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The 5 Stages Of A Winning Customer Journey

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

The 5 Stages Of A Winning Customer Journey

These days, every business is facing more competition than ever before. Customers have endless options to choose from, and their expectations keep rising.

In this environment, companies can't just rely on having a good product - they need to focus on crafting an excellent customer journey if they want to consistently acquire, engage and retain happy, loyal customers.

When you really think about it, the customer journey is one of the most important things a business needs to get right. It covers every interaction a customer has with your business, from the first time they become aware of your brand all the way to becoming a delighted customer who tells others to buy from you too.

Seamlessly guiding potential customers through each touchpoint and maximizing satisfaction at each stage is what an exceptional journey is all about.

In my personal opinion, if you want to succeed amid all the competition then it is crucial for you to understand the customer journey and use that knowledge to strategically shape messaging, incentives, and support. Doing so is how companies transform first-time prospects into life-long, enthusiastic customers.

So in this article, I really want to walk through the key stages that make up a winning customer journey – from driving initial awareness to cultivating loyal brand advocacy. Examining these customer journey stages will provide insight into what companies need to do at each phase to delight buyers. My goal is to outline an approach for consistently delivering awesome customer experiences.

When you get right down to it, the customer journey shapes brand perceptions and buying decisions at every step. Using the guidelines I'll share allows organizations to intentionally craft journeys that form enduring brand affinity over time. If done well, even a prospect's first purchase can plant the seeds for a lifetime of loyalty and advocacy.

Stage 1: Awareness

Awareness

When it comes to the customer journey, the first critical stage is driving awareness. If potential customers don't know your brand exists or what you sell, it's game over before you've even begun. You can have the best products in the world, but it won't matter if your target audience never hears about your business.

​So making sure your brand is visible and that your offerings are on people's radars needs to be priority one. Chances are, most folks in your ideal demographic aren't actively searching for what you specifically sell. That means the onus is on your marketing efforts to get your brand name and products in front of them.

In my experience, piquing initial curiosity and prompting recognition when prospects do have needs is the first goal.

You want people to start thinking "Oh right, I know Company X sells those kinds of solutions" when relevant situations arise in their lives. Top-of-mind awareness pays dividends across the entire customer journey.

Now, how do you actually make prospects aware and plant seeds of familiarity?

Content marketing initiatives focused on your target audience are invaluable here. We're talking social media presence, guest blog posts, PR outreach - anything that informs prospects and gets your brand visible. The concept is casting a wide net through informative, relevant content rather than traditional advertising.

For example, an educational YouTube video or industry whitepaper builds awareness by demonstrating your subject matter expertise. As people consume ever more content online, inserting your brand into those flows through valuable insights establishes mindshare. You seamlessly become part of the conversations prospects are already having daily.

That said, you need to track whether these awareness efforts are working.

Pay attention to key metrics that indicate growing brand recognition. Watching branded search volume trends and website traffic from non-branded keywords tells you whether prospects engage after seeing your content across the web. If visits or queries related to your products increase, you know your messaging is prompting interest.

When all goes well, prospects begin independently exploring your brand when needs arise. They recognize your business as a potential solution or vendor when the time for purchases comes.

Building this top-of-the-funnel visibility is why awareness is the essential first step in crafting winning customer journeys. You have to be present in order for prospects to ever consider you in their decision process. And getting those initial sparks of interest aimed at your offerings is what awareness delivers.

So once prospects start becoming aware of your brand, the next step is getting them to actually consider you.

Stage 2: Consideration

So the awareness efforts have paid off and now prospects know your brand exists when they find themselves in need of solutions you provide. Great! But you aren’t guaranteed a sale by any means at this point.

The next phase of winning over customers involves making sure your brand makes the shortlist of companies they’ll consider buying from.

Essentially, aware prospects start evaluating multiple options during the consideration stage. This involves actively researching solutions, comparing vendors, and weighing alternatives that could address their requirements.

You need them asking “Should I go with Company X or Brand Y?” with your brand firmly in the running.

​So when prospects start seeking out information related to their needs, how do you tip the scales in your favor during this research process? This stage often comes down to showcasing key differentiators only your products or services can provide. The goal is to demonstrate tangible reasons why prospects should pick you over rival offerings.

Clearly understanding buyer personas and what matters most to them allows you to tailor messaging accordingly.

If affordable pricing is indispensable for budget-conscious shoppers, showcase discounts first. For prospects wanting innovative features, extensively cover your proprietary technologies. You want targeted marketing that speaks directly to the preferences of each prospect.

In terms of specific tactics, comparison charts that contrast your strengths to competitors are extremely influential.

Feature checklists make it easy to see where your business outperforms alternatives. Customer testimonial videos and case studies that detail real-world benefits also provide definitive proof you deliver results. Generous free trials give prospects hands-on confirmation that your solutions can work for them.

The consideration phase is all about tipping the decision balance towards your brand. Smart segmentation ensures you resonate with motivations that drive each prospect’s selection criteria. Every piece of content and messaging reminds them why your business best fits their needs. You subtly steer prospects closer towards prioritizing your offerings every step of the way.

With effective guidance, prospects start viewing your brand as the superior choice over other options. They see how your products address their issues and satisfy wants better than the competition. You move prospects ever nearer the point of making an actual purchase. You make the choice clear for when they finalize buying decisions.

Stage 3: Purchase

Purchase

All right, through awareness and consideration the prospects are now primed to become paying customers. Your efforts start paying dividends when those prospects decide the time is right and make an actual purchase.

Exciting stuff! Although I will say – don’t expect every single prospect to buy something the first time they visit your site.

The reality is most people will likely come back and explore a brand multiple times over weeks or months before deciding to buy. They might sign up for an email list, read some blogs, ask questions -- all while still weighing their options. And that’s perfectly normal buyer behavior.

That’s why it’s so important to wow potential customers with an incredible experience even if they aren’t purchasers yet.

  • How smoothly are you answering pre-sales questions?
  • Can visitors easily navigate your website?
  • Do they quickly find answers to queries on pricing or features?

Identify any sticking points causing confusion and remove pain points through clear content, intuitive web design, and readily available support.

Building trust and confidence during these pre-purchase interactions pays off enormously. When uncertain visitors keep having stellar interactions over time, that makes the decision to buy from your business very easy down the road. They’ve already confirmed first-hand you deliver great service.

Now eventually, some of those prospects will decide the timing is right to make a purchase. When that magic moment arrives, your goal is getting customers over the finish line with minimal friction. Make sure the transaction process itself is quick and seamless every step of the way.

  • Offer conveniences like saved payment details customers can retrieve so entering info repeatedly isn’t necessary.
  • Allow guest checkouts for prospects wanting to buy fast without needing user accounts right away.
  • If someone abandons a shopping cart, send timely and automatic reminders prompting them to complete the purchase.

Remove every minor point of hesitation so prospects can become patrons in one smooth motion.

Delivering service that exceeds expectations – even for not-yet-converted visitors – builds significant goodwill over time. Ensuring flawless purchases then turns interested prospects into delighted customers ready to use your products. At that point the relationships really begin, leading to repeat business down the line.

So while the sale marks wonderful progress, the customer journey is far from over. Making customers want to keep using your brand long after that initial purchase leads us to the next major stage – customer retention.

Stage 4: Retention

Huge congratulations are in order – the prospect has officially purchased from your business and is now a bonafide customer! Achieving that initial sale is vital progress in the journey for sure. But let’s be honest - the work isn’t over by any means if you want to keep them coming back.

See, the ultimate goal here isn’t just to get a one-time transaction. Ideally customers will love their experience so much that they become loyal, long-term patrons who buy from your brand again and again. Building enduring relationships that spark repeat purchases months or years into the future - that’s the retention jackpot!

Of course, customers don’t automatically stay loyal forever once they make an initial purchase. Post-purchase is actually when new customers closely reevaluate whether they made the right vendor choice. As they gain familiarity with your product, some buyer’s remorse or questions about fit can understandably crop up.

That's why actively checking in with customers post-purchase via surveys and quick phone calls is so important. You want to get ahead of any frustrations, solve issues promptly, and handle returns or complaints gracefully if they emerge.

Going above and beyond to keep that customer 100% satisfied in the critical few weeks after a purchase greatly boosts long-term retention odds.

Beyond addressing concerns quickly, you can nurture recently obtained customers in positive ways too. Loyalty programs with points, tiered benefits, and special members-only discounts make customers feel valued for their continued patronage. Promotional emails with exclusive subscriber sales maintain ongoing engagement.

And don’t forget about remarketing digital ads - highlighting complementary products keeps your brand top of mind for future purchases. Ongoing value marketing defeats buyer churn that stems from customers forgetting about your business down the line when similar needs resurface.

The retention stage sets you up for success years into the future. Ensuring customers feel incredible about their post-purchase experience cements durable relationships that drive exponential long-term revenue through repeat sales and referrals.

Satisfied customers gladly come back again and again – while telling their friends to check out your brand too!

Speaking of referrals, that finally brings us to the last stage of the customer journey – when delighted customers evolve into vocal brand advocates who are practically marketing your business for free.

Stage 5: Advocacy

The pinnacle moment in any great customer journey is when delighted customers become active brand advocates who passionately promote you within their networks. Instead of your business selling to new potential customers, enthusiastic supporters are now voluntarily selling for you via word-of-mouth recommendations.

Achieving such genuine organic advocacy represents the ultimate validation that your customer strategy is working. When happy customers eagerly vouch for your brand unprompted, you know your products and service have built enduring affinity across the long-term relationship arc.

Turning recent customers into influencer allies starts with giving satisfied clients easy ways to shine a spotlight on your business after enjoyable purchase experiences. Ask them to write online reviews, promote special offers to social followers, or refer family for incentives. Making advocacy beneficial and frictionless helps grow an army of brand fans.

You can also further leverage advocates by inviting standout supporters to be featured case studies or provide testimonials. Their stories and endorsements lend credibility derivative of first-hand positive encounters. User-generated content showcasing real customer success or participation in referral programs similarly enables passionate fans supporting your mission.

Over time, voluntary advocates organically become an increasingly powerful sales and marketing engine for your business. Their authentic voices drive awareness, consideration, and purchases continuously without significant effort on your end. Just like the hottest restaurant in town never worries about promotion because the daily line out the door does the selling.

Reaching such self-sustaining advocacy is the final evolution of a customer journey done right. When unbridled word-of-mouth praise flows freely without needing to be manufactured or requested, you’ve achieved the ultimate destination of customer-centric strategy. So make every stage of the journey focused on empowering future allies until advocates eagerly fuel your brand’s ongoing expansion themselves.

Crafting A Memorable Journey

Crafting A Memorable Journey

While I've covered the key stages of the customer journey, simply moving buyers linearly from initial awareness to loyal advocacy isn’t enough to consistently craft remarkable experiences.

The reality is every interaction a customer has with your business – and I mean every single one – contributes to cumulative impressions shaping their brand perceptions.

It's the aggregate of countless micro-moments across months or years that determine whether someone feels your brand is average, good, or great. So if you aim to turn even first-time shoppers into passionate devotees, you have to sweat the small stuff at each touchpoint.

Every personalized email, tailored recommendation, or exceptionally resolved support ticket demonstrates you value that individual. Things that may seem trivial add up, like using preferred customer names, suggesting complementary accessories in ads after a purchase, or providing ultra-responsive solutions to questions.

Leading brands know optimizing specific micro-interactions is vital because isolated impressions build into a broader narrative over time. One forgotten birthday might not ruin a relationship, but delighting customers again and again is how to build legendary status.

Beyond individual touchpoints, brands should map full journeys to pinpoint high-impact moments disproportionately shaping lasting impressions. For any given customer, consider what their pinnacle emotional takeaway is.

Maybe it’s the white glove onboarding training providing an incredible first impression after a major purchase. Perhaps it’s receiving a surprise automated coupon on their birthday. Or was it how your customer service heroically handled resolving a complicated order gone wrong?

Understanding journey touchpoints at macro and micro levels allows focusing resources accordingly so no opportunities are missed.

Leading brands realize delivering consistently remarkable journeys is an endless quest of optimizing countless little details that ultimately determine customer loyalty and advocacy.

Small things make big differences when it comes to wowing patrons.

Over To You

Now that we've walked through the full progression of the customer journey, it's up to you to apply these stages to your own business. Gaining a clear picture of the complete path customers take with your brand allows prioritizing action to optimize the moments that truly matter.

I suggest taking an audit identifying parts in the journey where you excel versus problem areas needing attention. Review touch points across your awareness, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy interactions. How does the broader experience compare to the expectations outlined for crafting memorable engagements?

The goal here is to ensure you deliver positive, frictionless encounters whenever a customer engages directly. Building enduring affinity that sparks organic advocacy starts with reaffirming capabilities at each phase while addressing anywhere journeys might currently fall short.

While certain external dynamics can't necessarily be controlled, it's important to remember that designing a stellar, customer-centric experience across the entire buyer lifecycle fully depends on your deliberate strategic efforts. From the tone of messaging to responsiveness during support inquiries, your priorities shape perceptions.

In an age where online reviews and unlimited alternative options are a click away, focusing intensely on customer satisfaction from start to finish provides powerful competitive differentiation.

As expectations rise across generations, consumers reward brands for delivering consistently enjoyable journeys with expanded wallet share and invaluable word-of-mouth marketing.

So leverage the defined stages outlined as guideposts for critiquing your current approach through an impartial customer lens. Identify friction points and moments of delight across discovery, consideration, purchase, retention, and advocacy interactions.

Keep refining operational capabilities until you seamlessly convert even first-time buyers into vocal life-long brand enthusiasts. Use the customer journey as your blueprint for strengthening consumer loyalty in today's digital age.

Last Remarks

The customer journey is the roadmap for turning even one-time buyers into passionate advocates that fuel exponential growth for years to come. Keep that top of mind and double down on wowing patrons each step of their relationship with your brand.

The long-term payoff of delivering memorable engagements from hello to goodbye results in customers for life eagerly promoting your mission. Set the bar high in surpassing expectations across the lifecycle, focus on retention after sign-up, and soon loyal brand supporters will happily act as a salesforce far beyond anything advertising dollars can buy.

If you find yourself wanting to delve even deeper into learning about the stages in customer journeys, I’d highly suggest you join us at Diamond and unlock the 4X Customer Value Accelerator where I teach you how to make your current or new customers worth more.

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