No matter what industry you’re in, customer loyalty is what sets companies with staying power apart from one-hit wonders. Since acquiring new customers can cost anywhere between 5 and 25 times as much as retaining customers, companies with returning customers have a clear advantage over their less loyalty-minded peers. But creating loyal customers takes more than just the occasional coupon or comedic email. To grow the kind of customer relationships that drive loyalty and advocacy, you need to go beyond one-off tactics and take a more strategic approach. This strategic approach starts by addressing the basic framework of all company-customer relationships: the customer journey.

What is the Customer Journey?

Let’s start with the obvious question: what exactly is the customer journey? While you’ve probably heard this term before and might have a few ideas of what it means, there are a couple of different definitions to consider.

By most accounts, the customer journey consists of all the interactions customers have with your company. It’s the series of touchpoints from when customers first hear about you to when they are telling their friends how much they love your brand. But underneath this seemingly straightforward definition, things get a little more complicated. As with many marketing frameworks, the stages of the customer journey go by different names depending on who you ask.

Source: Hubspot

By the traditional buyer’s journey model, the stages of this journey are awareness, consideration, and decision. This model is pretty limited and usually depicts the journey as a funnel leading directly to purchase. For the buyer’s journey, once a customer buys, their journey is complete. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The modern customer journey includes the awareness, consideration, and decision stages of the buyer’s journey, but also tacks on retention and advocacy. These additional stages account for the customer’s continued relationship with a company after purchase, providing a more holistic view of the company-customer relationship.

Source: McKinsey

Finally, consulting giant McKinsey has its own take, with the customer loyalty loop. Like the buyer’s journey and customer journey, the customer loyalty loop breaks down into discrete stages: initial consideration, active evaluation, closure, and post-purchase experience. What sets this model apart is its circular structure. This model of the customer journey accounts for the continuous evaluation customers perform on companies—even after purchase. Good or bad experiences with the purchased product, company communications, and brand community determine whether or not that loop closes. If the post-purchase experience isn’t up to snuff, that customer will be off to start a new loop with a new company. 

Whatever customer journey model makes the most sense for your business, the different journey stages provide a framework for understanding how customers experience your company. Mapping your company’s touchpoints onto one of these models allows you to get a better idea of where you might be missing the mark. By breaking down your journeys into different stages, you’ll have a better understanding of what your customers might be expecting from a particular touchpoint. Which means you can start creating more of those meaningful moments that drive loyalty.

What’s the Difference Between Customer Journeys and Customer Experience?

Now that we’ve gone through the customer journey (in its many forms), let’s take a minute to discuss another term you’ve probably run into: customer experience

If the customer journey is a framework for breaking down the stages of a customer’s relationship with your company, the customer experience is about the overall effect of those stages. While the customer journey focuses on specific touchpoints, the customer experience is all about the reactions and emotions those touchpoints come together to create. 

When you set out to improve the customer journey, you’re not doing it so customers can have a more pleasant consideration or purchase stage. You’re doing so to improve the customer experience as a whole. Because it’s the customer experience—not the customer journey—that customers remember. Moreover, it’s the customer’s impression of the complete experience that will make or break your company’s customer satisfaction and loyalty.  

How much more would customers be willing to pay for better customer experience? Source: PWC

The benefits of a great customer experience go beyond just making customers happy. PWC found that customers are willing to pay up to 16% more for products and services that come with great experience, while 32% of customers are willing to walk away from a brand after a single bad experience. But for all the value customers place on having a great experience, the same report found that 54% of US customers say companies need to improve their experience. Within that gap between expectations and experience, there’s an opportunity for your brand to shine. 

Two Ways of Improving the Customer Journey

When you’re looking to improve your customer journeys, there are two main routes your brand can take: universal improvements and personal improvements. Universal improvements usually come in the form of fixing distinct pain points in your customer journeys and creating brand consistency throughout your journeys. Personal improvements, on the other hand, leverage personalization to connect with customers on an individual level throughout their journey. 

Universal Journey Improvements

If your customer journeys consistently underperform at certain stages, it might be time for some universal improvements. These improvements root out flaws that are making your journeys worse for your customers as a whole. Look for clusters of low conversion rates and customer complaints to find where pain points might be hiding.

Here’s a look at some common universal issues and improvements to consider across each stage of the customer journey:

  • Awareness: If your journeys are underperforming right off the bat, you might not be targeting the right channels or using the right volume and content of messaging. 
  • Interest: Let’s say you can catch customers’ attention, but you’re not able to hold it. Here, you’ll want to check whether you’re using messaging and value propositions that your customers actually care about. 
  • Consideration: Issues in the consideration stage can come from insufficient content on your product or services. Or they might be caused by customers not quite trusting the content you do have, which social proof can help with.
  • Purchase: When customers get this far but don’t click “buy”, it’s worth looking into whether your checkout process might have some unforeseen hiccups. 
  • Retention: Customers who consistently buy once and never again could use more help post-purchase. Building out better welcome and onboarding materials can do the trick here. 
  • Advocacy: Lastly, if your customers continue to repurchase but aren’t advocating for your brand, focus your efforts on creating a customer community. Generating a sense of identity with your brand will make customers more likely to spread the word. 

As you’re fixing the pain points plaguing your customer journeys, you’ll want to consider another kind of universal improvement for your customer journey: brand consistency. Consistently leveraging your brand identity builds a sense of familiarity between your brand and your customers. It’s this familiarity that can eventually transform into loyalty down the line. Considering that 82% of searchers choose familiar brands when looking something up online, creating brand consistency can be the difference between customers ending their journey prematurely and continuing to purchase and beyond.

While visual brand consistency is a great place to start, you’ll need to do more to support your brand. Source: Looka

To create this kind of brand familiarity, you need to consistently leverage your brand assets across the customer journey. This includes:

  • Enforcing a particular visual brand identity by repeating certain images, shapes, colors, and styles throughout the customer journey.
  • Incorporating distinct brand assets like logos, slogans, colors, and fonts wherever applicable. 
  • Keeping your brand messaging and language continuous from the first-touch ad to welcome email, so your offering is always clear.
  • Creating familiarity with your brand’s personality by using the same brand voice in all communications.

Between fixing particular pain points and creating better brand consistency, universal customer journey improvements build a strong foundation for great customer experience. 

Personal Journey Improvements

To take your customer journeys to the next level, you need to go beyond universal improvements. Personalized improvements tailor journeys to individuals, providing an experience of your brand that’s made just for them. You can incorporate personalized improvements at any stage in the customer journey in many different ways. Some of these include: 

  • Personalized advertising that sends targeted messages to certain demographics within your target audience.
  • Personalized landing pages designed to complement personalized advertisements and create a continuous experience from seeing an ad to clicking it.
  • Personalized content delivery, where users receive different content depending on their prior actions. For an example of what this looks like in action, we can look to Bench. The largest bookkeeping service in North America, Bench wanted to be more targeted in the content they delivered to users. Leveraging Proof’s Experiences, they created content offers and CTAs that corresponded to how many times a user visited their site. By tailored content according to customer behavior, they managed to increase content downloads by 41%.

A look at Bench’s personalized CTAs in action. Source: UseProof

  • Personalized checkout pages can either be tailored to provide more information on products or streamline your checkout process as needed.
  • Personalized post-purchase welcome and onboarding campaigns help to address the varying needs of different customers. Show customers you know their history and provide the information and encouragement they need. 
  • Personalized newsletters let you speak directly to different customer segments, and create micro-communities within your larger customer community. 

While these are far from all of the personalization possibilities for your customer journeys, they’re a great place to start. By building out more personalization, you demonstrate to customers that you understand them, fostering a sense of affinity and loyalty towards your brand. 

Go Forth and Improve Your Customers’ Journeys and Experiences

Now that you know the steps necessary to improve customer journeys, you’re well on your way to creating experiences that drive customer satisfaction and loyalty. By starting with a strong foundation of universal customer journey improvements, then adding in personal improvements to create a deeper connection, you can attract, retain, and grow your customers with ease.