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Do not underestimate the power of a customer journey’s dark side

The majority of creative companies say they embrace customer journeys for creating relevant content and distribute it through the right channels on the best thinkable moment with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious technologies. Yessss! We love to ponder about the ultimate customer experience for your company’s service or product. For each step of the experience we creatives can come up with a variety of ideas. Ideas that can be cleverly linked to each other throughout the whole experience; from the first encounter to sharing their feel of happiness. Using customer insights, qualitative data and psychological knowhow to make it an experience worth experiencing, sharing and remembering.

I make no secret of it that I am also very fond of thinking in customer journeys. It makes my job as Digital Art Director pretty cool and energising. I use it as a tool for thinking and formulating inspiring, surprising and believable stories. Aiming for all kinds of wait-for-it… legendary moments, moments that will positively knock you out of your socks. Despite the fact that a customer journey puts the whole matter in a completely new crispy fresh light with a strong hosanna feel, it also has a rarely discussed dark side. Yes. I now go Art Vader on your ass.

Let us pretend that we are now standing in a creative war/boardroom. All the useful ideas are nicely mapped in a super structured and visually appealing figure. Everybody around the table is smiling. Your colleagues are happily high-fiving each other and the client is visibly relieved. Proud on their achievement that they are the founders of a complex, but very intelligent customer journey. Good for you. The real inevitable problems occur after all of the creative (oh-yes-everything-we-invent-is-possible) people left the room and the client is left alone with their newfound customer journey. Back on earth, reality kicks in like a hangover and can be divided into three lines of must-haves (depending on the client’s situation and demands):

Must-have 1: People with the right skills and knowledge to check the feasibility of the customer journey.

Create the right expert panels if you want to give your customer journey the quality checks it needs. These panels can vary from employees to customers and from behaviour specialists to marketeers. The selection of the right panels fully depends on the goal and outlines of the customer journey (see must-have 3). For example, employees who are working 5-days a week in your store have priceless insights that will definitely help to improve your in-store interactions with the customer. Neglecting these insights is like a single man trying to hit on every girl in the club with the same pick up line every time. My uncle’s struggle with his superiors serves as a great example to show the importance of expert panels. He retired a couple of years ago, but he ran a liquor store for more than 40-years. During his life as a store owner he learned that his own customer insights truly can make a difference. Due to a number of reasons he decided to become a franchisee and started operating under the flag of a big nationally operating liquor concern, from which he frequently receives strategies that he has to carry out. One of these strategies concerned a new mandatory shelf strategy for his wines. This strategy seems quite innocent and logic at first glance, but totally overlooked my uncle’s 40-years-of-knowledge about his customers and the village he lives in. He rejected the strategy without hesitating because it did not fit the demand of his regular customers. After a couple of weeks he was ordered to change his shelf arrangement immediately. The change resulted into a declining sales of wines, because he had to replace his assortment with cheaper, mid-range wines and place them directly in sight instead of the expensive ones. The declining sales led to the question: what causes the change in revenue? My uncle’s answer was simple and short. “You have never asked me what I know about my customers”. What they missed out is that the lion share of my uncle’s customers are frequent buyers from high end wines in large quantities. In short, headquarters totally missed out on this one.

Customer journeys are able to put a clients’ organisation under real pressure, because the outcome often implies a change in the work- and communication flow or even in the way how the company is structured. It is the question if your current organisation is able to execute the changes on a required level, or that reorganisation is necessary. In other words, know if your organisation or team is up to the challenge to change the way they are used to operate and ready to make necessary sacrifices. If your organisation or team is not up to the challenge try searching for a way to decrease the gap between the ideal and current situation. I never forget the words of my football coach. He trained a couple of teams in the highest Dutch youth league, but did a serious step back when he became the coach of our team. Despite everything, we were ambitious, just like him. So, we asked him one day to give us the same exercises as the players in the highest youth league. He laughed and said: “That will turn out into a complete disaster, even if we give it a try. The entire team misses the right qualities to execute the exercises on a level that match my standards. There is not one player in this team who meets that level of play. I can ask the technical youth coordinator for some new qualified players to fill the gaps and disappoint you or one of the other players, but that is not the real solution. If you guys are really up to it, start to train harder and maybe we can do some of the exercises next year, but for now, get used to the current level of training.” Ok. That was disappointing, but his opinion was foolproof and insightful. Keep the sake of your organisation in mind when you are all working towards a viable solution with the customer journey as a shining light in the dark.
The first two must-haves depend strongly on the third must-have and can be compared with the art of cooking. You can not cook a proper dish without knowing what you finally want to make and using the outlines to support that goal. In other words, you and your team act like a loose cannon when you and your team are filling in a customer journey without a goal and the right outlines. Think of clear goals such as improving the check-out process or optimise the consumer buying decision process. Do not worry about the outlines, because they are the fine mixture of all the possible insights that can help to realise your goal, from legal restrictions to neuromarketing and from consumer insights to valuable stories of first degree experiences.

Note that this must-have in combination with must-haves 2 & 3 is a born winner…

Must-have 2: The realistic awareness that the outcome of a customer journey workshop can alter your organisation drastically.

Must-have 3: A clear goal and the right outlines before you start working on a customer journey. In other words, keep it smart stupid.

I hope that this article helps you to overthink and optimise your suggestion for filling in a customer journey together with your client. The greatest power of a customer journey is that it opens up the opportunities to optimise the interactions between all involved actors. The power to create legendary experiences. Know what kind of powers you are releasing and with what kind of purpose you are filling in a customer journey. Stop doing too much before you know it and give yourself a clear context with realistic boundaries before turning up the heat in a customer journey workshop.

Yes. Strong is the force with this one and one is strong with the force.