Customer-Journey Mapping: The What, How and Why
To increase profits, entrepreneurs must understand and nurture customers from the very first interaction to long after the purchase has been made.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
We're entering an age where businesses are all about the customer. Companies are noticing they must treat users like royalty through every stage of the journey to increase profits. That means understanding and nurturing them from the very first interaction to long after the purchase has been made. How do consumers learn about you, and what potential barriers do they face between discovery and purchase? How do you solve those problems? These questions are the foundation of customer-journey .
Thankfully, big data has given us the tools we need to do just that. By analyzing customer behavior, we understand their needs. By understanding their needs, we can cater to them more effectively.
Related: Why You Should Think Less About Sales and More About the Customer Experience
Map your customers' journey
The customer journey closely resembles the sales funnel: There's a beginning stage full of potential, a critical turning point and a final conversion. Customer-journey mapping breaks down each of these stages into several touch points (moments of customer/brand interaction) and optimizes each. A basic customer journey goes as follows:
The early stage: Customers become aware of your brand through advertising or some other means. This is where your CMS system comes in. By analyzing content, SEO campaigns and other marketing and advertising strategies, you see what channels are most effective at bringing in new customers.
The middle stage: Customers are beginning to research your brand and your products or services. Here they want to learn everything possible about your company and message. This is a critical point for building trust and convincing readers that your business is the best. FAQ pages, product descriptions, live help and other informational services are critical here. This is where your customer personas really come into play; the more you know about your users' goals, the more you can shape content to provide solutions before their problems arise.
The final stage: This is when your customers decide to commit and make a purchase or subscribe. They've learned about your brand and decided you're the best option for their needs. But it doesn't end there -- ongoing communication and customer service will foster a positive relationship and lead to subsequent purchases and word of mouth marketing.
Related: Forget the 4 P's: Here's How to Measure a Customer-Focused Marketing Strategy
This is a basic model of the customer journey; many maps are much more complex than this. And of course, throughout each of these stages there are multiple touch points. Customers interact with your brand in a multitude of ways: online, in-store, over the phone and the list goes on. Furthermore, each interaction holds potential for multiple outcomes.
To add even more confusion, customer journey maps frequently change as the business and its users do. So it's easy to see how they can expand from a local area map to a complicated atlas. They can be time-consuming and research-intensive, but I believe they're ultimately worth it.
Customer-journey mapping gives your business a competitive edge. In any given industry, there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of competitors. Business owners are quickly realizing they need an in-depth understanding of their consumers to stay afloat. As you start to understand how users find, engage with and learn about your brand, you discover how to build relationships with them. And that's always a good thing.
Achieving this level of understanding allows you to better connect and communicate with your customers and provide clearer information at the right time in the purchase process. This increases retention, loyalty and ultimately, your profits.
Leverage the power of big data
Many business owners feel overwhelmed by customer-journey mapping. As I said, it's a complicated process and certainly requires a time commitment. Luckily, harnessing the power of big data technology -- like analytical software, CMS and CRM platforms -- makes it much easier to gather critical information. Data from these platforms tells you how your audience behaves throughout its journey.
Providers have also started offering customer-journey mapping as a service. It's a small investment with a significant ROI. As more businesses begin to realize how critical the customer journey is to profitability, customer-journey mapping will become a go-to tool for building and strengthening relationships.
Related: Here's How 'Boring' B2B Businesses Can Get Customers Emotionally Connected to Their Content Marketing