What are user journeys?

User journeys, also known as use cases, are the experience each user has of your brand, from first exposure through to purchasing and beyond.

Some important things to remember:

  • First impressions count. Every user has a first experience of your brand, and how you make the most of this touchpoint can make the difference between someone with a passing interest and a loyal customer.
  • Not all users are customers or clients. ‘User’ includes anyone who interacts with your company – this includes delivery drivers, installers, cleaning and maintenance staff, external agencies, contractors, resellers… the list goes on.
  • A user journey does not end when a customer purchases a product from you. If you wish to earn the loyalty of a customer, you need to stay with them after they’ve bought something from you. Provide great aftersales support. Follow up with marketing to encourage future purchases. Create a community for them to feel part of. Give them an experience they’ll remember (for the right reasons).

The stages of a journey

For the purposes of keeping this example simple, we’re following the journey of a customer interested in buying a guitar from a company who makes guitars and sells them through physical shops on the highstreet. Online sales generate a much longer journey, which you can see in our example customer journey template (free download).

In this example, there are four stages to this user’s journey:

  • First exposure.
  • Research.
  • Purchasing.
  • Post purchase.

For each stage, we analyse what the user is thinking, doing and feeling, and where we can make the most effective impact on them through the available touchpoints.

Our aim is to anticipate what a user’s experience of us is throughout the whole process, and how that makes them feel. If they’re feeling positive, we want to capitalise on that. If they’re feeling negative, we want to think of ways we could improve our service to turn that frown upside-down. At each stage, there are touchpoints – which are points of contact we have with the user. It’s through these that we can affect their experience of our brand and, ultimately, their happiness and loyalty.

Let’s look at each of these stages.


First exposure

This is the first time the user is exposed to your brand. This could be on a poster, in a TV or magazine advert, in a shop, at an exhibition, on the side of a vehicle, on clothing, on social media, via a search engine or price comparison site, or via word of mouth. There are countless ways you can make that first connection with a customer.

In our example, we imagine our customer is at a live gig, watching a music video or passing a music shop. They’ve spotted our guitar, either being played by someone in a band or in the window of the shop, and they like the look of it.

At this stage, we believe our user is thinking something like: ‘Would I be able to play that guitar? Who else plays that guitar? How much does that guitar cost?’

What can we do as a guitar company to encourage this user to continue their journey with us? In other words, what touchpoints are available to us at this stage? How can we capitalise on their interest?

At a live gig, for example, we can make sure there was plenty of advertisement around to catch their eye. If the band has an endorsement with us, we could put up scrims by the side of the stage. We could pay to have adverts shown on the big screens between bands. We could give out leaflets, t-shirts or freebies, such as silicone wristbands and stickers. Freebies that are cheap for us to make are a great way to give customers instant value, as well as helping them to remember us when they go looking for their next guitar.

How is the customer feeling at this point? We think they’ll be excited, happy, inspired. They’ll probably be having aspirational thoughts. They may even imagine themselves playing our guitar in their own band. We can tailor the marketing we deliver at this stage to correlate with these feelings.


Guitarist with face obscured by starburst

Research

Having developed an interest in our guitar, the user will likely next want to do some research rather than make an impulse purchase.

At this stage, they’ll be thinking: ‘Is this the right guitar for me? What features does it have? Where can I buy? What do other people think of this guitar?’

To conduct their research they’ll either go online (most likely) or do it IRL (less likely). Online, they’ll be looking at our website, visiting comparison sites, reading reviews, talking to people in forums, watching YouTube videos, engaging with social media, and so on. This list basically goes on forever. In real life, they might go into a store to speak to the staff there or they might talk to someone who already has that guitar.

At these touchpoints, we want to reassure the customer that they’re making the right choice. This is the best guitar for them and it’s a great investment they’ll never regret. In fact, they can’t live without this guitar.

We have full control over the marketing we put out there, but we can’t control what other people say about our products, other than by making the very best product that we can (which should always be our goal). Assuming that our guitars are great and everyone says so, the customer will continue to feel positive and excited during this stage. They might start buying more into that aspirational image they had when they first saw the guitar.


Purchasing

Our customer is fully onboard and have decided to buy our guitar. Great – but the journey doesn’t end there.

At this stage, they’ll be thinking: ‘What are my options? Does it come in other colours? Are there accessories I need? Can I get everything together in a bundle? How can I save money? Will I need credit?’ and so on.

There may be some apprehension creeping in here, some doubts and second thoughts. We want to reassure the customer at every step of the purchasing process that they’re making a sound investment.

As mentioned previously, our guitars are really exclusive so can only be bought in a physical store, so our main touchpoint at this stage is the sales staff working there. These people are likely not employed directly by us, but by the shop itself. As such, we should think of them as users too, who have their own journey and experience of our brand. If we give them the right tools, they can speak on our behalf to help the customer through this purchase stage.

We can give them training on how to set up our guitars and what amps work best with them. We can give them knowledge of our packages and deals. We can encourage them to buy into our brand and be an ambassador for us.

At this stage, the customer will also be subjected to our packaging, so it’s important to think about that. Does it look neat and professional, or is it held together with parcel tape? Is it environmentally friendly? Does it recycle? Is it easy to carry and open? Does it protect the guitar properly?

Thoughtful packaging can make all the difference between an average product experience and a great one – just think of the joy invoked by opening an iPhone box.


Post purchase

In many ways, this is the trickiest phase. We’ve made a sale, which is great, but keeping the customer is more important. However, they’ve gone beyond our marketing now, and into the aftersales phase.

Buyer’s remorse might be creeping in, making the customer think: ‘Have I made the right choice? Does this guitar meet my expectations? Does it work? Can I use it?’

Their mood and experience depends largely on the quality of our product. If it’s as great as we’ve said it is, then they will be happy and fulfilled by their purchase. They might want to leave a positive review, so it’s important that we make it easy for them to do so. Thoughtful extras, like money off their next purchase, will encourage further loyalty.

If they’re struggling to use or play our guitar, we want to make sure all the proper manuals and guides are included in the box, and also available online. Hopefully, with these in hand, the customer will be happy.

However, if our guitar is genuinely not very good or doesn’t work, the customer will be feeling disappointed, upset and let down. We want to resolve this as quickly and easily as possible, so we make our aftersales support available online and over the phone, with a local call centre and short waiting times. If things can’t be resolved, having a simple, affordable and transparent returns policy is vital. If they leave a negative review, we’ll make sure to respond to show that we take their feedback on board. If lots of people say the same thing, we can use that feedback to improve our product and service.


To sum up

In order to understand your user journeys, you have to imagine yourself in their shoes. Empathise with them at each stage of their journey so that you can anticipate their feelings and tailor your marketing and support to correlate. Making the journey as easy and stress-free as it can be is a great way to ensure customers, clients and other users keep coming back.


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