Or in marketing speak

A simple guide to understanding the customer journey

Do you know what steps your customers go through when they purchase from you and why do you need to know anyway?

customer journey

I’m going to try to keep this simple. It’s not that I think you, the reader, is stupid, it’s just there is so much marketing hype and terminology around sometimes you need to cut through it all to get a clear understanding.

So here goes.

A definition – what is the customer journey?

The customer journey is all the places (touchpoints) your customers come into contact with your company online or off throughout your sales process. The customer journey doesn’t start with a purchase, it begins when they have a need or are stimulated by something.

The classic stages of the customer journey are:

  • Awareness
  • Discover – consideration
  • Conversion – purchase
  • Use of product of service.
  • Loyalty – Bonding with product.
  • Advocacy – recommending to others

For example prior to purchase they might see an advert, your facebook page or a PR piece. During purchase they might go on your website or come into your shop. Post purchase they might call you for aftersales advice or write a review about you online.

These are all touchpoints in the customer journey.

Why do you need to understand your customer journey

Primarily because if you know how and when your customers interact with you, you can seek to improve your customer experience at every stage of that interaction with the ultimate aim of increasing your sales and profits.

How the digital age has shaken up the customer journey.

The customer journey was traditionally view as a funnel – a linear process with progressively fewer customers moving along each stage of the funnel.

traditional customer journey funnel

But digital has reshaped the traditional model. Customer are able to use many sources, devices and mediums at any given time, giving them more options and choices. The result? We now interact with brands in such a different way and are influenced throughout the customer journey from many factors so the relationship is far from linear. Customers are enabled to have a unique path each time, making it harder to predict.

Introducing the dynamic customer journey (as defined by Brian Solis of Altimeter in 2012).

dynamic customer journey solis

You see the same key stages of the journey from awareness through to advocacy but throughout the process the customer can be influenced in many ways. And now there is no natural end point – one person’s advocacy eg leaving a comment on facebook, can be another person awareness.

Some newer definitions around customer touchpoints

You can chose to ignore this bit if you’re happy with your understanding and ready to apply it but I’m throwing in this as an extra for those who want to understand the jargon if they come across this terminology.

The dynamic customer journey has been adapted and different stages added or renamed. Google has coined some touchpoints or what is calls Moments of Truth in the customer journey using newer definitions. Here’s a more recent way to view the dynamic customer journey.

moments of truth

The newer definitions of customer touchpoints above are:

  • Stimulus – What prompts a consumer to consider a purchase – a need or reaction to something they’ve seen or experienced.
  • First moment of Truth (FMOT): Procter & Gamble coined the term around 2005– the 3-7 seconds after a consumer sees a product on a shelf, during which they decide whether or not they will buy it.
  • Second moment (SMOT): The consumer’s experience (positive or negative) in using the product after purchase.
  • Zero moment (ZMOT): Jump forward to 2012 and Google suggested a Zero moment to precede the first moment. This zero moment describes the process of problem recognition, search and discovery for a solution which the consumer undertakes. It’s important to note that the information accessed during this stage is largely in the control of the consumer – it will typically involve a combination of online searches and querying a network of friends & colleagues for ideas and suggestions.
  • Ultimate moment: “that moment where people who convert an experience into discoverable content” (again from Brian Solis). This could be a product review, blog post, video – any shareable content which affects the perception of your product.

Enough theory.

What should you do to understand your own customers and how can you apply your findings to your digital marketing activities?

A good starting point in understanding the journey your customers take is to map their journey in a simple table with the key stages / moments of truth listed across the top and the different ways they can interact with you on the left hand side.

Key stages of customer journey / Examples of interaction Awareness Stimulus Discover Zero moment of Truth Purchase First moment of truth Experience
Second Moment of Truth
Bond / advocate Ultimate moment of truth
Call centre
Social media platform
Word of mouth
Offline Advert

Here’s an example of a customer journey for an existing mobile phone customer

example customer journey

Why not have a go at doing it for your own customers. Here are some key things to remember

  • Complete the exercise from your customer’s view point, not how you expect them to use your process/system.
  • If you can use actual customer feedback to determine the path taken –ask if you’re not sure.
  • Identify your main customer personas and carry out this exercise for the key ones – you cannot map every customer’s path individually but neither does one path fit all. The above example was for an existing mobile phone customer, it would be different for a brand new customer.
  • Keep it simple, the idea is to provide context and understanding to help identify areas for improvement or influence in the customer’s journey.

So now you’ve considered the customer journey for some of your key customer personas. What next?

Now you can start to work out how you can improve the customer experience at each stage and what mediums you can influence or control with the aim of increasing sales and retention.

In particular you can analyse the journey to

  • Understand core customer journey paths. Where might there be gaps in your marketing activity? What areas should you develop? For example if you recognise that your customers go online to check out reviews or compare before they purchase with you, are you making a noise in that space. Do you have good reviews online? Do you have a good website or blog where they can find out more about you?
  • Identify the key steps and decision points your customers take to ensure the correct information is available and accessible to all customer types. This can be used to minimise any potential negative customer experiences as well as influence good experience.
  • Improve customer retention, through understanding how they move though each stage in their purchase lifecycle. Are the relevant communications or influences in place to help them make their decisions to move forward with the purchase or to advocate your product at the latter stages.
  • Identification of communication gaps, where no or conflicting messages are being received. For example, use of social media to respond to customer feedback whether positive or negative.


I hope I haven’t bamboozled you with marketing jargon. Hopefully this gives you an insight into understanding how your customer thinks and what you can do at each stage of the buying process to influence their behaviour – either directly or indirectly.

And if some smart Alec starts going on about ZMOT or FMOT and dynamic customer journeys, you might just have an inkling of what they are talking about. Or you can choose to completely ignore them and just get on with the task of improving your sales.

Got a question or comment.  What have you learnt from understanding your customer journey?  Get in touch.

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