Collectively, there is a lot of talk about customer journeys. From the business side, they represent a game plan, a key storyline to help guide the evolution of products and services. But do customer journeys matter to customers?
How aware are we of them? Do they make a blind bit of difference? Are customers appreciating them? Or are they simply a set of good/better/best scenarios to give execs and marketers a more flexible, human ’experience lead’ agenda? Is it really a matter of oversimplification, as their customers fleetingly interact with the services and products their organisations offer?
I believe it’s about preparing for the unexpected. It’s like Theseus’ paradox: as the wooden planks in his ship wore down, each was replaced, one at a time. Yet, if it is entirely replaced piece by piece, is it still the same ship? This thought experiment considers whether an object that has all its parts switched out is still essentially the same thing.
The journey you design and embark upon and the one that customers then travel (and break, and change piece by piece) ultimately turns it into a different journey by the time it reaches a conclusion. But is it still the same journey? And how do we plan for it?
When customer journeys fail to connect
Fabricated, idealized customer journeys never acknowledge a fork in the path or construction on the roadway. That is why I’m sharing my current journey with you as a personal example: my deeply disappointing morning commute. It’s Tuesday morning in the outer London suburbs, it’s early, dark, raining (heavily) and the train is full. I have no personal space and someone is talking loudly on their phone.
The thing to remember with any journey is that there are always things that the consumer cannot control. To varying degrees these can include: where to go, the time you do something, how long it takes, the benefits of doing it and the reason for even wanting to do it in the first place.
Choosing which journeys have value
Some (physical and brand) journeys can be great, but most of the time (like on my train journey) they are a slog, in which you move according to other people’s terms, conditions and drumbeat. While consumers are certainly enjoying the freedom offered by the digital age, how many of the cleverly-designed journeys in our daily lives are actually relevant to us?
Customer behaviours are sprawling, unpredictable and constantly changing. A few examples: Am I actually planning to purchase something right now? Do I have the time/money to make the decision, or is someone or something putting pressure on me?
It could be that I’m just playing with the digital marketing toybox your company bought at great cost from Adobe or Hubspot, and I have zero intention of buying anything. My point is that all of the journeys we take are driven by pressure – time, need, guilt, instruction or boredom – most of which end consumers only have partial control over.
Listen, don’t assume
So let’s really put ourselves in the customer’s shoes when thinking about journeys affected by pressure. In these instances, like the train I’m currently standing in, or ordering food, or paying utility bills or insurance premiums, I challenge the providers of these services to map out my real-life personal journey (or even something close to it) and offer me a meaningful experience that they can influence.
Perhaps at the end of the day I’m not going to be happy about my journey regardless. In this case, the experience you want me to have has to be about more than beating my personal expectations.
The difference between a relationship and a transaction
Solutions won’t always be perfect. If my journey on the train was going to be about making me happy, the people running the train service would have to ensure that everyone had ample seats and legroom so we could all be out of one another’s personal space. That just simply isn’t realistic, and so the customer journey must sometimes acknowledge our reduced expectations.
Companies need to make better decisions by focusing on the customer, even if that includes the unpleasant stuff. They should also be aware that if I as the customer never wanted to be on the journey in the first place, no amount of digital marketing tactics, gamification, loyalty schemes, apps, cat videos or rainbow vomiting unicorns are going to engage me or change the fact we’re having a transaction not a relationship. Knowing your customer well enough to understand that sometimes they want nothing to do with you is important. Deliver an efficient service (or whatever your product your company ships/supplies), don’t mess up the billing, stay OUT of my life…
Recognizing when NOT to do something
What’s your impression of Theseus’ paradox? Is the customer journey the same if all the parts have been replaced? Maybe designing the perfect journey for your customers and not giving them an experience is the new experience. Maybe it’s knowing your customer well enough to understand that sometimes they want nothing to do with you. As a crafter of those journeys, this doesn’t mean your role is non-existent, but rather about being discreet, efficient and effective and not outstaying your welcome. Have a nice day, I hope this has altered your brain patterns in a measurable way…