Using various platforms and methodologies to gain insight from customers is old news. We, especially those of us in Market Research, understand the value in customer preferences and purchase interests. Our industry would be nothing if we didn’t! We know that customers fuel our businesses, and to understand what they want, we need to go straight to the source.
After all, any product or service that is developed needs to be designed as a solution to a need and positioned effectively. Who better to determine whether or not that is being done than the customer? Zoning in on the customers’ voice is a tried-and-true topic that we’ve discussed on this platform before.
Now that the importance is realized and appreciated, we have to find unique ways to secure as much information from customers as possible. We need to understand customer feelings, preferences, and intentions from every stage of consumption.
What is the Customer Journey?
In these next few paragraphs, we are going to dive deeper into the customer journey, or as it’s defined, “the complete sum of experiences that customers go through when interacting with your company and brand. Instead of looking just at a part of a transaction or experience, the customer journey documents the full experience of being a customer.”
This journey truly helps us dive deep into understanding how and why customers make decisions. It also helps us understand reasons why they will return to a company for purchases in the future.
When we say “full experience”, we mean everything from a potential consumer seeing signage for your business for the first time, to the review written by a frequent purchaser of your product or service. You may not realize, but every stop along the customer journey, including entering your storefront/online marketplace, interacting with employees or other customers, receiving help or guidance from employees, to making a purchase are all small but mighty parts of the customer journey that really count. Beyond these initial interactions leading up to a consumer’s purchase, there are also steps post-purchase that hold value. These post-purchase steps include discussing returns or product refunds, joining mailing lists for promotions, and even social media posts. Understanding customers’ feelings pre- and post-purchase will help your business make the best decisions moving forward.
Though this long process of a customer journey may seem daunting, it is not as complicated as it sounds. Once the journey is broken out into organizational steps, you will realize its full potential and how to best implement it for your business needs! Without taking each and every step along the journey into consideration, you could be seriously slacking in the marketing of your business and its products or services. Therefore, you could be limiting the true potential of your business and its growth.
We discuss this topic of customer engagement often when stressing the value that online communities can bring. Making informed business decisions with data that is collected directly from your customers is the best way to drive great success in marketing your product to the masses. The benefits of online communities are endless, especially when it comes to a customer journey. Whether planning to utilize quantitative or qualitative methodologies, an online community can allow your company access to data from customers or potential consumers of your product or service and offer the opportunity to collect that data at various stages of the customer journey. It is important to follow along with your customers and receive as much feedback as possible from every stage. You should ensure that customers are as pleased and satisfied with your brand as possible. If there are pain points along the way, it is not only important to understand where and when they occur, but also how they could be solved or handled better in the future. Using an online community of respondents to record actions and attached emotions at each stage of the journey will provide your company with all of the data it needs from customers.
Now that we understand the true importance of the customer journey and how online communities can help us gain this information from a pool of current and potential customers, let’s begin to peel away the layers of the customer journey itself. To start, begin to sketch your version of the customer decision lifecycle “map”.
On this “map” of yours, you will include several touchpoints outlining each stop, step, or stage in the process of a consumer interacting with your business. We’ve already mentioned some of these possible touchpoints before, but they include and are not limited to interactions such as website or storefront visits, social media posts and reviews, and customer feedback surveys.
Each touchpoint will fall into one of the following categories:
These categories represent different phases of the journey, including pre and post-purchase phases. As mentioned earlier, the journey does not end after the purchase is made. Understanding the importance of a customer journey in its entirety means collecting details from each of these categories and making informed decisions based on each.
To start, the Awareness phase is pre-purchase of your product or service. This phase is also understood as the discovery stage, where consumers gain information about your product or service through research of solutions to a problem they need solved, or by stumbling upon your signage or advertisements by happenstance. At this stage, you can understand customer feelings about what drew them in or captured their attention while browsing or researching a solution or need. It will also help you understand the problem, issue, or need they had that your business could potentially resolve.
Still in the pre-purchase category of this journey is the Consideration phase. This phase includes the internal debate the consumer may be going through when determining whether to choose your product or service over a competitor’s. In this category, questions around pricing can be answered. Utilizing quantitative research methodologies such as the Van Westendorp Pricing Model can provide data to help ensure your pricing is aligned with customers willingness to pay. This category can also provide insight to pros and cons of features and benefits that your company offers in relation to a competitor. Getting as much information as possible from consumers at this stage can help your company understand with confidence that you are bringing a unique and desirable product to market, or plan make any adjustments to do so.
The Purchase phase occurs at the time the consumer’s decision is made and the purchase is processed. It is crucial to focus in on this phase because you want the customer to return. Leaving a void in this stage could result in a one-time purchase of your product or service and lead the customer to look elsewhere to fulfill their needs in the future. Acknowledging the customer is key at this stage and luring them in with an email subscription, coupon for future purchase, or even positive reinforcement could help them move into later stages of the journey. Pain points could evolve in this stage and it is important from a research standpoint to pull out as many emotional attributes as possible. This is likely done with qualitative research and could help your company understand how or why consumers could gravitate towards your brand over others.
Next in the post-purchase category is Retention. Though many consumers don’t make it to this stage, it is of great importance, as maintaining a customer ensures future success of your business. This stage allows for research around approval or satisfaction with the business’s product or service. In addition, companies can understand the likelihood these customers will return to purchase another product or service in the future. Receiving quantitative numbers around these points helps companies improve their experience, which is a main goal of ours at KLC.
Lastly, the Advocacy stage is where a company can understand reasons behind brand loyalty and trust their consumers have in them and their product or service. Consumers who live in this stage of the journey are seen as “fans” of your company and will provide the most positive responses you will receive. Understanding and utilizing customer reviews and recommendations are extremely helpful at this stage to help your company boost sales. Many customers who make up KLC online communities are fans of the companies they represent. Utilizing the community base of customers for various research topics can lead to great quotes or testimonials about products or services offered.
Each stage on your map should not only explain the definition of each stage, but center in on the specific actions, motivations, questions, and or obstacles that are faced during each. Now that you have your “map” outlining each stage of this journey, we can focus less on the stops along the way and more on the mindset of the customer in each stage. You not only want to understand customer preferences and feelings about your product or service, but also the actions taken, motivations, questions, and potential obstacles they may face at each and every stage. It is important to expand each point on your “map” to note these specific actions, motivations, questions, or obstacles and understand how to format research questions to gain these insights. Working with an online community platform, research experts can assist you in crafting the questions and methodologies that will meet your needs and address your objectives at each stage of the journey.
Understanding the actions at each stage will help view what the customer is actually doing. In the pre-purchase phases, this could be visiting your online marketplace from a targeted advertisement or reading a review from another customer. Pinpointing the actions taken leading up to, making, and following the purchase are all of value. Even during steps as specific as navigating your company’s webpage, specific actions can be determined through the use of HeatMaps on a quantitative survey platform, such as Qualtrics. Researchers are able to display the common spots that customers are clicking to perform specific tasks or even areas that catch their eye.
Getting information on customer motivations at each stage is also helpful. What encourages your customers to move forward with making a purchase? Is there any hesitancy or roadblocks that discourage them from doing so? Using qualitative methodologies here will really help your company understand the emotions of each stage.
Questions that arise at each stage of the customer journey are also important to note and sometimes difficult to realize from the inside. When you are developing and marketing a product or service, you know it better than anyone. Sometimes, adapting the customer mindset and understanding possible pain points or questions can be difficult. It is important to know if and when customers get hung up when making their purchase decision. Are the questions that arise? Are the answers to these questions easy to find? The purchase process of your good or service could be difficult for customers, and should be improved by the company. If questions can be answered before they are even considered by the customer, the company will see more success.
Similarly, any obstacles that come up in every stage should be pointed out and addressed. Obstacles can mean anything from a website issue or missing feature to cost, return policy, or customer service issue. Assisting customers and helping them move across the various stages of the customer journey are imperative to moving customers from stage to stage.
The differences among customers’ motivations, questions, and potential obstacles will vary, but each hold value in gaining deep insight to the customer journey. Some customers may not fall into every stage, as mentioned, but it is important to talk to customers in as much details as possible to learn about the journey they take while interacting with your business.
In today’s day and age, it is also important to consider if your consumer’s mindset has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. We recommend attempting to understand customer concerns during this customer mindset adaptation process and incorporate any roadblocks or negative attributes that could come into play from the consumer’s standpoint. Without leading customers or potential consumers into a certain frame of mind, qualitative research can help pull out a more emotional story of customer feelings at any stage. Utilizing additional probing and supplementary questions on the online community can help get organic insights from customers on this topic. It is also easy to return to the same base of customers to follow up with COID-19 specifics as the world around us continues to change.
Whether your company is small, large, or somewhere in between, there is great value in understanding customer insights along each step of the pre or post-purchase journey. Utilizing an online community platform to ask pointed research questions and document completion of stages across the customer journey will provide your company with the insight it needs. All of the feedback collected along the way presented in a high-quality deliverable that is easily digestible will you understand each stage in detail. Research in the customer journey will help your company guide more and more customers easily through the each stage and result in many consumers who will back up, endorse, and advocate for your business and the products or services it offers. The more insight gained, the more improvements your business can make, and the more success you will see in the future.