How Well Do You *Really* Know Your Customer's Journey?

"The big story with the customer journey, for ecommerce in particular, is you just keep peeling back the layers." 

Beyond the Cart Lightburn Podcast - Ecommerce
Illustration showing what is a customer journey and why it is important.

Today’s Topics:

  • Understanding customer types
  • Leveraging your sales process
  • The problem with being unreachable
  • Documentation and iterations
  • The number of products versus customer types
  • The impact of lifecycle timelines (featuring two real-world stories)
  • Identifying your best customers


The following is a transcript of the cross-conversation streaming in the above media:

Andy we're talking customer journey today. Yeah. Good stuff. I know what it is. I don't know what it is. I do know what it is. My whole point is it's confusing. Oh, I see what you did there. Yeah. It's a confusing thing, ultimately, especially with ecommerce, it's really hard to understand and know, your customer types, right? 

Understanding customer types 

So, most of the clients that we talk to or prospects that we talk to, I hate both of those words. When we're having conversations with ecommerce companies, one of the things we ask them is what are your customer types? What are your customer journeys? And, we almost always get blank stares. Somebody will usually chime in and say "Oh, this is how people buy, or oh this is how we think people will buy." So there's a lot of assumptions made. So, we see that a lot. Because customer journeys is something that takes a lot of time, effort. You do have to make some assumptions to figure out. So, it's one of those things that it's like, "Let's just assume we know what our customer types are. And, let's assume what our customer journey is. Because it's a lot of work. “It’s often not as thorough. Right. I think there's a... This is a negative word, but shallow understanding of it. 

Also, a thing that I see is mixing up your marketing personas with your customer journey. So, you know your marketing personas. So you think that is the same as your customers. Right. And that's not always how you want to think about your customers. Right. It's one piece of it obviously. And there's crossover, right? Yeah. So, there's lots of common traits there, but-  Yeah, ... They're not the same.

I think, to me the big story with customer journey for us with ecommerce in particular is you just keep peeling back the layers. There's one more step of knowing more, or a different piece of it, or a different moment in time. And that's, what's painting a picture. And so, a customer journey can look very different for different companies. 

Leveraging your sales process 

Depending on what you're selling, and how you're selling, you might need to document or dig into different phases. Yeah. And, the one thing we have learned is, understanding your customer journey and your customer types, is easiest when you have an actual sales force. So, we love talking to the salespeople. And, we've found before, we've worked with marketers and are "have you talked to the sales people yet? What are they?" "Oh no, we haven't." It's like, they are the closest to understanding what that customer type is. And customer journey is, in my opinion than any other role in an organization.

Yeah. But a lot of our ecommerce clients don't have- Right. ... That, so another boots on the ground department to talk to when you're digging into your customer journey is customer service. Yeah. So, you're talking about sales team that's before the purchase, right? You also should be talking to people after the sale, the people at the end of that process, because they're going to give you some really important insights. 

The problem with being unreachable

Yeah. And, I see a huge trend to this point, if you don't have a sales force, which a lot of ecommerce companies don't, which makes sense. I see a lot of ecommerce companies that try to bury, they don't want a phone number, they don't want people to contact them. 

They want to be this black box where we put an order in, and we're going to ship it to you, and we're going to keep our fingers crossed that nobody ever has issues. To me that's a huge, huge mistake in understanding your customer journey and customer types.  

Yeah. There's a whole conversation we had about creating distance from your customer. I think you're absolutely right. A lot of ecommerce that you see out there today is creating that distance, instead of bringing the customer in and forming a relationship, probably because it's easier. Right? Sure. Yeah. But then you don't get that deeper understanding. 

Documentation and iterations 

Yeah. So, let's talk a little bit about what is a customer journey? What do you physically need to do for a customer journey? Is it a document, is it a series of documents, is it... What is it? Is it a PowerPoint? Right. Do you have to get stock photos in there that are right? Yeah. I mean, I think there can be the mistake of over-engineering the documentation. So, I like the 80, 20 rule where you're putting less effort in to get the most value out of your documentation. So it doesn't have to be fancy. Right. Agreed. 

So I think that's depending on what your resources are, the tools that you are comfortable working in, obviously when we're putting something like this together, there's some polish we're presenting it to clients. And so, obviously that has a little bit more depth to it because we do it over and over. And so we've got some stuff that looks polished, but you don't have to have that polish, it could be a Word document. Yeah. I'm a big fan of seeing customer journeys in the form of flow charts. Yeah. That's just how I like to visualize them in those documents. However, you want to document it. There's no hard and fast rule. It's just seeing all the steps from first introduction of a product or a brand- The moment they know about it. ... All the way through placing an order. And beyond, right? Because this is a cycle sometimes too. Getting to the first order is the minimum customer journey. 

And then yeah, absolutely. So, one good way to get into it is just to start with one simple flow, boxes and arrows, one that you can wrap your head around and it's simple to you, maybe your ideal customer journey. Yeah. First and then start branching off from there. Yeah. That's one way to get it started. It doesn't have to be done right away. You can be adding to it and developing more detail in certain areas. Maybe you don't know anything about how your customers research your product, but you know, they're doing research, Right. You'll just make a research box and then you can blow that out later into different paths. 

Yeah. Always be adding to what you know. And I think there's a lot of value in having a role, whether that's a full-time role or not depends on your situation, but having somebody with the official role of customer journey or customer experience. Owning that documentation.

And, not only the documentation but the... This person for sure is always trying to learn more about how customers came to us? Why they came to us? And then the steps that they went through from research through placing an order. Yeah. And I would argue that there's real value in having that be someone outside of the person who's executing your marketing. Yes.

And a little distance, because you're going to want it to be a voice that's challenging you, in what you think you know about your customers. I don't know how many clients we have that are developing ecommerce and they already have a relationship with customers in some other way. And, that's my little argument against relying too much on the sales team. Yeah. Because, the sales team knows a lot. 

The number of products versus customer types 

Right. But, you also have to factor in that your ecommerce customer is also your user, and that's part of their journey, their way that they're interacting with your website, the way that they're choosing to click on ads when, maybe a little bit different than how sales sees it in an offline process. So, that's why it's important to have somebody who can step back and evaluate whether or not the information that you're getting is correct. And, finding those points of breakdown. So you can say, "You know what? You put a lot of effort into writing up these FAQ's. Thank you so much whoever's managing our website." No one's going to those FAQ's, Right. They are not helping people in their journey. They're supposed to be part of the research nobody's going there. Yeah. So they're not framed properly. And being able to push back is really important and finding those points of breakdown. 

Let's take Bilberry West, for example, right? Our eCommerce startup. We don't have any idea whatsoever. Big old guess. So we have no choice, but to assume, but we're being careful to make some assumptions, but balance those assumptions with how much of this is an educated guess, versus how much is of... What we think is going to happen. What we want to have happened. We always have that push pull though. I feel like, because we have this 24 years, maybe it's not quite 24 years of eCommerce, but pretty close. Right? Like. Yeah. Yeah. So, you can make some pretty decent assumptions on that. Just time, but always being willing to step back and question them. Yeah.

I think it drives me crazy when you do that, because Will state's something as fact, you'll be like, "Well, you got to test it." Right. And I love it, it's important. But you know, sometimes when you are like full steam ahead, it can be frustrating. Yeah. Yeah. There's different ways to paint that customer journey picture. So, you got to know the different personas, right? It's not one customers journey. It should be customer's journey, I guess. And, chances are you don't have one customer type. Even if you had one product, you still have many customer types. Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, let's take a really simple product. Like our chairs. Let's just give an example. Let's say we're selling one chair. Yeah. Online.

Yeah. Bilberry West. We launch with one chair. Right. Not one customer. One style of chair. One style of chair. Right. Many customers. Yeah. And, theirs dozens of customer types that we already know about. And, we admittedly don't know, what we don't know, which we know is a lot. Yeah. Does that make sense? Yeah. Not at all. There's a lot. We don't know. Yeah. Of course. That's a short way. The no knowns, and the known unknowns. I think, is the terminology.

Right. So, we have one chair and you just think, well people who need a chair for sitting outside fun, but it's like, is this for their first home? Is it for their second home? Is it for around a fire pit? Do they want it on their porch? Is this for a commercial application? Who's making the decision? We don't know. In a husband, wife situation is the husband making the decision that he wants new- Yeah. ... Chairs for the patio or is it. Yeah. Does it matter if that's around the fire pit versus on the front porch. Right. Where you're going to use it matters you also- Do they want one because they saw their neighbor, Four houses down have them on the porch. And, we know that's a customer type, because we've actually started dealing with that. Yeah. Already, we're getting pre-orders. Oh, those are cool. We want one of those.

The impact of lifecycle timelines 

Yeah. Then you've got the other crosscutting of... We were talking about this earlier. Do you have someone who's avid researcher on products? Yeah.  Or do you have an impulse buyer? Well, yeah. So, that's a different way to crosscut it too. The impulse buyer, maybe this is a price point that they're comfortable with. They're just going to buy the first one they see, that it's the right color done. Cool. Yeah. That's that's an easy customer, but- That's me. Yeah, that's you we talked about that, versus. Lots of other people I know. Yeah. Jim, my husband in particular, we always joke about how he researches every product. I have seen him pull up the consumer reports on chicken nuggets. I kid you not. Get out. I mean, consumer reports is publishing this information. It's almost like a hobby to him.

Yeah for sure It's a passion. He's the guy that people go to when they're buying a new car. He's the one who's going to help them narrow it down because he's aware of best brands. We just bought, let me think of something that we just bought new. Oh, we just bought a stove. That's a good example of something where he actually read consumer reports, obviously that, and then he looked at the different brands that were... He narrowed it down to a brand, but that's still, he could be buying that from multiple sources. Yep.

Right. Then he finds one. He's got the relationship with Costco because we go to Costco. So that's going to influence whether or not where he is going to buy it. Did he spend a lot of time on the manufacturer's website? Oh yeah. Yeah. Yeah. He's looking on manufacturer's website. And as of today, as far as I know, there's not a whole lot of appliance manufacturer selling direct to consumer yet. No. Right. So, but that's interesting that's where his journey started partially is on the manufacturer's website, which is.

Yeah. And I would bet that he was doing some crosscutting there because he's also looking at, well, where's a good place to buy. I know that I have this Costco relationship. Maybe there's a product that's being sold through Costco, that's going to match my needs and wants. Sure. Then, because we were considering one that had an articulated door. So you can have a half oven and a full oven at the same time. It's really cool. We're uncomfortable with buying that site unseen. So we had to find a place to buy it or to see it. We had to find a place that we could actually see it in person and see if we liked it. Yeah.  We love cooking. So you know, this is big purchase for us. And so- Well, and dollar wise is a big purchase. ... Yeah. So we found that it was at a BestBuy, and just think about it if BestBuy would've done the right thing in that moment that we were in the door looking at and deciding that we wanted to buy that oven. They could have had that sale, but they didn't because we bought it from Costco instead. So I, that like.

So, I'm curious part of the journey was, you guys taking out the delivery, and Costco doesn't have delivery as far as I. They delivered it. Get out, really? Fuck yeah. I'm not putting in our own stove. Well, that's what I was wondering. Because, that would be a huge factor. They installed it and they hauled away. That's absolutely. Yeah. That wasn't. Well, there you go, look at that. Kudos to Costco. Shit now he is going to tell me we didn't buy it from Costco. I'm pretty sure we bought it from Costco. The point is. But I'm curious how much. So going back to the whole purpose of this conversation is- Yeah. ... How much of a factor was Costco? He trusts Costco, clearly. It was price. I mean in the end it was the combination of I know he probably got it narrowed to two to three stoves that he wanted to look at.

Within a single brand. So, he started with narrowing down brand. Not a single brand. I think we were open to brands. Okay. So, he narrowed it down to a couple of brands probably first. Yeah. For us feature and brand and reliability. Okay. Then you narrow it down to two, three and then look at where can you buy it for the right price the right time. So, lots of factors to consider. Right? Yeah. What do you think that whole... What was that life cycle? Three weeks maybe. Okay. The nice thing about him and this maybe is another layer depending on what you're selling. Once he decides, he is on it, and you said, "You're ready, fire, aim." Yeah. That you just would buy. You'd probably finish that cycle in a day, it sounds like, if you need a new stove.

I literally finish that cycle for all the appliances in the house that I live in now, which I gutted, completely gutted appliances was one of a thousand things I had to do. I was pointed to an appliance retailer that had good reputation. I walked in, I said, here's my budget. That one, that one, that one. Here what you guys can have, that one. No, he couldn't physically, Jim couldn't possibly do that. Yeah. He'd never be able to live with himself. Well, the funny thing about it and it drives several people that I know absolutely bonkers that went through your long process and have had nothing  but issues. My parents included. Yeah. Right? It took them a month and a half. They did it the right way. Yeah. "I've never had an issue." Knock on wood. Well now your stoves going to explode. No, but what's interesting. What you have in common is there was still a decisiveness, that was going to end in a purchase for Jim. He was very likely to make a purchase. Yeah.

Because, he had started. And so, that's another one, another layer. And, sometimes it's knowing your overall product and how people buy it. Is it an impulse buy, or a nice to have, do you have to convince someone that they need your product? Or is it something that, if I'm looking for a new stove, I probably need a new stove. I'm not just like shopping for that for funsies, I don't think maybe, maybe theirs the dreamers. I think that's a customer type.

But knowing those customer types and knowing how to identify them based on what they're visiting on your site or what ads they're clicking on and then what value they have, the dreamer is less valuable to you. Right. We'll just keep on the stove. If I'm just dreaming of a new kitchen and I look at stoves, that's not very valuable to me. That could be months and months down the road. Yeah. Before I make a purchase. But somebody who clicks on a certain thing that indicates to you that they are invested in a purchase, they need it. Maybe they're looking up how quickly they can get it delivered, something like that. They have more value to you because they're more likely to convert.

And knowing what kind of customer type. So Jim is a customer type, when it comes to appliances, I'm a customer type, when it comes to appliances. Certain retailers are more suited to work with the Jim's and other retailer... I didn't need a fancy showroom, I didn't need much. Right? But I wanted a good price and I wanted delivery fast. So if you can cater to that. Yeah. Knowing your customer type and this translates to eCommerce, maybe you are the, get it quick. There's not a lot of data on the site. We know you already made a decision. Mm-hmm (affirmative). We're going to get it to you faster than anyone. That's who we cater to. Own that don't try to be everything to everyone. Yeah.

So that's why understanding the customer journey is important and knowing all the different ways people buy things, and then deciding, and that's what we have to do with Bilberry. Right? Because we know, there's going to be people that want to have, they're going to want 20 of these potentially. We're not going to be ready necessarily to sell 20 at a time. Well, right. But they're going to need more, that's a fairly large dollar amount. They might want to request a sample and then a follow up sales. I would love those customers, but we are not capable. Today. So we're not going to focus on that. Yeah. Yeah.

Identifying your best customers

So I think the way you put it to me recently was what journey did our best customers take. Yeah. And I love that phrasing because you really... You can get distracted by your less valuable, I'm not going to say bad, but the less valuable customers, they're outliers maybe. Yeah. And so, focusing on the customers that you want to keep and finding more of those customers, but also looking at those edge cases every once in a while and saying, "Is there a way to grow this? Is there a way to convert them from maybe they're expensive to acquire." Right.

So, then how do we, how do we get that type of customer, that acquisition costs lower so that they can become our best customers. So, I think there's investing in your best customers and keep getting more of those. And then also if you're looking to grow, especially finding those less good customers and turning that around. Yeah. The more you can know about the path that a customer took to complete a transaction and not complete a transaction. What is the customer journey of the people who actually move forward? And what is the customer journey of the people who didn't? Yeah.

Top Takeaways

There's just an insane amount of value. You may not be able to act on all of that, but the first step in anything is understanding, right? So, I think we've got three takeaways here. First it's just start documenting. Absolutely. Number two is, using that documentation to identify your best customer's journey. Number three, start picking that journey apart and adding to it, enhancing it and making it great. 

- - - - - - 

Beyond the Cart is produced by Lightburn. Our episode today was produced and edited by our very own Staci Tischer and it was recorded in-person for the very first time with our pal Ray Fister at 5th Floor Recording Company

Our music is the song Let's Go Go Go by Tigerblood Jewel. Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts or wherever you consume your audio, and you can always learn more about ecommerce at

And we'll see you next time on Beyond the Cart. 


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