Every customer has one. Good or bad, their path to purchase involves various touchpoints with your business and your brand. Their customer journey is influenced by a multitude of factors including whether they were able to easily find the information they were looking for on your website, your level of engagement and responsiveness on social media, and something as low-tech as the friendliness of your staff.

Yet given its importance, according to a recent study by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) done in conjunction with McKinsey Consulting and GfK only 13% of companies feel strongly that they understand their customers’ decision journeys and were to focus their marketing. Worse, nearly 50% can’t measure the critical stages of the consumer decision journey.

Gaining Clarity

Before you can build a strategy to make customer journeys a competitive advantage, you need clarity around what your customers value most. And as much as businesses are hyper-focused on digital marketing, one of the biggest drivers also happens to be one of the oldest.

It’s hard to talk about personalization without a reference to the theme song from Cheers (sorry). But pop culture aside, it’s one area where a lot of organizations struggle mightily and it doesn’t have to be. Start with your most basic segments—prospective and existing customers.

Think about each of their journeys and their touchpoints and develop a marketing strategy based on their unique needs. From there, you can create competitive advantage by using your insights to create customized experiences based on what you know about your customers. For example, a local restaurant maintained a database of food allergies of patrons so they could anticipate their dietary needs.

Easy Like Sunday Morning

This should go without saying, but the customer journey should also be incredibly easy and intuitive. In other words, you shouldn’t make your customers jump through a bunch of hoops (especially unnecessary ones) to make a purchase. They have too many other options and that means user experience on the web and beyond is absolutely crucial.

At least once a quarter, dedicate time to walking through the purchasing process from beginning to end through the eyes of your customer. Identify possible sticking points and areas of improvement. Gather feedback from your customers. Track the impact of any changes on customer satisfaction over time. As an example, think how difficult it is to navigate a website that isn’t mobile friendly. Even something as simple as pulling up a phone number to order pizza from your smartphone can be incredibly difficult. Creating competitive advantage means you want each interaction to be as simple.

Once you’re able to personalize your customer experience and make it as seamless as possible, you then want to do a deep dive into your customer insights to identify opportunities for innovation. Based on your current offerings and your target audience, where might you be able to expand your product or service offerings to better meet their needs?

By looking closely at the data, you’re able to proactively anticipate opportunities that might not otherwise be obvious. This also creates a powerful opportunity to create a dialogue with your customer base as your exploring and testing new ideas which can go a long way towards building brand loyalty.

Consider Every Touchpoint

These certainly aren’t the only factors that can help make customer journeys a competitive advantage but we believe they are three most critical elements based on experience working with clients. As part of our marketing audit process, we look at every touchpoint from the moment a prospective customer initially engages with your business until well after they make a purchase. We start by identifying what information they need to know when and where we might be able simplify customer-company interactions. That starts with the website and typically includes social media, event marketing, sales documents, email follow-up, and contact forms and automated call trees. We then work with management to implement changes and track process against goals.

By investing time into identifying and understanding your customer decision journey how to effectively measure the critical stages along that journey, you can turn a liability into a real opportunity to create value for your customers and your organization. If you’re new to customer journeys, be sure to check out this post to help you get started with customer journey mapping. You can also check out more statistics from the ANA study, “The marketer strikes back.”