Using the Waveline to Map Your Customers’ Emotional Journey

by Clarissa Fong
Account Supervisor, Earned Media

Supply and Demand

You know the story: it’s time for a new stereo to go with the 55″ LED Smart TV, because the image is great but the built-in speakers are underwhelming.

You’ve read the reviews on Amazon and CNET, you’ve surveyed your Facebook friends, browsed some Pinterest boards, and settled on an Amazing Stereo 4800. You’ve also found during your research that there’s a special deal at Best Buy on this model.

You make a stop after work at your local Best Buy. The store is easy enough to navigate, and you find the stereo on display. A Very Helpful Sales Associate offers assistance, assures you that you’ve made a great choice, and helps you check out with your shiny new toy.

While this outlines the basic transaction, the real story is your emotional journey.

Dig Deeper

Nathan Shedroff recently shared his approach in his workshop, “Using the Waveline: Mapping the Premium Value to the User Journey” at WebVisions.

The waveline is an exercise that essentially helps quantify what many of us are already doing intuitively, or would like to be able to do better. Rather than mapping a linear set of transactions along a traditional sales journey, it looks at the emotional journey our customers are on, then maps the supporting transactions secondarily.

On pages 23 and 49 of his presentation, Shedroff maps the wavelines for the experience of buying a new stereo from a big-box store. While the anecdote above includes the one key transaction Amazing Stereo brand tracks, (in-store purchase), it also holds clues to the real, emotional process of a buyer:

  • I desire a new stereo.
  • I’m excited about getting a new stereo.
  • I’m daunted by researching stereos.
  • I’m relieved to make a decision about a stereo.
  • I anticipate purchasing the stereo.
  • I enjoy the process of taking my new stereo home.
  • I’m frustrated by the packaging around the stereo.
  • I’m baffled by the installation instructions.
  • I end the night throwing small wrenches at the stereo.

In this example, you can see the emotional peaks and valleys involved in what the Amazing Stereo brand treats as a single, simple transaction.

In fact, Shedroff advises creating four wavelines to fully assess the user journey:

  • The planned experience the brand intended to give users.
  • The actual experience the user has.
  • The desired experience the user secretly wants.
  • The expected experience the user was anticipating.

Looking at these unlabeled wavelines, imagine a scenario where you can see these playing out. Say, for example, going to the DMV.

  • First off, I expect the DMV experience to suck.
  • I desire a faster, cleaner, better-lit experience.
  • My actual experience is not too bad, though I’m still late getting back to the office from lunch.
  • The DMV intended recent facility renovations to give users an amazing, spa-like experience.
  • Ultimately, we were both wrong.

Opportunity Knocks

See those gaps between the wavelines? Those intriguing spaces between what you planned and what your users actually got?

Those are your opportunities to improve the transactions at points that make the biggest difference to your users on their journeys.

As you supplement your touchy-feely wavelines with data, you can make compelling business arguments for whatever improvements you want to make at those touchpoints.

Bottom Line

Humans are complicated, and we don’t make decisions in a vacuum. It’s naïve to look at users as the efficient machines economists expect us to be.

Instead of fighting this—or worse, ignoring it—we can help the brands we work with acknowledge and embrace their users’ emotions.

With some planning and some research to generate relevant data, we can all continue on journeys that trend upward.