person standing in a circle
PHOTO: Jon Tyson

Mapping out and improving your customer journey is a complex, rather abstract process. The goal is to codify the journey so that it can be measured and optimized. That means the more your customer journey model matches reality, the more effectively you can use it to improve your customer’s experience.

With accuracy comes minutiae. Buying cycles are intricate, especially in B2B selling. Customer success pathways are as well. You might find that you very quickly get to a model of your customer journey that is too overwhelming to be actionable. You’re doing the right thing, but it isn’t helping you get the right results.

However, some points in a customer journey hold an outsized impact on the outcomes. Identifying these "critical moments" can help simplify otherwise complex journeys and guide where your focus should be.

Look for Critical Moments in the Customer Journey

Distributed throughout your sophisticated map of conversations, decisions points, emotional context, etc. are a handful of key activities that occur during your customer’s experience with your organization.

These key activities have an outsized impact on the ultimate value judgement your customer will place on said experience. Certainly every touchpoint nudges the customer’s opinion positively or negatively. These special ones are the moments that have an order of magnitude more sway.

Think of them like pressure points. At first glance, they appear as nothing more than small areas on a body — nothing special, nothing significant. But, applying just a small amount of pressure can shut down your entire muscle system.

These critical moments are the pressure points in your customer journey. They are highly leveraged “points of no return” in that journey.

When mapped out, your customer journey model will have a lot of arrows that push forward and almost as many that circle back. Even the simplest journeys aren’t completely linear. Decisions are made at points along the way which don't ultimately define the journey.

Yet other points will. For example, in a high-touch sales process for a software product, especially if you are selling quality over value, your first conversation is likely a critical moment. It’s your one chance to start the partnership off right.

That first conversation sets the tone for the entire relationship. If you establish a transactional, impersonal first impression, you’ll likely forever be that to your customer. If you establish a consultative, value-add impression, that reputation will carry on with you too.

You can only have one first impression. Certainly, it can be undone, but not easily. 

Further down the sales process, you present a quote. I’d make the case that the quote process, while important, is not necessarily a critical moment.

It’s quite common for the quote to be a starting place. You may get feedback, take that feedback, reconfigure and present again. Eventually you might loop in a sales director. The customer may have other paths to go down in terms of procurement teams and executive approval.

The presentation of the quote is important, but it doesn’t decide the future. It’s a transaction that is a means to an end. It’s a point where the customer may go backwards and come through this step again in the future. They may do it multiple times.

But, then comes the final contract presentation and (hopefully) the transition to “customer” status.

This point in time — where the prospect puts ink to paper and becomes a customer — is a critical moment. This marks a transition from a salesperson-to-prospect relationship to a customer partnership. The way you present the contract, which might represent a significant commitment, will set the tone for the entire go-forward relationship, much like a first impression would. So will the way you celebrate welcoming that new customer into the family.

Your prospect only becomes a new customer once. You get one shot.

Look for these points of no return in your customer journey. It’s where the effort you put into improvement will be a force multiplier for positive customer experience.

Related Article: Customer Journey Mapping: Navigating a Course to Better Customer Relations

Think in Probabilities

The outcomes these critical moments create are not binary. People and their experiences are far too nuanced for that to be the case. You should think about the outcome of critical moments in terms of probabilities.

Let’s keep going with the customer onboarding example. Once you’ve signed a customer, you usually have a few simple goals: a high NPS score, they come back and purchase upsells, then leave good feedback in public places. These are all indications of a positive customer experience.

Any of those future outcomes are possible on the day the customer signs up to be your customer. But possible doesn't mean predetermined. Mastering the critical moment of the signed customer handoff means making a bet that you’ll get a positive outcome downstream.

Your mindset when analyzing and hopefully improving the experience during that critical moment should be about increasing the probability of the positive future outcome. If you estimate that your odds of the positive future outcome are 40% today, can you get it to 60%? What friction can you remove?

At scale, you can test and measure these probabilities to have quantitative evidence of success that ties to financial impact, but that requires a lot of data. At the least, you can approach the problem with the mindset of increasing the probability of the positive future outcome.

When you develop a customer relationship you have a handful of opportunities to win them or lose them. There are thousands of moments that will nudge the customer ever so slightly, but just a few will fundamentally change that customer’s experience trajectory.

Put the work in on those critical moments that matter most.

Related Article: Why Customer Journey Mapping + Journey Analytics = 5-Star Customer Experiences