Customers do not just prefer a personalized experience — they insist on it

Traditionally, the widespread perception among brands was that the route customers took on their way to a transaction was predictable and linear. As such, the goal was to usher customers from one interaction to another — ideally culminating in a sale. However, while this model was theoretically appealing and worked well (or at least, worked well enough) for many years, recently a new variable emerged that turned this conventional thinking on its head: the rise of personalization.

Indeed, the majority of today’s customers do not just desire a personalized experience when engaging a brand — they insist on it. Consider the following:

  • 90% of customers view personalization as “appealing,” and something that improves their opinion of a brand.
  • 84% of customers feel that being treated as a unique human being is crucial to winning their business.
  • 80% of customers are more likely to purchase a product or service from a brand that delivers personalized experiences.
  • 77% of customers will pay a premium to brands that deliver personalized experiences.
  • 72% of customers ignore generic messaging, and only respond to personalized messaging.

The root problem with the conventional linear sales funnel was that it lacked the ability to adjust and adapt to each customer’s personalized preferences and requirements. It was like a conveyer belt that pushed all customers from point A to point B to point C, and so on. But what if some of those customers wanted to go straight from point A to point C? Or perhaps they wanted to linger a bit longer at point B? Or what if customers did not quite know where they wanted to go, or how fast they wanted to get there? The linear sales funnel could not accommodate these variables, and instead of empowering customers it frustrated them. That is where a robust customer journey map enters the picture and makes a transformative difference.


Customers — and not brands — are in control

A customer journey map visually represents all of the experiences, interactions and touchpoints that various customer groups — called segments, go through on their way to becoming a satisfied buyer and loyal brand ambassador. Unlike a conventional linear sales funnel, a customer journey map grasps that customers — and not brands — are in control.

Of course, brands still need to help customers head in a direction, at a pace, through a touchpoint, and using digital content that is relevant to them. We will dive deeper into these aspects further in this article. First, let us look at some of the key benefits of a customer journey map.


Consistently deliver personalization and optimize customer experience

Creating a customer journey map is not an academic exercise. When designed and deployed correctly, it is a powerful and profitable strategic tool that helps brands do what matters most - consistently deliver personalization and optimize customer experience. Key benefits of an effective customer journey map include:

  • Identify and close gaps — including disconnects between internal teams such as sales, marketing and service to align customer expectations with experiences.
  • Pivot from outbound marketing to inbound marketing — 87% of customers begin their search on digital channels.
  • Lay the groundwork for a long-term relationship — 47% of customers access 3-5 pieces of content before communicating with a sales rep.
  • Reach out to customers before they run into challenges and problems, which increases retention and lifetime customer value. According to research, obtaining a new customer is 5-25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.
  • Identify and target profitable new customer segments (more on segments in the next section).
  • Create a “customer-focused” culture throughout the organization.


Demographic and psychographic profiles of key customer groups

At the heart of the customer journey is segmentation, otherwise known as “customer personas.” These are demographic and psychographic profiles of all target customer groups, and captures their needs, pain points, goals, and aspirations. It also reflects their motivations and mindsets.

Often, customer personas are crafted as fictional use cases, and have labels like “Middle Manager Mary” and “IT Director Dave.” There is no definitive set of rules for developing customer personas. However, in order to be productive instead of counter-productive, they need to be rooted in reliable data such as customer questionnaires, market research, notes from sales reps and customer service agents. They also need to be sufficiently detailed, so that they can meaningfully inform the customer journey map (which we will explore in the next section).

Before moving on, the advice that customer personas need to have “sufficient” data is worth discussing. Obviously, customer personas that lack enough detail are unreliable. They also lead to internal confusion, because different teams — and sometimes even different individuals on the same team — can have rather different takeaways from a superficial customer persona. Less obviously, however, customer personas that have too much detail are also a problem. They force teams into boxes and corners, and thwart creativity and innovation, because not all members of the same segment are alike. Remember: customer personas are profiles, not prescriptions!


There are generally four steps in the process

We have discussed why a dynamic customer map is the evolution of the conventional linear sales funnel. And we have looked at the importance and value of segmenting (customer personas). Now, we can set our sights on how to build a customer journey map.

Generally, there are four steps in the process:

Step 1: Identify the stages in the customer journey

There is no one-size-fits-all template for how this should look. However, the following stages apply to most organizations, and can be used as a starting point:

  • Awareness: Customers are completely or largely unaware of their options
  • Research: Customers are conducting research to determine their best course of action
  • Evaluation: Customers are comparing potential solutions — which can include products/services as well as brands
  • Purchase: Customers are engaging in a transaction
  • Usage: Customers are using a solution
  • Advocacy: Customers are open to advocating for a brand online and offline

Step 2: Define each stage in the customer journey

Defining each stage may seem easy, or even redundant. After all, isn’t this covered in step 1? Not necessarily. Step 1 is about identifying the stages along the customer journey. Step 2 is about expanding on them, and ensuring that all relevant teams (e.g. sales, marketing, customer support, etc.) understand and agree on what is supposed to happen in each stage. Achieving clarity and consensus can be difficult; especially in large organizations. However, this hard work is vital, because it helps ensure that everyone is in alignment.

Step 3: Identify touchpoints for each stage

How are customers being engaged? It could be through online campaigns, contact centers, email marketing, or organic search. All of these touchpoints need to be identified for each stage — including touchpoints that may not currently exist (or that are being under-utilized), but will be part of the landscape once the customer journey map is applied.

Step 4: Identify the key customer activities at each stage

Here is where “the rubber hits the road” and, ideally, engagement happens. As with identifying touchpoints for each stage (step 3), it is important to capture all activities — both current and those that will be implemented. Examples of activities include viewing ads, watching videos, reading articles, booking dates, having a conversation with a sales rep, and so on. This analysis lays the foundation for a digital relevancy map, which is discussed shortly.


It’s fine to hit rewind

It is helpful to keep in mind that going through these four steps can trigger some re-work. For example, while identifying key customer activities at each stage (step 4), it may come to light that the definition of one or more stages needs to be further refined (step 2). Or, while analyzing the touchpoints for each stage (step 3), it may be beneficial or necessary to re-visit the stages (step 1) and add, change or remove.

Be assured that this type of re-work is not a symptom of a flawed effort. Rather, it is simply the result of what is an iterative process. In other words: as teams shape and develop a customer journey map for each segment, they invariably generate new insights that can be applied to make the overall map more robust, realistic and reliable.

Once the four steps are complete (and again, it is worth repeating that there is likely to be some re-work and re-design along the way), it is time to put everything together in a single, accessible and shareable document. Many brands use a table for this purpose, although this is not an absolute rule. And remember: each segment needs its own customer journey map. However, there can be significant overlap between segments (and hence customer journey maps), which will reduce the overall time and effort.


Identify content for all stages and touchpoints

A digital relevancy map is a document (often a table) that highlights:

  • The customer intent at each stage of the journey - examples include: exploring options, narrowing alternatives, locating a specific product, etc.
  • Goals that the brand wants customers to take across various digital touchpoints - examples include: downloading information, watching a video, using an online calculator, etc.
  • The engaging, credible and persuasive content that will help customers in each stage fulfil their intent - examples inclide: white papers, ebooks, webinars, etc.

As with a customer journey map, a digital relevancy map should be developed for each customer segment. Often, however, the same piece of content can be delivered to different segments (though typically in the same stage). For example, a brand may have two customer segments that it dubs “Office Manager Mary” and “IT Director Dianne.” After careful analysis, it may be suitable to present both of these segments with the same ebook in the “awareness stage.” However, some adjustments may be necessary, such as changing the image on the cover of the ebook, and tweaking the introduction and the conclusion to reference office managers in one ebook, and IT directors in another.


Take the journey a few times

We have all had the unfortunate experience of eating a lousy meal in a restaurant and wondering: “don’t the people who work here eat the food every now and then?” Or we have been standing in the world’s slowest-moving line so that we can return a defective item, and asked “hasn’t anyone who works here ever tried returning something?”

Well, believe it or not, but some brands that invest a significant amount of time, resources and effort into crafting a set of robust customer journey maps for their various customer segments — and then fortify these with robust digital resource maps and their related content pieces — are deeply disappointed to learn that key customers are not delighted with the experience. To avoid this pitfall, teams should travel the journey a few times to ensure that it checks all of the right boxes, similar to how test drivers take new vehicles out for a spin before they make their way to the marketplace.


A customer journey map is essential

A customer journey map (and accompanying digital relevancy map) for each key customer segment is a practical and strategic way for brands to determine how they can get closer to customers. In today’s highly competitive landscape, this is not just important for success. In the big picture and long run, it is vital for survival.

For additional insights dive into the Sitecore Knowledge Center, which features thought leadership content on optimizing the customer journey, building and distributing personalized content across channels and touchpoints, and more.