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Follow The Yellow Click Road: The Digital Customer Journey

According to Forbes, customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable compared to competitors that don’t focus on customers. That’s why you need to concentrate on creating and optimizing a digital customer journey. This way, you can provide a top-notch user experience and streamline the purchasing process for your customers.

Surely, you want to provide customers with an impeccable customer experience. To achieve this goal, you need to understand how potential customers become aware of your brand and its offer and decide to place an order. There are several stages and touchpoints along the way that need to be analyzed, described, and optimized. And that’s what digital customer journey mapping is all about. Let’s talk specifics.

What is the digital customer journey?

Imagine that every customer sets off on a journey to find the product or service they need to solve their problems or address their needs. The journey starts with planning; your future customer needs to know what kind of product or service they’re after. Once they figure this out, they leave the house and look at and compare different options. At some point, your customer finds the product that checks all of his or her boxes—and it’s your product!

Now, your future customer wants to make sure they pick the best option, so they read the product description and look for testimonials, case studies, and reviews (never underestimate word of mouth). They may even visit your social media profiles or ask additional questions. 

Finally, they are ready to make the purchasing decision. They go through the purchasing process, and shortly afterwards, they get the desired product or service. If everything goes correctly and your customers’ needs are fulfilled, many of them will become loyal customers, especially when they need your product or service more than once.

Of course, what we describe above is a huge simplification, but that’s essentially how it works. The digital customer journey describes your customers’ purchasing path from the very beginning (when they are just finding out about your product or company), to the very end (when they are loyal, returning customers). In other words, it’s the whole process leading up to the first purchase when a prospect becomes a customer.

Just like any other process, the digital customer journey has its stages and touchpoints (moments of interaction between the company and the customer). Typically, we can distinguish five main stages of every customer journey.

Stages of the digital customer journey

Stage 1: Awareness

This stage is all about the discovery of your product or service. The customer already knows that they need something to solve the problem. Anything can constitute a problem—from needing the perfect shirt for your best friend's wedding, to fixing your broken fridge, to subscribing to a new SaaS solution for your company (customer journeys work both in B2C and B2B, but we’ll get to that in a moment).

In the awareness stage, the customer is looking for possible solutions. They need to gather more information and have their questions answered. Here, content marketing plays a crucial role. If your website is comprehensive and offers exhaustive answers to the questions your customers might have—that’s good; you’re on the right track!

Typical examples of content that plays a role in the awareness stage are:

  • Ads and sponsored posts
  • Guest posts on other websites
  • Search engine results and suggested queries
  • Tutorials and how-to videos on YouTube and other platforms

Take a look at this example of a YouTube tutorial for buying skis:

Digital marketing is essential in the awareness stage. You need ads, customer reviews, guest posts, and word of mouth to help potential customers discover your brand through diverse digital channels.

Stage 2: Consideration

In the second stage, the customer knows what they need to solve their problem. They are now comparing different options and looking for the best one. This is one of the most important stages of the journey, and possibly the trickiest—you have to convince your potential new customer that you can offer them the best solution and solve their pain points.

For prospects in this stage, all kinds of guides, comparisons, Q&A sections, and YouTube videos are more than helpful.

Take a look at this comparison of the best email marketing tools made by Hubspot.

Stage 3: Purchase

This is the magical moment when the prospect clicks the “Buy Now” button. This stage is extremely important in the e-commerce sector—both the cart and the checkout have to be intuitive and quick. You don’t want to bother your customer with unnecessary questions and steps to complete. On the contrary, you want to close this stage as quickly as possible and move to the next one.

What’s essential here:

  • Inform your customer of what they are buying and for what price
  • Offer all the desired payment and delivery features (study market research to see what payment/delivery options are popular in your country or industry)
  • Enable them to finish the purchasing process WITHOUT the need to create a new account (you can encourage people to do so, but it shouldn’t be mandatory)
  • Make sure the checkout process is straightforward and fully functional (there is nothing more frustrating than a malfunctioning payment gate)
  • Once the payment is made, show a confirmation page along with the information on what your new customer can expect next

Take a look at this screen capture of the cart section on BestBuy.ca:

cart section on bestbuy.ca screenshot

Everything is legible, there are no unnecessary distractions (you can add features your customers might want, e.g., extended protection or complementary offers), and the user can go straight to checkout.

Stage 4: Retention/Experience

This is what happens directly after the product or service has been purchased—you want to ensure your customer receives their product and is satisfied with it. This stage is paramount to customer satisfaction. Even if the purchasing process is easy and quick, if the product takes forever to arrive or is not high-quality, you'll still end up with a disappointed user.

Typical things to consider at this stage are:

  • Order tracking
  • Shipping and delivery
  • Online help center along with manuals, assembly guides, FAQs, return info, etc.
  • Follow-up communication (customer surveys, questions about the product, asking for a review, etc.)

Consider this example. Clearly is a Canadian online retailer selling glasses and contact lenses. Shortly after each purchase, they send a message to make sure everything is good with the order:

clearly screenshot

That’s how you do it at the retention stage!

Stage 5: Advocacy/Retention

In order to create a comprehensive customer journey, you also need to consider the latter post-purchase stage. Treat every end of the purchasing process as an opportunity to start the new one. Stay in touch with customers and encourage them to buy more products. How can you do that? Here are your options:

  • Loyalty programs and newsletters
  • Personalized offers and promo codes
  • Social media interactions

Of course, it all has to be balanced. You should put your customers’ needs first and concentrate on making sure they get the best service possible. Only then can you approach them with more "sales-y" communication. This way, you will gain customer loyalty.

Sephora's loyalty program is a good example. They not only enable customers to earn points for every purchase, but they also offer a much longer list of available perks:

That about covers the five basic stages of the digital customer journey. The next step is to map this journey and optimize all the relevant elements and touchpoints.

Digital customer journey mapping

As with any other process, the customer journey can be presented visually in the form of an infographic or a flowchart. Such a visual representation of the digital customer journey is frequently referred to as a customer journey map.

Your customer journey map should show all interactions and touchpoints that take place between the company and the customer before, during, and after the transaction is finished. Moreover, the customer journey map is always the result of a thorough market and target audience analysis. You can’t really do customer experience management if you don’t understand your customers and their needs.

Customer journey mapping enables your company to:

  • Deliver better products and services
  • Tailor products and services to your customers’ needs and expectations
  • Understand your customers’ behavior and offer them the support they truly need
  • Develop compelling offers
  • Create more personalized and accurate content
  • Spot potential problems and shortcomings that can discourage potential buyers

Digital Customer Journey Mapping for B2B and B2C

In general, mapping the customer journey for B2B and B2C is quite similar—we start with a problem and end with a solution. However, for obvious reasons, mapping a B2B customer journey is more complicated and entails more elements. Take a look at this comparison:

B2C customer journey vs. B2B customer journey

One decision-maker (the individual customer)Multiple decision-makers (several departments in a company)
One main problem to solveMany problems to solve
One purchasing processMultiple purchasing processes
Spontaneous/short-term decisionLong-term decision
Linear processNon-linear process

According to Gartner, there are six repetitive stages of every B2B customer journey:

  1. Problem identification
  2. Solution exploration
  3. Requirements building
  4. Supplier selection
  5. Validation
  6. Consensus creation

It doesn’t mean, though, that these stages occur one after another. It’s more complicated than that:

All these six stages usually happen at least once to finalize the purchase. However, they can occur simultaneously or not in the assumed order. For instance, the supplier selection stage can occur before the requirements-building stage.

How to create a digital customer journey map

Step 1: Design a buyer persona

Shortly put, the buyer persona is a profile of your perfect customer. It comprises several elements, such as:

  • Position in the company
  • Department they work in
  • Behaviors and habits
  • Motivators
  • Needs
  • Challenges
  • Objections

You need the buyer persona to understand who your customer really is, what their needs are, pain points, and challenges that can be solved with your product or service. Creating the customer journey without a buyer persona is a lot like wandering around in the fog.

Step 2: List customer touchpoints

Touchpoints are basically specific moments in the customer journey through which your customers can discover and communicate with your company. Touchpoints are present all the way through the customer journey. Typical touchpoints include:

  • Websites and social media profiles
  • Newsletters and push notifications
  • Blog posts and guest posts
  • Ads
  • YouTube videos
  • Ebooks and FAQ sections
  • Chatbots and helplines
  • Web and mobile apps

Each such element can encourage your potential customer to take the next step or ditch your company and go elsewhere. Of course, these touchpoints are vital at every stage. For instance, if you have a mobile app, it can be helpful both in the consideration, purchase, and retention stages.

List all the touchpoints in your business and see how they fit in the customer journey. This way, you can assess which of them are crucial for the purchasing process in your organization. Each touchpoint needs to be optimized towards one common goal—landing the customer.

Step 3: Divide customers into segments

It is likely you will need more than one customer journey map in your company, especially if you work in a B2B environment. Each customer segment usually requires a separate map. Why? Here’s an example: Suppose you offer pest control services and you work with both individual and corporate clients. Will these two groups follow the same journey? Of course not!

Individual customers will probably find you via the search engine and just call you to set up an appointment. On the other hand, business clients may require you to participate in a more complex selection process. You will probably also have to conduct a field visit to prepare a valid offer. These are two different purchasing processes and, therefore, two different customer journey maps.

Step 4: Put it all together and try to walk in your customer’s shoes

At this point, you have listed different customer segments and touchpoints in your company, and you know the main stages of the customer journey. The last step is to put all that together to create legible and well-organized digital customer journey maps guiding you from the beginning right to the end.

Try to look at things from your customer’s perspective. You can do that by walking through all the customer journey stages just like a customer would. Note all the touchpoints you encounter and obstacles you bump into. Is the purchasing process quick and easy? Is your website fully operational? Was it easy to get in touch with customer service? Was the consultant knowledgeable? Is the loyalty program really attractive? These are all vital questions for which you should have confident answers.

That’s the theory. If you’ve never made a customer journey map, it all may be a bit overwhelming. To streamline this task for you, I want to show you two examples of what the digital customer journey map should look like.

Customer journey map examples

Example 1: Spotify (the linear model)

This is the most popular and straightforward model. It divides the customer journey map into several stages (usually five, but sometimes more), one after another. Here’s how it can look based on the example of Spotify:

Example 2: Emirates (the non-linear model)

In the second example, we want to show you a map of Emirates airlines. At first, it seems disorganized, but the fact is, it’s a very complex model taking into account hundreds of possible scenarios.

In a more detailed version of this map, you can see every possible scenario and touchpoint:

possible scenario screenshot

As a result, every interested party or employee has access to detailed information on what should be done at each and every stage and in every possible situation. Such maps are sometimes called performance or tactical customer journey maps, and they are reserved strictly for the biggest companies.

The next journey is yours.

Mapping the customer journey takes some time and effort, but it’s definitely worth it! This way, you can optimize your marketing and sales processes and provide better customer service. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

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By Hannah Clark

Hannah Clark is the Editor of The CX Lead. Her goal is to bring together a community of CX professionals to learn, interact, and voice their own opinions on this ever-evolving industry.

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