The Customer Journey - Actually More of a Customer Pilgrimage

The current definition of the Customer Journey seems to consist of some version of Consider/Awareness leading to Research/Evaluate, and then to Purchase. Some models include the Out Of the Box Experience (OOBE) followed by Usage after Purchase. I particularly appreciate models that include those two pieces, as they take into account that the customer's experience needs to be favorable for some time after the purchase. Most customers are not in the market for the next new thing as soon as they purchase one (if so, there’s something wrong with the product!)

The more that I consider this model, the more I am convinced that it has very little to do with the Customer Experience and much more to do with the Marketer Experience. It looks more like an athletic track than a journey; it is circular and assumes much from the customer. As I alluded to earlier, it seems to miss out on the opportunity to accompany the customer on the journey. So, in order to differentiate between a classically described “Customer Journey” and what I want to convey, I am introducing the idea of a “Customer Pilgrimage”.

Customer Pilgrimage? What's that?

When visualizing a classic customer journey this way, I imply something that a customer experiences by themselves, with the marketer observing and perhaps injecting the periodic helpful bit of information. My visualization of a pilgrimage is different. A pilgrimage is not circular, but it does have an end point, with stops along the way. A pilgrimage can imply traveling with others, including guides and other pilgrims…like marketers and friends, for example! A pilgrimage doesn't have a set schedule; in fact, the pilgrim may not arrive at the destination at all. One way of considering a pilgrimage is for the sake of the pilgrimage…but that is another article.

A Customer Pilgrimage is a journey that includes all of the customer's motivations, influences, decisions and desires. It is online and offline. It includes all of the different kinds of stimuli and things going on with the customer at that time and cumulatively over time.

Who Really Influences During the Usage Stage?

As marketers, we try to influence and inform the customer, usually during the Consider/Awareness and Research/Evaluate stages. My own experience, along with others I have spoken to, is that an enormous amount of influence is possible in the Usage portion of the pilgrimage. This is when the performance of the product and how the customer is treated (or their perceptions of that treatment) by the company can drive that person towards loyalty or disparagement. An evangelist or a detractor results.

I recently upgraded my smartphone to a different brand from a brand to which I had been loyal for over 4 years. Why did I change brands? For several reasons (see how many are under the control of marketing…):

  • The battery in my old phone was holding a charge for less time every week, and it could not be replaced without replacing the phone. I could not go for 4 hours without having to recharge the phone. So I wanted a phone with a replaceable battery.
  • It seemed to be slowing down in its responses to my app usage.
  • It was having increasing difficulties connecting by Bluetooth to my car (I checked the car for issues and found none).
  • New phones I considered had larger screens and longer talk time and standby time (a consequence of the battery problem).
  • The new phone of my old brand is engineered well, but the camera has fewer mega-pixels than the competition. This might not have made much difference, but I take many scenic shots, and I want to be able to blow-up the shots; more mega-pixels allow me to do that with higher quality.
  • The competition has a larger screen and some interesting gesture-related navigation features I thought might work for me.
  • I frankly did not like the idea of being tied to my former brand. Several of my friends and professional colleagues own the competition’s products and rate them highly. I felt like a change.
  • My efforts at discovering self-help content online for my old brand’s products were spotty and, although I have not had to deal with their customer support before, I know people who have and have sworn they would NEVER buy that brand again as a result.

So you can see that there are only a few portions over which marketing has any kind of control, and the mix of offline and online influences, personal, professional and social, along with my own thoughts and impulses brought me to my purchasing decision.

Tips to Develop a Pilgrimage-Model Experience

So what can you do?

First, do not drop consideration of the customer immediately after purchase. Doing that makes it likely you won’t see them again.

Second, work closely with other parts of the company on a comprehensive, pilgrimage-model customer experience strategy and implementation plan to accompany the customer along the full length of their pilgrimage (without being creepy, of course…). If the customer knows that ‘you have their back’ throughout the pilgrimage, even if they hang onto the product for years and years without upgrading, they will turn to you when the time comes.

Lastly, realize that the customer is a human being with concerns, influences and reasoning that you may never understand or discover.

Forecasting human behavior with any degree of certainty is possible for some segments and types of products and services, but you need to always allow for the “real life” factor. I have always thought of forecasting in conjunction with the weather, and, although it has improved, the weather app on my phone is still mostly approximate in its forecasts. Allowing for the serendipitous nature of people’s behavior will help you travel with them more sympathetically along their pilgrimage.

Image Courtesy of kavram (Shutterstock)