Strategic optimisation: It’s about behaviour, not buttons

Most decision-makers drift away when something slightly difficult to understand. That happens with conversion optimisation, and this attitude comes with a cost. “That’s for specialist, geeks and engineers”, I feel them thinking. And they are partially right: there are just a few hours a day for a decision-maker define where everybody is going. Who has time for tactical work (for example, making one single project better) when one can be dedicated to strategic work, and make all new projects better.

But that’s the catch. From my experience with CRO (conversion rate optimisation), the job is always tactical, but the work — and what you learn with it — is always strategical.

And that’s also the fascinating side of it. First, you get to see what you are missing out by not experimenting, constantly, frequently and even better, continuously. It’s short-sighted to perceive the activity of experimentation as merely changing the colours of buttons. Sure, you can change colours of buttons and get a tiny increase in clicks. But once you increase — even a little — the impact of these experiments, you start to have as takeaways the understanding of consumer behaviour. And that includes principles, motivations, openness and elasticity.

Take, for instance, one experiment we have conducted in a daily-goods, grocery store type of client. When adding something to their cart, the users were simply informed of their product-to-cart addition with a red notification on the top left corner of the page. They were then staring at the product they have already bought. Having time to think if they really need it? Calculating how much they could be saving if not purchasing at all? Uninspired of what to do next? Yes, uninspired of what to do next.

We decided then to add a pop-up window informing what they have added, and suggesting related products, insurance and other add-ons. Basic stuff. At that point, Amazon was already taking users to a totally new page after purchase, totally dedicated to based on what you bought offers. But we decided on the modal, pop-up window.

What happens next? It flops. Users were hitting the Go to checkout button right away, making it easy to check out. Was that an indication that the site sucked so much that users wanted to get out as fast as possible?

We then changed the layout of it. We made “Continue shopping” a dominant button, and “Go to check out” as faded, small text under the button. And it worked. It worked so much that the modal window became best practice in our team, offered to a number of clients in other eCommerce categories.

We had a significant increase in conversion rates, maintaining the average order value. Now that’s great optimisation. We ended up increasing the revenue of the client in about 100K per year. All that done with a few weekly hours of experimentation, and the willingness to let us do the work, and be patient, because false indicators are common if you don’t let the experiments run for enough time.


On upcoming posts, I will talk about the major pain points, barriers and difficulties in running experiments, as well as the future of it with AI.

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