What do Steve Jobs, Richard Branson and Elon Musk have in common? Aside from billion-pound empires, they’re all driven by a business mantra that focuses on exceptional customer experiences. This article explores the 5 essential phases of the perfect customer journey.
Customer experience—it’s why Apple has a vast tribe of tech-savvy advocates and can sell its devices for far more than the worth of its spec. It’s why Virgin is able to go into any known industry, shake things up and create a leading business instantaneously. And it’s why Tesla can sell astronomically priced cars and still retain the highest customer loyalty ratings of any car company. Clearly, there’s something to be said for customer experiences.
But what does it take to innovate the exceptional? And how can you apply these experiences to every stage of the customer journey? This article walks you through the 5 key stages and offers a free Customer Experience Mapping Spreadsheet to help you get started.
Innovate customer experiences, not the product
These days, product differentiation is harder than ever. And while every entrepreneur is seeking that next big thing, few will find it. As manufacturers outsource their components from the same factories and ever more new businesses crossover or diversify into the same markets, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out with a unique selling proposition.
In this competitive landscape, prices are being driven down to the point where those businesses who win barely turn a profit and those that lose go out of business altogether. In this race to the bottom, often it’s the little things that are cut. The quality of the materials. The integrity of the supply chain. The professionalism of the staff. The little flourishes and personal touches. The added-value.
Herein lies the mistake.
“Customers are no longer buying products and services—they are buying experiences delivered via the products and services.”
—Gregory Yankelovich, customer experience guru
Beyond 5-stars on the user journey
These days, 4 or 5-stars is average.
To stand out, you have to go further. The 6th star isn’t even visible on the scale, but when you see it, you know that’s the brand for you. The 6th star is registered in beaming smiles and delighted stories of customers. These people who will do your word of mouth marketing on your behalf and keep coming back for more. To attain it, you have to provide the exceptional.
Exceptional customer experiences are profound, or extraordinary, or unique or laugh out loud funny. They can be personal, empathetic or friendly. They’re 4-dimensional, cross-platform and multi-sensory. From the temperature of a restaurant to the smell of a bakery, the texture of your print design, to the movement of your UX design. More than anything they’re seamlessly linked to your brand soul.
The 5 stages of the customer journey
Good news! It’s easy to provide the exceptional—once or twice, here and there. The bad news is that’s not good enough either. Your brand has to delight at every touchpoint throughout the whole user journey. From the moment a prospect passes your shop window to the point of sale and beyond. To ensure a seamless customer journey, isolate each touchpoint and focus on innovation.
According to futurist Nicholas Webb, author of the seminal customer experience book, What Customers Crave, the user journey can be broken down into 5 separate stages:
- Pre-touchpoint – Awareness
- Initial touchpoint – Engagement
- Core touchpoint – Lead generation
- Last touchpoint – Point of sale
- In-touchpoint – Loyalty
Pre-touchpoint – Awareness
This is the first moment a customer comes into contact with your brand. Your marketing gravity has taken hold. To avoid them overshooting, start exerting a force immediately.
Here, the customer is in their research phase. They may be looking at comparison sites, checking out Google Reviews or just asking a friend for advice. You don’t always have much control over the pre-touchpoint. Mostly, it depends on customer reviews and perceptions. Because of this, it’s twice as important that the other touchpoints really are exceptional!
But there are other types of pre-touches that you can control. A social media post that drops into their feed. A leaflet in their letterbox. A shop window they pass by. A list of results they’re served when entering a search query.
Here the goal is to stand out, grab attention and make your prospects think, ‘tell me more’.
Initial touchpoint – a time for engagement
At the initial touchpoint, your prospect has acted on an impulse. They may have entered your shop for the first time and are considering whether to stay or turn right around. They may have clicked on your social media profile to see if your other content offers something of value. Or they may have navigated to your website’s homepage or product/service landing page for that brief 3-second window of evaluation.
This stage isn’t about sales. It’s about creating comfortable, entertaining and engaging customer experiences for your prospects to explore. It’s where you show that your brand offers more than just products, whether that’s advice, free resources, a pleasant atmosphere or just a friendly community.
Just being around your brand should offer value. Now’s the time to engage with your customer on their terms.
Here’s what Nicholas Webb has to say about customer experience.
Core touchpoint – the time of lead generation
The core touchpoint begins when the customer-to-be has started making signs that they are interested in a transaction. Maybe they’ve picked up a product and asked your sales staff for advice. Perhaps a website visitor has navigated to a contact form or is reviewing their basket. Perhaps the latest promotion in your e-newsletter has caught their eye.
- What messages does each of these touchpoints convey?
- How user-friendly are these features?
- Is the experience as enjoyable and simple as possible?
- How simple is it to place an order?
One way to encourage customers along the user journey is to create an ascending transaction model.
Here, a sample or resource is offered in exchange for something small. This might be a sample box of chocolates for just a couple of pounds, a free month trial in return for registering an account, or a free e-book in return for contact details and a newsletter sign up. Offering your customer a low-cost trial means they can test your product or service without the risk. Once they’re hooked, you can upsell.
Pro Tip: Aim to give something away which has a perceived greater value than the cost.
“In a digital world, the gift I give you almost always benefits me more than it costs.”
—Seth Godin, Marketing Guru
Last touchpoint – the point of sale
The customer journey doesn’t stop when they reach the counter. The point of sale is a fantastic place to leave a lasting impression. It’s also a good place to lose a sale. According to an American Express Survey, 78% of customers bailed on a transaction or did not make an intended purchase due to poor customer experiences.
Starbucks doesn’t make this mistake.
When customers buy coffee from Starbucks, they are asked to provide a name. When the beverage is ready, the barista will make the effort to hand it over and thank them in person, rather than leave it on the side and shout out a number. It’s the little things that count.
A friendly smile goes a long way and great customer service should be integral to your brand principles. But you can do more than that. If you offer a luxury product, why not gift wrap the product at the counter and offer a free mini card to go with it?
Online, the point of sale is the basket. Here you can add value by recommending relevant products that others have bought, free next-day delivery and a painless transaction process. And how about a beautifully designed email receipt offering a free voucher on their next purchase.
For the B2B company, the point of sale may be a phone call or a business presentation. Here, exceptional experience means having a well-designed workspace. It means offering deluxe coffee in cups and saucers. It means a brand perfect presentation, free merchandise and a warm welcome from the receptionist (and workforce) as your visitor passes by.
In-touchpoint – building loyalty after the sale
So you’ve made the sale. The customer walks away with a beaming smile and you get that elusive 6-star review, again. Great work! But your user journey isn’t finished yet.
Truth is—the perfect user journey never finishes.
When my fiance’s dad bought his first Apple Mac in 2009, who knew the young family would each own a suite of Apple products two decades hence? These days, that’s how they take photos, read books, listen to music and connect with one another. The art of marketing isn’t to make a sale, but to build a loyal, lasting community.
It makes simple economic sense. 82% of companies agree that retention is cheaper than acquisition. And 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers. Some studies have concluded that a loyal customer is worth ten times as much as a one-off.
You should never stop wooing your customers. Sending them valuable content, alerting them to your latest promotions, engaging with them on social media and giving away free offers tailor-made for them.
“A true fan is defined as someone will buy anything you produce. A diehard who will drive 200 miles to see you sing and who will buy the hardback and paperback and audible versions of your books.”
—Kevin Kelly, author or 1,000 True Fans
Designing exceptional customer experiences
Now you understand the different phases of the user journey, it’s time to start innovating exceptional experiences. Decide which channels you should use for each phase and what changes you can make to the customer experience. Ask yourself what value you can provide through them and what might nudge them to the next step.
To help, I’ve created a Customer Experience Journey Mapping Spreadsheet that helps you focus on each stage and each customer and list your ideas. Feel free to copy, change and use it as you please:
This template also includes fields for how you intend to measure the effectiveness of each step. This is an essential stage of your marketing plan and will define how you adapt and tweak your campaign strategy for an ever optimised performance.
Not only will you need to understand how you intend to measure success, but you will also need to define what that success actually looks like.
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