This article appeared on cx-journey.com earlier.
The customer experience is built on hundreds, even thousands, of journeys that start at the beginning of the customer lifecycle, when people first identify a need or a problem to solve, and typically end when they exit the relationship. (At least, that’s how most folks view it. But does it really ever end? More on that later.)
Journeys are often grouped into categories based on where an individual is in the lifecycle. Within each of those categories you’ll find hundreds of journeys that make up that stage.
Let’s look at some of the primary journey categories: prospect journeys, buyer journeys, customer journeys, user journeys, and churn journeys. What are they? What’s the difference? Why are they important to customer success and sales/revenue leaders?
The prospect journey is often referred to as the lead journey because it happens at the beginning of the buyer journey and is the first step in turning a potential customer into an actual paying customer. It includes the identification of the need or problem to solve, the initial awareness of a product or service, and becoming a qualified sales lead by filling out a contact form or scheduling a demo.
It’s an important part of the sales process, as it helps brands identify and qualify potential customers. By understanding the different steps of the prospect journey, as well as the needs and motivations of potential customers on this journey, brands can develop targeted marketing and sales strategies to attract, engage, and convert qualified leads into customers.
The buyer journey is the process that a potential customer or prospect goes through when researching and deciding whether or not to make a purchase. It includes identifying a need, becoming aware of various product and service options, doing research, considering and evaluating the various options, and then ultimately deciding which product or service to buy and actually buying it.
You’ve probably seen this journey depicted as a funnel, where a large number of potential customers sit at the top and a smaller number who make the purchase decision sit at the bottom. Ideally, businesses want to guide potential customers through the various stages of the buyer journey and then convert them into paying customers.
Interestingly enough, some say that the customer journey focuses on the overall relationship a customer has with a brand. Essentially, the term is often used interchangeably with “customer experience,” which I define as the sum of all the interactions that a customer has with a brand over the life of the relationship with the brand and, importantly, the feelings, emotions, and perceptions about those interactions. I don’t differentiate between customer and buyer; to me, the experience starts the moment someone identifies a need or a problem to solve. That’s where “the life of the relationship” begins.
Customer experience is the umbrella over all of the various journeys discussed in this article. They are all a part of the customer experience. So, let’s not make that mistake. Let’s not say customer experience = customer journey. It’s only partially correct.
The customer journey begins after the buyer journey ends, after the prospect has made the purchase. Customer journeys are the process that customers go through post-purchase, from the moment they first interact with a brand, product, or service, through ongoing use and engagement, to potential renewal or repurchase. Installation, implementation, onboarding, usage, service and support, engagement, training, and renewal or repurchase are all parts of the customer journey.
The customer journey is a critical component when it comes to delivering value, ensuring customer success, and ultimately retaining the customer. During this journey, how well the product or service meets the customer’s needs and expectations and solves problems for her will be determined.
Brands need to understand the different touchpoints and interactions within the customer journey and proactively engage with customers to ensure that they are receiving ongoing value and support. By managing the customer journey effectively, businesses can drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy, and achieve long-term business success.
What’s the difference between these two journeys? Quite simply, the difference lies in where the individual is along the customer lifecycle. Everything from need identification through purchase is the buyer journey. Everything that happens after the purchase is considered to be the customer journey.
Or is it?
You’ll often read or hear that the buyer journey focuses on the steps that lead up to – and include – the purchasedecision and that the customer journey takes a holistic view of the experience after the purchase and considers how a brand provides value and builds long-term relationships with its customers.
But where does the actual purchase experience fall? And why is that important?
The line between the buyer journey and the customer journey isn’t always clear cut, and there might be some overlap between the two. Two examples of that include:
This is an important consideration because it’s a critical point in the customer experience. It’s where handoffs fail. It’s where the experience can break down. It’s where the first impression turns sour. It’s where customers start to think that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. It’s where customers draw that stark line between (a) the experience of considering the product and making a purchase (and being treated like a VIP) and (b) the experience of using the product and engaging with support (and being treated like a persona non grata).
To bridge this gap, businesses need to focus on creating a seamless, integrated experience that spans the entire customer journey, from need to post-purchase engagement and support to offboarding.
Some of the actions you can take to do this include:
Ultimately, you must create a seamless, integrated experience that supports and drives customer success as well as business growth.
According to ExperienceUX, a user journey is “a path a user may take to reach her goal when using a particular website. User journeys are used in designing websites to identify the different ways to enable the user to achieve their goal as quickly and easily as possible.”
I would add that it’s not just about using a website. The definition should include anyone that is on a path toward achieving some goal while using a mobile app, software, or any other product, for that matter. While it’s often thought of being associated with B2C brands, B2B brands also have users, e.g., Cast.app.
Ultimately, the user journey is the process that users go through while using a product or service, from the moment they first interact with the product or service, through ongoing use and engagement, to the point where they stop using the product or service.
So, that begs the question, what’s the difference between a customer journey and a user journey? The main difference is the focus.
The user journey is focused on the experience of an individual user while using a product or service, from initial discovery through disengagement or churn. The user journey is primarily concerned with understanding how users interact with a product or service, while the customer journey focuses on the relationship from purchase to renewal or repurchase to offboarding.
While there is some overlap between the user journey and the customer journey, the user journey is a subset of the customer journey that focuses on the experience of using the product or service. The customer journey also focuses on other interactions, including sales, marketing, customer service, and other touchpoints.
One final journey I’ve got to talk about is the churn journey. This is the experience that customers have when they decide to stop using the product or service. It’s an important process to understand, as reducing churn is a key goal for brands.
This journey starts when a customer is dissatisfied with the experience or has issues with a product or service. Once they become unhappy with their current provider, they start to research alternatives and explore other options. During this journey, brands try to retain customers by addressing concerns and providing incentives to stay.
A couple of things to note here.
At the end of this journey, the customer decides to leave and goes through the process of canceling her subscription or account and potentially providing feedback or reasons for why she decided to leave. Know this: the offboarding process is an important part of the overall customer experience. If you make canceling easy, if you make the offboarding experience pleasant, then customers will leave with a positive last/lasting impression. If they are ever in need of similar products/services, your brand will remain in their consideration set. (This is what I was referring to in the opening paragraph when I asked, “Does it really ever end?” You hope not.)
In the end, this journey is an important opportunity for brands to learn from their mistakes and make improvements to prevent future customer losses. Sadly, not all do.
That’s a lot to take in, but it’s important to know the differences because every journey represents a different stage in the overall customer experience. By understanding the needs, expectations, and behaviors of customers at each stage, brands can tailor their marketing, sales, customer success, and customer service strategies to best meet those needs and improve the overall customer experience.
When you understand the prospect journey, you are better able to create targeted marketing campaigns and content designed to educate and inform potential customers about your products or services and help them move toward the next stage of the journey.
Knowing your customers’ needs and expectations during the buyer journey allows you to create personalized experiences that are tailored to individual needs and preferences and provide them with the information and support they need to make informed purchase decisions.
And when you understand the customer journey, you’re able to identify opportunities to provide additional value and support to customers and build long-term relationships that lead to repeat business and customer loyalty.
Finally, for the churn journey, you’ll identify improvement opportunities for the experience overall and, as a result, reduce the churn rate.
In the end, differentiating between different journeys helps brands understand their customers and create more personalized, contextually relevant, timely, and effective marketing, sales, service, and customer success strategies that improve the customer experience and drive growth.
This is a long post to read, with a lot of details, but it’s important for both customer success and sales/revenue leaders to understand the different types of journeys in order to identify when and where they can best impact outcomes.
When customer success leaders understand both the customer journey and the subset churn journey, they can ensure that customers are successful in solving their problems, achieving their goals, and receiving value from the products or services they’ve purchased.
During the customer journey, customer success leaders can proactively engage with customers, provide personalized support, and identify potential challenges or issues before they become major problems. By understanding the churn journey, they are able to identify the reasons customers leave and develop strategies to prevent that from happening again in the future.
For sales leaders, taking the time to understand the prospect journey and the buyer journey is critical to success for them as they work to attract and convert prospects into customers.
Having a deep understanding of the prospect journey affords sales leaders the edge when working with marketing to develop effective marketing campaigns and content that resonates with potential customers and moves them toward the next stage of the buyer journey. By understanding the buyer journey, they can identify potential roadblocks or challenges that might prevent a customer from making a purchase and develop strategies to overcome those challenges.
When customer success and sales/revenue leaders understand not only their respective journeys but also each other’s, they can work together more effectively and efficiently to drive to the desired outcomes. They can also develop more effective strategies for acquiring, retaining, and growing customers and ensure that their customers are having the best possible experience.
I’d be remiss to talk about understanding the various journeys that customers embark on without talking about what you’ll need to do to understand them. I can’t talk about journeys without talking about journey mapping.
Journey mapping is a powerful customer understanding tool and process that provides a visual representation of the journey. A map is created with customers and captures what customers are doing, thinking, and feeling as they interact with the brand. Do the work. Identify improvement opportunities. You won’t regret it.
I’d also be remiss to talk about journeys and journey mapping without pointing out that different customers will take different steps or paths along these journeys. As such, it’s important to start developing your overall customer experience strategy by using personas. Each persona represents a key subset of your population that you’ll need to understand in order to design an experience that meets expectations and to develop lasting relationships.
Personas, another customer understanding tool, are a fictional representation of your ideal prospects and customers. To create them, you start by conducting interviews with your customers and combining those findings with existing customer data to develop groupings that represent the characteristics, behaviors, goals, and pain points of a specific subset of people that the business is trying to reach. Personas are typically given names, demographics, and even personalities to make them feel more human and relatable. Just like journey maps, they must be socialized and operationalized.
It’s important to note, as I mentioned earlier, that customer experience is the umbrella discipline across all of these journeys. The customer experience encompasses every stage of the customer lifecycle, from need to exit. Get the experience right – listen to customers, understand the problems they are trying to solve, and then innovate and design and deliver a better experience – and the job becomes much easier for everyone in the organization, especially for sales and for customer success.
Sometimes the longest journey we make is the sixteen inches from our heads to our hearts. ~ Elena Avila
Everybody has a different journey. Everybody has a different path, and you don’t really know what to expect. All you know is to just keep plugging away, and you hope something will come through and something will happen. ~ Grace Gealey
Annette Franz is an advisor at cast.app, founder and CEO of CX Journey, and an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, speaker, and author. She recently published her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business); it’s available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats.
In 2022, she published her second book, Built to Win: Designing a Customer-Centric Culture That Drives Value for Your Business (Advantage|ForbesBooks), which is also available on Amazon.
She is one of the Top 3 Customer Experience (CX) influencers, one of the Top 100 Strategists in Customer Success, and one of the 100 B2B Thought Leaders and Influencers. This article originally appeared on cx-journey.com.