Debunking Linear Customer Journeys and How to Take a Holistic Approach


Understanding why a customer purchased a particular product or service often gives businesses valuable insights into what is working and how they can continue to grow in their industry.

In an attempt to better understand their customer’s path to purchase, businesses often try to map out the various touchpoints that occur and the different stages of awareness.

We call this the customer journey.

It’s characterized as a discrete set of touchpoints or steps that take a customer from the very first stages of buyer research through to the final stages of making a final purchasing decision.

When visually designing the customer experience journey map, most businesses usually come up with something similar to the example image you see below.


Source, CoversionXL

From this image, you can better grasp where a customer stands at each of the stages listed and how one stage can naturally lead to the next. You also get an idea of where some of these valuable touchpoints happen and how the company can be tuned in to customers at these different stages.

These visual journeys are important pieces to understanding customers and the overall customer experience.

However, it’s important to address that mapping out the journey as depicted above and viewing it as a straight line from awareness to purchase is a gross simplification of what is actually taking place.

In reality, the “journey” is rarely linear. There is no single path.

In A Digital Age, It’s All About the Customer Experience

Thanks to the modern world we live in, technology has opened the way for many channels of awareness (social media, online communities, content marketing, outbound marketing, etc), which allows customers to find their way to your business in more ways.

But it also means that the customer journey is difficult to predict or understand.

The touchpoints that lead one customer to your doorstep may not be the same ones another person goes through to reach the same result.

In other words, the customer journey is not linear.

Take a step back and think about how your customer could take one of any number of different paths to purchase. Rather than being something simple and linear, the buying decision is about the culmination of the entire customer experience and the various touchpoints your customer interacts with.

While we do what we can to track and pool all the data from marketing efforts to find our best acquisition channels, making sense of the marketing funnel, and how to understand the full customer experience is difficult through traditional models and methods.

So, rather than trying to map a linear customer experience journey or going overboard by trying to keep up with the torrent of data available to you, there is a better way to gain and retain customers while keeping a competitive edge in your industry.

A Holistic Approach To Customer Experience

With so many moving parts involved in modern day marketing, it can be easy to make the mistake of looking at things as individual parts that impact business rather than looking at things holistically.

In order to comprehend and control the customer experience, there must be a shift in thinking. Rather than a focus on specific paths to purchase, there must be an emphasis on holistic understanding.

Similar to how an engine is made up of many functional parts that are needed to make it run, a business also has many parts (marketing, sales, customer experience, so on) that power it forward.

Unlike traditional journey mapping exercises, thinking about the customer experience in a holistic way gives you multidimensional insight that’s hard to gain from old methods. It requires companies to take a step back and look at their entire customer experience throughout a range of touchpoints.

The benefits for doing things this way — by focusing on the entire customer experience — are numerous, but here are a few:

  • Allows you to strategically improve communication across a range of different touchpoints.
  • Gives individual team members a strong understanding about their individual actions and how these actions impact the overall customer experience.
  • Develops a clear framework for how to measure, assess, and improve the overall process.ramework for how to measure, assess, and improve the overall process.
  • Simplifies the process of identifying areas for improvement within your customer experience so that you can fix friction within channels and touchpoints.

So how can you get started and bring things up to speed with this fast-paced digital world?

Let’s take a closer look.

Preparing Your Brand For A Holistic Customer Journey

The customer journey is one of the main cogs that powers the entire customer experience.

Knowing the experience you want customers to have and then delivering that experience throughout the various touchpoints in their journey is a critical strategic initiative.

Companies that have taken a holistic approach to managing their customer experience tend to exhibit four main characteristics:

1. They are customer obsessed.

Customer feedback and desires are heard, which leads to industry-leading customer satisfaction and retention rates.

They usually have a community they’ve built to get a better grasp on who their customers really are and to allow them to communicate more easily and with more transparency than their competitors. And since they are focused on providing a great customer experience, they are constantly looking to better understand customers.

2. They are authentic and always on-brand.

While giving customers what they want is viewed as vital and unquestionably valuable, companies with excellent customer experiences stay focused on building an authentic and consistent brand.

If customer demands push the lines of staying on-brand, successful businesses choose authenticity rather than satisfying every ask.

You can look to a brand like REI as an example of this.

They’ve remained steadfast in delivering a consistent brand experience, which is at the heart of their customer relationships–and drives fierce loyalty among their customers.

3. They have strong in-house collaboration.

Cross-functional teams are a staple of most successful businesses. However, modern teams that successfully deliver an exceptional customer experience have managed to break the mold and make collaboration across all teams an organizational focus.

This involves getting the entire company to understand the customer experience vision, how individuals will impact that experience, aligning the incentives and processes to work holistically (there’s that word again!) within a company, and making it clear that communication and cooperation are not just urged but expected.

4. They are brutally pragmatic.

Brands and businesses with a competitive advantage usually excel at knowing which objectives are most important and how to prioritize initiatives accordingly.

These companies are both rigorous in their testing and brutally pragmatic about analyzing what works and changing what doesn’t work.

Test, listen, learn, tweak, repeat. Test ideas that comes from feedback and concrete data. Listen to more feedback about the implemented changes. Learn about what is working. Tweak what isn’t working. Repeat the process again.

All of these traits and actions can become a core part of your company to help you build a better customer experience.

While it’s true that there is a lot more dimension to the journey today than a couple decades ago, it’s clear that companies that put a focus on customers and give them an above and beyond experience are the ones that will lead in their markets.

If you’re looking for a way to design a better customer experience, we suggest you take a closer look at our article about the Customer Experience Maturity Model, which is an in-depth and actionable framework you can use to assess and prioritize your customer experience management process.