Your business has a relationship with your customer. It might currently be “two strangers” or it could be a deep and mutually helpful bond. But there is a relationship and constantly improving it is critical to your business’ success.
It’s important that you understand the process a person does through as they change a total stranger into a loyal advocate for your business. At any time in that journey, they could pick another business that they feel fits them better, so you need to be at your best every step of the way.
There are five stages of the Customer Journey.
Each stage has a trigger, where a customer starts that stage, and an ending test, which you either pass (and continue on the journey with the customer) or fail (and the customer goes on without you).
This could also be your first exposure to the brutality that can happen in business. There are lots of sports comparisons, but the Olympics is one of my favorites: lots of people work as hard as they can for years to prepare, and there are a number of people who win a medal, but only one person wins each event. Sometimes there are heats to reduce the number of competitors to a short list of finalists. The competitor who wins an event is the favorite to win the next one too. Each time a customer realizes they want or need something, that’s another gold-medal event.
It all starts here.
Awareness is simply whether a person knows that your business exists and that your products might benefit them in some way. They might not know every product you make, but they know that you make something they could use some day.
Think about your own life. You probably know about a few products you know you need soon and others are “maybe some day.” As long as you’re aware, that’s all that matters.
There are two ways customers discover products: they find the products or the products find them.
When a customer knows they need something and they go looking or shopping on different search engines (like Google and Bing) and shopping platforms (like Amazon, Etsy, and Target).
A better option (even though it’s harder to do) is to get yourself in front of a customer while they are going about their routine. They listen to a podcast, they read a magazine, or they just browse their favorite social media stream and find something that fits them exactly and fills a gap in their life. They never even knew they needed it until that moment.
There is almost always a deadline of some kind. If you sell winter clothing, the customer needs to know about you before they buy something else. If you sell wedding gifts, they need to find you before the wedding. You should always feel a sense of urgency about getting found by potential customers.
- The customer realizes they have a reason to buy something new (something is broken, something is worn out, they have an event coming up, etc.)
- The customer sees a product/service (usually in an ad) and realizes it fits a want or need they didn’t realize they had
Tactics to Succeed in the Awareness Stage:
- Keyword selection / Search Engine Optimization
- Top-quality primary photos
- Blog posts
- Podcast (your own or guest spots on someone else’s)
- Features in news/magazines/websites
- Paid ads to introduce your benefits to the market
- Does the customer know your business name?
- Could the customer find your shop/site quickly? (either directly or through a search)
- Do they know roughly what you make?
- Do they care about what you make?
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, it will prevent you from moving on to the next stage with the customer.
If you want to see more details and tactics to use in the Awareness stage, see this post.
Consideration starts when a customer has decided to make a purchase and knows about a few options. It ends when they have decided which product they want to buy. One product is bought while all the rest are left on the shelf. It’s where business gets brutal.
The Consideration stage is when the journey starts getting harsher on sellers. This is when the customer starts comparing products, judging them, and deciding which one they want to buy.
The customer has an idea of what they want, what they want it for, and what attributes they care about. Maybe they only care about price. Maybe they care more about quality and design than price. Maybe they care about a company’s social policies. Maybe they need it tomorrow and don’t care about anything else. Maybe they only buy from companies with great reviews. Or maybe all of the above (yes, there are contradictions, but no one said customers are always rational).
You also need to consider how they make their decisions. Some people are very impulsive and decide instantly on a $500 item. Others will deliberate every fine detail for days before they make a $4 purchase.
This is where you MUST know your customer, including all their wants, needs, desires, and fears, so you can connect with them as individuals. Otherwise they will pick a business who does. Customers are much more likely to buy from a business they believe understands them than one with a better product. Of course, they are most likely to buy from the company with the better product AND that makes them feel understood.
Part of the challenge of the Consideration phase is that not everyone buys as soon as they make a decision. Some people have the means to buy right away, while others will make a selection and then wait until their next paycheck in two weeks to make the purchase or need to save up for it. During that gap, someone else’s marketing campaign could show up in their feed and change their decision.
That’s why it’s so important to form a strong bond with your customers, so they trust you and feel truly understood so they will stick with their decision to buy from you.
- A person discovers a reason to buy something and:
- They have begun to research options for what they would like to buy
- They have begun to define how they will judge the products they find
- This phase can be short-circuited if someone makes an impulse buy based on well-targeted ads and products that cause them to go almost straight from Awareness to Conversion. Keep in mind that doing so requires extreme knowledge of your target customer, how your product offers unique benefits to them, and precisely-targeted advertising.
Tactics to Succeed in the Consideration Stage:
- A product that is clearly different from the competition in a way that matters to your target customer
- A story about your product and company that matches the customers’ worldview.
- Have listings on the sites where your target customer is most likely to shop
- Detailed, professional-looking website or shop that contains:
- A product catalog that is easy to navigate and understand
- Top-quality additional photos (not just the “primary” one)
- Top-quality descriptions of how the product fits their needs or makes their life better in some way
- Full specifications explained and compared clearly
- Customer-friendly policies
- Great reviews
- Email campaign to keep subscribers interested
- Retargeted ads to remind website visitors of what they looked at
- Active and interesting social media pages
- Awesome responses to questions as customers ask them
- When your customer compares your product to others, does your product offer benefits that matter to them that other products don’t?
- If a customer decides to look at the rest of your shop (announcements, “about us”, FAQs, reviews, etc.), do they like what they see?
- If the customer decides to look at your website, do they like what they see?
- If the customer decides to look at your social media pages, do they like what they see?
Unlike Awareness, you don’t need to pass every one of these tests perfectly. You just need to do better than every other product they look at.
To see more ways to make it through the Consideration stage, see this post.
The Conversion stage starts when a person has decided to buy a specific item and ends when they have successfully done so.
It seems like this stage should be pretty simple, but it can go wrong very easily.
A failure here can cause the customer to leave your site and go visit their second and third choices to see if they are a better option.
All it takes is a couple of extra fields in your checkout form for the customer to decide it’s too much work. Maybe it’s too complicated to give you instructions for personalization. Maybe your shipping was much higher than they expected. Maybe you require a sign-in before they can see what shipping costs.
They might have a question pop into their head while the item is in their cart and they are about to hit the “buy” button. If you take too long to answer, they might start researching other products.
Remember, this is about the customer, not you. You might have “office hours”, but they have a question Friday night and your next office hour is Monday morning. A competitor who answers faster will probably take the sale away from you. Again, business can be brutal.
- The customer has decided they want to buy your product and they go to make the purchase
Tactics to Succeed in the Conversion Stage:
- The easiest ordering process possible (especially for personalized/custom items)
- The easiest checkout process your website will allow
- Reasonable shipping costs
- Fast responses to last-minute questions
- Does the customer make their purchase?
This is another very sharp pass/fail test.
If you don’t get the sale here, the customer probably won’t come back for a while. You worked so hard to get the customer to this point. Don’t let something minor derail the sale at the last second.
To learn more ways to get the customer to buy during the Conversion stage, see this post.
The Loyalty stage is different from the other stages because of its length. It starts as soon as the customer has placed their order. It lasts for as long as you are in business and the customer chooses to stay with you.
Your goal here is to earn their loyalty, even though the type of loyalty won’t be the same for each customer.
Some customers will only ever buy once even though they were happy (maybe it was a once-in-a-lifetime purchase for them, like a wedding ring). Others will come back and buy again and again. Some will leave a review that is glowing with a long description, others leave the stars without a comment.
You also earn (or lose) loyalty when there is a problem with their order. Making a problem right can often make a customer happier than they would have been if there hadn’t been a problem at all.
After their first purchase, now you want to keep the customers “warm.” Make sure your message is getting into their email and social media feeds so they are reminded of you and they are more likely to come back to buy again.
- The customer places an order
- The customer receives their order
- The customer has questions/issues after their order
- The customer places additional orders
Tactics to Succeed in Loyalty:
- Reasonable processing time
- Durable packaging
- Making high-quality, low-defect products
- Great customer service in resolving problems
- Great followup with an email campaign for buyers
- Great followup with retargeted ads on social media
- Is the customer happy with their purchase?
- Did you resolve any problems the customer had with their item so they were satisfied with the result?
- Does the customer leave a review? (either on your site or on social media)
- Do repeat customers leave a review after every purchase?
- Does the customer buy from you a second time?
- A fifth time?
- A tenth time? (more is better!)
- Do you provide the same great service every time the customer purchases from you?
Even though some customers’ loyalty only gets you a review and others get you dozens of repeat sales, you need customer loyalty for your business to grow.
To learn more ways to build loyal customers, see this post.
The Advocacy stage is the hardest to reach. You need to pass all four of the previous stages, maybe several times over, to get a customer to reach this stage.
Advocacy is when your customers start marketing for you. They tell their friends about your products, they post pictures of themselves with your products on their own social media accounts, and they might even mention you on their own blog or podcast without you knowing about it.
This is an amazing boost for your business. Nothing works as well as a referral from someone you trust, so their friends, family, and associates now think your product and company are amazing. Your previous customer has moved total strangers into the Consideration stage for you, maybe all the way to Conversion.
This is one reason that branding is so important. You want the customer to be able to tell their friends about you quickly and easily and you want all of your products to have your company name on them.
- A customer loves your product and level of service so much, they can’t sleep until they tell someone else about it
Tactics to Succeed in Advocacy:
- Provide the best level of quality you can
- Provide the best level of service you can
- Make sure your company name is on every product
- Make sure your company name is easy to spell and remember
- Make sure your website is easy to spell and remember
- Make your company is easy to find on social media
- Get user-generated content.
- Does the customer recommend your product to other people, who then make a purchase?
Advocacy is a stage that very few customers reach.
Not all customers are the type of person who want to tell everyone else about a product. Some people just aren’t very good sales people and end up not helping you get sales. If they are at least trying, it’s a start.
If you are selecting a target customer, it’s a good idea to build a business around a community of people who are more likely to talk about your product and spread your message for you.
People trust content that comes from actual customers more than they trust almost anything else out there. When they see customers raving about your products (especially on their own social media feeds, not yours), it’s huge.
Beginning with the end in mind, every action you take in your business could be aimed at this question: “Will this provide my customer with a product and service that is so out-of-this-world amazing, they will post about it on their own feed without me prompting them to?”
To see more ways to turn your customers into advocates, see the more detailed post.
Whenever you start a journey, you should have the end in mind. It’s a long journey, but it’s also critically important to your business.
Customer Advocacy is the destination you are most looking for in your business. If you want your business to reach its maximum potential, every single step you take in your business should have that goal in mind.
The Customer Journey is only part of the Business Bridge. The customer journey is like the road surface of a bridge. That bridge needs a support structure to hold it up… so there’s more to learn!
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