Seemingly forever, marketers and researchers have been trying to identify stable and predictable links between what consumers say about product and service experiences, what they mean, i.e. the emotional and unconscious underpinnings about what they really think and believe, and what they do in terms of actual decision-making and actions in the marketplace.
There is an intersection between customer experience with a product or service, internal reaction to that experience, informal peer-to-peer communication about the experience, and downstream customer decision-making. It occurs in the personal emotional and subconscious distillation of that experience in forming the customer’s behavior. This may sound a little technical and psychological for some, but reckoning with the meaning of emotional and subconscious response to experiences has important ramifications in the marketing world. It can mean knowing what customers really want
Some experiences are pleasurable in the subconscious, some are painful, some are superficial, some go deep. They can create sensations and feelings that can be a challenge to articulate, but which causes people to take action. Translating these subconscious emotions and feelings is the ‘holy grail’ of customer journey design.
As behavioral scientists report with frequency, workings of the subconscious mind , and understanding it, is the key to identifying the driving force behind actions. Learning, judgment, and a liberal amount of illogic and irrationality enters into the subconscious. Some actions take place as a result of the conscious, analytical and logical, but much of it comes from a deeper realm. Scientists also tell us that, governed by the subconscious, humans can foresee and envision behavioral outcomes, and this is important to marketers.
My colleague Colin Shaw often points out that, though Disney theme park vacationers and visitors often say they want salads and other healthy foods for themselves and their families, what they really want, and buy, are hot dogs and hamburgers. If Disney only followed what customers said, they’d focus on salad; and this would diminish the overall park experience, potentially leading to churn.
In another example, an IBM consumer study revealed that, while 43% of consumers said they preferred the “browse, click, and purchase experience”, that is shopping online and picking-up in the store. However, only 29% reported using online shopping for their most recent store purchase. The reasons for this say-do gap have to do with trust and assurance issues – the need for on-demand customized promotions both online and in store, knowing beforehand that the desired product is in-stock prior to making a trip to the store, ability to have personalized communication with a retailer when online, etc. In other words, consumers want the digital experience to be seamless, irrespective of touchpoint or technology used. Understanding, and narrowing or eliminating, that say-mean-do gap gets us into the subconscious response to digital retail experiences.
Knowing what consumers really want, i.e. what they mean when they say something, and how they will act and communicate to others, can be extremely impactful. Cracking the ‘code’ enables marketers to interpret and translate the difference between consumer-stated comments, complaints, and concerns and what they mean in terms of behavior. Here are a few
- “Your product/service should be more like your competitor’s” really means they like your product/service but they prefer what the competitor offers
- “I think your product/service concept is great” really means that a first impression is positive but may not lead to positive experience and action
- “I’d like to have this product/service feature” really means that they likely have fundamental issues with a product or service, and that a better understanding of why customers want this feature, and/or would they prefer an alternative
- “I regularly use your product/service” really means that, because memory is selective, they recall having used the product/service (at least once) in the past
- “I really like your product/service” really means that they don’t love the product/service and that it needs to be improved
- “I’d pay more for this service” really means that, when push comes to shove, they wouldn’t, believing that they deserve more value for the same price
- “I’d be glad to recommend your product/service” really means that that any such recommendation could range from bland and passive, or even negative, to active and enthusiastic
Consumer recommendation deserves special treatment in assessing results of the say-mean-do gap. Very often, claims of correlation between what customers say, mean, and do with respect to positive, neutral, or negative recommendation leaves out the actual causes, or levers, of emotional and unconscious processing.
As an example, in customer research, actionability of the one-number recommendation score question has been challenged by some practitioners, as have other elements of the research. Among the issues, the question asks “Would you recommend…” rather than “Will you recommend…” or “Have you recommended…” The latter two variations are considered superior since, in the case of the first variation, the question calls for customers to have greater emotional and subconscious certainty; and, in the case of the second variation, there is actual evidence of having taken action, i.e. actually behaved.
There are many more problems with putting too much emphasis on stated potential recommendation and referral, and taking them as surrogates for actual meaning and intended or real action. One of these problems is that if other information is available about customer behavior, as it often is through targeted emotional driver research, the over-focus on a single number suggests that these more in-depth insights will receive less consideration and relevance. For example, if a company discovers that it has a high incidence of unresolved customer complaints, a situation certainly jammed with emotional and subconscious feelings, that serious loyalty-leveraging situation can get low priority, and might even be brushed aside, as executives seek to create ever-higher positive recommendation levels.
Again, knowing what customers really want and what they’ll really do, often despite what they say they’d do, can be critical to a business So as my British friends would say, “Mind The Gap.” What they mean is “Be Careful Not to Get Your Foot Caught In The Open Space. It’ll Hurt.