In business, everything starts with the consumer, no matter the niche or industry. There is only one boss – the customer and customer experience is the new digital marketing battlefront. Digital channels have made it possible for customers to engage with brands 24/7, but this also means it takes more time, dedication, and touchpoints to convert each prospect.
Today, moving the needle on customer acquisition, satisfaction, and retention requires a seamless experience throughout each and every consumer touchpoint – understanding and being mindful of your customers and their needs at every step of their digital journey with you.
Take a deep breath because we’re about to dive deep into the 5 customer journey stages and break them down into actionable steps you can follow to walk a mile in your customers’ shoes and take them on a ride worth talking about.
In the digital realm, the customers take a series of steps through a process that starts with them first discovering a business to becoming loyal, regular customers. A customer’s path from their first interaction with your brand all the way to becoming a satisfied customer and brand advocate is known as the digital customer journey.
The digital customer journey covers all touchpoints a potential customer has online with a brand before, during, and after they convert, whether that means making a purchase, signing up, downloading, etc. It includes every single interaction that takes place before, throughout, and after the buying journey, as well as all aspects of the customer journey directly influenced by your brand and those influenced or controlled by third parties.
As a digital marketer, you must believe in branding the digital customer experience, not just your offering. In a world where products and services are becoming increasingly commoditized, customer experience is the only true differentiator. Success is no longer just about delivering a feature – you need to stop selling and start helping.
Laser-focused on swaying the customers into making a purchase, businesses fail to put themselves in their customer’s shoes and consider the cohesiveness of their approach across various consumer touchpoints and customer journey stages. And it goes without saying that a cohesive customer journey is critical for success and that understanding your audience and their path to becoming a customer is the baseline for all your digital marketing campaigns.
Every contact you have with a customer influences whether or not they’ll come back. You must hit the mark every time or lose them to your competitors. You need to make each interaction count, as they are all equally relevant parts of the customer journey. A consistent, predictable and enjoyable customer journey and a positive customer experience create customer satisfaction and trust, which breeds brand loyalty and advocacy.
Providing a positive customer experience is the art and science of coaxing lifetime loyalty from daily customer interactions. However, it’s impossible if you don’t know what makes that experience.
The multiple stages in which customers interact with your brand define and shape their experience. Whether their digital customer journey is a walk in the park or a bumpy ride they are screaming to get off of directly depends on how well you’ve understood and catered to each stage of their journey – from learning of your brand to earning their loyalty and advocacy.
By now, you probably know cookie-cutter strategies simply don’t cut it in today’s consumer-centric digital world. By knowing and understanding how your customers feel during all these touchpoints, you can focus on success-proofing all aspects of the customer experience with a highly personalized and tailored approach to your digital marketing efforts and the customer journey instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all mindset.
As a digital marketer, your job is to make every single aspect and phase of the customer experience a delight. After all, your customer’s perception of your brand will become your brand’s reality.
Although it may seem simple at first glance, the digital customer journey is actually a roller-coaster ride filled with ups and downs. When done right, it becomes circular, with all the touch points inherently connected in a loop that ends just so it would begin again.
So, from the very first interaction through to the post-sale initiatives, understanding each customer journey stage is crucial for business and marketing success.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – awareness. The awareness or discovery stage of the customer journey is the pre-sale phase, where a prospect realizes they have a need or problem they need a solution for. Whether it happens online or offline, the moment of discovering that need and noticing your brand marks the beginning of a digital customer journey.
Whether a user found out about you from talking to a friend, came across your ad on social media, or in search engine suggestions, this first stage of their customer journey is passive for the prospect. Your job is to reach out to an audience by creating compelling, informative, and optimized content and leveraging the digital marketing strategies in your arsenal to get it in front of leads and let them know you exist – whether organically or by using paid advertising on social networks, websites, search engines, etc.
If you manage to use the discovery phase to tickle the customer’s fancy, they like what they’ve seen and decide to investigate further, the digital customer journey levels up to the next phase.
In the second phase of the customer journey, the digital consideration stage, the potential customer has clearly identified their problem and starts browsing the web for information that provides them with the actionable steps they can take to do so. Brands are created in the consumer mind, and this is the stage where you need to invest in digital marketing strategies to engrave yourself in there – stand out from your competition, emphasize the unique value you provide, steal the spotlight and win the race.
You’re not selling just yet – you’re supposed to think about how you can transform awareness into engagement. So, while consumers are at the consideration stage, it’s essential to highlight how your products or services can solve their problems and communicate this effectively through compelling, emotional, and relatable content marketing messages on the right marketing channels.
For example, you can run a targeted social media advertising campaign promoting the benefits of using your products and services or create more custom content, such as guides and “how-to” blog posts, articles, or videos, to showcase how you can help them solve their problems.
By the time they get to the commitment stage of their digital customer journey, your customers know exactly which solution meets their needs and now must decide on the best option. Whatever action takes place (a purchase, sign up, or even a page view), this is the point all consumer roads lead to – the moment the customer finally decides to act and convert.
This is where your customer’s perspective skyrockets from “I know about your brand” to “I want to do business with your brand.” So, how do you get people to commit to yours? This is the time to shine, show them what you’ve got, and demonstrate your competitive advantage in practice.
Abandoning a purchase in a single click and moving on to another brand that seamlessly delivers is easier than ever for today’s online consumers. They won’t hesitate to jump ship if fulfilling any action is a hassle. So, making the fulfillment touchpoint as easy and seamless as possible for your customers is key.
For example, you can simplify the purchase process on your website by offering handy options like data autofill, diverse payment methods, or competitive shipping alternatives.
To ensure customer satisfaction, stop your customers from running off to a competitor the next time they need a solution, and increase your customer lifetime cycle rate, you need to focus on customer retention – the fourth (post-sale) stage of the digital customer journey.
You can’t grow if your customers don’t stick around, and customer experience is the core of retaining customers – if they have a great buying experience, returning will be a no-brainer. Are you living up to your promises and meeting your customers’ expectations? This stage is all about after-sales check-ins, support, and making each individual customer feel valued and like they got what they’ve bargained for – maybe even more.
It includes everything from top-notch customer service and support, offering additional support-related resources and follow-up emails, to reaching out and conveying customer satisfaction surveys through social media or other digital channels. Without a positive buying experience, the customer will never connect the key piece of the puzzle and join you in the final step of the digital journey – the loyalty stage.
Digital customer journeys don’t end with conversion – that’s where the real fun starts! A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is—it is what consumers tell each other it is. The best advertising you can have is a loyal customer spreading the word about how incredible your business is. Loyal customers don’t just come back – they insist that their friends, colleagues, and family do business with you.
Humanizing and personalizing your brand, creating an emotional connection with your customers, and meeting or exceeding their expectations throughout the top-notch digital customer journey you provided is how you get satisfied customers more than happy to leave comments, reviews, and recommend your product or service.
Customer loyalty is the last piece of the digital customer journey puzzle – happy customers are your biggest advocates that can become your most successful sales team generating an endless loop of more prospects, more satisfied customers, and more sales.
There is not a single linear journey each online customer will take – a digital customer journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. On top of that, there are more online consumer touchpoints than ever before, and businesses need a way to follow them. In a complex, consumer-centric world that expects personalization 24/7, you need to get a holistic view of the customer journey.
A digital customer journey map is a visual representation of the process and experience that a customer goes through in their digital customer journey. Digital marketers can leverage customer journey mapping to connect all the dots and transform the online customer journey into a visually accessible, easy-to-understand method for understanding the overall customer experience.
Building a good customer experience does not happen by accident – it happens by design. A well-rounded map of the entire customer journey will help you create a clear visualization of every possible way customers can interact with your brand, identify any points of friction, gain insight into the most effective channels to connect with customers, and keep them engaged throughout each stage.
One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time. Even the smallest steps and victories along the various stages of the digital customer path will take on greater meaning, go a long way and help you become a name in your industry people recognize, trust, and beat the drum for.
Make the customer the hero of your story at each stage and take them on an adventure to remember worth spreading the good word about.
It’s a win-win!
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