This past holiday season, nothing was more important to my daughter than a doll she had seen at the store. I remember being the exact same way as a kid. There was a pirate ship toy that I wanted more than anything else in the world. Yet, now that I’m older, my first impulse is to dismiss my daughter’s fascination with this doll. However, shouldn’t my own childhood experience help me empathize with just how big of a deal this doll is in my daughter’s three-year-old mind? Somehow my priorities have changed over the years.
The same can be said of the collective conscience of a company’s customers.
As a quick example, think about how different customers were just five years ago in terms of ownership. Then, customers were accustomed to owning products. Today, we live in the dawn of the sharing economy where customers are much more accustomed to paying for a service that gives them use of products they used to own. Some companies may view this movement as temporary or fleeting, but is it? The popularity (and valuations) of ride share, music streaming, and home sharing companies indicate that this is a major shift in customer sentiment.
Customer evolution generally occurs in two ways—either at a rapid (sometimes seemingly catastrophic) pace or in a subtle way.
Rapid evolution. A rapid and drastic customer evolution is easier to identify than a subtle one. Examples of rapid customer evolution can include war, recession, natural disaster, major media coverage, etc. One of the most catastrophic examples of a near instantaneous evolution was September 11, 2001. Suddenly customers became much more concerned about security. Every company felt the impact and changed according to this instantaneous evolution in customer sentiment.
Subtle evolution. Adapting to subtle customer evolution is generally a much more difficult task than adapting to rapid customer evolution, principally because it is so hard to detect. Subtle customer evolution can occur due to aging, generational differences, pop culture, innovations, new competition, etc. Sometimes the cause is completely unknown. What may be more important is just being aware of the subtle shift.
Responding to customer evolution involves a change in the way you do business, rather than running a one-time project. It’s kind of like trying to get physically fit. You've got to change your lifestyle to maintain good results. So, here are four tips to help you “change your lifestyle” and keep up with your constantly evolving customer:
Set up your process in a way that acknowledges your customer is evolving. Many companies reuse customer personas a year or so after they were created without considering how their customers may have changed. Under such circumstances companies may begin to project their own thinking onto the customer, which negates the reason for creating these artifacts.
Companies should constantly seek data on their customers—both qualitative and quantitative. The background for each persona should progress and grow over time as discoveries are made.
On a less frequent (but still recurring) basis, an extensive deep dive in user research and analysis should be performed to completely revamp the customer artifacts. This can happen once a year or on a schedule that makes sense for your business. Some artifacts may change a little, while others may change drastically. Some may be retired altogether and perhaps replaced by new artifacts.
Be careful not to update artifacts so often that it requires constant study by project team members. Constant updates can begin to feel cumbersome, causing teams to lose interest in keeping track of updates.
One company I work with has a large room where they are following an agile development process. On one wall they have sticky notes full of user stories and backlogs. They are constantly iterating and updating this wall. On the opposite wall they have a large printout of their customer journey map. This journey map was created at the beginning of the project, and after being printed out it has remained the same—at least on paper. The customer journey in reality has drastically changed over the course of the project, but no artifact reflects it. If the journey map were done in sticky notes and revisited with each sprint, it could help the company understand how customer sentiment is being impacted with each update.
This constant focus on revisiting and revising artifacts according to customer changes may seem cumbersome at first, much like a diet and exercise regimen. However, over time this way of operating can become second nature and potentially result in a more engaging journey both for your project teams and for your customers.
Westin Hatch is a Deloitte Digital Customer Experience Designer, Deloitte Consulting LLP, based in San Francisco.