How to create engagement with customer flow


by Ger van den Buijs, {grow} Community member

Most articles present Customer Journey as a given fact. They presume customers are happy with their purchasing journey. I doubt that. I think there is a lot to gain for customers. I think that the overload of information has made shopping complex and a solution is needed.

Why just understand the customer journey? Aim to optimize it.

I will outline my analysis in 5 views, each with a detailed explanation. The graphics presented in this article build up to new understanding of the customer journey, what I like to call “Customer Flow.”

  1. Hygiene view
  2. Customer view
  3. Market view
  4. Customer flow view
  5. Purchasing Detour view

The Hygiene View

This basic view says that the customer journey is a collection of touchpoints with our company. This view mainly focuses on getting the customer experience aligned over the different interaction points. I have found two levels of this approach. The first group is on a micro-level. I have seen a great Starbucks customer journey. It maps out almost every step a customer takes inside the café.

The second approach views the customer journey in terms of interactions over time. With the development of the multichannel commerce model it became important to streamline the customer experience over the different channels.


This approach might sound customer-centric. The central topic, however, is the company. It is a tool to help fighting the internal silos within a company in order to win the customer.

The Customer view

When we look at the customer journey as a series of touchpoints, we are like a 2 dimensional person looking at a 3 dimensional journey. We will never understand the customer journey. It happens to us.

95% of the customer journey actually happens outside our company and outside our zone of influence. Purchasing your product is a minor part of your customer’s life. Only by analyzing the complete flow, including the disconnection, can we understand and predict the touchpoints.

Remember: 95% of the customer journey happens outside our shop.

The Market View

The customer view gives a better understanding of the ways in which people are buying from us. To understand why people are not buying from us, we need to incorporate competition into the picture.

We might lose our customer in one of the touchpoints with companies. It involves market analysis and positioning to build this type of analysis. What differentiates us from our competition? Why would the customer stick with us?

According to research by Dimension Data, customer experience is the best performance indicator for companies. The fact is that only few companies actively use that. Most use sales as prime performance indicator. They feel they have little time to win the customer, so every page must have a sales element. Campaigns land on action pages, in order to sell immediately. It’s buy or leave. The touchdown is expected to be short. That however makes it difficult to differentiate ourselves from the competition.

Failing to measure customer experience and act on it, the customer journey still happens to us.

The Customer Flow View

There is, however, so much more one can do. Today’s strong brands focus on what drives the customer. Their objective is not an immediate sale. Their intention is to support the customer in his process to fulfill a need. Their marketing doesn’t just tell a good story, it actually provides value.

To understand the implication of marketing based on customer flow, I introduce you to the view of the American-Hungarian scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi:

The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times. The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

I found a great formula to determine how to get a customer in flow. I want to thank Sander de Leeuw for sharing the original formula (in Dutch) with us.

Flow = Focus x Direction x Time

Surfing is a beautiful metaphor for this formula.

To get our customer to reach a status of flow, we have to offer:

  • Focus: communicate singular messages a customer can work on. He chooses his wave to ride.
  • Direction: project the bigger goal that the product helps to achieve. Like the wave that sets direction.
  • Time: create a current of events that lengthens the precious moment. He will want to ride our wave as long as possible.

The Customer Flow view urges us to dare to take more time. One of the most prominent characteristics of flow is that time tends to be forgotten. I like the way Jay Baer puts it:

Relevance is witchcraft! It creates space in your customer’s agenda.

Our marketing should be so interesting the customer wants to continue his process. When we present tasks that are worthwhile to our customer, he gets into flow. In our graphic below the flow makes the customer move from step 2 to step 3. This will create value. He has achieved insight and progress. This creates an engagement that will cause him to return faster during later stages in his purchasing process.


The Purchasing Detour View

There is still one thing that is not complete in the above image. It pictures the customer journey as a straight line. But we all know that a purchasing process is not a straight line.


While the shortest connection might be the straight line to conversion, that route will require us to cross the dangerous shallow area. At their first visits with us, we will scare away our customers when we drive them straight to the check out.

Many companies have nowadays changed their strategy, at least partially. Today’s content marketing in social media is providing lots of content without trying to sell. Within the webshop itself, many marketers are still afraid to miss a deal. Don’t fool yourself! Remember the average conversion rate is only 2%.

Just sharing content, however, is also insufficient. You have to combine it with direction. Customers have a mission. They want to fulfill a need and they want to be shown the shortest detour possible. Though some people might like shopping as an activity, the majority will be pleased when they are helped to arrive at a good decision in the shortest possible amount of time.

How can we do this? How can we help our customers? The Nielsen trust index shows a decline in trust in companies and a rising trust in peer customers year after year. Peer customers and word of mouth are the currents that drive modern commerce. Customers show each other the way to the next step.

For a company to win in today’s markets, my view is that we have to mobilize these customer currents within our companies touchpoints. To engage customers to create that current, we have to allow our customers to influence our brand.

A brand has become a collection of customer stories.

That takes guts and powerful communication. Are you ready to take up the challenge?

gervandenbuijsGer van den Buijs is cofounder of, the platform to facilitate customer flow within your site. You can follow me on, LinkedIn and Twitter (@BuijsGer)

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  • Kristine Allcroft

    Love this! Reminds me of my high school physics and trigonometry classes: wave, time, form, particle – it’s all there in the customer’s journey. Thanks for a great post!

  • Ger van den Buijs

    Dear Kristine,
    thanks for the compliment. They weren’t easy to create, but I had a great time making them. While making them, the power of customer flow became even more apparent to me.

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