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Analyzing users’ path-to-purchase is becoming more complex, says Search Laboratory’s Hans Hoogenboom. Mapping it, he says, means first listening to the authentic voice of customers.

The removal of cookies makes it much harder to understand customers using data alone. Catching obstacles blocking the customer journey is more difficult and, therefore, requires more effort to put right. This is where the authentic voice of the customer is vital.

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By directly listening to users through qualitative and quantitative research methods, you can gain the highest quality insights about problems, and learn which customers you need to care about. This can form the segmented audience data to help you map the modern customer journey.

The roadblocks: not knowing and not asking

The ‘ideal’ customer journey is well-timed, relevant, intuitive, persuasive, and satisfyingly solves the user’s needs. But customers’ preferred ways of shopping are ever-changing. From switching between desktop and mobile, preferring to pay via Apple or Google Pay, to growth in augmented reality, plotting out the journey to purchase won’t ever be easy.

Meanwhile, many decisions on what the on-site customer journey ‘should’ look like are made without directly considering the customer. The user journey should help users complete their goals, not inform a marketing decision-maker’s vanity objectives. Customers aren’t trained to understand why they want or need something.

Users shouldn’t need to know what makes a good or bad user experience. Nor should they have to work out the solution to problems. What they are trying to achieve (and what problem they’re trying to solve) is more important than anything else.

Catching the obstacles blocking the user on their journey requires increased thought and effort.

Joining up the dots

Good user experience and customer journeys are underpinned by thorough research and analysis. But as it becomes harder to access available data, creating strong customer profiles will be incredibly difficult.

User research, whether it’s usability and user testing, interviews, surveys or focus groups, must become the basis of the customer journey and allow you to understand what matters the most.

For example, content research and testing are often seen as low-priority. This is a missed opportunity. Robust user research can inform content and strategy; getting the wording and value proposition right can have a huge, lasting impact on customer performance and brand perception.

Content testing, and other forms of performance experimentation, are part of an effective experimentation culture. They create a test-and-learn outlook that understands what the user wants and needs, which makes user research one of the key pillars within the test-and-learn culture. This is where the voice of the audience has the most impact.

The customer’s voice allows you to ask more targeted and meaningful questions, helping you to create detailed customer profiles and understand the key issues they’re facing (what’s causing drop-off? Why are people abandoning their carts?).

But it’s essential, with rises in data privacy and personalized journeys, to periodically adjust your customer profiles when needed. Why? Because as customer profiles become increasingly difficult to get right, knowing what features and elements we can personalize based on data and the audience’s needs creates better experiences throughout the customer journey.

The customer journey’s final destination

It seems to have been the ‘year of personalization’ for many years without any drastic changes. But personalizing the customer journey, based on the customer’s voice and needs, still holds the key to creating better paths to purchase.

While dynamic personalization has been around for more than a decade, it’s still in its infancy in terms of adoption and innovation. A good customer journey is built by solid analysis and research, understanding tangible user needs and blockers. These lead to meaningful journey changes, which should be supplied via dynamic personalization.

Most users desire a degree of personalization during their journey – some a little, some a lot. Finding the right balance is important. Being able to AB-test personalized routes lets you continue creating impactful journeys and adopting an iterative approach, where you will grow from ‘better’ to ‘best’ experiences.

Disregarding any stage in this process puts the future of customer journey mapping on thin ice. The future is meaningful research with the user, not the business, at heart.

This article was written by Hans Hoogenboom from The Drum and was legally licensed through the DiveMarketplace by Industry Dive. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].