How to define a moment when planning your customer experience?

It’s surprising how managing time is an important factor when planning customer experience. While experiences are expanded and contracted over time, it is the perception of time that is really in question. The perception of time is what enables the elasticity of the experience you are willing to design. And it’s in the elasticity that your margins (and your customer’s satisfaction) can contract or increase.

I have posted an article on LinkedIn showing how a customer experience needs to be designed over different time scales.

For instance, when a consumer is deciding upon taking a trip to Mexico, that may take months. When their mind is made up, they may take a few days browsing tickets. When booking tickets, time is calibrated in seconds — the website response time must be flawless, browsing variations should have a reasonably short loading time, shopping carts fully workable, easy sign-up and so on. Research is clear on how site abandonment escalates quickly in relation to waiting time.  And then we’re back to a more granular time scale when the consumer is browsing, discussing and booking vendors they may buy from — hotels, local transport, restaurant reservations, local trips. From them on, I like to count time as a countdown to departure. You may evaluate the trip in T-minus 7 days, for example.

So by understanding how time can be broken into different scales, case by case, we can understand where most customer journey projects fail. They are often thought out in a one-size-fits-all manner. While that may be good to understand, say, the peak and end of the experience you offer, it makes a big difference when deciding on how to actually design every moment of the experience.

Moments: a relevant definition for a customer-centric context

Most customer journey projects I have come across are high-level principles (awareness, consideration, intent…) wrapped around touchpoints. And that’s okay, because touchpoints are where things really materialise.

But journeys are also subjective, and subjectivity is often a layer kept at the abstract level. Which is a shame, because business people are not often good with abstractions — yet, we cannot ignore these. Business people pay people like me to think about these abstractions, take care of them, and turn them into a simple, yes-or-no concept with a dotted line at the end of the page. Win-win!

So in order to successfully mix objective interactions (the touchpoints) to the subjective perception of the journey, I have developed my own way of planning the experience. To me, the essence of “moments” is the combination of a timestamp with the correspondent emotional response. That will define a time unit. A “moment”. A chunk of time, based on the emotional response that a certain event triggered. Sounds complicated? It’s not.

Basically, I take the customer’s perception instead of minutes, seconds or touchpoints. For example:

“I’m at the line waiting for my coffee (and I get impatient);
Then as I approach the counter and choose from the menu what kind of coffee I will have (and I get excited)”.

Tt is the consumers’ emotional needs that will influence how they break their own journey down into moments.

That’s an excellent way of understanding what’s missing from the real need perspective of the consumer. Knowing where the action happens — the touchpoints — is, of course, a must. But that is the easy part. You still end up with a “pushing services” type of mentality if you don’t put yourself in the shoes of your consumer. And, furthermore, evaluate and research what are their objective and emotional needs at each given point in time. It is their emotional needs which will change the perception of time during the journey. Therefore, it is their emotional needs that will influence how they break their own journey down into moments.

A scale for moments: Google’s idea of micro-moments

Micro-moments occur when people reflexively turn to a device—increasingly a smartphone—to act on a need to learn something, do something, discover something, watch something, or buy something. They are intent-rich moments when decisions are made and preferences shaped.

More about micro-moments here.

In my next article, I will tell how I created a useful overlay above moments: momentum, which is the “aftertaste” or predisposition that each moment leaves in the consumer’s mind — and that’s where the opportunity of properly approaching them is.

 

Trendwatch: How to start listening to your influencers

Trendwatching is an expensive hobby. And observing influencers is a new one. You may have radars, listening tools or sentiment measurement in place. These solutions tend to be expensive, and when you talk about that to your clients there are several thresholds you need to overcome.

Firstly, customers may be sceptical that these tools work, or even that, if they work, you won’t be able to get relevant insights from it.

Secondly, customers may think that these solutions are difficult to get “up and running” and resonating with their own websites, and therefore the learning curve would consume a substantial amount of fuel until it’s providing new results.

If you work in a result-oriented way — and I certainly hope you do — then you are facing a problem: how long until your insights pay the costs you and your project represent to your client?

I’ll give a quick example: I wanted to use an AI solution with my clients. After discussing for a long time with Don, a super nice guy from Sentient.ai, I was amazed by their solution. They have brought to web design principles of gene pool, gene recombination and evolutionary stabilization. I was amazed. The price-point: US$ 3000 per month, minimum. So if you think that to this cost, the addition is enormous: getting everybody onboard, getting designers to do the creative layouts, content writers, development and implementation, approval — and only then getting to put the project to work, to only then reap the results. — you’re talking about a €50,000, easily. And like every business, this is not exactly a science, but a bet. Do you see my point?

Thus you are passionate about listening to influencers, observing them, understanding how they behave, right? Yet, how to get your customer to be convinced it’s important to listen to these influencers? And more importantly, how to get to listen to the right influencers?

There is a myth that “influencers” can be just any celebrity enough related to the business you are working with. That could not be further from the truth, because influencers are parameters of behaviour and aspiration that vary significantly from person to person, region to region and even to different stages in life.

Listening to the influences that matter: a primer

Hopefully, I have created enough awareness and despair up to this point, so I can now talk about the solution we can implement: a little intelligence hub you can call your own.

Experiment with different Value Propositions that, when combined, calibrated and equalised, constitute your Unique Value Proposition.

1. Create a pitch test

Preferably on Facebook or Instagram, and target it broadly. Create restrictions based only on the markets you work with. Say, if your client operates in Germany, make that your target group. Avoid demographics, they are restrictions that are losing its relevance quite rapidly, because what it means to be 50 or 60 changes year by year with new technology. Experiment with different copy, images, you know the drill. More importantly: experiment with different Value Propositions that, when combined, calibrated and equalised, constitute your Unique Value Proposition. If you don’t know what proposition that is, you’re in a fucking big trouble and you should contact me immediately and I will help you for free.

2. Collect, collate, observe

Observe who responds to your ads. Where are they? How old are they? Are they men wor women? What are their main interests? Can you group them into significant groups?  Then, drill down to the pitch. Which pitch have they responded to? Can you re-group them considering what type of ad have they clicked? To make an abstraction concrete: say that your Unique Value Proposition is “great groceries, to your door”. “Young urban people in relationships have clicked our promise of delivering fast to your door, while Senior citizens on the countryside have responded to the quality and safety of our products, and GenZ has just ignored the ads.” So you can have a breakdown of these values and understand which of them matters the most to each consumer group. This is particularly important because, to my view, consumer groups should be seen as a mutant, evolving entity of, in this example, “people who trust our quality” and “people who value our delivery efficiency”. This technique is not new nor exclusive — the team I work with has used it for a while, and I fell in love with it.

3. Hunt!

Now you are quite enlightened about what works for your client’s customer base.  You have proof of who was interested in your pitch. I think there’s an entire world of difference between asking a bunch of people how likely are you to buy our product and how likely are you to recommend our company. Remember, fellows, the Net Promoter Score was really “the one number you need to grow” — in 2003. Remember, 2003 was more than a decade ago, and counting.

Don’t rely on what they tell you, rely on the strings you can pull.

The main differences between this approach and the survey approach, to me, are two: firstly, you are not asking for a promise, you are relying on a sample of people who showed real interest on what you are offering; enough interest to move click your ad. Secondly, you are not relying on their own interpretation on what they like, want or need. You are pulling the strings that resonate with them, and that’s essential because you also want to capitalise what they don’t know that they know (I love the epistemological turn that digital marketing has taken; I haven’t learned this from Kotler, but from the simplified definition of ideology from Slavoj Zizek).

Once you have this collection of information, the task complexity is all up to you. Get the age, location, gender, social class and personal interests of the indefinite mass you have mapped, and find them. Find them on Facebook, find them on Pinterest, find them on Instagram. I particularly like Instagram for that part, because there are so many open accounts.

You can even choose if you want to follow plain samples of your target audience, or influencers who are influencing your targeted audience. The number of followers can hint you a little bit about that. Check who follow them, and if their followers resonate with your audience, too. Create a little database — even a second personal account, even disclaiming your are a trend hunter, and follow them. Create a tab of protocols to observe daily or weekly (I promise to get back to that soon), and in a month you will have valuable data on your very targeted customer group. The more specific, the more regional, the better. You will be able to tell your customers about the hypothesis this database has generated with strong rigour. The catch is also this: treat your findings as filtered, high-quality hypotheses for further experimentation.

There are more details, such as evaluating volumes in your market for each consumer group, breaking down your pitch into different value variations (so you can really refine what works for whom), and what works for everyone, and more. I’ll get back to that here. Subscribe and keep in touch!

 

Customer Journey: How does your customer experiences a day?

One idea I have taken into close consideration when designing customer experience along the customer journey, is that of time. To me, the concept of experience is closely related to the one of managing time — either time itself, or the perception of time.

Thus companies may choose to be part of the customer time, embodied in it, or then be a blaze of effectiveness, barely being noticed, and build this near-invisibility as its differential. This is discussed in more nerd-friendly terms by the timeless concepts of immediacy and hypermediacy, by Bolter & Grusin. I’ve written about it too, in my book/thesis Actors, Computers and Interactorsdealing with the idea of foregrounding experiences to create apparent invisibility.

Back to reality: you either stand out by standing out, or you stand out by blending in. And to make it actionable — or in the least, tangible — I like to break time down into a day. A day is the most basic, wholesome unit of time with which you can measure a customer. Because months demand repurchase or reconsideration. Hours demand ups and downs and the whole rollercoaster of emotions of going to store, back home, back to the phone. And minutes and seconds are that whole other deal with precision and careful interaction building. Managing minutes and seconds online is like building a castle. Every single path and transition from one place to another is essential for it.

By the way, have you ever read What Matthew Fredrick Learned in Architecture School? It’s a primer on seeing spaces as time. Check (or come back) for the labyrinth concept, I will blog about it here soon.

So, a day is the basic unit of reestablishing a new order to things, yet staying a little bit the same. That’s a basic premise of every story, and that’s a little bit how we tell our stories to ourselves and friends. Thus I think the day is when you weight what worked, what didn’t; what sucked, what was awesome.

A day is boring, but it’s magnificently boring. The sunrise and the sunset is the reminder that you chose the life you’re living. The moments you interact with your customer create a similar relation: you can either remind them of their bad or their good choices. You can stick to the nice part of the day, or the nuissance.

We may not have consciously this sophisticated balance of what was nice, what was not (despite the fact of a billion motivational speakers telling us to write those down). But we probably will have a certain incentive to do something again if it worked well, or face a certain friction to what we didn’t like.

Friction

I started talking about time, but what I think is really the focus in here, when talking about experience, is friction. Experiences are by definition friction because they would be its perfect opposite of non-experience, of ultimate effectiveness, if there wasn’t friction. So we may have good friction and bad friction. We need to carefully examine what kind of those we are creating with our experiences, and work to strategically reduce them.

You will find a thousand sites telling you to “eliminate friction” from your consumer experience, but that just doesn’t add up to what you can do, most of the time. Or else, of course, you would have already done it. Thus a few principles I live by, which may help you:

  • When good friction is possible, dwell on it, underline it, highlight it, and make it ten times worth the time spent on it just by showing how great it is. Good friction is often given for granted. Tell your customer you are providing it, add a cherry on the top, and you have much higher experience over lowe expectations. Win.
  • When bad friction is necessary, manage the moment before and after. Prepare your customer for it, justify as a slight memento that we live in the real world, and nonetheless, we’re doing the best; distract, but don’t deceive, and create a “small talk” that will get their hearts. Who will think Tumblr is slow as hell when the preloader says it is now “cleaning the inside of your screen”?
  • Pay attention to the expectations, not the assets. Assets are limited. It demands resources. If you could deliver twice your offer for half the price, why wouldn’t you already be doing it? So manage the expectation. When sentiment is in the right place, customers tend to be forgiving, understanding and end up having a nice story to tell.

 

 

 

Mapping your Customer Journey: why you need agents, not participants

Acting naturally is one of the most difficult things you can try to do. If you want to start mapping a Customer Journey, it’s important to recruit the right people and, as importantly, ask them to do the right thing. The way to do that is surprisingly counterintuitive.

When I started observing consumers for the purpose of journey mapping, I gradually understood that the deepest analyses were in observing the observer. I then refined the definition: observing the agent. That was the challenge — to find agents who would simply “act as a consumer”.

Generally, when I recruited participants for a case, I would call them agents. The term reasoning goes beyond the spy-stunt coolness. The term was chosen exactly because I would like to stimulate their acting over services, not reporting or observing or complaining. And for anyone involved in doing research with participants, it’s a hard task to set participants in the right mode. It’s the constant challenge of “removing the interface” and letting things happen as naturally as possible.

Agent did sound a bit pretentious, but it was exactly what I wanted to say with the role I was assigning. By definition, an agent is someone who acts on behalf of someone else. Relates to agencyagent is a term elegantly rooted in the Latin etymology of “the one who acts” (age + ent).

That’s often the mistake recruits (and recruiters) do when assigning people for a service safari, customer journey mapping or similar projects: they end up asking people’s opinions, and people start giving them. In fact, their opinions don’t matter. It’s their experiences that actually matter.

Commonly, recruits take the role of criticizing every single misplaced detail, boosting the importance of minor flaws, or embedded into a self-entitlement to be treated as a restaurateur reporting to the Michelin guide. That’s now how things happen in real life (and there is the culprit of before and after big data availability when it comes to consumer research).

So when I started selection processes, I would disclose little about what we were looking for, and more about talking about the need of identifying moments along their journey (I’m making a post about this process, too). In order to set people in the right mode, what was shown to be an effective way was to deviate their attention and make the entire operation go around a specific task. Not a vendor, not customer service evaluation, not a review of what worked and what did not. The point becomes to report emotional states along the way, from assignment to completion of a task.

Agent, complete the task and report!

The best outcomes from this process is the ease in extracting a reasonably free view of what happened along the way. Pain points and delightful moments become evident, especially if a clear choice of words was taken in account (mind that these need to be coded into a certain framework, so you can understand the high and low points along the way; read this if you want to go into the details). And the way is then clear from the noise and focused in the obstacles and ease in completing a certain task.

The main ambition that an “agent” can have is to report as neutrally and as universally as possible how the factual routine happened along the way, along with the emotional changes. Unlikely we are led to believe, emotions are not strictly subjective and personal, individual and personalised. That’s because when it comes to being a consumer (or experiencing a service), we have loads of context already assimilated, and the exemplary behaviour of a consumer is already assimilated in culture. We are aware of our consumer rights, our obligations and what a reasonably good or bad service is. That’s the level we’re looking at in consumer journey mapping: the discoverable flaws, benegits and wins along the way.

Michelin stars are awarded in much deeper processes of refining, targeting and verifying the resonance of services and consumers.

Try this at home: recruiting people the right way for your Customer Journey Mapping

Recruit people to complete a specific task within a service, preferably one which results in a business goal or, in the least, a microconversion.

Ask timely and objective descriptions of what happens during the process.

 Ask them to report emotional changes during the process.

 


In a next post I will cover how to make descriptions timely, as well as some secret ingredients to report and decode emotions in the least intrusive way. I will also discuss a bit on the demographic needs of recruiting people for journey maps.

I’ve been involved in Customer Journey Mapping projects with some of the biggest companies in the Nordic countries, and developed an award-winning method for mapping what consumers do, feel and experience services in a data-driven and design-oriented way. 

There is a free ebook available from Ottoboni, if you want to know more. This and more articles on Consumer Science are available in my blog, at my LinkedIn profile