What is a customer journey?

A customer journey, or user journey, is a series of steps that a customer performs to accomplish a goal. That goal might translate to a positive business outcome, such as a completed purchase, or it might be negative, such as cart abandonment or a cancelled subscription — but regardless of the “destination”, each step serves as a checkpoint that marks the customer’s progress and asks them to choose whether they’ll continue on that particular journey. 

Although customer journeys certainly play out in the brick-and-mortar world, too, the concept is most useful in a digital context, since digital interactions are easier to monitor. It would be a little odd to have someone following customers around a retail store and taking notes whenever they glanced at an item, picked it up, or placed it in their cart. With ecommerce customers, similar data on the product consideration process can be collected easily and non-invasively. 

What is customer journey analytics?

“Customer journey analytics” refers to the technology and methods that help us identify, track, understand, and influence customer journeys. By collecting and analyzing data on how customers move through various checkpoints, we can identify opportunities to shape their journeys, guiding them toward positive outcomes and helping them avoid or resolve the frustrating scenarios that lead to lost revenue. 

In the case of an ecommerce website, for example, customer journey analytics can help us answer questions like:

  • Where do customers tend to drop off in the checkout process?
  • How many products does the average customer consider before adding to their cart?
  • To which campaign landing pages should we attribute the most completed purchases?
  • Do dynamic interventions such as discount code pop-ups reduce cart abandonment?
  • Are customers more likely to purchase after viewing informational pages, such as the company blog or About page?
  • Are customers more likely to purchase after chatting with a customer service representative?

Increasingly, customer journey analytics is also used to understand how customers interact with companies and their products and services across different channels. A CMS Wire article quoted Jason Daigler, co-author of the 2016 Gartner Market Guide for Customer Journey Analytics, as saying that “there is a need greater than ever to understand a customer that is using one device in work, another device at home, going into a store at the weekend and engaging on social.”

Which customer journeys should you be tracking?

Creating a customer journey analytics strategy can be overwhelming. After all, every customer has a slightly different goal, and there are an almost infinite number of paths any customer could take to arrive at a given destination. How can you hone in on the data that has the most immediate relevance for your business?

As a general rule, experts like Daigler say it’s wise to start small. Pick just one or two paths to monitor, and make sure you’ve put the right tools and processes in place before scaling up. When deciding exactly where to start, consider your larger business goals. If you’re working to generate excitement around a new product line, for example, you could start by tracking interactions that originate from ads and landing pages for that particular product. If your focus is reducing cart abandonment, monitor the interactions that lead up to checkout.

The nitty-gritty: Getting started with customer journey analytics

Ready to invest in understanding your customers’ journeys? Awesome. Here are the initial steps you’ll need to take:

  1. Choose the journeys you want to analyze. See “Which customer journeys should you be tracking?”, above, for tips on deciding where to focus.
  1. Select your analytics tools. You’ll need a good technical solution in place for capturing, storing, and visualizing interaction data along your key journeys; G2 has a good list of the top providers in this space.
  1. Set up tracking. Usually, this will involve adding analytics tags to your website or app, which will send data back to your analytics tool when customers complete certain interactions.
  1. Analyze, iterate, and act. After a week or so, review the data you’ve collected with your team. Can you identify drop-off points, cart abandonment triggers, or other issues to address? Do you need more information to make decisions and start optimizing? Add more tracking as needed, or start planning your first initiatives based on your insights. 
  1. Monitor your tracking solution. As you scale up your customer journey analytics efforts, don’t just assume that data will keep flowing in without a hitch! Back up your tracking with a good data assurance platform to ensure that your analytics tags remain in place, correctly formatted, and firing consistently even as your website or app evolves.

Understanding the paths your customers take to discover, consider, purchase, and use your products and services is one of the best things you can do for your business. So, get out there and get tracking — the journey awaits!

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