Many times, in business, it is important to take a step back and try to trace and fully understand the journey your customers go through when interacting with your products and services. Taking this critical step back allows businesses to better understand what is working well and drives loyalty among customers. Additionally, it allows for a unique perspective of customer pain points and possible improvement areas in product development. Taking this customer-centric research approach not only increases the likelihood that your company will be able to identify and improve components of the customer journey, but also increases customer loyalty by showing your company wants to listen to the voice of their customers.
One of the best ways to understand your customer journey is to utilize a blend of different research methodologies to help analyze different steps of the journey. As each company has different needs, it is important first to internally identify different stages during which customers interact with your products or services. Using this information, you can start to create a map, which will be the foundation of your research.
The earliest stages of this type of customer research may be better suited to qualitative research methods. Some examples of these methods include:
- Focus group discussions, which allow customers to interact with a moderator and each other to discuss different research topics. Focus group discussions can be conducted in-person or online to meet your research needs.
- One-on-one interviews, which allows customers to open up about their experience in a one-on-one environment, possibly leading to rich insights. Similar to focus groups, these interviews can be conducted online or in-person.
- Online forum or journaling projects, which may not be as in-depth as focus groups or one-on-one interviews but allows respondents to answer specific questions at their own pace.
Once you have a general idea of some overall thoughts regarding your customer journey, you then can take some of the information gathered and validate the findings with a survey. We will now illustrate an example of how an educational organization utilized a mix of qualitative and quantitative research to not only understand strengths and weaknesses of a set of their offerings, but also create a detailed map of their customers’ journey to best understand how to improve the offerings altogether.
Customer Journey Map: Project Background
The National Education Association Member Benefits Division (NEAMB) wanted to understand how their customers decide to purchase products from their partners and turned to KLC for help. A multi-phase research project to evaluate three different offerings (including an insurance product, a credit card, and a branded online marketplace) was designed, to be conducted within NEAMB’s existing online insights community. They wanted to interview and survey community members to understand main drivers for each step of the customer journey, including:
- How did their members first learn about the offering?
- What made them decide to sign up for the offering?
- How easy was it to sign up for the offering?
- How often do they use the offering they signed up for?
- How do they feel when they use the offering?
NEAMB worked closely with KLC to build out a methodology which would allow them to create a journey map of the customer experience using their online insights community. The project would begin with a detailed qualitative online focus group, targeted to those who participate in the offering of interest. Then, members would be invited to a larger survey where they were asked specific closed-ended questions to gather key metrics around their journey experience, such as value of the offering and overall satisfaction with the offering.
Exploratory Qualitative Research
To begin the project, members who used each offering were recruited for a multi-day discussion project. If they were selected to participate, these members were invited to join an online qualitative board where they were asked to provide their thoughts on the journey. An online activity made the most sense, as it allowed respondents to complete the discussion at their own pace around their work schedules (as teachers often have a lot on their plates). The discussion was conducted over the span of one week, which included an extra day or two to allow for moderator follow-ups as needed.
Throughout the qualitative leg of this research project, respondents were asked how things like how they felt when they learned about the offering, how they started the application process for the offering (if applicable), how they completed the application process for the offering (if applicable), and whether they contacted a NEAMB representative to assist with completing the application. This leg of the project also evaluated their overall sentiment about signing up—that is, whether the experience was positive or negative, and what they would change about the process if they could.
The qualitative research allowed respondents to fully elaborate on barriers they experienced during the application process. For example, some customers outlined some regional limitations to signing up that were not included on an informational postcard sent to their home, which they wish was included before they expended the effort. Through this phase of the study, customers were able to fully express all frustrations they may have experienced, which made them feel heard, and also provided context, direction, and an understanding of the feelings and emotions driving their decisions on their path to purchase. Additionally, by conducting the qualitative research first, the NEAMB team was able to collect the findings from the discussions and integrate them into the quantitative leg of the project.
Validation through Quantitative Research
The second stage of the project consisted of a larger quantitative study where members who used each offering were invited to share their path to purchase experiences. This feedback would validate and quantify results from the qualitative leg. As mentioned previously, the NEAMB team combed the findings from the qualitative research to determine any other factors they may want to include to reveal offering strengths, weaknesses, and other areas of improvement to consider. The NEAMB team worked closely with research partners to develop a survey which covered four journey stages of interest to the team:
- How members became aware of the offering?
- What was important when considering the offering?
- How members applied for the offering?
- How members currently use the offering?
Members saw some overall questions about their experience with the offering as well as being an NEAMB member, and then were exposed to questions specific to two of the above four journey stages. General questions focused on overall NEAMB membership, including how easy it is to get what you need from NEAMB, how much they enjoy being a member, and how effective NEAMB is at meeting their needs. This section also asked how often they use the offering and how likely they’d be to recommend said offering to someone else who qualifies.
The journey stage sections of the survey focused on how different NEAMB communication channels such as the website, mailings, and meetings played a role in making members familiar with the offering and assisted in considering or signing up for the offering. Members were asked the importance and effectiveness of these channels, and if any were given a low rating, why these elements were considered less effective. These listed channels were supplemented with information gathered in the qualitative portion of the research.
Analysis and Journey Mapping
When both the survey and qualitative sections of the NEAMB journey map projects closed, the analysis phase began. KLC’s research team combed over all the open-ended and closed-ended questions to pull out valuable insights and ran several analyses to better understand how different components play a role in member perceptions of the offerings. Individual components of all four journey stages were compiled and given a correlational score to determine how much each component is associated with satisfaction with being a member of NEAMB. These correlations were then dropped into a Kano analysis, which allowed KLC to determine where the different components fell into a quadrant system identify drivers of excitement and high satisfaction. This analysis, taken together with qualitative insights, is the foundation of the visual map KLC created to display the member journey.
The final result of this project was a journey map that perfectly combined quantitative and qualitative insights. A section for goals outlined the specific wants and needs of members at each particular stage, starting with awareness. A ‘thinking’ section outlined different themes that were identified during each stage. For example, if a customer was made aware of a credit card offering and they were in the market for a new card, they might be more likely to pay attention to the offering and consider it after learning about it. A section for “feelings”, identified all emotions attached to each stage of the journey, supplemented by a bubble chart to map different emotional factors collected in the quantitative portion. Finally, a list of customer expectations is included for each stage of the journey. Taken together, NEAMB had a full and comprehensive view of the customer experience with their offerings from the very start to current usage and was able to identify areas of improvement and make tweaks to their offerings as a result.
What Does this Mean for My Business?
Taking time to evaluate the full picture was a critical step for NEAMB to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their insurance, credit card, and marketplace offerings because they collected detailed firsthand insights and emotions from customers who experienced the journey at every stage. Taking the time to probe each unique stage of the customer journey allowed for richer insights and a connection with their members who were rewarded for their time and received the satisfaction of knowing they were able to make a difference for the overall member experience.
To further tailor customer journey maps, companies may choose to focus on different types of analysis. For example, the various customer journey maps created by NEAMB were focused on the total sample based on correlational data. It could be helpful for a company to integrate information such as customer segments or personas into this type of research, to help understand nuances between different customer groups. Not only will your company gain an overall understanding of the full picture, you also will be able to examine differences between different demographic groups, such as age, region, or gender. Additionally, it may be helpful to run predictive analyses as a part of the overall analysis plan. To understand which factors are associated with customer satisfaction are important but identifying factors that could predict customer satisfaction can be critical to edging out the competition in your company’s industry.
This sort of research is not limited to the education field. Other examples of how companies may use customer journey mapping research includes:
- Utility companies may seek to understand the customer journey during a large power outage after a bad storm.
- Consumer packaged goods brands may want to understand the customer shopping experience, be it in-store or online, to understand if they can optimize product placement to boost sales.
- Media companies may want to understand drivers and barriers for signing up for online and streaming services to determine how to improve sign-ups.
It is always important to take time to make sure you have a comprehensive view of your customers. By only conducting qualitative or quantitative research, you may only get one side of the picture. However, using both methods in tandem to augment the voice of your customers is likely to provide a well-rounded picture and allow your customers to feel heard and valued for their experience with your brand. It is important to reach out to your customers often, even if you think you have the full picture already. There may be other factors impacting the customer experience which may not come up through other research or listening channels.
How do you know if conducting a customer journey mapping research project is right for your company? This sort of research can be conducted at any time with your online insight community members, whether after a product launch or just to get a read on how to improve sales and customer engagement. All you need is a general idea of what your customer journey looks like, an on-demand, available group of customers willing to participate in this study, and a seasoned research partner to help your company navigate the process.
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