Every customer’s decision journey is unique, especially in an omnichannel world.  Customer journey mapping allows marketers to understand the different stages customers go through before, during, and after purchase. It also examines how to influence customers at the various stages of their journey.

To help you understand the key steps to create effective customer journey mapping for your industry and product segments, we met up with SKIM Customer Journey Expert, Alex Zhu,

What is Customer Journey Mapping (CJM) and why does the client need to do it?

Alex Zhu, Senior Manager Decision Journey Mapping

“CJM is a holistic approach that covers not only the paths to purchase but also the stages beyond purchase such as experience, or even the steps before, such as before they even form an intention to make a purchase.

CJM is often confused with Path-to-Purchase, which is an older concept of CJM, and the difference is that in the past, the focus was on the customer’s purchase journey, only once they had entered the stage of purchasing. With CJM, we observe customers as they go through different touchpoints from when they are passively receiving information to the consideration stage, until a trigger brings them to the purchasing stage and beyond that, what their post-purchase engagement is with products.

This is important because touchpoints dominate the world we live in.  Customers are able to easily access any information right at their fingertips, and grasp whatever they need with just a touch of a device. There is an enormous amount of influence for consumers before they even formulate an intention to make a purchase.  From a holistic perspective, we need to look at the customer journey from both a user or consumer lens, and a shopper lens.”

What are some shifting trends you’ve seen in customer journeys?

“When we talk about the consumer lens and the shopper lens, the emphasis has mostly been on the shopper lens and not enough on the user or consumer lens. The consumer lens is where the pre and post purchase stages lie. You enter the shopper phase once you’re in a store and buying the products you’d like to buy.

The importance of the initial consideration set seems to be very important just because customers can easily find information sitting on their couch even if they are not thinking of buying something yet.  Before they formulate their purchase, there may be quite a long time for them to conduct this ongoing research like passively receiving information about a product that they want to purchase in the future.  However, because we are already thinking about it for a long time, a lot of decisions have already been made once they enter the shopping mode.

For example, in the case of purchasing a TV, you may be thinking about buying a TV, but you don’t have a timeline. Although your TV works, it isn’t good enough anymore. So you spend quite some time passively finding information on the latest TV and other logistics, but you’re not necessarily in the mindset to purchase a TV just yet. Yet, in that process, you’ve already made some decisions about your preference for TV models.  Then maybe someday, a trigger happens.

A trigger may be that you just bought the latest Xbox. You may want to enhance the experience of using the best Xbox by buying a new TV, and then at that point, when you go to purchase a TV, you have already had ongoing learning about TV’s so when you go into stores, you already have a consideration set of brands, models, etc.  That speaks to the importance of the consumer lens before they enter the shopper lens.

Maybe if you didn’t buy the Xbox, you might continue with that old TV for another 6-12 months, but once you have formed that awareness and those decisions already, the actual timeline of purchasing is considerably reduced.”

What are the different stages in a customer’s journey?

“There are many different stages, but generally, you begin with a latent stage, where customers are not actively looking for any information but in a passive receiving information mode. Once they form an intention to make a purchase, they have the consideration stage, and then they enter the purchase stage and once the purchase is concluded, they enter the experience stage.

It’s more of a circular fashion, compared to the older way where you look at the paths to purchase as a funnel version.

Stages in customer decision journey

This general stage model we just described is a high-level conceptual model. At SKIM, when we conduct customer journey research, we have different frameworks we use for various industries, and this stage model may not be applicable depending on the industry you are in.

Based on our research, we found out that the customer journey varies from industry to industry, category involvement, the decision makers, the stakeholders involved and the lengths of the journey.  Some are shorter, and some are longer and driven by the product and service that customers are actually shopping for.”

What are the key steps to conduct a successful customer journey mapping?

“Our holistic approach to active customer journey mapping takes three phases:

Phase 1: Who is your target?

This is a segmentation question and what it does is it helps clients prioritize their resources to focus on strategic consumer segments. Our clients can then prioritize their resources to deep dive on learning the segments and to design the  experience for those segments.

Phase 2: How to target?

Phase 2 is building upon the fundamental question “Who is your target?” By prioritizing the key segments, we can create a customer journey mapping for each of the strategic segments.

The focus of this phase is to answer the question “How to target?”. With journey mapping, you help the clients understand the key touch points, the experience and content needs at those strategic touch points, and the current gaps in a consumer’s journey. We help clients understand, not just who to target regarding segment needs, but also where and when and how.

Phase 3: How to drive actions?

Phase 1 and 2 lay the foundation regarding your strategy, but phase 3, goes beyond understanding and mapping your customer journey.  It goes into how you plan against it for your brand and retail activation, which means, you have to go beyond mapping and look at how you can drive actions.  It takes careful planning and collaborative mindset to navigate internal silos and achieve real impact.

The most important question for you to think about is choosing the right framework before you think about any methodology. At SKIM, we believe that framework precedes methodology. The reason is customer journeys varies significantly across industries, stakeholder involvement, length of the journey, category involvement – so having the right lens of journey framework helps to uncover insights. The different methodology is a tool to help you further identify those insights.

We have developed a range of different frameworks at SKIM that are applicable for various industries.  You can check out this article for further information.”

Are you still relying on outdated, pre-omnichannel customer journey assumptions?