If we map the consumer lifecycle on a chart of engagement, it reveals the bias between on-boarding and off-boarding.
At on-boarding, advertising helps the consumer become aware of a product or service. Emotional triggers inspire self-actualisation in the consumer through stories of a product. Further marketing orientates the consumer around choices, helping them make decisions. Packaging reveals the product and informs them about usage. Terms and Conditions act as a legal obligation between consumer and provider. Each stage beaconing them forward.
Once committed the consumer moves to usage. Where they enjoy access to a product, service or digital product. This might be usage of milk in their coffee, regular usage of a car, payments to an insurance company or the privilege to post on Twitter.
Off-boarding is different. Its actors represent societies best interests. Operated by municipal groups, industry watchdogs, environmental organisations for example. Their language is often foreboding with safety and security.
Endings can happen quickly for the consumer. Like the thoughtless and instant disposal of a plastic coffee cup. Sometimes a product might linger in the home, forgotten for years. Without instruction or destination for its proper disposal. Some consumer relationships we are discouraged to ever end. Held back by retention strategies and hard re-selling. What is common is that ends are overlooked and now need re-thinking.
The lack of considered endings could be held-up as consumerisms the biggest failure. In pre-industrial times consumers took responsibility across the breadth of a products life. Since then two themes have divided the experience of the consumer.
Firstly, consumption accelerated bought about by innovations in shopping, distribution and finance. This was increasingly tethered to an individual’s identity. Initially through banking and identity for credit. Then later through more emotional tethers such as likes on Facebook.
Secondly, there was a distancing of endings experienced at off-boarding by the consumer. In the past, the experience of waste was more visible, actionable and controllable. As social-norms changed and technologies emerged, individual experience of waste became more distant. The trash-can unified waste definition for the general consumer. Who in the past had separated materials for collection by the 'rag-and-bone' man. Scientific observations of bacteria and nuclear waste distanced the laypersons' perception of waste. It became the realm of specialists armed with specialist equipment.
These two paths split the consumer lifecycle. One path accelerating us forward, celebrating consumption, tethering our identity. The other distancing our responsibility, engagement and proximity to endings.
The outcome of this has been an inability to deal with some of consumerisms' biggest ills. The banking crisis characterised a denial of endings in the phrase “too big to fail”. We have not built cohesion around Climate Change. Not lacking evidence, not lacking knowledge, but lacking the ability to entertain the end of oil. The new world of digital and social networks continues the theme of overlooked endings. Consumers are encouraged to create content and share content. Yet they also lack tools to un-share, delete and end public access of that same content.
From a business perspective, ends is often misinterpreted as reducing customers. Customers leave, like it or not, but don't deny it. Work with it. Businesses that consider off-boarding as much as on-boarding are amongst the most successful in the world. Kia cars doubled their market share with the 7-year warranty - a clear ending date in the future. Their customers considered the warranty more important than any other aspect of the car.
Netflix says “We are proud of the no-hassle online cancellation. Members can leave when they want and come back when they want.” Netflix users 118m, customer satisfaction 78%. Traditional Pay-TV, which has lock-in contracts and hard retention targets, has customer satisfaction of 62%. The lowest in 11 years.
Ends must be elevated to be part of every consumer journey. We need to create new meaning in established areas of the consumer journey. Equally, we need to build new areas of the journey that can be vehicles of emotions and messages for the consumer. It’s vital therefore, in designing experiences, to think about the following:
- transaction models
- product death dates
- aftermath targets
- descending engagement
It is vital we increase attention on the ending in the consumer experience. As creators of products and services, we're empowered to change this bias. Make it part of a considered customer experience design. And start to design ends.
The Ends book is available on Amazon (and elsewhere) as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook.