The Digital Customer Journey: How to Optimize Acquisition and Retention (With Examples)

The key to customer retention lies in managing their digital journey and meeting their needs at every stage of the process.

The Digital Customer Journey: How to Optimize Acquisition and Retention (With Examples)

Understanding the digital customer journey is essential in acquiring new clients for your SaaS company. Especially in the B2B space, where the buying journey often involves comprehensive research and levels of approval, you need to meet your prospects thoughtfully at all points in their buying journey — from brand awareness to customer support.

For SaaS companies, getting new customers can be challenging, but keeping them can be even harder. If you don’t focus on retention, you could see your users disappear after they begin using your product. Churnkey helps improve customer retention by providing personalized cancel experiences and collecting meaningful feedback that can help you improve your business.

The key to combating churn and retaining happy customers lies in managing their digital journey and personalization to match their needs at every stage of the process. Let’s take a look at what exactly the digital customer journey is and how you can turn your own into an optimization machine that keeps happy customers using your product for the long haul.

What is The Customer Journey?

The digital customer journey describes the different phases a customer experiences when engaging with your brand — from first learning about your brand to retention. It often includes various touchpoints, such as ad exposure, website interactions, sales calls, and demos. The SaaS customer journey consists of five distinct phases: awareness, consideration, conversion, onboarding, and retention.

Each stage has its own goals, drivers, and components. By understanding your company’s customer journey and acknowledging that no two users are the same, you’ll be on your way to attracting and retaining your most valuable customers. We will break down each step of the typical SaaS customer journey in more detail below.

Awareness Stage

The awareness stage of the customer journey aims to familiarize your target audience with your brand. Discuss the benefits of your product and how it can solve users’ problems. Content during this stage should be educational, proving your industry experience. Avoid using sales tactics during this stage, as it could give your brand the wrong image and drive potential customers away.

Generating Awareness

There are several options for making users familiar with your brand, from targeted ads to PR. The awareness phase of the customer journey is most effectively tackled by placing promotional material in front of a user before acknowledging that they have a need for your product. Social media advertising and SEO are some of the most effective ways of getting your business in front of prospects. Many digital advertising channels allow you to get as specific as targeting users based on their title, company size, or position.

Here is an example of a creative awareness campaign run by the email marketing platform, MailChimp. While this may not communicate exactly what the platform does, it certainly makes you look twice and potentially want to learn more. This campaign successfully generated over 67 million organic searches and earned MailChimp over $3.52 million in revenue.

Consideration Stage

After prospects become aware of your brand and realize they can benefit from your product, they will begin to seek more information. The consideration stage is when people start doing the research that will either lead them back to you or cause them to choose a competitor — so understanding what goes on in the consideration stage is key. With digital customer journey mapping tools like Google Analytics, you can track the path that customers take after their first brand exposure. With this insight, you can learn what kind of content resonates with users at different points in their journey and optimize your consideration strategy accordingly.

Reaching Users in the Consideration Phase

Now that your prospects are actively looking to learn more about your business and product, you must provide them with adequate information to help them take the next step. Understanding your target audience and how your product can solve their problems can help you develop content that addresses their questions. Because users are often comparing your brand to your competitors during the consideration phase, you need to prove that your product is superior. You can do this through case studies, webinars, and FAQs. Testimonials are crucial during this stage as they will validate your product and help build trust in your brand.

Oftentimes, prospective customers will reach out to you to learn more about your product during the consideration phase. Whether it be through email, social media, or a contact form on your website, be sure to provide prospects with the best possible customer service and prove that you truly care about them.

As you can see in the below example, Kajabi, a popular software that helps entrepreneurs create online courses, showcases a simple FAQ on the homepage of their website that prospects are likely to look at during the consideration phase.

Conversion Stage

Next comes the most exciting part of the customer journey for you as a business — the time the user actually subscribes to your platform. This stage depends on the successful execution of the prior stages. After the user has done adequate research and is on the verge of converting, you must get them to take the next step to sign up or schedule a demo.

Part of successfully converting users is understanding their customer journey and at what point users are likely to convert. What website pages are they visiting? Where have they been before? Is there a specific feature they have been most interested in? If you take these questions into account, you can optimize your conversion funnel and maximize sales. Conversion optimization is a fine art — an individual visitor may bounce between several pages before becoming a customer.

Converting Users

Once users have reached your site, it’s time to convert them from prospects to customers. There are several ways to accomplish this, but they all boil down to two things: providing enough information to answer your users’ questions and convincing them that you are better than your competitors.

To create an experience that best converts visitors into customers, you can start by testing different components with A/B split tests. This type of test allows you to compare two versions of a web page against each other (for example, version A versus version B) and see which performs better based on user behavior. By testing different elements on your website, such as headlines or product images, you can determine what works best for converting users into customers.

Tools like Optimizely allow you to split test different assets on your website and automatically implement the top-performing ones, delivering an optimized conversion experience to users.

Similarly, offering a free trial or product demo can be a great way to get users on the fence to subscribe.

Onboarding Stage:

Ensuring that users have a successful onboarding experience is another crucial component of the digital customer journey. Onboarding helps new subscribers understand how to use your platform and ensure that they have a frictionless user experience. By getting this right, you maximize the chances of keeping a user on for the long haul.

Onboarding Customers the Right Way

For SaaS companies, onboarding often happens during the trial period, but if you don’t offer a trial — or there are new features a user can access after they become a paying user — it may happen after they subscribe. Many companies will choose to onboard customers through an interactive product tutorial, while others will have a product or account manager host a training session with the new team. In most cases, it’s a good idea to employ both methods: have an automated demo but also give users the option to schedule an onboarding session with the team.

See our example of Notion’s onboarding experience below that uses a simple walkthrough to help users get up to speed with the product.

Post-Purchase (Retention) Stage

Although often neglected, this post-purchase or retention stage of the customer journey is arguably the most important one. After a user signs up, there are various factors that determine whether or not they will be along for the long haul and advocate your brand to others. If they aren’t satisfied with the product or their experience, there is a high chance that you will never see them again. That’s why it’s essential to monitor and track your customers for as long as possible — especially in the SaaS world, where acquisition costs are high.

Retaining Customers

Your business can prevent churn by providing exceptional support, applying feedback to product development, and rewarding them every step of their journey.

You can also avoid churn by knowing your customers as individuals. If you understand what's important to them and their needs, you can design a product or service that matches their requirements. Finally, make sure your customer is kept updated on how their feedback is being put into action — this will make them feel valued and demonstrate that you care about delivering for them. It'll also encourage them to spread positive word-of-mouth about your brand.

If users are subscribed but haven't logged in recently, you can also send them a gentle nudge email to try and collect early feedback and get them back on your platform. Similarly, if you offer a free trial, you can follow up with users on the status of their trial to keep them on board, similar to how HotJar did in this example:

What is a Customer Journey Map?

A digital customer journey map is a visual representation of your business' pathway for each existing and prospective customer group. It includes each step in a user's purchasing or conversion cycle, from awareness to engagement and even retention and repeat purchases. The path can be further broken down into smaller milestones that help you see where improvements need to be made, like getting customers from awareness to interest or making sure they take advantage of your referral program.

By mapping out where your prospects are in their journey from first hearing about your brand, you can pinpoint why they aren't converting and how you can improve your customer journey.

Why You Should Optimize Your Customer Journey

Creating a frictionless experience from initial brand exposure to sign-up can make or break a conversion. To fully maximize the potential of converting and retaining a user, you should create unique journey flows based on each customer's behavior.

For instance, if the user has demonstrated onsite interest in a product's particular feature, you should serve them retargeting ads that further highlight that feature. Similarly, a user who has been a loyal customer for ten years should be treated differently during a cancel flow than someone who just registered for a free trial. You can accomplish this with Churnkey's custom segmentation feature.

Effectively Manage Churn to Grow Your Business

While churn is a dreaded component of any business, it is often inevitable. However, customer cancellations can be a valuable tool for collecting feedback and reducing churn in the future. If customers are canceling, there is likely something you could be doing better. Churnkey allows you to test and optimize different cancellation flows that trigger at various stages of customer success, as well as collect meaningful user feedback that can help your business improve and grow.