The journey that leads your customers to your organization and ultimately binds them to you not just as customers/users but even as ambassadors is very useful to map out. Especially for customer/client-oriented organizations, the customer journey is invaluable to creating a marketing mix for your marketing plan.
The customer journey consists of 9 phases, each with its own marketing characteristics. Now you may not have all the relevant information to map out the complete journey yet, but that doesn’t matter. If you know what to look for, your customer journey will gradually become more detailed over time.
In this article, we’ll explain the first 5 phases of the customer journey – from customer needs to the purchase phase – and offer you various tools for analyzing and improving each phase effectively. Phases 6-9 of the customer journey you’ll find in this article, and instructions on how to draft your customer journey map, we discuss here.
1. Latent Needs and Concrete Needs
Latent needs are when potential customers don’t know yet that they “have” a need for your product. This can be due to ignorance – e.g. customers want a website but haven’t thought of hosting yet – or because something changed in their lives – e.g. they got a child or they entered into a new demographic.
Counterintuitively, also your current customer base could have latent needs. For example, if they don’t know that you launched a new product or service. Luckily, you can easily solve this by sending your customer base an update every time that you launch new products and/or services. Other ways to find out about latent needs are by analyzing the following:
- Search volumes in Google Trends or Google Keyword Planner.
- Public datasets of your industry.
- Contemporary numbers regarding the customer base in your industry.
- Data from your Google Analytics, polls, social media, and e-mail marketing.
While latent needs become concrete needs after effective marketing, customers can also start with having concrete needs right away. Concrete needs usually follow from regular events such as holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries; from planned moments such as when subscriptions run out or reaching retirement age; or from life changes such as moving houses or changing jobs.
At this stage, it’s all about visibility – online and/or offline ads, e-mail marketing, website marketing, etc. – and making sure that your target audience understands who you are, what you do, and why you are the organization to get a specific product or service from.
If potential customers meet your brand in their customer journey, this constitutes a “touchpoint,” which is characterized by a place and an experience. Throughout the customer journey, there will be multiple touchpoints and together they make up the customer’s experience of your brand. Since the needs phase is the first potential touchpoint, it’s a very important one to get customers on board with you. Thus, research:
- When exactly do concrete needs arise in the lives of your target audience?
- Does your customer base have concrete needs for your other products and/or services as well?
- Are there different moments when these concrete needs arise?
- What developments or trends in the market stimulate concrete needs for your brand?
2. Orientation phase
Customer orientation is a global 24/7 process these days. This happens via search engines, social media, forums and discussion groups, comparative websites and YouTube channels, word of mouth, and of course via your (or your competitors’) websites or facilities. Besides keeping an eye on these platforms, you can get insight into your target audience’s orientation phase via the same tools mentioned in the latent needs section.
At this stage, it’s not about selling your brand, but about appearing as an objective advisor in the eyes of your potential customers. You can do this via:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO and/or Search Engine Advertising (SEA)).
- Content marketing that explains about your product, service or industry via social media, forums, or your website (also good for your website SEO).
- A frequently asked questions (FAQ) section on your website.
- Customer service via telephone, web care, WhatsApp or social media.
- Being present at offline events and markets.
3. Deliberation phase
This is the point where potential customers deliberate by weighing your price, branding, service, and the experiences of others with your brand against other brands. Depending on your industry, there are other factors that play a role too, but you’ll probably know which ones those are better than we do.
By using the tools and by being present on the platforms mentioned above you can get a lot of insight into your deliberating target audience. In addition, AnswerThePublic and Ubersuggest are handy tools to get insight into your customers’ deliberations.
In this phase it is all about selling your brand. For example, through SEO and/or SEA in combination with a conversion-optimized website, e-mail marketing, being present at comparative websites, and stimulating your customer base to write reviews.
4. Decision moment phase
This is where your potential customers decide: will it be your product, service or brand, or will it be another? This is a crucial phase because after this your customers will continue to the purchasing phase. There’s usually not much you can do at this stage anymore, so it’s important that the 3 phases before this convinced your target audience to choose for you.
Keep in mind, though, that you haven’t made your sale at this phase yet; there are still plenty of touchpoints that can make your customers pull out.
5. The purchasing phase
Since most purchases happen online these days, we’ll focus on this segment. Conveniently, many of the pulling out reasons are the same for online and offline purchases, so even if your purchases happen (primarily) offline, most of this discussion will still be relevant. Common reasons for customers to pull out at this phase are:
- Extra costs during checkout: Delivery, administration, processing costs, etc.
- Delivery taking too long for a customer’s needs.
- Insufficient payment methods: only Credit Card or PayPal, for example.
- New circumstances: for example, when a house purchase cannot go through because the bank denies the customer’s mortgage request.
- Incomplete information: when the customer doesn’t know exactly what he/she will get: for example, coffee that is not specified as whole beans, ground coffee, or cups in the shopping cart.
In order to prevent potential customers from pulling out during the purchasing phase, you first have to know where the hiccups in your sales funnel are. For this, you can use:
- Google Analytics to see at what pages your target audience takes a step back, when they pull out completely, and whether there’s a difference in desktop or mobile use of your website.
- Website heat map software: Hotjar, for example, allows you to see the actual way that users move their mouse across your website.
- A/B testing: make two versions of the same webpage and use the tools above to see which one performs better.
- Polling/surveying: ask for feedback on your website, via reviews, via e-mail, and wherever else you can get feedback without coming across as annoying or aggressive.
During these analyses, you’ll quickly find out that this is a delicate phase. Since customers have so much access and choice these days, they’ve often put in a lot of “work” during phases 1-3 before they choose your brand in phase 4. So, now they want to be rewarded with your product/service ASAP, with as little effort as possible. In order to accommodate your customers in the purchasing phase, consider:
- Creating a conversion-optimized web design with the tools mentioned above.
- Allowing customers to save their shopping cart so they can finish their purchase at a later moment, and remind customers via e-mail to complete their purchase.
- Enabling notifications for out of stock or new products/services.
- Affiliate marketing and social sharing to guide your target audience to you at places relevant to them.
In order to do this effectively, it helps a lot to collect all your customer information in a CRM system. With your own CRM system, you’ll have oversight over the subsequent customer journey phases, which helps you to stay in touch with your customer base in a relevant and ultimately positive way.
In order to learn how to keep the customers who made their purchase and to guide them to become your brand ambassadors in phases 6–9 of the customer journey, make sure to read our next article. If you want to learn how to make a customer journey map for your marketing strategy, have a look at this article.