August 3, 2021

Customer Experience Lifecycle – Adopt a Customer Mindset at Every Stage

The customer experience lifecycle model lays out the stages that customers go through as they move through the sales funnel.

While similar to the customer journey map, the CX lifecycle model is a high-level tool for understanding broad customer segments—not the individual journeys within those segments.

Essentially, the CX lifecycle represents the big picture—an outline of needs to address at each stage so that customers can move on to the next phase—eventually becoming loyal advocates.

Below, we’ll take a look at the customer experience lifecycle and explain how to manage the experience at every stage.

What is the Customer Lifecycle?

The customer experience lifecycle is a series of steps a customer completes throughout the buying process—discovery, evaluation, conversion, and, if all goes well, results in a long-term relationship.

The customer lifecycle is the whole iterative journey a customer follows/experiences while interacting with a brand or its products/services. It’s important because it helps organizations identify different monetization options—including recurring revenue streams—by offering something that keeps them coming back for more.

Mapping the CX lifecycle exposes all elements and touchpoints involved in key CX processes. This will help drive where to focus for the best return.

Now, it’s important to note that the customer lifecycle is a cycle, not a linear path. Instead of ending at the point of purchase, it’s a continuous loop.

The aim here is to build a loyal customer base of advocates willing to spread the word about your brand to friends, family, and followers.

The CX lifecycle also gives sales, marketing, and service teams a complete picture of the customer journey. This makes it easier to identify areas that need improvement and determine what actions make the most sense based on the customer’s needs at any given phase in the journey.

Customer Lifecycle Stages

The number of stages in the customer experience lifecycle varies, depending on who you ask. We’ve broken it into six distinct phases, though you might add or remove phases depending on your business model, sales process, or other factors. Here’s an overview of the customer experience lifecycle model and how expectations evolve throughout the journey.

1. Attract

At this stage, prospective customers identify a need/want and begin to research products/services.

First, you’ll need to attract customers and convince them to enter the funnel. Initially, it’s about targeting the right people so that they become aware of your company and the products/services you provide.

Capture their attention through various marketing tactics—social media, paid search, content marketing, referrals, etc.

Here, it’s important to connect them to the product—and your brand—on both a practical and an emotional level. Focus on the benefits—whether that’s helping shoppers up their style game or decision-makers save their company time/money.

2. Acquire

The next stage is acquisition. Here, potential customers have “entered the funnel” and are currently evaluating whether or not this product or service will meet their needs and/or wants.

Brands should focus on nudging prospective customers toward the conversion—whether that’s getting them to complete a purchase, opt in to a newsletter, or download a resource.

For retail companies, the acquisition process might only last a matter of minutes. For example, a new customer discount might be enough to convince them to pull the trigger. Or, it might take a couple of follow-up emails and a retargeting campaign.

For high-value products, such as a new car, a home, or a major remodeling project, it could take weeks or months. Prospects want to shop around, read reviews, and make sure they’re getting a good deal. Here, there’s more at stake compared to someone shopping for, say, a new pair of shorts.

And, on the B2B side, acquisition might go on for almost a year and involve up to ten decision-makers. Invest in educating all these different people and focusing on the needs/pain points/problems in the context of each role.

3. Convert

At this point, the goal is to turn prospects into actual customers. Customers should feel welcome and valued—and if they do, the sale will happen (mostly) on its own. Organizations should focus on eliminating friction. For example, contracts need to include clear terms, pricing, and an easy-to-understand breakdown of what they’re getting.

You’ll also need to provide secure payment options and make sure that you’re upfront about shipping costs, fees, delivery times, etc. Otherwise, you risk scaring them away at this crucial turning point.

4. Retain

Retention starts immediately after the customer pulls the trigger. Post-conversion, you’ll still need to work hard to earn customers’ business. That means continuing to follow-up, staying in contact, delivering value at key moments, and identifying opportunities to upsell//cross-sell.

B2Bs: Ensure the customer is onboarded efficiently and use the data obtained at earlier stages to personalize the process. Your product and service need to be usable quickly and without friction.

Customers should be able to easily locate clear information for where/how to get help if they run into trouble and get in touch with someone who can help.

B2Cs: Here, your goal is to bring customers back for repeat purchases. Focus on engaging audiences on multiple channels, presenting relevant recommendations/offers, and continuing to improve the shopping experience.

5. Build Loyalty

At this point, customers are “active users.” However, depending on the product or service, the duration of this can be either extremely short (think a single transaction) or long-lasting (think years or even decades-long contracts).

The goal here is to maintain the relationship by making an effort to understand customer needs and product usage, so improvements can be made. To do this, organizations need to have a clear picture of what “habitual use” means in the context of your industry and your customer’s mindset.

For example, if I’m a restaurant app, habitual use might be once, twice a week. If I’m an events invitation platform, it might be more like once a month. Or, if I’m a social media app, habitual use might look more like three or more log-ins per day. The point is, one size doesn’t fit all.

Organizations should focus efforts on accuracy, quality, and continuing to delight and ensure that customers continue to have an emotional connection with the brand. That means continuously looking for opportunities to upsell or promote an alternative solution and design and build upgrades that align with changing needs.

6. Maintain Post-Use

If customers stop using the product, but not because they were unsatisfied, organizations should focus on re-engaging the customer either with new products, services, or features.

When customers have stopped using the product because they were dissatisfied, organizations should focus on re-engaging the customer with new products, services, features, or branding—but make sure they’re using feedback/data to find a different solution that may be a better fit.

If the customer needs to discontinue, ensure that the process is easy, efficient, and leaves the door open for customers to come back. In other words, don’t burn any bridges.

Customer Lifecycle Management

The CX lifecycle management strategy must be consistent across all products, services, and interactions. It’s important that it’s focused around the customer, provides the right information at the right time, and solves problems the way customers expect them to be solved.

Customer lifecycle management follows typical continuous improvement/Agile processes. It’s all about identifying existing journeys, conversion funnels, and market trends. From there, using those insights to improve, measuring the results, and repeating the process on loop. The more information you have, the easier it’ll be to refine and personalize the overall experience so that it aligns with customer needs.

This information will inform your product vision, roadmap, release plan, as well as your sales, service, and marketing strategies. It’s safe to say that you’ll want to spend a good amount of time here.

Align Around the Customer Mindset

3Pillar’s Manager of Product Management, Kathryn Rosaaen, says, “there’s a nuance to the project management craft where we want to look at the stage of the product, stage of our customers, and our KPIs in mind when determining what to build and when.”

For example, if you’re a startup with an early-stage product, without established trust nor existing base, you might double down on features that maximize how many people discover the product. Here, it makes more sense to prioritize features that promote engagement and encourage repeat use, and avoiding features that demand a higher level of trust or commitment.

Align with the customer mindset to ensure that every interaction they have convinces them to stick with the journey.

This reduces waste, maximizes the number of people who become loyal fans, and acknowledges that in a land of choice, every single person who visits our product is important to your business.

Measure, Analyze, and Reassess

Customer lifecycle management is about measuring several customer-related metrics over a specific period, which, when analyzed, indicate how well a business is performing. The idea is, you’re not just looking at how many sales you made or leads that entered the pipeline.

Look at the metrics that help inform what attracts customers, convinces them to convert, and ultimately, convinces them to commit long-term AND tell people how happy they are.

When using the startup example, we might look at our data and decide to prioritize the following:

  • 50% of effort goes toward removing friction in the sign-in process with a goal of lowering bounce rate from 50% to 20%.
  • 30% of effort goes toward creating personalized content with a goal of keeping 50% of users engaged with our product.
  • 20% of effort goes toward getting people to return via alerts and gamification tactics, with a goal of getting 25% of engaged customers to return within a week.

As the product matures and the customer base evolves and expands, we’ll reassess our priorities and focus on the areas that stand to have the greatest impact at that stage.

Remember, “Analog” Rules Still Apply

One thing organizations tend to forget is digital interactions should still follow most of the same “relationship-building rules” we use in person.

The customer experience lifecycle can be compared to the stages of a romantic relationship.
Based on this example, here’s how you might think about what’s appropriate at each stage:

  • Attract: “I saw you and I like you.”
  • Acquisition: “Wanna go for a date?”
  • Conversion: “Let’s start a relationship together.”
  • Retention: “Wanna marry me?”
  • Loyalty: “Growing old together.”

Essentially, you’re gradually getting to know each other, one step at a time—not proposing on the first date. You don’t want to creep out potential customers by being overly familiar or aggressive early on. Rather, take the time to get to know them and establish a real connection.

Kathryn Rosaaen recommends approaching your digital interactions the same way as your “IRL” ones. She says, “a great trick I use is, asking myself, “if I walked into a brick and mortar store for the first time and the employees presented me with X experience, how would it make me feel?”

Customer lifecycle management is all about walking in your customer’s shoes, treating them as individuals, and being sensitive to their mindset. Focus on their hopes, needs, fears, goals, and frustrations.

Final thoughts

The key takeaway is to align product design to where the customer is in the particular moment.

If we’re in “Attract” mode and have yet to earn the customer’s trust, it doesn’t make sense to ask for a ton of personal data or commit to a long-term contract upon arrival.

Instead, ease into it: make small “asks” as customers move through each stage and follow up after each interaction. Be mindful not to abandon customers after the conversion—it’s bad for your reputation and the bottom line.

3Pillar Global helps clients build innovative products that anticipate needs and delight at every stage in the customer experience lifecycle. Contact an expert to learn more.

Special thanks to these members of FORCE, 3Pillar’s expert network, for their contributions to this article.

LinkedIn Angel Almada

LinkedIn Kathryn Rosaaen

FORCE is 3Pillar Global’s Thought Leadership Team comprised of technologists and industry experts offering their knowledge on important trends and topics in digital product development.