We often think about the start and middle points of the consumer experience but how often do we think about the end? In this article, adapted from his book Endineering, Joe Macleod, veteran product developer, explains how businesses can productively and meaningfully disengage with consumers.
Businesses often fail to engage in purposeful and proactive methods to end consumer product or service lifecycles. The consequence is a failed approach to endings that is damaging customer relationships, businesses and the environment.
What if the end isn’t all bad? What if there is actually much to be gained at the end? I’ve been working on endings in the consumer lifecycle for over a decade – researching, publishing books, speaking around the world at conferences, and working with some of the world’s biggest companies.
Here are some suggestions on how to achieve positive offboarding experiences for customers.
The consumer experience should feel similar at both the beginning and the end of the consumer lifecycle.
Currently, many offboarding experiences are delivered without care or interest from the provider. Further still, offboarding is sometimes delivered by entirely different groups, for example municipal organisations such as waste management, or health and safety representatives.
The same narrative voice should offboard the consumer from the experience, with similar principles and tone of voice as when they were being onboarded.
The emotional richness delivered at onboarding helps consumers to engage. These feelings should be matched at offboarding, inspiring engagement and interest from all parties.
Being present as a brand both emotionally and actively is important at the end. Currently many brands seem to struggle with appearing authentic.
Emotional triggers should offer an opportunity for the consumer to reflect personally on the experience gained with the brand.
Measurable and actionable
Consumers should have a clear, measurable understanding of the impact of their consumption at offboarding. This information should be delivered in a way that enables the consumer to reflect upon their involvement in consumerism and be empowered to do something about it.
Consumers should have a clear, measurable understanding of the impact of their consumption at offboarding.
Businesses and governments around the world need to build and agree upon common measuring systems that are easily understood by the consumer.
This would establish a shared language for the consumer and the provider to communicate about the status of lingering assets, whether these are digital, service or physical product endings.
Identify and bond consumer and provider
Society needs to attach personal identity to consumerism. Consumers should be recognised as perpetrators of their past consumer activity.
Currently, the physical fallout of consumption is too easily relinquished, shipped overseas or left in the atmosphere for the most vulnerable in the world and future generations to grapple with.
However, the consumer shouldn’t be abandoned to deal with this responsibility alone. It should be shared with the provider, tied to the neutralising of assets.
Businesses need to move beyond relationships limited to a ‘good usage experience’ and start to be proud partners with consumers working towards a healthier conclusion.
Neutralising the negative consequences of consumption
Following on from the previous point, neutralising the assets of consumption should be the joint responsibility of both consumer and provider. People understand how some products, vegetable matter for example, are neutralised through organic decay. Other assets, like recycled plastics, appear to have smooth, accessible routes to offboarding courtesy of municipal recycling bins and collections.
But it’s what happens afterwards that is less visible. Plastic often gets shipped to vulnerable countries where people who are unprotected by safety laws process the material. Although the plastic material might eventually be neutralised, the consequences have knock-on effects.
Businesses, consumers and wider society need to see the issue of neutralising assets as an integral consumer experience.
For example, one simple improvement would be changing what is communicated at the end of product life. Rather than saying a product is ‘recyclable’, provide details such as, ‘This product is dismantled by x method, then gets recycled by x process, at this place in x country. This process is completed within this amount of time and costs this amount of carbon, which is then off-set’.
Timely and attentive
Businesses need to intervene at the end of the lifecycle with an active and attentive attitude. If the consumer experience is left to linger on beyond a planned ending, the assets become outdated, obsolete and risk falling out of control into the wider environment. This has become normal in recent decades, thus promoting indifference about unused products, accounts and subscriptions.
Businesses should redefine timeframes and styles of engagement with the consumer. In the short term, they will need to engage actively with the consumer to put an end to unused assets that linger in the physical, digital and service landscapes. This will seem counterintuitive to a business culture that has, in the past, benefitted from overlooking endings. But, in the long term, businesses that get this right will benefit from deeper, more loyal partnerships based on trusted re-engagement over years.
Strategic approaches will become more sophisticated, not only with regard to the consumer experience and long-term impact, but also as a means of collaboration to improve consumerism.
By Joe Macleod
Joe Macleod has experience in product development across various industries including leading e-communications and digital companies. Now he trains business influencers, policy makers, designers, product developers and individuals across diverse industries about the need for ‘good endings’ and how to achieve them. His book, Endineering: Designing consumption lifecycles that end as well as they begin, is available from online booksellers and www.andend.co.
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