Digital disappointment in customer journeys

December 20th, 2021 Written by Julia Petretta

Last month, I had the great privilege of speaking at the Women of the Silicon Roundabout in London. It was not only one of the largest tech events for women in the UK, promoting diversity and inclusion, but it also showed the power of interactions and valuable connections, something particularly relevant during the ongoing pandemic. 

When I shared the story of my talk with some of my closest friends I got a lot of support, not only for the courage to actually stand up in front of people (despite the social distancing restrictions), but also for the content itself: digital disappointment in customer journeys. 

Digital disappointment

Disappointment happens when our expectations aren’t met. Our expectations come from our norms, values, and prior experiences. We go into the world and interact with our environment and we learn certain things, and from that, we derive expectations that things are so, or should be so. 

In the digital world, we’ve developed interfaces with instructional design, which we call user interfaces (UI). UI is a way to tell the user what’s expected of them in the course of interactions. But the instructional design breaks down when the expectations of the user and the system interface aren’t aligned.

We think it should be easy to schedule an appointment, update an address, or reset a password. We think it should be simple to change payment details. But then we find out it isn’t. 

We face barriers, dead-end roads, error loops, and log-in requests. Then we muster a creative spark for a funky, memorable, alpha-and-numeric combination of letters and digits and, just to be sure, we’ll save them in the browser. But when prompted to re-enter them, the user details or the password are either not correct, don’t meet the registration requirements, or we’re simply not on file. 

Why is that? 

What causes digital disappointment

Digital disappointment is the disparity, the divergence of expectation and satisfaction. It’s also the frustration of not being able to do what we want to be able to do. It’s when our digital expectations aren’t met.

In a world of accelerated technological change, expectations are divided in the camps of early adopters and laggards. We have a growing divide of what customers expect to be able to achieve digitally and what they find possible. 

We’re all customers and consumers of certain products or services. We all had, to a larger or lesser degree, good or bad digital experiences. We’ve seen digital products and services delivered well and we’ve had our share of digital disappointments. But why is the divide of digital expectations and disappointments on the rise? 

We live in times of accelerated change. Whether this be through technological developments (a fourth industrial revolution) or societal changes in our values (climate consciousness), we see many factors coming together, changing the way we live. What may have been important to customers last year has changed and will continue to change on an ongoing basis. The pandemic has shifted our behaviours and expectations, and with such a shifting landscape it’s hard for businesses to keep track. 

In this context, business is facing increasing complexity. Changes in the economy, markets, supply chains, and operations are all accelerated by new technological capabilities and emerging opportunities.

But building products and services is no easy task. It takes time to get right, to line up the materials, the processes, and the knowledge required. Often it takes entire teams of specialists to wrangle the complexity and details of architecture and infrastructure, implementation, and integrations. Sometimes these teams get very big and the product requirements get very complicated.

It’s in this intersection of complexity that we must try to find a common language – a shared understanding of what we’re trying to do. But language gets complicated and perspectives get muddled. We don’t always get the words right. We don’t always get the customer’s perspectives, so we draw a picture or a (customer journey) map. 

This is why we need customer journey mapping. Maps have always helped our very human exploration of new frontiers, to build strategies and document new challenges. Customer journey maps are an attempt to align businesses with customers’ experiences to try and unearth customer value. 

Customer journeys

Customer journeys map a customer’s experience through the sequence of interactions with a product or service. As such, customer journeys are not equivalent to customer experience, but rather a tool to visualise and trace the steps a customer takes throughout the experience. 

Customer journey maps come in all shapes and sizes. We draw them in a linear fashion to trace individual tasks that complete the user’s intent. They look logical, sequential, and bitesize. Then we add waves of emotional profiling on top to capture what the person might be going through. And then we give them names, such as awareness, consideration, conversion, retention, and advocacy. 

It’s precisely these operating silos that end up fragmenting customer journeys. At an enterprise level, we find such terms corresponding to our team structures – silo team typologies lined up next to each other to deal with hand-over of touch points, integration, and optimisation. We use such language to describe these silos in an attempt to understand, to scale, and to metricise. 

Here it’s the inadvertent complexity of business operations that is carried through to our tech and ultimately the customer experience. But this fragmentation of business, technology, and people comes at a price. Every uncompleted customer interaction or every complication the customer faces returns to the business with a cost. There is the build cost, but also the cost of frustration, digital disappointments, and lost opportunities.  

For the customers, none of this matters. From a customer’s perspective it’s not the complexity of enterprise silos, not the breakdown of steps, but one continuous experience. 

Towards alignment

Yet the story of digital disappointment has no antagonist. This is not about business versus people, or people versus tech appeal. Business is made of people, people coming together to participate in something bigger than themselves and we use technology to help us do so. It’s an ongoing relationship that requires communication, collaboration, and calibration of values, processes, and understanding.

Thankfully we have user research as a tool to get us closer to this level of understanding. 

My call to action, or call to arms, is to look at customer journey maps as a way to aid this understanding and align towards value. There is an opportunity in these customer journeys as these are not only ‘touch-points’ but intrinsically the channels of value exchange. 

We need customer journey maps not just for a single experience, but in fact we need a whole portfolio of customer journeys and other strategic maps. Not just for optimisation, or conversion or retention, but for collaboration. It’s not in the one-off user study, but in the longitudinal, ongoing conversations that we keep close to our customers that we see patterns emerging. Perhaps we can even build a tool that helps us track and measure any such strategic maps through a version-controlled inventory list. Such a tool could build data sets over a period of time, so as to see customers’ expectations and journey changes over time and forecast future scenarios of customer expectations. But regardless of whether such a tool would be of use, I believe in customer journey maps as a starting point for strategic alignment.

A human-centred technology

Lot’s has happened in these few weeks, but nothing much has changed. A few weeks after my talk, I was speaking with a friend of mine. Hearing about my topic of choice, she shared with me how, at a time when she was still working in retail, she had to click up to 13 times on the check-out interface in order to complete one single transaction of a sale for a customer. She had done so for years. Last year she was diagnosed with arthritis in her hands and had to leave her job. She blames the UI interface.  

Speaking at the Women of Silicon has reminded me how we’re in this ever evolving dynamic of relationships. We need to build these relationships, measure them, and learn from them. This is not something that a CRM can do for us. This is sitting in front of an end user and listening to the problems on the ground. This is understanding what we learn and what it means for the people and the business.

In times of great change, we’ve the opportunity to test and learn much faster. We should challenge ourselves, as businesses, as technologists, and even as consumers to get better at learning from our expectations and any experiences through our daily journeys. Let us map them to unearth the latent expectations that our challenging times will bring. 

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Written by Julia Petretta
Julia Petretta is an experienced Principal Consultant with Infinity Works where she brings her creativity to digital transformation projects tackling complex change. With more than 14 years in customer experience design across various industries and countries – including transport, global sport and entertainment, and technology – she fosters new perspectives, especially a bigger picture view, at the intersection between product, business, and people.