A growing trend in marketing is a shift in focus from the customer journey to the customer experience.
The customer journey (also known as the buyer’s journey) is the path that people take as they research and acquire a company’s products and services. Spanning three stages (awareness, consideration, decision), the customer journey illustrates how a buyer might go from researching nitrogen fixation on Google, for instance, to heading to their local ag retailer to make a fertilizer purchase. Understanding this process can help define a consistent customer acquisition path and ensure your sales and marketing teams are in alignment.
The problem with the customer journey
While the customer journey is a great tool for aligning your sales and marketing efforts, the journey ends with the purchase, and so does our focus on the customer. Conversely, the customer experience model looks at the breadth of the customer’s thoughts, feelings and attitudes as they move from research to purchase to consumption and beyond.
So instead of merely focusing on sales and marketing alignment, we now have a system that promotes cohesion between sales, marketing, product, and service teams. This alignment is key to converting and retaining customers, as according to a 2019 Salesforce report,
80% of customers say that the customer experience is as important as the product or service.
Customer satisfaction drives future growth
Of course, this is not an entirely new concept. Word-of-mouth has always been one of the primary drivers of purchase preference — a 2012 study by Nielson found that 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family over other forms of advertising. Focusing on the customer experience pushes our organizations to be customer-centric in our approach. In doing so, we can deliver top-notch products and services that delight the customer and fuel further word-of-mouth.
Many companies recognize the importance of customer satisfaction in driving future growth. For instance, Butterball has been running the Turkey Talk Line for the past 38 years to coach home cooks through their holiday turkey preparations. This service came out of the understanding that consumers were frustrated with the experience of cooking their turkey dinner (looking at you Clark Griswold). So, by providing free advice and education to home cooks, Butterball was able to improve their customer experience, thereby driving word-of-mouth and future turkey purchases.
The way that consumers research, purchase and engage with products, services and brands has shifted dramatically in the digital era. By democratizing marketing communications and fueling word-of-mouth testimonials through online reviews and social channels, the internet has put a renewed emphasis on the importance of the customer experience. In response, progressive, digitally native organizations are raising expectations for customers by providing top-notch experiences — Amazon has changed the way people expect to purchase a product, Netflix has changed the way people expect to consume media and Tesla is changing the way people think about driving.
Experience as a differentiator
Marty Neumeier writes, “Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” In other words, brand is the gut feeling that your customers have based on the experiences with your organization. Every touchpoint they interact with influences that feeling and builds your brand in the hearts and minds of your customers.
If we truly embrace this sentiment, then we need to think about how the brand affects how we show up for our customers. From digital touchpoints like your website and social media handles to sales touchpoints like emails and sales calls, to product touchpoints like packaging and point of sale, to consumption touchpoints like product performance and customer support, the experience you create for your customers during these interactions determines their perception of your brand.
With increasing competition, it is less likely you are able to differentiate based on the products or services you provide. Instead, it’s important to think about how your brand can differentiate via the customer experience that you provide. Every interaction between your company and your customers is an opportunity to set your brand apart.
In the digital era, brands that focus on providing top-notch customer experiences are the ones who will find the most success. By elevating the customer experience, you can align your marketing, sales, product and services around a holistic view of how your customers interact with your organization, allowing you to create touchpoints that both excite and engage.
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