Are we being swerved?

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In the rush to pin the butterfly of ‘experience’, are over-complex strategy creating their own problems, rather than helping deliver better customer services?

It’s my contention that over-complicated ‘road maps’ of what’s needed to deliver better (best) experiences are only making matters worse and forcing good intentions off that road.

Well, as I’m asking the question, the answer has to be “obviously, imo”, but before I go cutting off my nose, etc. this is more an open question, with the aim of creating more ‘useable’ tools for making sure we (or rather, that our clients can) can deliver better experiences.

My hunch is that, much as people are striving to make ‘the usability experience’ invisible (insofar as you can) there may be a good reason to step back from experience planning in some instances and start from a simpler set of precepts - ones that are much easier to digest and act upon.

The question prompted during the review of another rather thorough take (some 150 pages of it) on ‘sales process’ as a means of managing the customer and their somehow magically exceed-able expectations.

Quite how anyone at the receiving end of documents like this are expected to absorb it’s an interesting question. My sense is that they invoke (perhaps not consciously!) The Precautionary Principle - which boils down to “the more uncertainty about the model, the more conservative one should be” in response to it - and so more likely to revert to type / prior knowledge / preconceptions / current skills / bad habits.

With this in mind, and having seen worthwhile (if sometimes a little over-worthy) strategic models fall short of senior managers expectations (let alone customers), I’d like to offer a simpler model as as a ‘straw man’. It comes with a health warning - it’s not road tested - but I intend to apply it as soon as I can.

Perhaps we can share the results? It also has a particular skew (rather than a ‘SKU’, neatly) as it’s intended application is towards the automotive sector retail rather than retail in general. Whichever. Here’s the premise.

If your aim is in effecting an improved customer experience as part of a distributor’s network then what you sell is a given. The product arrives at the end of the production line (or is ordered directly and delivered).

That those products are (nearly) always associated with a brand, then we should start there. In the interests of simplicity let’s say we describe that so:

Brand = Reputation / Behaviour

Just two things we need to describe (or proscribe) to help demonstrate the ‘chemistry’ we’re asking to be demonstrated on your behalf.

To simplistic? Think about the things you look for when you’re meeting someone to buy something they sell, either for the first of 31st time.

What’s likely to influence your decision? Sure, could be a million things but I’d suggest they could be organised around “what do I know about you?” and “what are you like when we meet?”.

If you could (and I’m arguing you can) frame each of those into a simple sentence, much more likely that’ll sink in. And that’s it (well, it’s something robust to build on). Make it more complex, by all means, against specific tools or processes you have, but don’t let tools and processes overtake the two principles that we hold to be self evident (it’s your brand, after all), to organise yourselves around.

Now, let’s look at the physical stuff.

It’s perfectly possible (I’ve seen it!) too try and describe lots of journey points and then use a lot of words to fill the spaces each ’stop’ demands. When a prospective customer (or, for that matter, a customer) has made a choice and you’re it, we can assume that our Reputation and Behaviour’s passed muster.

After that, we’re in negotiation mode and I think we could describe that so:

Retailer = Price / Availability

Again, to simplistic? Let’s see. Want to have a go in / at the product? Is one / it available? Is someone available to show me? Is the one I want available now? In three months? Never?

Price tends to act on many levels beyond what’s on the windscreen. Is this the best price? The lowest? The most affordable? The best value? What’s included or not, what’s hidden, how can I pay, how willI I pay.

I could go on, but using the premise that a. someone’s come to buy from you? then, b. what’s likely to drive that decision?

With just four ‘categories’ to organise ourselves around, how do we then demonstrate how best to explain the experience we want to deliver, without feeling like we’re not doing the task justice?

Play each out with a simple scenario.

Here’s what I’d propose.

Scenario’s, unlike journey stages, points or steps, are great at capturing a moment where something important is happening (or about to).

Almost as importantly they’re non-linear (or at least, they needn’t be) and so don’t create the trap of thinking that there must always be a fixed set of sequential steps in a process.

We jump between emotional states and have needs and wants that differ when we arrive at a retailer’s front door, even if we’re returning. If we replace the ‘buying as a journey’ (linear, process-driven, start-and-finish’) metaphor with a ‘buying as a story’ (or series of short stories), what we arrive at are a set of interrelated but discrete narratives. More importantly, each is a mini stage-setting against which the questions we need to ask (in our four ‘categories’) can be encouraged.

The tools and process that support those then become natural properties the situations demand - if you have them - and the brief for those you need, becomes clear. Which then gives you a green light to invent the things you actually need to design in support of your now improved customer experience (or at least a metaphorical screen play for it).

We can then rejuvenate the ‘this, then this, then, and so forth’ set of instructions instead with a series of simple scenarios, within which short stories are told and retold and so reinforce our ideal approaches to each situation.

To return to the question, ‘are over-complex strategy creating their own problems?’ perhaps just four (cardinal?) points and a set of short scenrio’s are too simplistic to plan for very complex job of planning experience strategies?

Having seen more complicated versions fail to find traction (and as I’ve written before, form follows friction, rather than function when it comes to behaviour), perhaps it’s time to cut back on complication and consider simply what’s most like to catch in the mind first.


None of this proscribes that the spaces we design to deliver our experiences in, should be any the less exciting, energising or surprising as a result of a simplified approach to experience strategy. In fact, quite the reverse. Short stories often make for blockbuster films.


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