The Trick to Great UX: Understanding Your True Customer Journey



A vital part of creating a great user experience (UX) is thinking about what we call the “customer journey.” The customer journey is exactly what it sounds like: the journey your customer makes. For instance, if your product is a toothbrush, you would typically look at the customer journey as buying and using the toothbrush. You then design the experience to match up perfectly with that journey, solving each problem along the way, and the end result feels like magic!

The First Common Mistake Between Good and Great UX

There is a deceivingly simple mistake that most people make during an exercise like this. Most people do not recognize the true beginning or end of the customer journey. Most people only look at the middle.

Take our toothbrush example, for instance. You may imagine that the beginning of this customer journey is being at a store like CVS or Walgreens, walking down the aisle, comparing toothbrushes, and eventually making a purchasing decision — sounds reasonable. But the best UX designers, marketers, and strategists know that the journey starts way before they’re walking down that aisle…

The Real Beginning

The most elusive moment in the customer journey is the very beginning of the process, the impetus for the whole journey. I call this the moment of inception. The moment of inception is typically brought about by some external event. Sticking with our toothbrush, that moment is most likely reaching for your toothbrush in the morning or evening, seeing that it looks all worn out, and realizing, “I should really get a new toothbrush.”

That is the moment.

From there, it’s unlikely that you would run out to the store that moment. You just got in your PJs and are brushing your teeth before bed! The seed has been planted, but the chances of you acting on it at that exact time are slim to none. Even the next morning, you are rushing to work, or even more likely you forget about it altogether for the time being.

There are potential alternate moments of inception of course. Let’s say you accidentally drop your toothbrush in the toilet. You need a new toothbrush, just like the first example. It’s the same need, but there is much more urgency in this case. It’s identifying these moments of inception properly that can set you on the right or wrong path when mapping out the customer journey.

The Real End

The other commonly missed moment in the timeline is the very last one, when the journey is considered complete. The most common mistake is misidentifying the point of purchase as the end of the journey. That might be the end from a business perspective, but for your customer, that is just the beginning! Now they are going to actually go and use your product or service, which is the real meat and potatoes of their experience.

Properly identifying the end of the customer journey depends a lot on what sort of product or service you are working with. Is it consumable, meaning there is a finite amount that runs out? (Think: bar of soap.) Or is it a recurring service like getting home internet, that keeps going as long as you keep paying? Or is it somewhere in between?

Understanding the end of the journey is your best shot of building brand loyalty. What is the taste you want to leave in your customer’s mouth? What is the parting thought? It had better be a good one! If you don’t track your customer all the way to the bitter end, you are leaving that last moment to chance. And often, the end means your product stopped working or ran out, leaving a negative impression right when it matters the most.

Understanding the Customer Journey Cycle

The ultimate mastery of constructing an incredible customer journey comes down the final and trickiest part of the process: tying the real end and the real beginning together to create a virtuous cycle. There is almost always naturally occurring overlap, and so the tail end of the previous journey is the perfect place to start the new one.

With the toothbrush, this is quite apparent. I’m still using my old toothbrush as I ponder getting a new one. What could a toothbrush manufacturer do to take advantage of that overlap? In the future, imagine there being a WiFi-enabled toothbrush holder that automatically ordered a new toothbrush when it sensed the bristles getting worn thin. That sort of thinking preemptively anticipates the moment of inception, solving my problem before I even realize I have it. That is the sort of “magical” UX you should be striving for.

Imagine applying these same concepts to your own business.

  1. Where does the customer journey really start?
  2. Where does it end?
  3. Where does it overlap?

Answer these three questions, and you’ll be well on your way to crafting an unforgettable user experience.

Interested in learning more about customer decision journeys in the digital age? Download our white paper The Consumer Decision Journey in the Digital Age and learn more about how to engage today’s modern, digital customer.

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