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Article first published June 2017, updated April 2020

It’s been interesting to see how the definition of the “customer journey” has evolved over the years. It’s a divisive topic for sure, and there’ll always be conflicting interpretations as to what exactly the customer journey is.

You could almost imagine an anchorman-style standoff, where each news team is a collective of marketing professionals who share an ideology as to what really defines the customer journey. That is, assuming the customer journey and the touchpoints it consists of are still relevant, because there are those who’ll argue that it’s fallen into obsolescence, unceremoniously usurped by the customer experience.

Now, a person’s interpretation of the importance/relevance/existence of the customer journey is defined by both that person’s role with the brand and the brand itself. Still, after more than eight years of poring over the intricacies of the brand-customer relationship, we’ve come to a few conclusions.

Assumptions about the customer journey

Before we delve into all that, let’s start with a few assumptions. First of all, defining a customer journey isn’t the same as simply defining touchpoints. The journey consists of one or more touchpoints, and, while both are complementary, each has a fundamentally different focus. Next, the customer journey isn’t the same as the customer experience. Compared to the journey, the customer experience is driven more by emotion. It looks at the motivations, the inspirations, the frustrations. If the journey looks at the effect, the experience looks at the cause.

In my opinion, all three ideas must be considered both individually and collectively, because all three impact your business, both individually and collectively. Imagine a person taking a pragmatic approach to improving their health—they’re not going to just adjust their diet or just focus on exercising more often. Fundamentally, both are key contributors to overall health: Both need their own considered approach, and both need to work together in the overall health plan.

Where to start when creating a customer journey

The customer journey used to be defined by the traditional sales funnel: A new contact enters your funnel, goes through several stages before completing the conversion, and the cycle ends.

As the sales funnel evolved into the sales cycle, the customer journey should continue to evolve as well. It’s vital to remember that a customer’s journey no longer ends with a sale. Instead, it continues from conversion to brand advocacy before you start to enter the awareness stage once more.

Customer lifecycle journey

Source: Alexa

The entire idea of the customer lifecycle should also be applied to your customer journey. It helps you not only stay in regular communication with your subscribers and customers, but it also helps them see that you’re treating them as the individual that they want to be seen as. In fact, companies with a customer experience mindset and that prioritize their customer’s journey see revenue that is 4-8% higher than those who don’t.

So how does one go about prioritizing their customer journey to create a better customer experience? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Welcome all newbies.

You only get one first impression. When someone new subscribes to your email newsletter, and you send them an automated welcome email, you’re showing them that you’re grateful for their time and their confidence in you. This is how you start building a good customer experience with each potential lead that subscribes to your list. Why’s this important? Seventy-three percent of consumers say that good customer experience is vital in influencing their brand loyalties.

The easiest way to make your subscribers feel acknowledged is by sending each new one a welcome email, such as this example by Tattly:

Welcome email example

Source: Really Good Emails

Welcome emails benefit your brand by helping to generate a 91.43% open rate and upward of 320% more revenue per email (compared to other promotional emails). They’re also now expected by consumers. In fact, approximately 74% of consumers expect an automated welcome email sent as soon as they subscribe to a new list.

Cater to the individual by creating/sharing highly targeted, personalized content.

It’s worth reiterating that your customers expect to be treated as individuals. That means that simply sending generic emails out to everyone on your email list is a no-go. Approximately 74% of marketers say that highly targeted personalization helped to increase their overall customer engagement.

Email personalization is important for the customer journey because personalization is what propels customers from one step to the next. When you create and share targeted, highly relevant content with your subscribers, they’re more likely to continue engaging with your brand. About 36% of consumers have stated that they were interested in purchasing personalized products or services.

Email example with personalized recommendations

Source: Really Good Emails

Bonus exercise: imagine your brand is a country.

Indulge me for a moment and lend me your imagination. Imagine your brand is a country, any country. In fact, better yet, go ahead and create your own country. For example, I’d have perfectly powdered mountains to the North, sun-drenched beaches to the South, rainforests to the West, and an oasis-strewn desert to the East.

Now consider this:

  • Touchpoints are your country’s infrastructure, but not just roads and buildings and power supplies, and so on. They also represent historical landmarks, environmental features, and topography, tourist attractions, political ideologies, government, etc.
  • Customer journeys are the journeys (in a literal sense) that are allowed to happen because your touchpoints exist. For example, you can take a vacation, do your grocery shopping, vote for your President (or Prime Minister, or Queen or whatever hierarchy you have in place).
  • Customer experience is how the country affects a person as a whole, on both a journey and touchpoints level.

Now, here’s the important part: Just as a journey can’t actually happen without the touchpoints in place, the touchpoints must be designed with the journey in mind. For example, say you’re designing a National Park on your country’s West Coast. From a touchpoint perspective, you’ll have to pour over every detail of the National Park: the number of lakes, types of trees, ideal camping sites, entrance, and exit points, etc.

From a journey perspective, you‘ll need to make sure the folks on the East Coast can easily find out about and research your National Park, and that getting there’s almost as enjoyable as being there. Similarly, each journey should be complementary to the overall experience or ambiance you’re trying to create (i.e., the experience could be lackluster if each journey isn’t underpinned by that same ambiance).

In essence, each journey should be a perfect complement to the last, a seamless segue to the next, and an accurate reflection of the overall experience.

There’s a caveat here, though: We must assume that a person’s role will dictate their interpretation and focus. For example, it’s natural that channel-specific marketers will pay more attention to individual touchpoints while the C-Suite will obsess over the bigger picture. But, without understanding the correlation between execution at a micro level and objectives at a macro level, it’s impossible to optimize your brand marketing.

Wrap up

Properly defining touchpoints, the customer journey, and the customer experience are all equally important to a brand’s marketing success, and brands must give each aspect the attention it deserves.

However, since a person’s interpretation as to how each is weighted (in terms of overall importance) is dependent on a number of factors. It’s crucial that everybody fully appreciates how each contributes to the bigger picture, and this isn’t a one-off exercise. It’s a process that should be in perpetual motion. It’s a living, breathing “thing.” It should change and adapt and morph on a whim. As soon as it stops evolving, your brand stops living.

That said, here are a few tips for building effective customer journeys:

  • Welcome everyone with open arms
  • Personalization is important

Looking for more on how to create an exceptional customer journey? Be sure to check out our guide on how to create a customer journey today.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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