Recent shopalongs with consumers starkly revealed the emotional rollercoaster ride that many embark on as they seek the perfect purchase. Shoppers are browsing, learning, buying, and engaging with both the brands they know and the ones they don’t in increasingly complex ways. The customer journey they take from identifying a need to considering a product, from using a new purchase to becoming a loyal customer is no longer a linear path but rather a series of parallel and intersecting lines and loops.

Once upon a time shopping was simple. Get in the car, hop on the bike, or simply walk to the store that holds the product you need…view the selection at hand, decide, and buy. Shopping is not simple anymore…as soon as you open yourself up to the possibilities presented through the amazing array of channels within which one can research, browse and purchase. The emergence of new channels and the devices used to interact with them provides consumers great flexibility in forming their shopping strategy. In addition to companies with brick and mortar presence, many consumers owning a laptop, tablet, and smartphone also interact via web sites, mobile sites, mobile apps, social media, email, phone IVR, phone to customer service center, online chat, video chat and more. Channel proliferation is empowering… research it here, touch it there; compare it here, read review there; question here, get answer there; get personal recommendation here, get coupon there; deliver here, return there… the choices are endless.

Therein lies the consumer challenge that contributes to this emotional rollercoaster ride. Not only are shoppers overwhelmed by the extensive range of similar products and services but also by the number of channels through which the purchase may be influenced. Since many of us adopt new channels quite readily it is also easy to find ourselves suddenly outside our shopping comfort zone. This often happens when we cross from one channel to another, when there is a degree of dissonance that disrupts our journey to purchase, and we are obliged to reset our expectations for how our customer story should unfold. The most common feelings that result are stress, frustration, alienation, uncertainty, indecisiveness, and confusion, to name a few.

Recent observations of an internationally diverse group of shoppers on their path to purchasing products both online and in-stores revealed a number of shared emotions as they shopped within and across platforms. Service designers play a big role in understanding these emotional drivers and identifying ways to make the customer experience less stressful and more delightful. We look at the end-to-end customer experience across channels and help construct service strategies for consistent and seamless service delivery within and across channels. Recent research suggests four opportunity areas that get to the heart of customer behavior and motivation, which companies should focus on delivering supportive experiences.

  • Generate and Maintain Confidence: Once a shopper has built sufficient confidence in the qualities of a product or service and its ability to meet their needs, they will have a greater propensity to take the leap to purchase, but without it they are more likely to delay or cancel the purchase. Confidence builders can be leveraged to increase propensity to purchase. It is important to know where the shopper is in their shopping journey in order to place appropriate confidence builders in the right context. For example, when shoppers have decided on the product they want, are purchasing it online, and are completing the checkout process, the lack of key information about delivery costs or delivery times is a common confidence-buster. They are more likely to abandon their cart and shift their attention to another retailer.
  • Facilitate the Power of Influence: Knowing when and how diverse shoppers have the potential to be influenced positively can accelerate the path to purchase. Companies that are respected for their depth of knowledge of certain products can leverage that knowledge in an upfront and transparent way with an eye to building consumer trust. For instance, Nikon’s USA site provides extensive information for the camera enthusiast to understand whether a camera is the right one for them. The “Digitutor” contains engaging videos to understand how the camera works and an extensive sample of photos show the possible results.
  • Make Channel Transitions Seamless: Shoppers get confused and frustrated by their inability to transition between channels that don’t work with one another. This can slow down the purchasing process or make people decide not to buy. One way to counter this is to take an omni-channel view of the experiences provided and ensure seamless consistency within and across channels. Nordstrom is a pioneer in delivering seamless omni-channel experience and were one of the first to integrate their online and offline inventories. The result is that shoppers can purchase products online and pick them up or return them in stores and if an item is out-of-stock online but available in a store it can be shipped from the store.
  • Deliver a Customer Experience that adjusts to your Customer’s Needs for Knowledge: There are customers who know what they know, others who know what they don’t know, and there are many who just don’t know what they don’t know. Shoppers enjoy the feelings of discovering a new product attribute that they did not expect, especially if they can relate to it on an emotional level. It can empower and galvanize shoppers and encourage a decision to purchase. Understanding the essence of a product or service and how it will resonate with consumers at an emotional level, and building discoverability into the shopping experience, is a great way to create moments of unexpected delight. These are often small and simple attributes with a big bang. A cruise control that allows the driver to increase or decrease speed 1 mph at a time, a car rental that charges close to the local pump price for gas, a consumer non-durable with an easy way to recycle… all speak to some inner emotional driver in the consumer. The safe driver, the frugal renter, the concerned environmentalist all will respond positively to discovering these unique and distinctive features.

Many companies today are focusing on getting a handle on channels and the underlying technology required to build an omni-channel organization. This is important. However, this effort needs to be complimented and supported by an over-arching customer-driven strategy where the goal is to transform how companies serve and service their customers. This requires a deep understanding of needs, behaviors and motivations across diverse personal contexts of people, time and place. Understanding how customers are interacting with touchpoints, how they would prefer to be interacting with same touchpoints, and mapping their journeys will help business teams in the design and delivery of innovative integrated product and service experiences. Revealing the opportunities to generate and maintain positive emotional responses will ensure the consumer’s journey from consideration to purchase to advocacy is much less rocky and can accelerate the path to purchase. Employ the methods of service innovation and watch your customer satisfaction scores soar.

A quote I like from Maya Angelou should sum up the strategy of every retailer looking to improve their customer’s experience of their business: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

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