There is no customer journey; every touch point is a destination

journey

Really, no customer journey? Last week, we had a gathering of an expert group about Personalized eCommerce. Members of this group mostly lead eCommerce operations of Dutch retailers, wholesalers and services companies. Our mission is to do away with – perceived – hurdles to personalization by identifying various ‘good practices’. Adopting these practices help a company to take the first or the next steps in personalizing its touchpoints with customers.

That morning we were received by Foryouandyourcustomers, an international multichannel business consultancy firm, to discuss cases and practices about how personalization creates customer value. Among others, we discussed the framework developed by Bain & Company about which elements of value are rooted in what kind of needs. Often we are most concerned about functional needs, but underneath of what seems to be a functional need or functional value, often lies a deeper need, an emotional value.

bain

While the framework was applied to overall value creation, most notably in the ultimate product or service, I couldn’t help but note that it also applies to a single touchpoint. For example, onsite search is something most would see as purely functional in nature. A visitor of a webshop uses the search bar to assist him in finding the product or set of products he is looking for, using keywords. Now imagine that the results that are returned is a rather large set of results that do not feature what the user expected directly on top. This can be the result of using too generic keyword(s) by the user, a poorly configured search engine or simply not using any context – only using keyword and not user and historical data of the user, as is the case with most search engines. 

Higher needs may be lurking behind the obvious functional ones 

If onsite search was only a functional step toward finding and buying a product, you would think that all a user needs to do is refine the search with more precise keywords and that it should not cause much agony. In the same way you may look for down the next aisle in a supermarket to find the product you need. However, Search quickly becomes a major dissatisfier because it introduces several agonies, among which the agony of choice. Suppose your underlying need was to reduce uncertainty by quickly acquainting yourself with a couple of products and then decide. How would you feel about being confronted with more products than you cared for but not quite able to dismiss them either? This paradox of choice merits a more extensive read, but at this point let me just conclude with what struck me: always be aware that higher needs may be lurking behind the obvious functional ones.

From frameworks for identifying customer value, the expert group continued to the method that Foryouandyourcustomers developed to engage clients in thinking through the entire customer journey: channel OPERA. I won’t explain the details of the method; the idea is to recreate the customer journey for a specific persona and to discuss the what and the how of improving a customer’s journey. The case was about introducing an app with the objective to bridge gaps in the customer’s journey for a kitchen appliance. The app would benefit the user with recipes and stuff and would guide the user toward the purchase of the appliance. This is often the thinking when the customer journey is concerned: no matter the touchpoints and the order of touchpoints, the journey inevitably heads to the destination “purchase”.

There is really no customer journey, at least not a journey in which your customer sets out with the intention to get to the destination you like him to end up 

But as we struggled to reconcile an app that would clearly require an user to put in considerable effort to install and use with the objective of selling kitchen appliance, it finally dawned on me. Much like the often used phrase: “the journey is more important than the destination” meaning that throughout life it is what you experience that adds value, not where you end up, there is really no customer journey. At least not a journey in which your customer sets out with the intention to get to the destination you like him to end up, where the product or service you sell finally creates some customer value.

Instead, the customer journey should be rewarding in itself and your customer has to derive value from every touchpoint you offer. The value could come from the knowledge or inspiration your customer gets or the social benefits from sharing something, but regardless, unless you have something of value to offer, your customers simply will not make use of that touchpoint.

These were two insights I wanted to share with you from that excellent expert group session. Personalization, as with any other way to add or improve a touchpoint, should first and foremost be about the value it creates for a customer.