I’ve been reflecting on a design research project I completed with a colleague at Whole Foods Market.
We were asked to focus on the healthy eating customer journey – how customers make decisions on what to buy based on in store signage. What we found was surprising. In sum, customers rarely paid any attention to signage – there was just an overload of the senses, as anyone who has been in a Whole Foods Market can attest to. There were multiple factors at play, from not feeling able to stop and assess because the hordes of shoppers might run one over, to the inaccurate assumption that all WFM products are healthy.
Each barrier that we found was directly related to what I would call a contextual loop – slowly moving cycles that are part of the customer’s day to day interactions. In common customer journey maps and service design blueprints, these cycles – of repeat service use, intermingled with contextual factors such as common calendar cycles and seasons, night and day, and the changing goals of customers during these cycles, are ignored. Yes, customers in fact arrive at grocery stores and follow a similar journey over and over to identify the next product needed, target a section, then hone a choice before ultimately making a decision. And yes, this could be considered part of one larger customer journey from arrival to departure – but the fact is that so much about how a customer ACTUALLY shops and experiences a store is based on their accumulated experience outside of a store. This, we know, is an ebb and flow, and on the whole, one trip to a grocery blends into the next for a shopper, treated by the store as just another divorced experience. But it isn’t truly a divorced experience, or certainly doesn’t have to be. What if I had a delightful, personalized shopping experience that paid attention to my shopping habits over time? What if, when shopping at night, the service could cater to me by offering valet service for safety?
These types of ideas come from what I would call contextual loops. Contextual loops are, brilliantly enough, cycles that occur during repetitive product or service use. They can be customer driven – i.e. cycles of being a “good” and “bad” eater; company driven, such as quarterly sales or seasonal products; and temporal cycles, such as temperature, time of day, or holidays. Obviously these can overlap, and one of the goals in creating these loops on paper is to identify those interaction points. Contextual loops can get us thinking about not only what we see during initial research, but allow us to grow our potential set of insights, as well as create delightful moments for customers.
First, you’ll need a canvas, a standard customer journey, and a couple blank sheets of paper/stickies to start using contextual loops. I do agree that even for most companies or services, taking a look at one abstracted journey may offer a lot in the ways of understanding current major gaps. But this tool will make sure that you don’t miss higher levels of gaps. Now wrap that customer journey into a circle (you can just create a circle, don’t actually take a huge CJ and force it into a circle) and place it onto the canvas. On a separate sheet of paper, keep a running list of ideas of customer goals and business goals, and start with a list for that initial journey. On a third piece of paper, keep a list of potential touch points or business ideas. You will move between all three, and they will build off of each other.
Time to get meta
Try to think of the next contextual level up. There may not be one thing that’s more “right” then another. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes, and use your own intuition. If you are having any trouble, place some more customer journeys on the canvas and start asking yourself – what is, or could be different, from the first journey to the 2nd? The fifth? The hundredth? For example, in our food related example, some issues between the first and second trips could be “food waste generated”, or “family gave shopper feedback on purchases” among others. See if those thoughts highlight any customer or business goals, as well as generate any additional insights or ideas for future touch points. Continuing with the example, an insight might be – customers continue to think about the brand as long as the bags stay in the house or are used. How can we ensure more use, thus inspiring more people to see our brand? Or, how do we support our shoppers when they have to deal with kids and a husband who won’t try a new food item without ridiculing her?
More Contextual Loops
Starting to think in multiple journeys will no doubt inspire you to think about the other contextual loops that are going on during these cycles – and seeing where they harmonize with customer and business goals can create valuable ideas. Let’s look at a common contextual loop for the customer – a work week. Our customer’s goals may vacillate during the work week vs. the weekend. We may quickly start to see that a work day trip is all about getting in and out quickly, with food to fuel the day. Having displays, set ups, and maps for hungry hunters vs. experiential shoppers is clearly more important on work days then it is on the weekends. Trying to grab the attention of a shopper on a week day may be close to zero.
Continue by building out that initial contextual loop in both directions – in this example, to the day vs. evening loop in one direction, and months and years in the other. See what you find. The color is added to highlight, but you could easily just think of concentric circles and brainstorm. The end goal isn’t visualization – it’s insight.
These ideas and assumptions can then be rapidly prototyped. This is a nascent method that can help rapidly identify avenues worth testing along the way to superior product or service design. Please let me know your thoughts or questions!