Customer journeys – the hidden partner

Posted by Roger Proctor on 17.04.15

As an agency we are intensely interested in the communications journeys of our client’s prospects and their clients. We develop brand, direct marketing and communications strategies around this understanding, providing insights, carefully identifying and communicating the relevant differentiators, ensuring that calls to action are compelling.

Once we have identified prospects, how do we interact, through what media, with what information and offers and, most importantly, how do we feed them through to sales? All of these tasks are vital and help us deliver significant increases in ROI and leads, whilst cutting the cost per sale. It is what you would and should expect from an agency worth their salt.

But time and time again I have been concerned that, however good and effective we are and because inevitably we are just part of the story in a much, much bigger set of interlinking elements that make up the whole brand and sales experience, there is something missing.

The part of that picture that is still often missing is a small, nascent discipline born in the 1990s, but has yet to become common parlance and receive the recognition and importance that it deserves, particularly in the SME space. If clients get it wrong it can ruin their brand and waste budgets. Also the media just love those service horror stories that fit into the …”how could they have got it so wrong” anecdotes that people smugly relate.

The discipline in question is Service Design. Over the years I have seen clients spend hundreds of thousands on rebrands, advertising and direct marketing but invest nothing in analyzing their service and processes. Why is this?

Possibly because it is often a political hot potato’. Too many vested interests, boats to rock’ or expensive and existing systems that cost too much to change? Is it because marketing, who must be interested in it if they are truly concerned about adding value, is still seen as an overhead and not an investment, to be kept in a box – after all the sales team have enough trouble dealing with them don’t they?

I have to admit that I don’t know anywhere near enough about Service Design, but no one else seems to either. But what I do recognize is my increasing frustration in the lack of attention that it gets within communications strategy. What exactly are the insights into the processes that prospects and customers go through when they engage, buy and embark on a relationship with our clients? How can Service Design make them better, more rewarding and deliver loyal customers that come back, time and time again.

The following perhaps just illustrates how bad it can really get. I was once interviewing for an Account Director to manage a specific, large financial services client (you will understand that they no longer exist). Half way through the meeting, and it had been going pretty well, the candidate asked very specifically who the client was as we had been keeping it fairly generic up until that point. When I told her she immediately withdrew her application and said that she was currently suing said client for appalling service and major process mistakes. Quite a shock all-round, particularly as the client had a representative on the interview panel!

That was a few years ago but I am still surprised how little attention is still being paid to Service Design. It seems that marketing is still unable to promote its use and no one seems to know quite where it fits. It is almost like one of those conversations where everyone thought someone else was responsible for it and therefore everyone ignored it. But I am sure that it should be a vital part of any communications strategy.

Perhaps it is time that the importance of Service Design was really acknowledged and its use becomes commonplace — integral but also working with and across marketing, sales, manufacturing and operations.

Could be a wise move.

Roger Proctor MBE
MD at Proctor + Stevenson