Businesses are racing to transform their customer experience (CX), with 80% of organizations expecting to compete mainly based on CX this year.
This approach is taking hold in direct response to evolving customer desires, with 67% of customers saying that their standard for good experiences is higher than it has ever been, and 75% of customers expect that companies understand their needs and expectations.
With our world more connected than it ever has been, businesses are in a prime position to understand their customers, their emotions, and the various touchpoints at play in any buying decision, also known as the customer journey, to then deliver on this ideal customer experience at each step of the journey through various sales or communications activities.
The problem, though, as recent CMSwire and Treasure Data research I collaborated on found, is that many companies are relying on the “easy” data to model their customer journey, and fewer than a third of companies are using a multi-touch attribution strategy. And, perhaps worse yet, nearly half of companies aren’t using any formal marketing attribution strategy.
Companies that are trying to cut corners—or those that lack the skills and resources to understand their audiences truly—are just gambling their marketing budget, hoping their activities may resonate with their buyers. While some of these attempts may succeed, your company is just falling further behind the pack without an accurate, data-driven customer journey map.
What Is a Customer Journey?
A customer journey is the accumulation of every step a customer has taken before purchasing from your company, and the various emotions they felt each step of the way. These steps are often signified by touchpoints, or moments where the customer interacted with your brand in some way.
Customer journeys are relevant for any company, regardless of the product or service they sell. Two examples of what a customer journey could look like include:
- B2C: You’ve moved cities and need new weather-appropriate clothes. You’re scrolling through Instagram and see an ad that you click on. You decide not to buy anything, but you sign up for that company’s email list. After you receive an email coupon, you go to the site to finally buy the item that initially caught your eye.
- B2B: You need to get new software for your PR team. You Google the options, see the top results, and click through to a G2 Crowd report. You find reviews on some of the options, and then go straight to their respective websites to schedule demos. Due to budget constraints, you wait a few months and then eventually purchase your top choice.
These may sound relatively straightforward in writing, but tracking this process is often not so simple. Understanding these complexities requires a customer journey map, which companies can approach a few different ways (check out this article for more details and examples):
- Current State: The most common map, and where most companies should start, these maps visualize how your customers are currently interacting with your company
- Day in the Life: This takes a broader view approach by detailing everything your customers do as they go about their day, regardless of if your company is involved. This map will detail pain points and is best for identifying and addressing unmet needs and fleshing out your buyer personas
- Future State: These maps are more aspirational, and describe what you believe the future customer journey will be for your existing customers
- Service Blueprint: Building on a simplified version of the Current State or Future State, these maps layer the different systems that are involved—people, processes, policies, technology—to either identify existing pain points or to identify the ecosystem that needs to exist to support the intended experience
Why Comms Pros Should Care About the Customer Journey
Sales and marketing teams are not the only departments in your company that should be actively using your customer journey to drive business activities.
Customer journey maps are also a necessary communications tool for a variety of reasons. They help you:
- Target Your Efforts: PR and comms pros need to understand how to reach their company’s target audiences effectively. Budgets are often tight, and every activity needs to deliver a proven ROI. If comms professionals keep pitching publications that their ideal customers are not actually reading, then you’re just wasting resources, or vanity pitching top-tier publications to feed the ego of your client
- Uncover Content Ideas: Responsible communication activations should keep customer needs and pain points in mind. By keeping your comms team versed in the customer journey, you can more easily identify the best storylines to pursue
- Enable Cross-Functional Collaboration: Any customer-facing or customer-targeting department in your company (so, arguably everyone) can benefit from some version of a customer journey map. More specifically for comms, your marketing and sales teams are likely creating resources to help move customers along their journey and down the sales funnel. Comms teams need to know about these resources to ensure they’re not duplicating efforts, take the lead in using them to secure more backlinks to the company’s website alongside company interviews in those earlier-determined key publications
Avoid These Customer Journey Mistakes
Building and maintaining your customer journey maps is time-intensive, and there are countless ways that pros can lead their team astray with inaccurate customer journeys:
- Assuming Journeys Are Linear: Customer journeys are messy, and most don’t follow a straight path from awareness to purchase. Nearly 71% of companies say that the time between first customer engagement and purchase takes a month or longer, and 61% of companies have at least three pre-purchase touchpoints, with 32% reporting six or more. Adopting a multi-touch attribution strategy is essential to capture and track the intricacies of how your customers are interacting with your brand.
- Working with Siloed Data: Multi-touch attribution is a data-intensive strategy, and many companies simply don’t have the skills or foundation in place for a smooth process. One significant issue is that almost 47% of companies cite data silos as their biggest challenge. Address this by hiring data-driven talent and training your existing team to know how to access and analyze your company’s data. Assess your technology needs to find where you may need more integrations to make your data digestible.
- Relying on the “Easy” Data: If you don’t address the two points above, it’s likely you are going to rely on the “easy” data—whatever it is easiest to track through first and last touch attribution. The problem, as was illustrated with the complex customer journeys, is that first and last touch are often just a minor piece of the puzzle. There is a lot of activity that happens between those two points. If you can’t track those points through your technology, you can still get at it the old fashioned way—by asking. In your lead form, ask how your prospects heard about you to get more insight, since your website probably wasn’t their first stop.
Getting the Customer Journey Right
Investing in your customer journey takes the right mix of dedication, skill, and technology, but the result could be the difference for beating out your competition for customers. While multi-touch attribution strategies may feel daunting, by breaking down your silos and getting your team up to speed, you’ll be working with the accurate information you need to make smart business decisions.
Your customer journey maps should be accessible across departments, and be viewed as living documents. Your cross-functional teams should meet regularly to review your customer journey maps to see where new touchpoints or pain points may have arisen.
The best way to keep up with these real-time changes is through social listening, which is already part of your charter as a PR pro. Social media and related platforms are a goldmine of qualitative data that you need to understand your customers. Before starting your customer journey mapping, check out these other resources from Meltwater to learn how to uncover this vital information you need from your customer’s social activity.
For a comprehensive overview of the customer journey, use Linkfluence's consumer insights tool, check Meltwater's audience insights solution, and read our latest ebook. You’ll get a full breakdown of the 5 steps—and how communications can make the most of each.