A Different Model of the Customer Experience Journey, and What it Means for Marketers
It is not your customer’s job to buy from you. It is your job to find out what would make for an exceptional experience from their point of view, and invite them into it. – David Nour
At the very least, Nour’s model shows marketers that we oversimplify things when we consider linear buying processes; but more than that, it highlights that a singular focus on adding new customers risks undermining both our business’ sustainability and, almost paradoxically, the efficiency with which we’re able to add new customers.
To Infinity, and Beyond!
In Nour’s model, the Customer Experience Journey has six stages (quoting from Co-Create, p118-119):
- Evaluation: We engage in an ongoing process of evaluating the experiences of our lives. The journey begins when, motivated by a perceived want or desire, a potential customer starts to seek relevant potion that might satisfy it.
- Discovery: Increasingly aware of that perceived pain, gain, or series of tasks to be performed, the individual beings a discover process. What options exist that might fill the need?
- Consideration: Using criteria to evaluate what will meet or exceed the requirements of the solution, the individual deems some of those options better than others, and they become part of the consideration set. The complexity of this stage varies depending on the degree of involvement the buyer feels in the process. Some buying decisions require deep involvement because of their impact on the purchaser’s future experiences, or what the purchase will say about the purchaser. Others are relatively insignificant. This is the difference between choosing a college and choosing a café.
- Evaluation: The customer journey leads back to evaluation, this central position where the loops of the figure eight meet, but now with a set of acceptable alternatives to consider and criteria to evaluate them against.
- Purchase: An individual makes a decision to act. This can mean a literal sale, but it can also mean much more: “purchase” is the act of opting in, in any context.
- Use: The individual is now in a “draft” relationship with the brand and the product or service, experiencing either satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Whether or not expectations are met determines if this cycle will be repeated.
David Nour’s representation of the Customer Experience Journey [Source, and credit of course to David Nour]
Alright, I’ve read dozens of business/marketing books, and maybe hundreds of articles, and a good chunk of them proposed some new model or way of thinking, so why does this one stand out to me?
Well, in general, I like how it emphasizes the cyclical nature of the engagement and, by doing so, shows that our job isn’t done when the purchase decision is made. That’s just a good thing to keep in mind, whether as business leaders or more specifically as marketers.
As Nour cautions (p33), “Customers – including business-to-business clients – might be overjoyed with what you offer them today, but they will leave you tomorrow if a disruptive competitor can offer them superior outcomes.”
So when the customer swings back around to the evaluation point and starts to look at the current state of affairs, it’s crucial that they’re happy with our performance so far and that they’re are aware of our solutions; otherwise, we won’t be part of their next customer experience journey.
Applying our focus more to marketing specifics, this model has important implications for customer evangelism, arming our champions, the cost of customer acquisition, and the sustainability of the business.
Creating Customer Evangelists
Customer evangelists are like compound interest: they keep working in the background and, over time, can add up to have a massive impact.
Customer evangelists are like compound interest: they keep working in the background and, over time, can add up to have a massive impact.
What turns a customer into an evangelist – someone who’ll gladly, authentically, and spontaneously sing our praises to other potential customers? A great customer experience. And I mean the whole journey, not just that “buying” part that we often emphasize in sales and marketing literature.
When was the last time you heard someone say, “Well, the product is terrible – doesn’t solve my problem at all, and is horrible to use! But, you know what, my buying process was smooth…so yeah, I’d recommend them.”
If, as an organization, we focus solely on the pre-purchase aspects, then we might well experience short-term success, but it’ll cost us enormously in the long run. Nour’s cyclical model reminds us to pay attention even (or especially) after a prospect has joined our customer ranks.
Here’s take-away #1: if we want customer evangelists, then we need extraordinarily happy customers – even as marketers, our job’s not done just because the cheque cleared.
As marketers, we can play a part in creating happy customers. Of course, let’s do what we can to make sure their buying process was great – anticipate their needs, avoid setting unrealistic expectations, help them learn – but let’s do more: keep in touch after the purchase, introduce them to other folks on the same learning and usage journey, ask questions about their experiences and really listen to the answers, and so on.
Arming Our Champions
One mistake I see time-and-again with smaller, newer companies is that they fail to consider the needs of their champions: they’re often good at finding and creating champions, but that frequently isn’t enough.
For obvious reasons, this oversight isn’t a problem if the buying process is relatively straightforward, or the champion is the purchaser. Champion loves us? Has purchase authority? Great, ring the sales bell.
Politics and power dynamics will play out, opinions will be formed, and decisions will be made – and we won’t be participants in 95% of the conversations.
But in many B2B relationships, a purchase decision can take weeks, months, or even years, and will involve many, many people. Those people will talk amongst themselves, politics and power dynamics will play out, opinions will be formed, and decisions will be made – and we won’t be participants in 95% of the conversations.
And that’s where we depend upon our champions to build internal support and to swat aside buying barriers.
And that’s why we have to arm our champions with material that helps them in the daily battles. Nour knows this truth, so (on p161) he tells us to, “Arm your evangelists with the right ammunition to intelligently tell your story – specific examples that highlight your successes and demonstrate your integrity.”
What’s the best possible material (at least in terms of wide appeal) for a champion? Testimonials – including quotes, success stories, and case studies – from similar organizations. In Nour’s words (p122), “Third-party validation, such as social media feedback or testimonials from others at the same stage of their journey, is the gold standard of credibility and authenticity.”
And, in an obvious non-twist, how do we get testimonials? By taking care of customers…after the initial purchase.
So we’ve arrived at take-away #2: when we take care of our customers we gain not only evangelists, but also valuable tools – authentic testimonials – for our champions to win us more business.
As marketers, it’s important we identify strategic reference needs (ideally, we want at least one relatable reference for each thing we sell in each segment we target), create compelling content to tell those reference stories, and get that content in the hands, inboxes, or social channels of our champions.
Lowering Our Customer Acquisition Cost
When loyal customers become evangelists, finding the next customer and the next no longer absorbs the lion’s share of the organization’s resources. – David Nour
Attention all business leaders: taking care of our existing customers is a very effective strategy for driving down the cost of acquiring new ones.
Here’s how Nour sums it up (p130): “When loyal customers become evangelists, finding the next customer and the next no longer absorbs the lion’s share of the organization’s resources. Evangelists do that for you.”
There are two important elements in that quote:
- first, with evangelists knocking on doors and encouraging deals on our behalf, we’re going to get some relatively easy (read: cheap) wins
- second, because we’re getting some easier wins, that frees us up – especially our marketers – to concentrate our efforts on other deals (e.g., larger, longer-term, more strategic, etc.).
It isn’t just about protecting a revenue stream; it’s much larger than that! Our whole customer acquisition enterprise becomes much more efficient, which keeps the flywheel spinning (for you Good to Great fans), reliably fuelling future growth.
Here’s how Nour describes this phenomena (p180), “Customer evangelism…can dramatically reduce customer-acquisition costs, freeing up resources to aim for delivering exceptional customer experiences and further creating greater Market Gravity.”
Here’s something that I’ve heard (but not verified – which is dangerous, I know): Apple’s per-unit advertising cost for their devices is the lowest in the world (which makes sense, intuitively, due to their brand recognition and huge sales volume).
Have you met an Apple user? Of course you have. And did they annoy you by going on about how great their Apple device is? There’s a good chance they did. And did you go out and buy an Apple device? Apple’s sales figures suggest so.
I know I’m much more effective and efficient as a marketer when I can focus my efforts.
So let’s sum up take-away #3: taking care of our customers now makes our sales and marketing customer acquisition efforts much more efficient.
Sustaining Our Business
On p113, Nour says, “Customer retention – not acquisition – is the most sustainable source of business growth.”
I’m amazed how many business leaders don’t recognize this truth.
We can work hard to keep customers, or we’ll be forced to work harder to replace them – it’s as simple as that.
On the one hand, I sorta get it: we’re in a growth-obsessed world, so adding new customers is always a major focus. But…if we don’t keep our existing customers, then we have to work that much harder to grow. We can work hard to keep customers, or we’ll be forced to work harder to replace them – it’s as simple as that.
Plus, keeping an existing customer is much more cost-effective than adding a new one to our ranks.
In Nour’s words (p114), “When your focus is on retention, your strategy becomes one of providing people with the support they need at each stage of their journey, so that they stay with you – not just through loyalty, but through an increasing sense that your best interests and theirs are bound up together.”
The unintended negative consequences of focusing on adding new customers aren’t pretty…here are just a few that come to mind in this moment:
- Revenue and profit are neglected: vanity metrics like the number of customers goes up, but usually only because we’re adding small, non-strategic customers who don’t contribute very much to revenue and might disproportionately load our support resources
- Missed opportunities within existing customers: when we tell (and create incentives for) our salespeople to increase the customer count above all else, then they’ll neglect current customers, preventing us from growing our business, expanding our share of wallet through relatively easy wins, solidifying our presence
- Increased vulnerability: related to the previous point, if an existing customer feels neglected, then we’re much more vulnerable to disruption/displacement
Obviously, I’m not against adding new customers, but it has to be done the right way – the efficient way. Focusing on growing our customer count above all else only taxes our resources for relatively lower returns; over time, this trend kicks the legs out from under our business. All-too-suddenly we’re caught up desperately defending against disruption, so we discount heavily and have to invest major resources in just maintaining the status quo, rather than using those resources to efficiently pursue growth.
So here’s take-away #4: looking at current customers as future customers makes our business more efficient – and more sustainable.
Looking at the Customer Experience Journey as a cycle can meaningfully shift our thinking, and that shift can make our whole operation more effective and sustainable. It also has important implications for how best to apply our finite marketing resources.
Here are four take-aways I took from David Nour’s Customer Experience Journey model:
- If we want customer evangelists, then we need extraordinarily happy customers – our job’s not done just because the cheque cleared; as marketers, let’s avoid thinking that we’re out of the picture once a customer has signed up
- Take care of our customers and gain not only evangelists, but also valuable tools – testimonials – for our champions to win us more business; as marketers, let’s identify what stories we need to tell, and let’s tell them well
- Taking care of our customers now makes our sales and marketing customer acquisition efforts much more efficient; as business leaders, let’s recognize that effectiveness in one area (e.g., engineering, customer success, onboarding, support, etc.) creates efficiencies in other areas
- Looking at current customers as future customers will make our business more efficient – and more sustainable; as marketers, let’s be mindful that a single purchase journey might be completed, but – as in Nour’s visual representation – things will swing back around, so a new purchase journey is just beginning