The key to retail success is understanding customer needs and keeping up with the latest trends. Purchasing behaviors are always shifting, so it’s important to have a good grasp on your customer journey at all times.
Over the past couple of years, however, the retail landscape has shifted dramatically, making customer journey management less straightforward. This has been led by two main factors: the rising cost of digital ads and changing consumer behaviors.
Digital advertising is getting expensive, so more digital native brands are entering the brick-and-mortar space to optimize costs. This move is also a signal that consumer behaviors are changing. According to Shopify, digital and physical shopping experiences used to be two separate entities. Today, “they’re blended together in such a way that retailers [and consumers] can no longer find the dividing line.”
Consumers have become reliant on services like BOPIS, curbside pickup, and virtual shopping that became popular during the pandemic. As a result, the customer journey has become more complicated and diversified. A decade ago you may have had 2 distinct customer journeys: one for eCommerce and one for brick-and-mortar. Today, the number of customer journeys you have has likely significantly grown given all of the unique paths to purchase shoppers now expect.
Technology has conditioned consumers to expect convenience, personalization, and expedience at every touch point. To deliver on this expectation and drive loyalty, you need to have a clear sense of your omnichannel customer journey.
In this article, we’ll explore customer journey management and show you how you can integrate tech to create a unified customer experience across channels. We’ll cover:
- What is a customer journey?
- What is customer journey management?
- What is a customer journey map?
- How to create a successful customer journey
What is a customer journey?
A customer journey is the complete set of steps a consumer takes from first becoming aware of your brand through their entire lifecycle.
The customer journey typically has 5 main steps:
- Awareness: A new customer first becomes aware of your brand
- Consideration: A customer researches your brand and products
- Purchase: You make the sale
- Retention: A customer receives their product and you provide support during the post-purchase process. A customer also comes back to purchase additional products during this phase.
- Advocacy: A customer shares their experience with your brand or product via word of mouth or an online review.
Customer journeys 5-10 years ago were typically segmented by channel. That is, there was one distinct journey for e-commerce, another for physical retail, another for social commerce, etc. Understanding the intricacies of each one of those customer journeys was essential to ensure that the right strategies were being employed at each stage to drive sales and LTV.
Today, the landscape is more complex. Because the digital world has been so deeply integrated into our daily lives, most customer journeys these days are much more fluid. A customer may start their journey online and then engage with touch points across every channel (e.g., in-store, social, email, etc.).
Here’s an example of a common omnichannel customer journey that exists today:
- Awareness: A consumer first learns about your brand by seeing an OOH campaign.
- Consideration: A consumer researches your product online by visiting your website. The customer may also visit your physical store to see products in person.
- Purchase: The consumer becomes a customer by buying a product on your website and selects in-store pickup to save on shipping costs. They visit your store to pick up their purchase.
- Retention: A customer wants accessories for their purchase but doesn’t know what’s right. They schedule a virtual shopping appointment to have a video chat with one of your store associates. You later serve this customer a shoppable TV ad, and the customer completes the purchase via QR code.
- Advocacy: Pleased with their purchases and the seamless omnichannel customer experience you provided, the customer leaves a glowing review on Google.
As you can see, the customer journey for the modern consumer is not necessarily linear. It involves hopping back and forth between channels – both online and physical.
When it flows smoothly, an omnichannel customer journey gives your customers everything they want from a shopping experience today: convenience, expedience, and personalization.
However, because customer journeys today involve so many diverse touch points, paying close attention to how to make each step as seamless as possible is critical. Today’s retail landscape gives consumers a ton of agency. One bad experience with your brand can instantly send them to a competitor.
Staying on top of your customer journey management is the first step to ensuring you deliver a standout customer experience – which in turn drives sales and retention.
Get the guide: The Curbside Pickup Operations Handbook
What is customer journey management?
Customer journey management is the process of analyzing every step of your customer journey to understand what’s needed to move a customer forward. This process involves merging audience research, operational data, and customer analytics to get a holistic understanding of how you acquire, convert, and retain customers.
You can have limitless customer journeys – it all depends on how you want to structure your customer journey management. You can build and analyze customer journeys in a number of ways, including by:
- product line
- geographical location
The process of customer journey management starts by identifying how exactly you want to structure your customer journeys. Then, you can analyze, measure, and optimize your journeys accordingly.
What is a customer journey map?
A customer journey map helps you visualize the customer journey from start to finish. It tells the story of a customer’s experience with your brand across every touch point.
As mentioned in the previous section, your brand likely has more than one customer journey depending on how you structure your customer journey management. Customer journey mapping – charting out each step – will help you get organized and identify every touch point across your entire omnichannel strategy.
Before you can begin to identify ways to improve your customer experience, you need to have a solid understanding of the experiences you’re delivering today. Customer journey maps allow you to focus on each distinct step to surface friction points. Then, you can start to prioritize optimizations and identify solutions to improve each individual customer journey and your overall customer journey management.
How to create a successful customer journey
Even though today’s retail landscape is a mix of online and offline channels, the fact that tech has so heavily dominated our lives for the past decade has had a profound impact on human behavior. The digital world has taught us to expect personalization, convenience, and instant gratification. As a result, the modern consumer doesn’t like to wait and expects high-touch retail experiences.
Importantly, too, this is consistent across all consumer cohorts. Whereas older consumers may have been more averse to engaging with digital touch points a few years ago, the majority is now digital-first because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To deliver standout experiences that will wow customers and create brand loyalists, you need to ensure that your customer journey delivers on these new consumer expectations across every channel. And more than ever before, you need to ensure that your cross-channel experience is a consistent one because customers are jumping between online and offline channels more than ever before.
A customer flow management system like Waitwhile allows you to create the perfect flows that fit any customer journey. You can give your shoppers the personalized, convenient, and expedient experiences they crave by integrating automated virtual waitlists, appointments, and seamless messaging into every step of the customer journey. Plus, you generate first-party data that you can then use to improve your customer journey management.
Here’s how you can use a customer flow management platform at every step of the customer journey.
During the awareness and consideration phases, consumers will be researching your brand and products – and searching for answers to questions they may have. With a customer flow management system, you can make it super easy for customers to connect 1-1 with your staff.
You may consider adding a chat function to your website so shoppers can ask questions as they happen. To manage demand, you can use a virtual waitlist. Waitwhile will deliver accurate, intelligent wait time estimates so customers will know what to expect. You can also create virtual waiting rooms for on-demand video consultations or virtual shopping experiences.
Consumers like virtual queues. A recent Waitwhile survey showed that 70% of consumers prefer virtual queues over physical ones. That’s because waiting in a virtual queue doesn’t feel like waiting at all. Consumers are free to do what they want while they wait, knowing their spot in the queue is safe and that they’ll get alerted when it’s their turn. Previously unoccupied time (standing in line) is turned into occupied time (the consumer can do anything they want), making the wait feel significantly shorter.
Related: What are virtual queues?
Alternatively, you can offer appointment booking for more in-depth consultations. Customers can book a time directly from your website for either an online or in-store experience.
The main goal in the awareness and consideration phase is to make it as easy as possible for consumers to get answers, connect with your brand, and ultimately to make a purchase. Virtual queues and appointment scheduling deliver on the flexibility, convenience, and expedience today’s shoppers want.
During the purchase phase in a customer journey, having a wait or needing customers to queue for a service is oftentimes unavoidable. This is a particular challenge in brick-and-mortar retail, where staff resources may be limited. You may find queues forming for services like checkout, support, fitting rooms, or even to gain entry into your store if you’re at capacity.
Customer flow management software like Waitwhile has robust queue management capabilities to make the queueing process actually enjoyable (yes, you read that right) for customers while freeing up staff time. With virtual waitlists, you can let your customers wait from anywhere and do anything while they wait.
Here’s how it works:
- A customer can join a virtual queue in a number of ways: by texting, adding themselves to a list online, using a QR code, or at a self check-in kiosk. Alternatively, your staff can add a customer to the virtual waitlist directly.
- Queue management systems like Waitwhile will deliver an accurate, AI-powered wait time so the customer will know exactly how long it’ll take. They can use this time to do anything they’d like, such as to run an errand, continue shopping in your store, or even to delay their arrival if they haven’t left home yet.
- While in the virtual queue, customers can be prompted to complete steps in the customer journey that will speed up the service process. You can have them fill out forms, pre-pay, or review important information.
- Built-in 2-way messaging keeps customers in the loop with regular, automatic, and customizable updates. If they have a question or want to update you on their status (e.g., maybe they’re running late), they can simply text you directly. Waitwhile will automatically reconfigure the virtual queue accordingly, keeping the operational flow moving and maximizing customer volume.
- Once it’s their turn, customers will automatically get a notification so you don’t have to worry about any queue management issues.
With all aspects of queue management automated, staff get to devote more time to 1-1 customer attention, creating an experience for customers that feels personal.
Waiting in line has been called a “timeless form of torture.” A Waitwhile survey confirmed this observation: nearly 75% of consumers associated waiting with feelings of apathy, boredom, annoyance, or frustration.
When you use virtual queues or appointment scheduling in your customer flow, you avoid mustering up this negativity for your customers. As a result, when it comes to actually making the purchase or completing a service, your customers are far more likely to have a positive experience – because they are not carrying any leftover frustration or stress from a poor waiting experience. The result: happier customers and staff.
A customer flow management platform like Waitwhile also allows you to keep track of important details. It’ll automatically log and analyze quantitative data such as the number of customers processed, wait time, service time, etc. Additionally, your staff can take notes about a specific interaction or log things like customer preferences.
This allows you to further personalize all consumer touch points and surface actionable data to improve your customer journey management.
Once the transaction is complete and your customer is ready to depart, your staff can simply mark the customer as “complete” in your customer flow management system and it’ll automatically summon the next person in line.
At the same time, you can pre-program personalized messages to deploy automatically at set times. This is a great way to extend an excellent customer experience past when the shopper leaves the store. Thank them for coming in, request feedback, ask for a response to an NPS survey (to measure customer satisfaction), or deliver promos to encourage return visits and drive loyalty.
Related: How to Use Personalized Email & SMS
As mentioned above, your customer flow management system will automatically log important data about every visit (e.g., total visit time, wait time, etc.) and feed it to an analytics dashboard.
Managing the customer journey with data
The best customer flow management software will have a robust feature set focused on operational and customer analytics. You should easily be able to see a diverse set of data such as:
- when business is busiest
- which employees and services are most in-demand
- employee productivity metrics
- average wait time
- average service time
- customer-level metrics
Platforms like Waitwhile are enterprise-grade, so you get granular data across any number of locations.
These data points will be crucial when it comes to customer journey management. You’ll be able to surface actionable insights on how you can improve your business operations and optimize your customer flow.
It’s essential to merge this quantitative data with qualitative customer feedback and consistently use the findings to institute alterations or improvements to the various touch points in your customer journey maps. This data-led process will make your business run more efficiently, improve customer satisfaction, and drive LTV.
See also: How to Measure Customer Satisfaction
Customer journey management solutions
The buying path of the modern consumer is no longer linear or channel-specific. Instead, shoppers today are moving between online and offline channels to discover new brands, research products, and complete purchases. Throughout the journey, they’re seeking personalization and relevance – and they want it fast.
Today’s diverse retail landscape requires a digital-first solution that will deliver on customer expectations for convenience and speed. A customer journey management platform like Waitwhile will enable you to create the perfect customer flow to automate essential processes, drive sales, and increase customer satisfaction.