smith+co on
customer experience
Tim Wade
  • By Tim Wade
  • Mar 20 2014

What can quantum theory teach us about customer experience?

Do you remember studying physics at school? It was all pretty straightforward stuff; gravity makes things fall down; friction makes things slow down; entropy makes things break down. But now it’s all about the chaotic and unpredictable world of quantum theory....

So let’s get a little Professor Brian Cox* here. On first glance, electrons appear to behave in a predictable wave-like pattern, but quantum theory tells us that in fact the picture is much more complex. A bit like customer experience really.

When we think about customer experience, we classically think about the linear or circular journey. As we are all realising however, we’re having to completely re-think this approach since the continued growth of digital and social channels means the customer (a bit like those pesky electrons) can exist in several places at once.

The traditional customer journey

Take the hotel industry and the classic cyclical journey I defined for Best Western hotels - from initial inspiration right through to leaving reviews and sharing photos, which help to create that inspiration again. Recently, however, we have been digging deeper into the data and questioning this cyclical journey.


The quantum customer journey

What quantum theory tells us is that the journey the electron takes is not a predictable or linear one. It can actually take any path around the known universe. And this is very similar to the multi-channel customer journey that we are seeing today.

What initially appears as a linear process with defined stages is actually much more complex. Whilst a customer may appear to take a logical path from the inspiration phase to the booking phase and then onto the stay phase, the journey the customer actually takes is one that can involve a multitude of interactions and touch points.

For example a recent study by Expedia showed that, on average, customers visit 38 websites before making a booking for their vacation. As well as sites, the number of devices we use are increasing: mobile, tablets, desktops and now wearable technology with watches and glasses, are the latest buzz. Then there is the social interaction with friends, family or the unknown reviewers on Trip Advisor. And in the process the customer will move from one channel to the other; from the web to chatting with a friend on-line, to the call centre to even perhaps asking a travel advisor in a store. So the amount of variables and data points between what, on the face of it is a simple linear journey, is phenomenal.

If the customer journey is more like the journey of an electron in quantum theory, our thinking around customer experience should evolve to a similar level – quantum customer experience. (This sounds like it needs some dramatic music).

The key to success in the quantum customer journey is being where the customer needs us to be at any moment in time.

As in the days where a shopkeeper knew each customer that entered their door and they could react to their individual needs, the ability of technology now to act in real time to the individual behaviour of each customer is impressive. Data systems are moving from batch processes to real time interactions, interactions based on everything from the weather outside to the friends we keep.

Tying the different data across multi-channels in order to build one quantum customer journey is no mean feat but this should be your ambition and the speed of technology progression in this area means that what can be achieved today is significantly advanced from where we were even a couple of years ago. But herein lies the danger.

Letting technology be the leader is a mistake; technology must be the enabler of your purpose, not the driver.

With a clear purpose you have the means to make sense of the technology and a compelling story to tell. For example, Amazon is working on ways to use big data to predict what customers will order before they order it. They are also testing drones that are capable of delivering packages to your front-door. Why? Because Jeff Bezos’s vision is for Amazon to be the earth’s most customer-centric company and that means being able to deliver what you order the day you order it. The way to achieve that is to shorten the supply chain through using data and localised delivery. So, the purpose comes first, the technology enables it.

As marketing and customer experience professionals we need to be aware of the possibilities offered by the latest concepts, yet still apply the age-old principles of good business. Focus on your customer, what they value and how they wish to buy and be there for them. Then tell them a compelling story about why they should choose you. Even in the era of the quantum customer experience the basics still work. Our job is to simplify things so that they do.

copyright Smith+Co 2014

* Professor Brian Cox is a former pop musician and celebrity British physicist, specialising in particle physics

Tim Wade is the Smith+Co expert on differentiating brands across multiple channels. Prior to joining Smith+co, he was Director of Marketing & Ecommerce for Best Western, the largest group of independent hotels in the world.

See more on Tim Wade and how to make your brand purpose your starting point

Tim is also a frequent speaker on customer experience, the multi-channel customer journey, and creating emotion through storytelling. See more