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5 Phases of customer journey: What customers do and need in each

by | Apr 2, 2022 | UX optimization

Because of how informed today’s customer is (or wants to be), you can’t succeed anymore as a marketer with just flat out claims of what your product can accomplish. Instead, you’ve got to educate them and give them the most relevant piece of content in the right phases in their customer journey. 

What that really means is: forget selling and replace it with a genuine intent to help the customer. There’s no better way to do that than by understanding the journey your buyer would take from the core.

With, “understand the journey”, I don’t mean understand your own sales funnel journey and data behind it (that’s something I’ve covered in funnel mapping) but I refer to understanding the phases a customer goes through even and especially outside of your sales funnel.

Oprah knows what to do with customer journeys. Be like Oprah.

What are the customer journey phases?

There’s two concepts of customer journey phases that the marketing community acknowledges: three phase version and five phase version. Both can be right, but as you can probably guess, the five just has two additional added to it on what happens further on – this is the version we’ll go over in this blog post.

The five stages are: 

  • Awareness
  • Consideration
  • Decision
  • Retention
  • Advocacy

We’re going to look at two questions for each of these stages: 

  • What does the customer do: In this post, I’ll demonstrate this with either a keyword search or a user might put into a search engine or a or multiple websites, or an action they might take.
  • What does the customer need: I’ll demonstrate this with translating the keyword search into a clear ‘user intent’, i.e. what information does he want to get out of that search, or what they hope to accomplish with the action they’ve just taken.

Example customer journey scenario

For the sake of this post, let’s come up with a ‘personal loan’ customer journey scenario for a fictitious person named Elisabeth. 

Elisabeth has just gotten a mortgage for a new home purchase but she still needs to find a way to finance her furniture purchases for her new home: These moves aren’t cheap, are they? Now, unfortunately her current bank doesn’t provide personal loans besides mortgages and she’s already capped out on her limit at her bank with the mortgage. 

So, she turns online and looks for a solution to this problem. Now, let’s look at each of the phases:

What the customer needs and does for each phase:

1. Awareness phase

In this top-of-funnel stage, the customer, aka Elisabeth in this case, becomes aware she has a problem or realizes a pain because of her problem – and she wants to get rid of it. 

She might look for some basic content around what people typically do to solve this problem and look for solutions or brands that provide such solutions.

  • Example keyword searches at this stage: “borrow money”, “personal loans”, etc.
  • User intent at this stage: To get to know what loan options are out there for her, what kind of lenders she can turn to, what she needs to be aware of in terms of local laws and so forth. 
  • What the user needs & how you can help: Content that answers broad questions around your service like the ones mentioned above.

    We’ve come up with a broad user intent in the start because the user is just getting started and has yet to work out her specific needs.

2. Consideration phase

In this further stage, Elisabeth is ‘considering’ the different options she’s found in her previous journey phase of Awareness. She understands a bit better what it takes to fulfill her needs and some example services she could turn to, but isn’t ready to make the final step to filling out a loan application form even though she’s found a bunch.

Here, she may also realize that she needs to narrow down her search by any number of factors such as the amount of money she needs to borrow, interest rates, duration of loans that different companies provide to something that is suitable for her, and so on.

  • Example keyword searches at this stage: “borrow 10000 euros”, “compare personal loan interest rates”, “borrow 1000 euros for 120 months” etc. 
  • User intent at this stage: To find solutions that fit her more specific needs now that she understands which kind of services can fulfill needs that match hers and narrow down her options.
  • What the user needs & how you can help: Content that helps compare your service to others in the market and explains who it is for and who it isn’t.

3. Decision phase

In the third stage of decision, our user Elisabeth has already finished considering her options and is ready to make the jump. 

All the content she’s consumed before and websites she’s browsed have helped her make the decision that she reaches to.

  • Example action at this stage: Fill out a loan application form and hit ‘apply’.
  • User intent at this stage: Reach and finalize her decision and take the step to see what lies behind the curtains of her purchase.
  • What the user needs & how you can help: Smooth “check-out journey” to make sure she doesn’t question her decision that she’s made and help the user finish through.

4. Retention phase

The next two phases, retention and advocacy would start much later in the journey, because the decision phase marked the end of the first purchase in the customer’s buyer journey. So the following two stages mark what happens in the life cycle of the customer journey.

In retention phase, customer can try to figure out two main things

1) Should she stay a customer at the particular brand, or try to get out of any contract however possible and hop onto another similar service that may better suit her needs? Now with all the added experience of having established a relationship with the service, she knows a lot more than she did before on whether it’s the right one for her.

Or,

2) Should she turn to this brand again in the future when she needs to solve this need again?

Even in the case of personal loans that we’re talking about here, the first point is possible and can mean: early settlement of her debt to get out of it, or consolidate the loan to another lender, as an example.

  • Example user action at this stage: Checking whether her current loan provider allows her to have clear transaction statements from an app or website, or reach out to customer service to assess if the current brand she’s at helps her with any problems or concerns she may have with her loan, if she gets useful email / social media / etc communication from them a
  • User intent: Figure out if she’s better off taking her business to another provider that can better suit her needs or stay with the current one.
  • What the user needs & how you can help: Have top-notch customer service that answers questions on time, have an after-sales portal that customer can use to manage her purchase over the life time, send engaging email communication that continues to address her needs going forward with the product she purchased from you, etc.

5. Advocacy phase

The last phase of the customer journey is all about recommendations – after having established the relationship and then even going ahead to decide to stay with her current brand, our customer Elisabeth would now make the choice of becoming an advocate, i.e. a promoter or a critique of the company.

You’ve probably heard of NPS (Net Promoter Score) which is a common metric to find out how you perform in this phase as a brand.

  • Example user action at this stage: Decide to promote the service she uses to her friends that may have a similar need.
  • User intent: To either ultimately promote it to her friends if her experience has been good or even go on and write negative reviews for the brand on review portals to help discourage more people having a similar bad experience as she has.
  • What the user needs & how you can help: Make it easy for your customers to ‘spread the word’ about you if they’re promoters (e.g. social media share options on your website ), and also help them voice their negative feedback to you and actually address it.

Conclusion

And that wraps it up. Whether we talk about UX, CX, DX, growth hacking you name it – a relevant and timeless question in each of these disciplines is going to be: Are you helping to give the visitor that’s interacting with you just the right info, at the right time? I hope the principles we’ve discussed in this post will help you with exactly that!