exiting a train station
PHOTO: Rowan Heuvel

The “customer journey.” Marketers, salespeople and business leaders like to throw this term around without much thought and without a holistic view of what it entails.

Marketing departments own one part of the “journey,” while salespeople own another. And with each group working in its own silo, there’s no concerted effort to create a true end-to-end experience for customers.

What’s interesting about this is that no matter where you are in your siloed efforts to deliver a positive customer journey, the end goal is the same: to convert prospects and customers into buyers.

Stellar Journeys Pay Off

Brands that deliver on their promise of a stellar customer journey reap rewards. Think about your most recent purchase. What was it that led you to the final purchasing step? Was it the brand name? That may have been a part of it. Was it a recommendation you received from a friend? Possibly another piece of the pie.

Now think back to the beginning of your encounter with this brand. Did the visual and verbal identity portrayed appeal to you? If you stumbled upon the brand’s website, was it easy to navigate? Did it “feel” good to you? If you interacted with employees of the brand, did they seem passionate about their product or service? Were they hard to get in touch with? Have your positive experiences made you a brand evangelist?

Whatever the case may be, each specific interaction, big or small, is part of the customer journey. And each interaction has a direct impact on customer experience. Too many negative touchpoints and you run the risk of losing a customer.

My point? I posit that brands who want to offer a solid end-to-end customer journey — one that gets prospects to convert and buy your product or service, and one that keeps customers coming back for more — must create a customer experience built on the following four steps:

  1. Modeling.
  2. Measuring.
  3. Validating.
  4. Optimizing.

Taken together, these four steps build a desirable experience for prospects and customers alike. They help position a brand as an organization that not only keeps its customers at the front of its mind, but also walks the walk by creating a seamless, flowing customer journey.

Related Article: How Thick Data Helps You Build Emotional Connections With Your Customers

1. Modeling

Figuring out how to begin your customer journey transformation requires top-end judgment and data-driven analysis. An article in the Harvard Business Review titled “The Truth About Customer Experience” put it best saying, “companies need to embed customer journeys into their operating models in four ways: They must identify the journeys in which they need to excel, understand how they are currently performing in each, build cross-functional processes to redesign and support those journeys, and institute cultural change and continuous improvement to sustain the initiatives at scale.”

That may sound like an overwhelming undertaking, but it boils down to one thing: The experience is end-to-end.

Think again about your most recent purchase. What was your initial encounter with that brand? Was it via a television commercial? A visit to the company’s website? A chat with an employee? Whatever it was, this presale process was the first step of your customer journey and your first (and most important) impression of that brand.

But when you’re building your company’s customer journey, don’t stop after that first step. A customer journey model requires every touchpoint to be combined into one big picture.

Related Article: Don't Let Journey Mapping Fatigue Keep You From CX Success 

2. Measuring

Once you have your journey model squared away, you should focus on measuring its success. What’s your go-to means of measuring the success of an initiative? It’s probably a survey, and while that isn’t the wrong way to go about it, collecting data through surveys is only a small piece of the measurement puzzle.

A commonly used measuring tool is the Net Promoter Score (NPS). This metric is great for telling you if customers are willing to buy from you again or would recommend your products to friends — or if they want to tell everyone about a terrible experience. But that’s about all the NPS does.

While knowing where you’re excelling and where you’re falling short are valuable pieces of information, NPS surveys leave out the middle ground of customers who find your product mediocre — the folks who think your brand is just “meh.” And they could constitute the majority.

Think about it: When are you most likely to give a company your feedback? It’s usually when you’re really happy with their service or when you’re downright upset and angry.

When was the last time you went to a store and said, “Your product is OK; definitely not my favorite, but not horrible”? I’d wager never.

The reality is, middle-of-the-road people are the folks whose feedback is most important. They can still become evangelists, and they can offer insight into what you need to change or add in order to make your products or services exceptional.

So, what’s the solution? Combine survey mechanisms with social listening and you’ll be set. “Social listening goes beyond monitoring and replying to incoming questions or comments about your brand,” inbound marketing specialist Dominique Jackson wrote in a recent blog post. “It’s about extracting key insights from social conversations that you can apply to your overall strategy.”

By leveraging these different techniques, you’ll obtain a good grasp of your brand from all dimensions.

And social listening is real-time feedback, so you have an immediate opportunity to right a wrong — and in those cases, how you handle negative feedback can convert a less-than-happy customer into one who appreciates your efforts.

Related Article: How to Measure Customer Experience Beyond Net Promoter Score

3. Validating

The ultimate goal of any brand is revenue growth. When you continue to grow in revenue, you receive a sense of validation that your customers are loyal and will continue to buy your products and services.

To validate your customer journey model, ask this question: “Is our customer experience program helping to increase customer loyalty?”

Basically, you want to know whether what you’re offering in terms of customer service is working. Is there something more you could be doing? Are you consistently asking customers for feedback rather than waiting until something goes wrong to address a weak spot? If you’re getting complaints about a particular widget, are you proactively fixing that problem? If there’s a particular setup instruction that customers seem to consistently misunderstand or misinterpret, are you fixing the language in the instruction manual?

But validation goes far beyond revenue and the specific points on the customer journey.

Validating how your company is doing also includes the all-too-often-overlooked factor of employee satisfaction.

When we think about validating our companies’ customer journeys, our minds typically go straight to the satisfaction of our customers. But considering the fact that customer satisfaction is a team effort, can our customers really be satisfied if our employees don’t feel satisfied?

“It is only when you create a positive work environment that your employees will feel connected to your brand and its purpose,” Arindam Paul, head of marketing and long-term strategy at Atomberg Technologies, wrote in a recent post on People Matters. “If they relate to your company, they will put their heart and soul into it and eventually, your brand will become stronger than ever.”

Satisfied employees want customers to be satisfied, and customer satisfaction leads to brand and revenue growth.

However, if your employees don’t feel valued, they won’t put in the extra effort to make sure your brand looks good — and that translates directly into how they treat your prospects and customers. If you keep your employees happy — if you genuinely value them, provide them with opportunities for professional and personal growth, and invest in them — they will become internal brand evangelists who speak highly of your business, whether they’re on the clock or not.

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

4. Optimizing

Now comes the hard part. Once you have a system set up and all cylinders are firing, how do you ensure that you keep improving instead of resting on your laurels? That’s where the idea of optimizing your process comes into play.

When I am asked how a company can optimize its customer journey, my number one recommendation is to always stay on top of industry news. We live in a society that’s constantly changing, so it only makes sense that your program should advance too.

Chatbots. Artificial intelligence (AI). Virtual reality (VR). Augmented reality (AR). Those are just a few examples of advances in technology that will impact the customer journey. It’s important to be flexible and to be willing to change or try new things. It’s also foolish to think that a product will continue to be a success if it stays the same forever.

One of my favorite examples of a brand doing this right is Apple. Each year, the company releases a new iPhone. And in between those hardware releases, the company has a number of software updates to continually improve the customer experience. (Want an avocado emoji? Here’s an avocado emoji!)

Brands need to be able to listen to customers and anticipate what they want and make the necessary changes. The more proactive a company is, the better the outcome.

Similarly, people on your front lines need to know what’s happening in your company so they will be aware of changes and advances, and will be able to intelligently discuss those changes with your prospects and customers.

The customer journey is not an easy thing to tackle. And there is no such thing as a perfect plan, because once you have a process set, you’re back to square one. It’s a cycle rather than a step-by-step process — if you’re doing it right.

But the benefits of employee satisfaction and customer retention quickly outweigh the time it takes to model, measure, validate and optimize the customer journey. A satisfied culture generates excitement and the willingness to improve while bringing a competitive advantage to companies that implement a stellar customer journey from end to end.