Customer Decision Journey

What do we mean, exactly, when we say, “Back to the drawing board?” It’s an acknowledgement that we have to start over once we’ve discovered one of Edison’s 10,000 ways not to succeed in striving to solve a particular problem. The thing is, we’re presuming the drawing board (where the design phase happens) is the starting point for the development of a new solution. It’s an antiquated metaphor – is there anyone around today who’s actually seen a drawing board? But more than that, thinking that innovation starts with design is a dangerous notion.


Take, for example, the following question: Shouldn’t there be an easier way to aggregate and compare sharing-economy room-booking sites to make it easier and faster to book the hotel alternative that’s just right for you?


If you were setting out to solve this problem, you wouldn’t start by letting loose your UX designers; you’d start with research. You’d have an idea for an innovative solution, but translating that idea into a relevant experience for your potential customers requires you to develop empathy for them before you can design for them. You’d set out on a path of discovery covering all the points discussed in our recent blog post Anatomy of Failure: When to ‘Raise Your Hand’ for Course-Correction in the Ideation Stage of Innovation Delivery.


You’d be developing personas that describe all the different kinds of people who’d be using your new booking aggregator. You’d be figuring out what tools they use, which sites they currently rely on, and how they like to conduct their searches. You’d be sitting alongside them as they search, noting what they like, what they don’t like, and how they navigate. You’d be working hard to map their entire experience using online booking sites as they search for and select accommodations away from home. And you’d capture and record all of this data.


In short, you’d be developing Customer Decision Journeys (CDJs) that reveal the pressures, motivations, and goals of each persona. The CDJ is the key to developing empathy, and empathy is the key to developing a successful user experience.


Step 1: Developing Ideal Customer Personas


A persona is a fictitious person whose attributes are generalized to represent a specific segment within your target market. A persona can embody a particular group that shares similar lifestyle choices, comes from the same socioeconomic circles, has similar personal preferences for technology tools and platforms, and makes similar buying decisions. Personas may take into account other shared demographic attributes, as well. Personas anthropomorphize each segment of your total addressable market.


What are the different personas that represent your ideal customers? Who will be using your site? And what will their entire experience using your site be like? Are they moms or dads looking to find the right deal on a week-long rental for upcoming family vacations? Are they millennials looking for cost-effective options for a shared space during a weekend getaway? Are they business travelers seeking an alternative to the usual hotel routine? Whoever it is that’s out there putting up their money to book a place to stay, you’ve got to develop a persona for them so you can get to know their search behaviors.


A longstanding and well-established tool of traditional marketers, persona development is a familiar step in the product development process for many companies. Marketers spend a lot of time thinking through who their most likely customers will be, and they often put a good deal of effort into creating personas to describe their market segments. But from time to time we encounter companies that bypass marketing after hitting on an idea for a new product, instead going straight to the prototyping stage, thinking they’ll be able to course-correct on the feature set once they get the early iterations of their new product out into the hands of customers for field testing.


This is, of course, a bad idea. Paths that seem like they involve shortcuts to market usually end up as circuitous routes that are, in fact, very long cuts, delaying innovations from getting into the hands of end users. And without an understanding of, and empathy for, these eager customers, there’s little chance of hitting the mark out of the gate with a new and innovative product.



Step 2: Building the Customer Decision Journey


Once the personas have been researched and identified, this next stage of critical research can commence. The CDJ maps out what the entire experience will be for each persona using your site. The CDJs are the most important input to prototype development; in fact, we see prototype development as the byproduct of solid CDJ development.


One way to think about the relationship between the CDJ and user experience of the innovative solution is to describe the UX as being a vehicle expressly engineered to navigate the underlying terrain of the CDJ. Just as you’d be ill advised to choose a Ferrari as your preferred ride in almost all off-road settings (even if you don’t completely bottom out and get stuck in a shallow ditch somewhere), you’re not going to have a satisfying experience interacting with a beautifully designed app that wasn’t developed on top of, and in response to, a credible, carefully researched, customer decision journey.


Gathering the raw data from research with prospective customers will help the idea you want to work on come to light. Considering every phase of the customer decision journey (from Consideration, to Evaluation, to Purchase, to Post-purchase, and ultimately to Retention) will help crystallize that idea. Being able to come up with solutions to the specific pain points incurred by customers at each phase of the CDJ improves on the overall solution you will ultimately develop.


Another thing to keep in mind about the research phase and development of CDJs is that it’s almost always more effective to utilize a neutral third party for these services. Too many biases exist within established companies for the research to be truly impartial. Champions of innovation may have specific ideas they want to pursue or other ideas they want to avoid that might run counter to objective analysis of collected data. Protecting the innovation delivery team from the influence of hidden agendas by sequestering the persona research and CDJ development to a trusted Innovation Delivery partner will help ensure that the company keeps the needs of customers front and center throughout the product development lifecycle.



Don’t Slight the Research Phase


So why, then, do some enterprises skip CDJ development altogether? Well, it stands to reason that if you haven’t invested in the persona development, you’re not going to be able to build a customer development journey. But even within those companies that do go through careful persona development, some choose to bypass this critical companion in an effort to save time to market. And others simply don’t have the internal expertise to convert the raw data into a comprehensive CDJ. Whatever the reason, foregoing this phase is, again, a bad idea. Even though the Agile mantra of “fail fast” is widely embraced, early failures should be evidence-based. Without data supporting user experience decisions, it’s all but impossible to develop a prototype that’s going to meet your customers’ needs. Iteration may not be an option at that point, dooming the innovation to catastrophic failure.


Stakeholders always feel pressure of time; many mistakenly believe that if they just create eight to ten images of what the product should look like, they’ll be able to solve the time pressure problem. But the value of leveraging a CDJ to develop the user experience is analogous to how important developing empathy for your customers is to ideation: You can’t do informed prototyping without a CDJ; you can’t develop a user experience based on the product idea, itself.


A number of years ago we, ourselves, fell victim to this pitfall. As we described in a previous blog post, we were hired by a major home-improvement retailer to design a sales enablement app that was to be used by independent contractors following up on leads generated by the retailer. We allowed ourselves to be convinced by the retailer that we didn’t need to build the CDJs for the contractors because the retailer already understood the contractors’ motivations. We developed a highly functional app that helped guide the contractors through the process of selling home repair services to prospective customers, but the user experience fell flat with the contractors, so none of them used it. We had an utter failure on our hands. In the end, we revised the product so that it met the needs of the end users, but that only came after circling back to do the research. We ended up losing valuable time, incurring needless development cycles, and spending money needlessly.


When even one company wants to skip persona and CDJ development and go straight to prototyping to design something that looks pretty, that’s one company too many trying to cut corners. We aim to help people learn the easy way, as opposed to the hard, that keeping personas and customer development journeys as non-negotiable aspects of the product development process is a sure-fire way to avoid having to go back to the drawing board.