What are the Customer Journey Stages?

Hands reaching through computer monitors trading a credit card and purchase.

It takes a lot of hard work for companies to attract the right customers. With customer acquisition costs increasing significantly in the last few years, retaining your best clients is more important than ever.

But keeping your best customers is even more challenging. Yet, only 18% of businesses focus on retention even though over 60% say retention is their biggest challenge.

Strangely, many small businesses overlook a key tool in helping define a process to keep their best customers. That tool is the customer journey.

The customer journey encompasses the total experience a customer has when engaging with a company. It includes every customer’s engagement with the brand, along with all interactions between the consumer and the company across all communication channels.

This journey has six stages:

Stage 1: Brand Introduction
Stage 2: Product & Service Research
Stage 3: Comparison Shopping
Stage 4: Making the Purchase
Stage 5: Post-purchase Support
Stage 6: Retention

We will take a closer look at each stage.

Stage 1: Brand Introduction

Potential customers can meet your brand organically or through paid advertising.

In traditional retail, shoppers at the mall are enticed to enter a new store through window displays.

Consider the tea shop that has free samples next to a window full of visually appealing ceramic mugs and teapots. A woman, thirsty from her last hour of shopping, smells orange mint and decides to try it. Pleased by the taste, she decides she must have some and must have the pretty white mug with mint leaves and orange blossoms to enjoy with it.

She had never seen the tea shop before, but couldn’t resist checking it out when she walked by.

In contrast, the local butcher shop gains his next customer through the weekly blue “Values Inside” mailer. His coupons on ribs at 15% off runs just in time to catch the husband who just bought his newest grill. It’s the perfect time to buy a rack of meat for the Memorial Day barbeque. And the price is better than the meat counter at the chain grocery store.

In both examples used above, the new customer had never heard of the brand before. The retailer had to create a way to gain their customer’s attention.

Stage 2: Product & Service Research

Once the prospective customer becomes aware of the new brand, their next goal is to gain more information about the products.

A driver who received his first speeding ticket on the way to work will want to know how it can be “fixed.”

H may start by researching want it means to have the ticket fixed. He’ll look for what information a lawyer will need. The driver may also want to know if they’ll need to show up for a court date. Will he need to take any time off work at all? Another key question he may ask is how long the process will take.

A runner who is looking for new shoes may look at the distinct features of various brands. She may want to know what type of arch support it provides. The amount of cushioning may also be valuable knowledge. If she’s a trail runner, she may ask about the quality of traction the soles provide.

The business’ goal at this point is to make it easy for customers to find answers. FAQs pages and “how-to” blogs are common ways websites provide these answers.

Stage 3: Comparison Shopping

Once customers research enough to feel they have enough information, they’ll start comparison shopping. Unique selling points and brand differentiation are important in this stage. Brands need to explain why they have the most important answer their competitors don’t.

Consumers will evaluate brands based on the quality of the product, how quickly can they get the product and the purchase price. A company may have the best solution for one or two of these. But it’s not possible to compete with all three pricing strategies at once.

For example, an executive may be willing to high pay the price of a Tesla and wait for a custom order to get exactly what she wants at the highest quality.

Freelance sites like FIVRR and Upwork enable business owners to get work done quickly and inexpensively, but often at a lower quality. Even on these sites, higher quality usually means higher prices.

Whether you’re competing on price, quality or speed, it’s important you choose your strategy and be consistent with it.

Stage 4: Making the Purchase

Congratulations! You’ve gained the customer’s attention and they are ready to buy your service. It’s time to make the actual purchase process as simple as possible.

Online retailers see abandon cart rates average 69.8%. That statistic alone shows how critical is the need to make the sale easy on the customer.

For example, an online clothing shop with five pages as part of the checkout may lose sales to the site with only 3 pages in the checkout sequence. And consider sites like Amazon that offer a 1-click purchase option. Guaranteed, this 1-click process helps the retail giant make sales.

Fast-food restaurants like Panera Bread Company are installing self-checkout stations. Diners take their time looking at the menu, order what they want and pay without answering questions from the person behind the counter. As a bonus, this process is often faster than ordering from a person, too.

Stage 5: Post-purchase Support

The customer journey doesn’t end once the sale is complete. Their post-purchase experience can influence if they return an item, leave critical reviews or promote your product shamelessly.

Have you ever bought self-assembly furniture and then returned it because the box didn’t include instructions? I have! It’s essential to evaluate what your new customer needs immediately after the purchase to enjoy what you provided. So be sure to include directions even for simple shelving units.

Another way to consider this is to review software upgrade packages. Many times, such upgrades include a virtual tour of new functions. The guide is there to show users the new features, but also usually gives them an opt-out button. That way, the customer can decide how much support they need.

Stage 6: Retention

The final stage in the buyer’s journey is the retention stage. Existing customers are 50% more likely to purchase new products from you and spend an average of 31% more on new purchases. How much value would this bring to your business?
Loyal customers are also the best social proof and credibility that your services are the best. Individuals are more likely to trust a brand when it’s recommended by a close friend or family member.

That’s why most feedback surveys include the question: “How likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or family member?”

Facebook communities are a popular way to encourage this retention. Fitbit community members share support for each other. They also go to the group for advice when they’re ready to buy new devices.

Home trade businesses, such as landscaping companies, will send out seasonal reminders. They want to ensure your yard looks its best all year. So they reach out to offer reminders for the best timing on certain actions. The reminder is often coupled with a discount or priority schedule for current customers.

Focusing attention on how customers interact and work with your brand can improve brand reputation, loyalty and the company’s financial success.

If you’re wondering where to get started, download my free customer journey template and start mapping out your customer journey.

And check out our upcoming post, 7 Key Questions to Ask When Developing a Customer Journey.

If you found this valuable, please share it.

Leave a Comment