddit 
    -Does his own comparisons on cost, sound level, functions, which is frustrating when going back and forth between sites, and it’s all in USD instead of CAD, so he doesn't bother purchasing yet. 
  3. Solution:
    -A week later, John finds out there’s a sale at his local kitchenware store and he heads in to purchase the sale blender regardless of what he found online. 

As you can see, it’s a lot longer and it starts a lot sooner than you might anticipate. It also doesn’t end there. Did John have a good buying experience? Did he sign up for a newsletter? Will he come back for his next kitchen appliance?  

More importantly, what can the blender company learn from John and his smoothie problem? Maybe a page comparing prices and features all in one spot could help potential customers. Maybe price is more important than functions. Maybe the website should show pricing in the customer’s currency. Any of these changes might help the blender company close more sales online.  

One last thing to remember here is that John isn’t the only customer. Many businesses have many categories of buyers so be sure to create journey maps for each of them to understand their unique challenges, needs, and wants.  

Journey mapping example

One of our favourite collaborative softwares we use, Miro, actually has a great journey mapping template that they offer. Take a look at the example below and click the image to get your own copy of it to make use of if you're curious.

Journey map board template

Common consumer journey stages

There are a lot of different buzzwords used when discussing the stages of a customer journey, but it basically comes down to these (with varying substitutes):  

Awareness | Consideration | Decision | Purchase | Loyalty 

Along our previous example of what a customer journey is, here’s another view:  

Problem | Potential Solution | Solution | Buying the Solution | Promoting the Solution 

We can use these stages as a jumping off point to understand what our customers go through when purchasing, well, anything. It's also a great way to start your journey map.  

Creating a journey map

Alright, so you think this journey mapping idea is a good one. How do you actually create a customer journey map 

The first few times that you work through a journey map, we’d suggest creating a plan of attack for your process (maybe even using this handy article). Remember: looks don’t matter, content matters. You'll likely improve on the details each time you make a map, so give yourself some grace the first time around.  

Keep it short, simple, and consider focusing on one part of the journey. Think of it as zooming in on one part of the map, like just tackling the consideration stage and examining your website for ease of use or in-store browsing. You can always zoom out and fill in the blanks, but it can be overwhelming and a lot of work to start with the whole thing at once. 

First thing you want to make sure of is that you’re consulting the right people (we’ll cover that process below). Once you have the information from your interviewees, put it together within the template and start analyzing. The idea is to find those pain points and lean into them. Find any distrust, friction, or unhappiness along the way and figure out how to turn those around.  

Sounds good, right? But how do you get the data in order to analyze it? The answers are in the interviews.  

Conducting customer interviews

Talking to your past and current customers is a great way to find out how to engage your future customers. Here are some tips for collecting helpful information from your customers:  

  • Choose the right people: A mix of about 8-12 existing and potential customers is a great place to start.  
  • Understand the assignment: Know what your goal is, but remember to be open to other issues that may reveal themselves. Collect qualitative data (more descriptive, emotional, detailed responses) instead of quantitative data (more measurable, numbers-based responses).  
  • Connect authentically: Face-to-face or video calling is the best way to do this. A real-life conversation is the best way to really find out what needs to be addressed.   
  • Be pointed: Ask specific “feeling” questions to help uncover a customer’s emotional ride. Keep it simple and only ask one question at a time. This is the information that will help you fill out your template with actionable information.  
  • If you want to know how your in-store staff is doing, ask THIS: How did it feel when the customer service person presented a solution to your problem? NOT THIS: How was your experience with us on Saturday?  
  • Other question examples: How did buying this make you feel? How did learning you needed this make you feel? What did you feel when you experienced a technical problem on the site? 
  • Actively listen: Actively listening means that you just listen instead of preparing a response while they answer your question. Ask follow up questions. Be prepared to hear something you might not want to, and then dig into it. This isn’t the time to be defensive, it’s the time to be vulnerable.  

If you just can’t get to your customers, or at least as not as many as you’d like, consider chatting with your sales and customer success teams to see what insights they can give you.

Using your journey map

Use it to triage. Find the biggest red flags or areas of friction and address them first. Once all those have been addressed, you can start to move into areas of opportunity. Places where you can use this new knowledge to create buyer delight.  

Remember: identifying customer pain points offer you an opportunity to improve as a company. Are there a large number of abandoned carts? Test run your check out process. Do you have complaints coming back about in-store experiences? Check in with your team.  

A great example comes from Disney Parks. When they talked to their customers, they realized that happiness was at an all-time low when people were waiting in lines for rides or other experiences. It was by far the worst part of people’s stay at the park. Once they found this pain point, Disney started making the lineups better by offering entertainment, selling food, and even offering fast passes while people waited.  

Apple has done a similar thing with their lineups by giving their sales reps mobile payment systems, so you just pay and leave once you’ve chosen your product. No moving into a long line to pay at one of 2 tills on a busy weekend in the mall.  

The takeaway: If you aren’t connected with the journey your customers are making, you’re probably missing out on opportunities to make it as easy as possible for them to choose you amongst the competition.  

Want to learn more about how you can grow your relationship between sales and marketing? Join us for our free, live webinar on Tuesday, June 14 at 11am MST! Register below.

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