Tuesday, 3 January 2012

The Customer Journey: Why the “theorists” have got it wrong.

The customer journey, the relationship and experience between people and brands, has been the subject of much theorising for some time. There are a number of cognitive models, outlining the thought process people undertake; most of which are quite linear and logical. The vast majority of these stop at the point of purchase. Which by definition, cannot be “customer journeys”; isn’t a “customer” someone who has already purchased? Then there are some, and credit to them, which go beyond purchase and introduce the concept of the loyalty loop. It is perceived that people will remain loyal if they have a great post purchase experience with the product, offering and brand interaction. Which of course makes complete sense….as do all the descriptions and commentary based around these models. Some of which are illustrated below:
GfK's Funnel; McKinsey's Loyalty Loop; and Harvard's Loyalty Loop: (looking spookily similar to McKinsey's)

Unfortunately, they are all wrong. They completely over simplify people’s individual thought process, and, somewhat arrogantly, treat people as non-emotive robots or automatons making very logical decisions in isolation of others. Theoretically, they seem to make complete sense, but in reality it’s not the case.

When you throw in real people into the mix, like you and I, the dynamics change. We’re unique individuals right? We’re one of a kind. We have personality, we’re influenced by past experiences and the people we mix with; we make our own decisions…..we don’t follow logical paths. How dare they even think this!

Example: Why am I made to queue outside a shop by my eldest daughter for at least 20 minutes; to be greeted by two ripped male Adonis models and enter a store where the lights are so dim you can’t really see what’s on sale? Then spend at least another 30 minutes wandering around, observing that my daughter is looking at everyone else, instead of the clothes. Due to my pestering and encouragement of my daughter to finally make a decision (because I’m getting a little frustrated by this point) we pick up an item of clothing, which she barely spends 30 seconds looking at. It’s got the logo, the brand…it’ll do. And who is the customer? I’m the person who pays, yet it’s my daughter who has become absorbed by this whole thing. She’s been influenced by others, and in turn has “influenced” me…somehow.

Where does this play out in the models illustrated above? It doesn't.

Theory would say, waiting is bad, and not showing the products in a decent enough environment is not a good idea either. It’s a poor experience for the consumer. But practically, this works really well for….Hollister. They have recognised the key influencers along the customer journey are not just the clothes (the things people exchange cash for…where they make their money), they have recognised that their brand, which is a badge, means something to people and those who have it on show. It’s a common bond of a micro community…but probably not so micro these days….which may mean it may not be so cool in the future. Being over popular can serve to be a downfall too.

This dynamic is all about the influence of others, being part, or more accurately, aspiring to be part of a “cool” group or micro-social community. It’s about identity, how you want to be seen and the recognition from others that comes with this. If I can make a slight indulgence at this point, The Mods in the sixties had this down to a fine art and subsequent sub-cultures have followed a very similar dynamic. Being part of such a group was everything to the people involved; achieving a level of status and recognition gave them even more kudos. Being a “ticket” is one thing, but everyone wanted to be a “face”!

So, doesn’t it make sense to put people at the heart of every customer journey framework? We need to create one, which caters for the influence of others at every stage of the journey – pre and post sale. It’s time to put the customer back into the customer journey. It is essential to know exactly who the people are you wish to engage with; what they are doing and the reasons why they behave this way. Only then can you create a communications framework that resonates with the right people, at the right time and in the right places.

  • People are unique individuals and behave differently to each other.
  • They are motivated and influenced by many differing factors.
  •  Fellow consumers influence other individual’s own unique journey. The level of influence sometimes outweighs that of the brand itself.
  •  Cognitive thought process from awareness through consideration to commitment seem rational. But, the pace of travelling through these stages and the influence others have are sometimes overlooked. Not everyone spends time researching, many act on impulse; some purchases are habitual, it all depends on the mind-set of the individual concerned.
  • The plethora of communication channels now available has caused people to change their behaviour significantly. Some consume content via multiple channels at the same time; some are very heavy social web users; others shy away from the latest technology and would be considered more “traditional”. The simple fact is, the paradox of choice means people will choose what is right for them and it could be different every single time they embark on a journey.
  •  The various stages of Awareness through to Advocacy are mapped around the people. This non-linear approach caters for sector cross over; i.e. The amplification of customer advocacy to create awareness, interest and even conversion; or for the more impulsive enable to move quickly from awareness to conversion and from suspect through to customer.
This is a base framework with which businesses can map their consumer centric engagement around. It’s real. It works.
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