In today’s omnichannel world, paths to purchase are complex and dynamic, easily disrupted by new options and inputs. Creating a great omnichannel customer experience to create value for customers and business is both a strategic and organizational challenge. The best way to begin is the fundamental process of mapping the customer decision journey.

Framework precedes methodology
Customer decision journeys vary significantly across industries, depending on stakeholder involvement, length of decision-making process, and category engagement. The appropriate journey framework can serve as a “lens” through which brands can discover new opportunities and insights. Methodologies range from internal workshops and primary research (both quantitative and qualitative) to passive metering and digital behavior data tracking. The most important task is selecting the appropriate framework for your specific industry and situation. Working with clients from various industries to conduct customer journey mapping and activate journey insights, SKIM has developed four basic frameworks that have been tested in guiding clients through this cross-functional strategic undertaking:

1.  The planned journey
The planned decision journey involves products and services purchased relatively infrequently, often because of relative expense. This journey is long compared with others, as customers invest time in research. Following the journey through the latent, evaluation, and buying stages can reveal new ideas for optimizing the customer experience. In the latent stage, the initial consideration set may consist predominantly of popular brands, but as consumers explore their options online and discuss choices with others, they may conclude in a later stage that a less familiar brand will better meet their needs.

The planned journey framework is most applicable when consumers deliberate about a choice over an extended period of time. The key to this framework is identifying the distinctive stages of the decision journey and making connections across those stages. The industries for which it is appropriate include consumer electronics, financial services, and vehicles.

Another relevant example is telecom. Although most people would not include it in the same category with durable goods, a smartphone and a data plan contract represents a significant expenditure for many. Telecom is an extremely competitive space characterized by substantial advertising spending.  The useful life of this advertising is brief, often measured in weeks.

One major American telecom company realized that, while its marketing and advertising team was focused on tactical executions and competitive responses, it lacked foundational knowledge of the process consumers use to choose wireless providers. To inform the company’s strategic direction, it commissioned a category consumer decision journey. The study found that, in the latent phase, brand consideration was primarily driven by network and value. As consumers moved into the buying phase, the dominant drivers were plan and data.

The stages model highlights the fact that different types of information become more and less relevant as the customer journey progresses, an evolutionary process that can have several vital implications for brands. First, in addition to overall performance, brands need to measure performance metrics at multiple stages of the journey. Second, as consumers move from one stage to another, brand messaging must change. Third, it’s important to align resources with the touchpoints that are most influential during the various stages.

2.  The (disrupted) habitual journey
In many FMCG categories, a staged model is not appropriate because most purchases are habitual and involve little rumination. The defining characteristic of this journey framework is the shopping trigger: Is this a routine reorder, or is the consumer choosing a different product? In general, a disrupted journey in which a consumer switches products represents more opportunities for brands because it involves active research and is no longer low involvement. On the other hand, consumers are subject to influence even during comparatively short and habitual decision journeys as they reconsider options. We call this “the double-check moment”; omnichannel shoppers display this pattern most clearly, as they can effortlessly draw on functionally unlimited information. 

The habitual journey framework is most relevant when consumers make frequent purchases with relatively low involvement. A routine is established, but it can easily be disrupted if the cost of change is low. This framework is applicable to industries such as CPG and OTC.

An example from the beauty product industry, is instructive. The brand sought foundational knowledge in the beauty and facial care category to support the e-commerce launch of a new product. A study found a clear omnichannel behavior pattern and disproportionately large digital influence within the habitual journey, although most purchases were still made in physical stores.

In the U.S., a majority of beauty product consumers who purchase in a physical store begin their journey with a digital touchpoint. Increasingly, consumers bypass search engines and go directly to Amazon and online specialists to explore the range of products available, read reviews, and compare prices, even for purchases they plan to make offline. The decisions behind many offline purchases are made before the store visit. Thus, the opportunities to influence consumers occur early in the journey. However, when consumers switch products, they are in more active mode of research and show a completely different pattern of touchpoints from the routine purchase.  Consumers engage less deal-seeking activities but focus more on content-rich touchpoints

The implications for brands are significant. The importance of search optimization is no longer limited to search engines and should be extended to Amazon and other online retailers. Brands should view Amazon and other top online retailers as showrooms, consumer research hubs, and curators of independent reviews, even if most purchases are made in stores. Brands should reassess their investment mix between at-shelf and key touchpoints prior to the store visit, especially in light of emerging methods such as click-and-collect becoming mainstream. It is important for brands to evaluate their strategies for auto shipping and subscription as it takes consumers away from “double check” in a routine journey. Finally, brands need to focus on the consumers’ content needs in a disrupted journey and re(design) a better experience across their touchpoints and together with retailers.  

3.  The ecosystem journey
The ecosystem framework features multiple stakeholders, including internal clients, distribution partners, and end users. Its “widescreen view” is most applicable to B2B. The key is incorporating every stakeholder’s involvement into the dominant decision-maker journey.  Many purchases in this environment may be automated via e-procurement systems and are reconsidered only after a disruptive event, such as a safety incident or a budget cut. Thus, the disrupted form of this journey is the subject of most active research, investigation, trial and implementation.  The key to this framework is understanding the timing of each stakeholder’s strongest influence and the content expectations that occur at strategic touchpoints.

An example will illustrate the importance of a complete picture of an ecosystem journey, particularly when disruption happens. A multinational B2B company decided to pursue a seamless omnichannel customer experience. In the process, they encountered a significant knowledge gap, resulting in cross-functional disagreements about where, when, and how contemporary customers make decisions. A global customer journey research study was undertaken, which found that a majority of customers engage in internal cross-functional investigations when a disruption occurs. At that point, decision-makers actively sought information online beyond typical engagement with distributors. End-use input at this stage was found to be much more important than had previously been believed.

It’s also important to note that B2B decision-makers are increasingly influenced by their experiences as consumers. Companies such as Amazon, Starbucks, Uber, and even Airbnb are raising the bar for consumer interactions, and decision-makers now expect other types of transactions to be comparable. To meet customers’ expectations, B2B service providers and manufacturers are now often asked to align commercial programs with strategic touchpoints while adopting best practices from the consumer sector.

4.  The patient-centric journey
Patients are increasingly confident and willing to take greater control of their own health. This phenomenon, in which empowered patients actively seek out information to make their own choices, has become known as patient consumerism. Despite its name, in the past the patient journey framework has been oriented more towards products than patients. In reality, it was a treatment journey. As the commercial pharma model becomes more patient-centric, a new framework centered around patient need-states, emotions, and behaviors is emerging. Building upon this foundation, pharma brands can overlay clinical and treatment approaches and identify gaps in patient experiences. This approach can help pharma brands realign brand messaging, digital assets, and patient support programs with patient needs at key moments during sub-journeys.

The key to applying this patient-centric framework is beginning at a different point, patient need-states, setting aside for the moment treatment events and even disease indications. Sometimes a co-morbidity from another disease reveals significant unmet patient needs which would not have been identified within a traditional journey framework. A patient-centric view can avoid inappropriate focus on a single disease, treatment, or product. By prioritizing sub-journeys and key moments, this framework goes beyond the conception of a patient journey as a large-scale research project conducted once in a commercial life cycle. Instead, it can be ongoing and intensely focused, with immediate commercial impact even post-launch.

The fourth example shows how a framework that is genuinely patient-centric can derive actionable results from research into patient journeys and experiences. A pharma brand commissioned a patient journey research study to support a new product launch in the neurological space. Given sample size limitations, traditional qualitative journey research was insufficiently focused. By starting with patient need-states, as opposed to treatment events, this research identified a new stage defined entirely by patients. The starting point of a traditional treatment-centric framework would have been the symptom stage. The newly identified stage had been ignored. To drive the actionability further, this research focused on key moments for each patient need-state, as opposed to a wide range of potential leverage points, bringing focus to a qualitative research journey.

Just the starting point
Choosing the appropriate journey framework is the critical first step in mapping the customer journey. The correct journey framework allows brands to uncover insights and better align sales and marketing to customer desires that change as the journey proceeds. However, as brands continue to evolve in the age of the customer, mapping is only the first step. Insight managers and marketers should adopt the mentality of designers, not only improving their own perceptions and understanding but also designing the experiences for customers and driving behavioral change with design thinking principles. Adjusting perspective to see the journey through the eyes of the customer can become the catalyst for breaking out of organizational silos and using digital transformation to create superior omnichannel customer experiences.