Exploring the 4 Stages of the Customer Journey

Apr 16, 2024 | marketing

Learn the significance of the 4 stages of the customer journey as well as how you can leverage each stage to optimize your marketing efforts.

If you’ve been in business for any length of time, I’m sure you’re acutely aware that the path a potential client goes on is seldom a straight line. It’s often a nuanced journey marked by multiple touch points across a variety of marketing channels, with each piece of communication having some influence over the person’s overall experience.

Even with subtle differences between each potential client, it’s incredibly important as the business owner to understand what that journey is for a customer; to know how they move from being completely unaware that your brand exists to becoming a raving fan.

Enter: The Customer Journey.

This is one of my favorite tools for crafting an intentional marketing strategy that can guide your next right steps. So without further ado, let’s dig in!

What is the customer journey?

I like to think of a customer journey as a four-stage process of how someone moves through your business, from the first point of contact to the purchase, and beyond. Said another way – it’s the roadmap of the various interactions someone may have with your business so you can track how a lead becomes a paying client.

Why is it an important part of your business?

As service-based businesses, our potential clients generally have a longer buying cycle. Meaning, it’s very unlikely that someone is going to jump on your website and make a purchase within seconds. Because of this, the customer journey becomes incredibly helpful since each stage has a unique influence over the customer experience. And by understanding how someone is ideally going to move through your business, you can use that knowledge to eliminate any friction or sticking points, leading to a better experience overall for your potential client.

Yes, there is likely going to be some variation between each person who interacts with your business – some spending longer periods of time on a phase or some skipping a phase altogether. But that’s not necessarily relevant to the purpose of having a customer journey.

As the business owner, your job is to understand the overall flow a customer can take when connecting with your brand so that you can provide the best possible experience and be intentional about your marketing efforts.

Whether they’re hitting the ‘follow’ button on social media, joining your email list or making a purchase, people like to know what to expect. Because if you, as the business owner, don’t know where you’re taking your potential client, it makes it even more challenging to try and bring someone else along for the journey.

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Exploring the four stages of the customer journey

Stage 1: Awareness

The first stage centers around the initial interaction; all the possible touch points that someone could have with your business to first discover you.

Customers go from not knowing you exist to becoming aware that you’re around. They know very little about you, your brand and your work. The goal is to capture attention long enough so they’ll want to learn more and move onto step two, engagement.

Clarity question: How are you making people aware that you exist?

Awareness examples: SEO, networking events, guesting on podcasts, writing blog posts for your own website or guest posting on other publications, posting on social media or word of mouth.

Stage 2: Buy-in/Engagement

Stage two is when your potential customer provides some kind of signal to tell you that they’re curious about you and your brand, and that they want to know more. Most often, this signal involves sharing something of value like their email address. Regardless of what it is, the meaning is clear: They’re opening the doors to building a relationship with your brand and want to engage with you. As a business, you’re no longer talking at them because they’re giving you permission to communicate with them.

Clarity question: How can someone engage with your brand?

Engagement examples: Follow on social media, like or comment on a social media post, subscribe to your email list, send a direct email or subscribe to your podcast.

Stage 3: Purchase

Once they’ve bought into your message by engaging with your brand, the next step in the journey is to make a purchase. Ideally, this happens because they’re compelled by what you have to say and believe you’re the person who can solve their problem. They’re willing to take the next step with your business and hand over something of even more value than their contact information: money.

Clarity question: How can someone purchase from you?

Purchase examples: Conduct a discovery call, purchase directly from your website or fill out an application.

Stage 4: Retention

When a potential client becomes a paying customer, you may think that the journey is over—they’re invested (literally), so your work is done, right?

Absolutely not.

The last step of the customer journey, and in my opinion the most important one, is about providing excellent customer service and retaining your client’s business. Your goal is to make your clients feel like a million bucks so that they want to stick around, long after that initial service is completed.

Clarity question: How are you delighting current and past clients?

Retention examples: Send a client gift, have a welcome sequence, offer retainer services or create a follow-up sequence after you wrap up the project.

What’s the difference between a customer journey and a buyer journey?

When I was first educating myself on customer journey, I saw a lot of variations online. Some had a different number of stages, some had different names for each stage, some were created from the perspective of the business and some were created from the perspective of the buyer. It was all quite confusing and took me a while to work create frameworks that made sense for me and my service-based business.

So, if you’re in this space and have seen customer journey and buyer journey used interchangeably, know that you aren’t alone. And, I want to walk you through how I make the distinction between the two – because I believe that yes, they are different and serve different purposes in your business.

The customer journey is a four-stage process that shows every possible interaction that someone can have with your business. It’s created from the perspective of the business and how someone can move through it – from becoming aware of the brand to engaging with the brand to purchasing from the brand to being a loyal customer of the brand.

On the other hand, the buyer’s journey is what happens to the potential client leading up to making a purchase; before they become a buyer. It has three stages and walks through the decision-making process a lead goes through regarding the problem they want solved. From being unaware of their problem to problem-aware (awareness stage), from problem-aware to solution-aware (consideration stage), and finally going from solution-aware to provider-aware so they can make a decision (decision stage).

Yes, they have similar naming structure, which makes it all the more confusing. But for me, creating this distinction has brought more clarity to my marketing efforts.

How can you use the customer journey in your own business?

This was mentioned earlier, but it’s worth repeating: at a high level, when you understand your customer’s journey, you gain a better insight into the experience that your brand provides. And from an action-step perspective, clarity on the customer journey will show you where things are going well and where you can improve.

I like to use this as a first step to diagnosing a problem in my business. And because examples are helpful, here are two common scenarios that service providers often have and how I would use the customer journey to help determine next right steps.

Scenario 1: Not Generating Leads

Let’s say you have a great discovery call close rate. When someone gets on the phone with you, most, if not all of the time, they end up booking. Great, stage three is rock solid. But your problem is generating leads – you’re not finding enough people to get on the call in the first place. So, taking a step back, this would seem like a Stage 1 problem; you’re not generating enough leads for your business so you can then focus your efforts on more awareness-building activities.

Scenario 2: Great Referral Engine

Let’s say you provide an amazing customer experience and the results you get clients is great. So much so, they share that they want to continue working with you but then nothing happens. You send offers here and there but the conversion just isn’t there. Again, taking a step back, this seems like a Stage 4 problem; you’re not retaining your clients, despite providing a great service. The next right step may be to focus your marketing efforts on converting those clients, rather than building more awareness for a new audience.

Last note on the customer journey. As with all things related to your brand, how a customer moves through your business is a continually evolving process that will grow and change right alongside your business.

Happy branding!

All my best,

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