Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines a plan as “a method for achieving an end; or a drawing or diagram, such as a map.” Big businesses have detailed plans for building a customer connection, but all size businesses benefit from viewing the process from the customer perspective. How does your brand, personnel, and product offering contribute to the customer experience? Do you have specific strategies broken down for each stage?
The elements of a customer journey
A customer journey is a way to plot the course of your business’s relationship with a potential customer. Think of it as a map, or diagram, of a series of interactions.
As a future customer progresses through the buying cycle, there are multiple opportunities to you to make a personal connection. Customers gradually come to understand how your product or service can solve their problem.
At each of these stages, it’s important to present a consistent message and hold their attention until the purchase is made. Often, the most cost-effective way to make those connections is to leverage technology. To see how, let’s break down the customer journey into three essential stages:
The first stage of the journey begins when a customer realizes that they have a need to fulfill or a business problem that needs solving. Their need might be as simple as deciding what to have for dinner, or it could be as critical as deciding what college to attend. It might be an essential service or a discretionary purchase. They could be looking for a plumber or black pumps, a lock washer or a washing machine.
This early stage in the buying process presents an opportunity to reach a customer while they are still forming their perceptions. Your customers will start to look at what options are available, best known brands, ranges of prices and quality. Most information at this stage is concerning the need for the product or service itself, and finding the right fit for their individual requirements.
Technologies such as social media, or digital advertising, are a great way to reach customers, as well as brochures and informational collateral that can help with understanding the market landscape for your product. Information such as a brochure on understanding the college application process, pumps, or range of services plumbers offer, for example, can help assist someone at this initial stage to navigate the landscape of offerings that are out there.
At this point, the customer has made a decision to purchase something, but they just aren’t sure what. As they invest their time, learning more about the options available, vague ideas gradually turn into a mental list of options. To form an opinion, they’ll seek out reviews, talk to friends, and linger over printed advertisements and sales material. Also a comparison between brand offerings will start to form.
This is a good time to introduce facts and figures – potentially some competitive comparison sheets that yield a clear picture on why your company or product is the best choice. You know your product and competitors very well, this is a good time to convey that knowledge to your potential clients and show that you know the business and your competition well enough to demonstrate you are the clear winner.
Now comes the stage that you’ve worked so hard for: The moment when a customer steps up to the register, signs a purchase order, or speaks that magical three-letter word: yes.
At this stage, it is key to keep your customer’s attention all the way through to the sale. For many products and services, a better offer or attention getting sign could instantly change someone’s mind at the end of the process. From the sign in the window, right down to the shelves that display your products – consider your visual opportunities for merchandising and point-of-purchase decision influence. You can use end-cap displays, coupons, point-of-sale solutions and even product labels to foster a close relationship with a customer. Leverage your online reviews and customer testimonies.
Customers will instantly compare their expectations about the product or service, and experience in buying it with the actual process they encountered. Look out for reviews on your website and other online shopping guides, and seek feedback about the experience from your customers within a reasonable time frame. Sending a good-old-fashioned letter asking how your performance was and what you could have done better is a personal and effective way to be continuously improving, and create a positive post-purchase impression. If you’ve collected that customer’s contact information, you have opportunities to keep them informed about your latest products, services, and industry trends that will help them when the next need arises. And of course, keeping your brand top of mind, will hopefully lead them up the path again to you for repeat purchases.
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