The Customers’ Experience Does Not Happen At Your Touchpoints!

In an earlier post I mentioned that touchpoint mapping is a relatively useless approach for making significant improvements in the customers’ experience.  Unfortunately, touchpoint mapping is also the most frequently used approach… either followed by companies on their own or recommended by consultants who claim expertise in customer experience design.   The most important thing to realize is that… the most influential elements of the customer experience often occur at the non-touchpoints with your business.  As a result, touchpoint mapping doesn’t lead to anything more than incremental improvement that, for the customer, amount to “better sameness.”

In most situations, the lifecycle of the customers’ experience follows something that roughly approximates this simplified picture:

Above and Below the Surface Experience

Of course, the details look different for each situation.  However, in most cases, an organization’s touchpoints with the customer include:  sales contacts, ordering activities, fulfillment activities, and problem resolution.  As you see, the customers’ process includes a lot of other things that have a substantial impact on their overall experience.  In addition, customers often have to integrate products and services they get from you with the products and services of other organizations in order to address their needs.

For example, one of our recent clients is a leading jewelry store chain.  Like many retailers, there is a natural tendency to think about the customer experience from the perspective of “things that happen in the store” or, increasingly, “things that happen on a website.”  However, for most jewelry stores,  70% of the customers are “male gift givers.”  For these customers, the experience is really defined by the end-to-end process they go through when they give a gift that makes a meaningful contribution to a “relationship bank account” with someone that matters a lot to them.

The customer is certainly affected by what happens in the store… but major parts of the experience have little to do with the store.  They may think about an upcoming event, like a birthday, anniversary, graduation, or holiday.  Although many male gift givers put off actually buying anything until just about the last minute, they typically engage in a “semi-conscious consideration of options” for what to buy.  These customers have unwritten or implicit “rules of thumb” that influence how they shop.  For example, “do a quick pass through three of four stores, then return to buy the best I find… or… “spend two months salary on an engagement ring.”  There are also very significant portions of the experience driven by how they give the gift, how the recipient reacts both initially and over time after receiving the gift.  If the gift giving experience does not go as planned, there are many cycles of highly emotional reactions for both the gift giver and the recipient.  One of these that is particularly important is the experience that precedes having to return an item… which many stores make very stressful.

These are just the highlights.  There’s actually quite a bit more.  In this case, the parts of the experience that happen outside the store are the primary determinants of the quality of the experience for the customer.  If a jewelry store were to focus on understanding and improving what happens in the store and/or online interactions, the best they’ll come up with is better sameness.  The opportunity for a creative jewelry chain is to leverage insight into those portions of the customers’ experience that are “below the surface.”  This provides insight that can help not only improve what happens at the “above the surface” touchpoints, but also provides insight into related services that address customers’ unarticulated or unmet needs at the non-touchpoints.

9 Responses

  1. […] Frank Capek put an intriguing blog post on The Customersâ Experience Does Not Happen At Your Touchpoints!.Here’s a quick excerpt:For example, one of our recent clients is a leading jewelry store chain. Like many retailers, there is a natural tendency to think about the customer experience from the perspective of “things that happen in the store” or, increasingly, … […]

  2. Thanks for noting this point… sounds like you have a specific interest in customers’ “jewelry experience.” This is a particularly interesting situation. In order to learn about what was going on for customers’ “below the surface” (stuff that happens outside the store), we observed customers across the entire lifecycle of their experience. What we learned was quite cool.

    For example, the typical male gift giver, which for our client represented 70% of sales, is often looking for a “return on their investment” in a gift… to be recognized and rewarded for coming home a thoughtful “hero.” Some of the interesting “below the surface” elements of this kind of customers’ experience included:

    1. Men are generally not prepared for the recipient’s reaction to a gift they give. Often there is either a subtle or not so subtle “interrogation” about why they picked the piece and even how much it cost. An effective jewelry experience prepares the male gift giver to “romance the gift” and describe what makes the piece special and why they picked it specifically for the recipient.

    2. Men often need help thinking about jewelry the way the recipient thinks about it. In order to pick the right piece, men need help understanding what the recipient wears and why. How you do this might include a well-designed consultative sales process along with helping the client make a descriptive list of what jewelry the recipient already wears, how they wear it, and what they already own.

    This is just the tip of the iceburg… we’ve found that, almost without fail, the process of observing and eliciting an understanding of the customers’ end-to-end experience leads to fundamentally different insight than you’d ever get by just focusing on just the “above the surface” elements of the experience that happen at the existing touchpoints.

    Happy to discuss this more if you’re interested. Cheers, Frank

  3. A very well put argument for an holistic approach to customer experience. Customers, after all, are people, too. They encounter more experiences in their lives than designers can ever account for. The best an “experience designer” can do is to anticipate the melange and work with it or within it, depending on how intimate and prolonged his or her client’s connection is with the customer.

    Your chart is excellent. Is it original or did you find it in a cognate discussion elsewhere?

    Thanks for a solid blog entry!


  4. Thanks Bob… terrific point! Ultimately each customer is the “designer” (or creator) of their own experience… even if they don’t intentionally think about it like that.

    The more an organization can understand the mental model of the customer… how they think… and what behaviors are natural for them. The more that organization can create a platform that enables the customer to have a great experience.

    The chart you asked about is original… we use this as a starting place for developing a situation-specific version of any particular customer personae’s “goal directed behavior.”

    For years, we’ve been telling clients they need to design from the “mental model of the customer.” Over the past several years, we’ve been making this much more rigorous… under the banner of “Cognitive Ergonomics.”

    This starts with formalized knowledge representation models for describing: the network of different customer roles and relationships; situation-specific goal states; schema/scripts that describe customers’ generalized beliefs based on past experiences; and resulting goal-directed behavior… including the automatic behavioral scripts that customers tend to use.

    All of this is intended to provide a basis for designing the platform that allows customers to have an experience that fits beautifully with the way they think and naturally behave. Once you’ve achieved that “fit” you can think about how you “shape” their thinking and future behavior.

    Bob, I did a quick scan of your website… very interesting. I look forward to spending more time with it.

    Cheers, Frank

  5. […] experience does not just happen at a providers touchpoints.  This point was covered in detail in a previous post.  However, the short story is that the customer may have to navigate and integrate a wide range of […]

  6. […] to me is they have an analytical approach and software black box that allow you to look at the range of customer experience data (from lagging to leading) and transform that into views that allow associates to pinpoint where […]

  7. […] The second approach, of course, focuses on generating cost savings and efficiencies, most often at the service touch points.  Unfortunately, service efficiency is almost always more important to the company than to the customer, and efforts to streamline or automate the touch points typically end up working against the quality of the overall customer experience.  (See:  The Customers’ Experience Does Not Happen at Your Touchpoints). […]

  8. […] It didn’t help that I’d missed the start of the discussion, so this esoteric notion was out of context. Non-touch-points stuck in my head though and it’s been knocking around ever since. Eventually I had to look it up and here it is in a post from four years ago. […]

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