What is the ‘Customer Journey’?

26 Nov 2020

Customer journeys have been a core strategy of CRM driven marketing for quite a while although there is not a firm consensus on what a journey consists of, let alone how to optimise them. Let’s first look at defining the customer journeys, not only in terms of what it is but also in what it aims to achieve.

Journeys are a sequence of steps that a marketer implements to create an experience that ultimately results in a valuable interaction between the brand and the customer.

We will first look at where those fit in the overall CRM strategy, continue with why they are so important and finally explore the associated complexity and challenges.

Where does the customer journey fit in to your overall marketing strategy?

There are two big categories in the overall CRM remit of most marketing practices.

The first category aims at generating interactions between client and brand, for most it is driving traffic to the website or towards a point of conversion like a physical point of sale. Those are outbound strategies like a mailing out to the base to promote a new product.

The second category aims at improving the customer interaction to increase the valuable outcome. For example, personalising the website to increase conversion. Those are inbound strategies where there is already a strong intent.

The customer journey typically fits in the first category of outbound interactions but can also derive from an interaction. The reason for this is that interactions are valuable but brief. Extending over time the customer experience linked to that interaction is a great way to strengthen the customer relationship and a unique opportunity to generate or prime another interaction.

Customer Journeys in Practice: The “welcome Journey” example

Let’s look at a “Welcome journey” as a practical example. At the start of a relationship between an individual and a brand, there will be an initial interaction, the individual will make a first purchase, maybe simply register on the website or even download an app.

The brand will be looking at strengthening the relationship by taking the new recruit on a journey which purpose is to generate a second interaction like a purchase.

Here are sample steps of a welcome journey in the context of a groceries delivery service:

    (+1 day) Did you know you can automate your weekly shop?

    (+ 3 days) Free delivery on your second order

    (+ 1 week) Did you know we sell products of category X, here is a free selection just for you.

    (+10 days) Register for our premium service and never pay for deliveries.


This journey is both informative and contains offers, it has several call-to-actions and the clear goal of securing the client in the long term by initiating a second transaction and a subscription to a service.

 Many journeys are implemented around an interaction but also allow for communication with a customer over a much longer timespan. Other examples are “Post purchase” or “Pre-experience” journeys. In the context of the wider Outbound marketing category, such journeys have the advantage of being contextualised and part of an overall experience.

The second option is to have a Product-driven promotional agenda which can feel challenging to implement but has other benefits such as the ability to scale and a lot more flexibility of audience, timing, and content. A separate topic well-worth exploring.

Why is outbound marketing so important?

Stepping back from Journeys, you might be wondering why outbound marketing is so important? In truth, the inbound strategies that aim to increase the conversion rate of customers with intent (i.e. individuals that are already at the consideration or evaluation stage) is closer to selling than to marketing in its original meaning.

There is no disputing that inbound strategies are effective, but from a CRM perspective, they can only reach customers already engaged in a buying process. For most brands, this represents between 1 and 3% of their overall audience!

When a CMO looks at feeding the top of the funnel (getting inbound traffic), they have 3 options:

    Wait for people to return (the 1 to 3% of the base)

    Pay for advertising (Social, SEO, etc…) which is expensive, and some would argue unsustainable in the long term.

    Leverage the first party data already acquired and create an experience that will lead to an interaction with the brand. (a whopping 97% of the database)

Outbound marketing has a lot of potential and can be extremely cost effective. Additionally, it is completely under the brand’s control. It uses first party data and addresses known individuals. Again, if the objective is to grow the reach, paid advertising has an important part to play but it should not become the default way to fill the top of the funnel.

On top of promoting new interactions, customer journeys serve complementary objectives.

These less easily measurable objectives are ultimately the key to retention and return rates. For example:

    Improving the CX

    Creating trust

    Providing value

    Increasing the Brand affinity

    Building loyalty

    Becoming or staying top of mind

The value is undeniable, but doing it well can be somewhat complex.

Complexities with the Customer Journey

Everyone can picture the few theoretical steps of a welcome journey, but the reality is not so easy because customer journeys are Non-linear.

Variants: When a customer journey is first designed, it is simple and linear like the “welcome” example previously described. Yet, further thoughts or testing quickly highlight the need to account for customers’ interactions. If they have already completed their second shop, you might want to skip the message incentivising that second shop. If they are having a bad experience and are being managed by the customer support team, it might not be the best time to suggest subscribing to the service. Etc.

Timing: Because the journeys are often happening around a customer-initiated interaction, their timing cannot be predicted. Individual customers can start the journey at any time which therefore means that at any given time there are people at all stages of the journey.

Conflicts: As the timing is uncertain, messages might conflict with other activities or strategies. There could be product driven campaigns, triggers or even other journeys overlapping. On top of excessive marketing pressure, there is a risk of a disjointed or confusing customer experience.

Channels: Another challenge is to account for channels, whether of the messages themselves but also of the interactions. There can be an availability issue (for example is the email address physically available and opted-in) combined with a customer preference (the customer has expressed a preference for push). Should the journey adapt to the channel constraint?

Technical implementation: In practice the above means that what is a simple concept is not easy to implement. A solution like Adobe Campaign was originally developed to address that complexity with visual Workflows. Yet for most marketers, the data management skills required are still a blocker when it comes to complex or advanced journeys.

Optimisation: Finally, optimising the customer journey is a complex endeavour because there are so many variables that can be adjusted such as the channel, the timing between steps, the time of day of a message, the subject line of an email, the content of a message, the creative, etc…

What Next?

Knowing how to best utilise the customer journey can be challenging. If you are looking into how to leverage the customer journey, our recommended first step is to clarify the place and purpose of the journey within the overall marketing strategy. Once this is in place, attention can then be given to technically implementing the solution and optimising the results – a process that can be streamlined with the help and support of an expert.

If you’d like strategic advice or technical assistance with your customer journeys, please get in touch and see how we can help you. 

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