Customer journeys – the hidden partner

May 14, 2014

We are naturally intensely interested in the communication journeys of our clients’ prospects, and their clients.

We develop brand, direct marketing, and communications strategies around this understanding. Providing insights, carefully identifying and communicating the relevant differentiators, and ensuring that calls to action are compelling.

Once prospects have been identified, we set to work on how best to interact with them. We do this through various media, with key information and offers and then, critically, we feed these through to sales. These tasks are vital and help us deliver significant increases in ROI and leads whilst cutting cost per sale. It’s something we believe any agency worth their salt should offer as standard.

Yet time and time again, I’ve felt concerned that there’s something missing. Because however good and effective we are, inevitably we are part of a much bigger story of interlinking elements that form the brand and sales experience.

The part of that picture that is still often missing for me, is a small, nascent discipline born in the 1990s, which 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 analysing their service and processes.

Why is this?

Maybe because it’s often a political ‘hot potato’. Too many vested interests, ‘boats to rock’, or expensive and existing systems that simply cost too much to change? Or perhaps it’s because marketing is still seen as an overhead to be kept in a box, rather than an investment – after all, sales teams have enough trouble dealing with them, don’t they?

I have to admit, I don’t know anywhere near enough about Service Design, but nobody else seems to either. What I do recognise, is my increasing frustration in the lack of attention 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 example perhaps 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, which had been going pretty well, the candidate asked very specifically who the client was – we’d been keeping things fairly loose and 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 few seem to know quite where it fits. It’s almost like one of those conversations where everyone thought someone else was responsible for it, so everyone ignored it. But I’m sure it should be a vital part of any communications strategy.

Perhaps it’s time for Service Design to be really acknowledged, and for its use to become commonplace – integral, but also working with and across marketing, sales, manufacturing and operations. Could be a wise move.


Roger Proctor MBE

Managing Director