road taking many twists and turns
PHOTO: Leon Seierlein

Moving a customer from the top of the sales funnel down through the final sale as well as post-purchase follow-up are all essential parts of customer journey management. But along the way, there are several potential pitfalls where the customer could exit the funnel entirely, with the sale being lost.

To better understand and manage the customer journey, marketers should keep a few factors in mind.

It’s a Customer Journey, not a Product Journey

“The biggest factor in customer journey management is to start by understanding the true customer journey,” said marketing consultant Carla Johnson. “A pitfall most brands fall victim to is mapping it with internal knowledge that ends up being a guesstimate. When marketers map customer journeys from the inside out, it becomes a product-focused map rather than an accurate customer journey. Another stumbling block is not taking time to develop and then use accurate customer personas when managing the journey.”

Companies need to take the time to understand the full spectrum of the customer journey — starting well before the top of the sales funnel and lasting through the customer lifecycle, according to Johnson. When companies do that, they have a tremendous opportunity to build earlier and deeper relationships based on trust.

To take this a step further, as companies manage the journey, it’s important to look at how they can lead the customer to becoming a more sophisticated consumer of information, which in turn will make them a more valuable buyer. This is why content marketing has become a critical component of the customer journey and customer experience. The way we manage the journey is by delivering the information that’s most valuable to customers in order to help them make smarter decisions.

“Any brand that helps people become better and more effective in their work will have greater influence in managing that journey,” Johnson added.

Related Article: Creating and Future-Proofing Your Customer Journey Map

Connecting the Non-Linear Journey Dots

While it might seem natural for the customer journey to move from the top of the sales funnel to the bottom — unless it falls out somewhere in the middle, that journey doesn’t move in a straight line, according to Lisa Loftis, principal consultant, CI Advisory Services at SAS Best Practices.

“While most CX leaders intuitively understand this, tuning CX activities to account for it is another matter altogether,” Loftis said. “To manage non-linear journeys means looking at the entire journey across all interaction points rather than focusing on single channels or groups of channels.”

There is no single journey, added John Talbott, associate director of the Center for Education and Research in Retailing at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

“There are myriad interactions that consumers experience on their way to final purchase,” Talbott said. “These interactions are mediated by digital, physical and social interactions.  Imagine a journey to the grocery in a vehicle to buy paper towels. The goal of this journey is for it to occur rapidly without incident. Imagine a journey to a tropical island for vacation. We want the journey to last as long as possible and expect rich social and sensual engagement. Each company has to consider the nature of their offering and customer in utilizing technology, people, and physical assets to create customer delight.”

Varied, non-linear journeys present a few difficult hurdles that marketers need to overcome, according to Loftis:

  • Identity: Companies must be able to recognize a customer across channels: multiple devices, social media, web and mobile apps, and brick-and-mortar.  This is becoming increasingly difficult as devices multiply, data sources (e.g., IoT, voice, text) become more complex and voluminous, and companies rely on third parties to serve up ads (e.g., Facebook, Google).
  • Context: Predicting intent is not effective if the analytics look only within a single channel or group of channels. Non-linear journeys are filled with behaviors that carry across interaction points and the only way to really personalize an offer is to marry “in the moment” behavior with knowledge of past behavior and purchases.  
  • Latency: Personalizing offers without the ability to present them in real-time is no longer sufficient in today’s fast-paced digital world. Analytics must be deployed out to the decision points (the channels) to ensure that offers are made (or changed) based on context and identity.  
  • Organization: Organization silos cannot continue to get in the way of personalization. Compensation and performance objectives must be tailored to overall customer experience goals, and next best offers must be exactly that — offers based on the context of the current journey step but tailored by past behaviors, rather than offers selected by product managers of channel owners to further individual objectives.

“Only when we combine identity, context and latency to personalize offers across the entire journey, regardless of organization or channel, will we achieve the level of personalization our customers are looking for today,” Loftis said.

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

Identify 'Pain Points'

Beyond identity, context and latency, another essential element is understanding the why and how of customer behavior, according to Rachel Lane, digital solutions principal at Medallia. So a marketer must do more than just collect data from various touchpoints, and must engage with the customer not only when making a purchase, but at other critical decision points, some of those being "pain points."

“Emotion detection is becoming a reality and will help quickly identify not just pain points (such as difficulty navigating the web site) but the impact of that pain on the customer and so in turn, the business,” Lane said. “Not every pain is equal, and a business needs to identify systemic process issues which result in customer goal failure and be able to understand the cost to the business to fix. Emotions not only drive purchase but also loyalty.”