Guest article by Larissa Becker, finalist of the 2021 SERVSIG Best Dissertation Award.

Yes, you read it right. I’m talking about the consumer journey, not the customer journey. What is that? Is there a difference? Why should service organizations care? My dissertation addresses some of these questions.

The service and marketing literature have been witnessing a move toward more customer- or beneficiary-centric perspectives for a long while now. Just think of the seminal article Marketing Myopia (Levitt, 1960), the value-in-use concept in service-dominant logic (Vargo & Lusch, 2016), the central role of the customer and its context in customer-dominant logic (Heinonen et al., 2010), or the more recent move toward elevating the human experience (i.e., experiences emerging when humans go on with their lives toward their goals) (Fisk et al., 2020). In line with these trends, my dissertation had the goal of developing a customer-centric perspective of customer experience.

A conceptualization of the customer journey in multiple layers was one of the outputs of my dissertation toward this more customer-centric perspective (see the Figure below). More specifically, we conceptualize the customer journey in three layers: the consumer journey, the customer journey, and touchpoints. This conceptualization recognizes that customer journeys are goal oriented and hierarchical.

The consumer journey is the process that customers undergo to achieve higher-order goals in their lives, such as the journey to get a PhD, the journey toward sobriety, or the journey toward a healthier lifestyle. To achieve these higher-order goals, customers need resources, which they can get from market and organizational actors. Hence, customers engage in customer journeys directed at goals that are subordinate to the higher-order goal. For example, in my consumer journey to get a PhD, I needed my own resources (e.g., time, skills), resources from social actors (e.g., social support from friends and relatives), and resources from market and organizational actors with whom I engaged in customer journeys (e.g., the university, conferences, copy-editing services). In a customer journey, customers engage in touchpoints to achieve even more specific goals. For instance, my customer journey with the university involved several meetings with my supervisors, research seminars, and classes, which were directed at concrete goals subordinate to the higher-order goal of getting my PhD (e.g., learning a specific methodological skill) (see also Hamilton et al., 2019). The question is: Why should service organizations care about the consumer journey? Isn’t it enough to provide good service in the touchpoints during the customer journey?

By understanding customers’ journeys toward higher-order goals (i.e., consumer journeys), service organizations can better assess their position and role in helping customers achieve those goals. This offers these organizations many opportunities to improve the customer experience, because they can better understand how their products and services fit into the consumer journey. For example, in my dissertation, I studied the recovering alcoholics’ journey toward a sober life. My data shows that some clinics missed the opportunity to truly help recovering alcoholics achieve their goal of living a sober life. Clinics that identified the recovering alcoholics’ goal solely as detoxification missed an opportunity to suggest continuation of treatment in a self-help group or another option that could help them maintain their sobriety. Therefore, by understanding the consumer journey toward higher-order goals, service organizations can understand how their customer journey relates to customer journey with other organizations, identify potential partners in the consumer journey, support customers’ value creation processes, and identify opportunities for innovation (see also Hamilton et al., 2019; Patrício et al., 2011).

Larissa Becker
Postdoctoral research fellow in Marketing
Tampere University, Finland

– Becker, L., Jaakkola, E., & Halinen, A. (2020). Toward a goal-oriented view of customer journeys. Journal of Service Management31(4), 767-790.
– Fisk, R., Alkire, L., Anderson, L., Bowen, D. E., Gruber, T., Ostrom, A. L., & Patrício, L. (2020). Elevating the human experience (HX) through service research collaborations: Introducing ServCollab. Journal of Service Management31(4), 615-635.
– Hamilton, R. & Price, L. L. (2019). Consumer journeys: Developing consumer-based strategy. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science47(2), 187-191.
– Heinonen, K., Strandvik, T., Mickelsson, K., Edvardsson, B., Sundström, E., & Andersson, P. (2010). A customer-dominant logic of service. Journal of Service Management21(4), 531-548.
– Levitt, T. (1960). Marketing myopia. Harvard Business Review38(4), 45-56.
– Patrício, L., Fisk, R. P., Falcão e Cunha, J., & Constantine, L. (2011). Multilevel service design: From customer value constellation to service experience blueprinting. Journal of Service Research14(2), 180-200.
– Vargo, S. L. & Lusch, R. F. (2016). Institutions and axioms: An extension and update of service-dominant logic. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 44(1), 5-23.

Photo credit: Ben Robbins.