Why do we ignore the end of the customer lifecycle when building personas?

Customer persona end of lifecycle
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In the latest in his series on the importance of ends, Joe Macleod examines why, in the process of building personas, we so often ignore the customers that leave us.  

What is the most common user case for your customers? Billing? Sign up? First time use? Maybe. How about the end?

The surest thing your customers will experience with your product is off-boarding. One day they will leave. Why don't we build personas to account for that?

Since working on Ends - my book about closure experiences - I have become convinced we need better ways and means of dealing with consumer off-boarding. That includes the tools we use.

But, ‘surely we have loads of tools’ I hear you cry? Yes. I would agree. But, they focus on the first two-thirds of the customer experience: on-boarding and usage. These areas have stacks of product development tools, processes and techniques. Our industry is awash with them. But at the off-boarding stage, we have precious few.

Two-thirds customer-centric

Companies and teams proudly believe they are customer-centric, yet only consider the needs before the customer decides to leave them. The person who does deal with the end of the customer experience is the customer. They navigate a lonely, unkept path between usage and the end.

This path is overlooked. It is cluttered with hurdles from the businesses clumsily trying to retain their custom. Or worse, the business despising their choice to leave and abandon them to a solo departure. In the process, the customer is ridiculed, threatened, criticised and blamed. Partly as a result of a business culture too blinded from retention targets to see the wider impact of a bad end.

The lack of tools in this area comes as no surprise, given the toxic view most businesses hold of customers that leave. This deficit enforces the status quo; that it is OK to overlook the last journey the customer takes with your business.

The person who does deal with the end of the customer experience is the customer. They navigate a lonely, unkept path between usage and the end.

A persona prejudice

Product development teams rely on tools that inspire empathy with the customer. A common one is a persona. The best are based on market data, customer behaviour data and social data. These provide critical insight into the emotional, technical and commercial needs a person might have.

Current personas tend to prejudice ideal situations; target customers that are approaching a product or service experience. Or current customers that are already comfortably engaging it, overlooking the customers who have stopped using the product or service and are now departing.

Ends

This creates three problems:

  • That we design for usage, not completion. Overlooking issues with off-boarding. Which could be as diverse as environmental issues, privacy issues and brand erosion issues.
  • We fail to consider the consumer as being a past consumer of elsewhere. Which brings up issues of emotional baggage from previous engagements. Undermining trust in the potential new relationship.
  • That we fail to empathise with the consumer's emotions of leaving. That could reveal delicate issues around grief, debt or migration, for example.

Post-service personas

The person who does deal with the end of the customer experience is the customer. They navigate a lonely, unkept path between usage and the end. It would share the reasons for leaving, the annoyances they are facing in departure. It might reflect the person's losses in the transition from customer to ex-customer, or the positive experiences in need of reflection.

It might reflect revenge or anger, portraying how they might exercise their grievances in the aftermath. Maybe using their social media connections to share their bad stories.

Reveals the needs in sectors

Post-service personas can be applied in different sectors. Helping to reveal particular issues.

In a physical product sense, it can help teams empathise with customer needs after usage, but before disposal. While the customer grapples with off-boarding the residue of a product, tey encounter challenges of neutralising, dismantling, cleaning and identifying material types.

The person who does deal with the end of the customer experience is the customer. They navigate a lonely, unkept path between usage and the end.

Overcoming these challenges is limited through emotional engagement, long before overcoming mechanisms of recycling in a material sense. The post-service persona would help remind a product development team of these emotional triggers.

In services, it could aid focus on a smooth relationship at completion; the personal issues involved in saying goodbye. Helping the team understand the consumer at off-boarding might help them design for long-term positive memories.

The travel industry could do well to consider the return journey of the consumer, for instance: The memories laid down about a wonderful restaurant at the resort are not tarnished by problems at the airport on a return flight. 

In digital, post-service personas could be applied to the difficulties of leaving social media. Touching the right customer emotions here can help the design of a product appear more meaningful in the end. Creating a poignant memory, beyond brutal data deletion or GDPR compliance. A more amicable conclusion, perhaps.

A universal end

Post-service personas can work alongside regular personas. They enrich the usual batch of perfect potential customers that teams often experience. They broaden the consideration for all customer situations, giving breadth to the discussion of a full consumer lifecycle. That can help mitigate the consequences that impact after usage and make your product development team truly customer-focused.

Let's face it, the universal experience that all your customers eventually endure is leaving. The idea of having a persona based on the most common user-case should not appear unusual. We just need to change the perception of the ideal user-case to account for a good customer end.

The first article in this series 'Closure experiences: The importance of endings in the consumer lifecycle' can be found here

About Joe Macleod

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