The transaction funnel. The moment you hope a customer is sure enough of what they’re buying that they’ll go through all the necessary steps to complete the purchase. We work to reduce friction, hoping to improve the rate at which people starting down the funnel complete it. We’ve come a long way in understanding the science of the funnel and the factors that affect someone’s likelihood for completing the transaction.
At least for simple, commoditized purchases.
What about complex purchases? So-called high-consideration purchases? We don’t typically change our approach to these more involved purchases, particularly through an online purchasing funnel. We try to pull customers into the funnel and, like buying a book, we try to make the purchase as quick and “simple” as possible. The assumptions being they’re fully ready, know what they need to know, and are committed to the purchase.
But this is rarely the case. Over the past few years we’ve helped clients help their customers make sense of, and purchase, complex products and services. Life insurance, booking a cruise, home solar energy, mortgages, traveling by rail, obtaining health insurance, are just some of the projects that could appear unrelated, but under the surface have a lot in common when you gain insight into how people approach these purchases. We need to recognize when customers are ready to consider and when they’re ready to commit.
We need to recognize when customers are ready to consider and when they’re ready to commit.
From a marketing perspective, there’s a lot known about the needs of customers making these purchases. However, only recently has it been clear that there’s little that can’t be sold online. There is a lag in making high-consideration purchases available through digital channels and actually designing for how customers make sense of these products and services.
What makes a complex purchase so complex?
These purchases are expensive
The moment something exceeds simple, discretionary income, it will warrant deep consideration. What are we doing, in designing the customer’s path, to support that consideration?
These purchases are emotional
Whether because of the sheer commitment of the investment—such as acquiring a mortgage—or the ephemeral, transient nature of the experience—like a 7-day cruise where your biggest takeaways are memories—these purchases become largely emotional decisions.
These purchases are complex
Specifically, there are usually many interdependent variables that need to be accounted for before determining how much it will actually cost.
These purchases are unfamiliar
These purchases ask you to present an inordinate amount of complexity and emotional investment—yet they are usually unfamiliar. Who wants to spend money on an emotional, expensive purchase when you don’t really understand what you’re actually buying?
These purchases aren’t made alone
Purchases this large, complex, expensive, and unfamiliar almost always need some type of validation—from a spouse, an advisor, or other subject matter expert professional (accountant, travel agent, mechanic) or just a trusted friend who has experience with this particular type of purchase.
Obviously these characteristics bleed into each other—the complex is unfamiliar, large purchases are emotional—but different purchases will emphasize these characteristics in different ways.
The Consideration Funnel
Once you identify that your product or service meets the criteria of a high-consideration purchase, you have to ask yourself if your funnel truly supports the needs associated with these characteristics. Fear and uncertainty dominate the emotional state of someone being asked to part with large amounts of money for something they don’t fully understand.
When all these things are considered, you have what I call the consideration funnel. How do you create a path that supports the need of the customer to seriously and comfortably consider this purchase? What are the common principles that should define how you design to support the consideration funnel?
Learn while doing
Typically, companies separate the learning from the buying. You’ll have lots of “subject matter 101” pages with tons of content that act as a resource for learning about whatever complex product you have. Then, the assumption is that once customers are educated and ready, they’ll configure lots of variables or inputs and proceed with a purchase, armed with knowledge.
When in fact, for most high-consideration purchases, the behavior of consumers is to jump right into anything that helps configure options and receive pricing guidance—anything that lets them interact, not read. Not only do they want to get a conceptual anchor from pricing, but they typically think they’ll understand all the “moving parts” that need to be considered for the purchase.
The best experiences that support how customers consider these purchases incorporate the learning with the doing; allowing them to dive in and actually “do something” while educating and answering questions along the way.
A more flexible funnel allows people to become more comfortable with commitment while they learn along the way
Paint a picture
People can make sense of complex products more easily through visualizations than simply reading paragraphs of text. There are a lot of interrelated variables and cause-and-effect scenarios that can be too abstract and too hard to keep track of within paragraphs and lists. Visualizations reduce the cognitive load in understanding these concepts.
In many call center conversations I’ve listened in on, I’ve experienced what I call “hearing their eyes glaze over” as the customer service rep, very earnestly, explains the different options, configurations, and definitions. You can sense that the customer has checked out. It’s just too much to keep track of in a linear conversation. Clearly, this is where the digital funnel can excel over a person-to-person conversation, if done right. Smart visualizations that help communicate the top concepts or questions go a long way to making customers comfortable.
In many call center conversations I’ve listened in on, I’ve experienced what I call “hearing their eyes glaze over”
Support consideration over time
Once someone has entered a purchase funnel, you assume there is a commitment and momentum that is your job to maintain. Funnel abandonment is usually seen as a bad metric; but consumers rarely make these purchases in one sitting. They need time to do additional research, talk to a spouse, friend, or advisor. You must support the ability for people to complete the consideration process at their own pace, ensuring they aren’t starting from scratch when they revisit, and are instead ready to move farther down the funnel. So many traditional purchase funnels don’t support the ability to save what you’ve done and pick-up where you left off at a later date. More importantly, these funnels rarely allow customers start the process on one channel (such as a call center) and then pick up seamlessly on another channel (such as online).
Support the pause
Very much related to supporting consideration over time, the pause is a specific point in the funnel where customers can clearly review their configurations, settings, or options, see the price, and make sense of how all the variables connect—without a sense of commitment. If the variables aren’t interdependent, being able to adjust things in real time at this point is all the better. If the variables are interdependent (i.e. you need to do things in a specific order), being able to easily move back and adjust will be key. This is a moment that customers can review, understand, save, share, and generally become comfortable with their decision. At no time up to this point should the customer have been asked for payment information, or anything that makes them feel committed on some level.
Responsive, playful and forgiving interactions
Many high-consideration purchases require a number of inputs to configure and estimate. This is usually a paper form moved fairly faithfully to the digital channel. The standard set of pages with endless drop-down menus and text fields just doesn’t do the trick. And, for high consideration purchases, just providing a progress indicator to motivate them to stay on the path isn’t going to cut it.
There is a term in ecommerce that describes the behavior of shoppers browsing products: pogo-sticking. They see something potentially interesting, click on it, go to the product page, see that it’s not what they’re looking for and hit the back button to return to the category page. This behavior can be seen in complex, expensive purchase funnels. The customer enters in fields, selects dropdown choices in a multi-step wizard, and at the end, they see a summary and a quote. Not happy with that number—or curious what it looks like if a variable is changed—they step back however many screens required to get to that variable, change it, and go forward again (often needing to re-enter already entered information) to see the changed summary.
When people are investing a considerable amount of time playing with variables, changing information, reviewing different configurations and quotes, then time must be invested in understanding what interaction model and screen controls are optimal to keep consumers engaged. From step-through wizards to configuration panels, from drop-downs to sliders, these decisions are unique to your complex product or service.
Complex purchases need careful analysis of what the variables are, how they are interdependent of each other (or not), and the best, responsive, playful, and forgiving interactions for configuring all these variables. Only through interacting with your customers in observations and interviews, can you understand what way they should interact with this information.
Responsive: it reacts immediately to changes in variables. A good example of this type of responsiveness is pricing or an estimate that changes in real-time once you’ve changed one of the inputs.
Playful: the interaction is optimized for the variables and context the customer is engaging with this information. Should the screen control be a dropdown, a series of buttons, or would it be more effective as a slider? What is the most engaging way to interact with these inputs and variables?
Forgiving: in that you can’t screw anything up; it’s easy to change and configure. Consumers shouldn’t have to hack the back button or start from scratch to change a variable to see a new configuration or price. If you find your customers “pogo-sticking”, then you aren’t supporting easy reconfiguration.
In a project to help people make sense of different auto insurance policies, we needed to collect a good deal of information from consumers. We tested multiple ideas. One of those ideas had all the inputs in one screen, instead of the traditional multiple pages of steps supported by a progress indicator from page to page. And each input, previously defaulted to a dropdown in the original design, was given careful consideration for what type of screen control it should use. As one example, if the choices given were three or less, we used three buttons as choices, instead of a dropdown with three options. Even though our initial generative field research lead us to this idea as one worth testing, we hypothesized that this would perform worse than the other input concepts because it would be information overload.
To the contrary, it tested the best. Customers liked that they could see exactly what that they had to enter—unlike a stepped wizard where you may see the steps, but you don’t know how much is required on each of those pages. And, they felt they got through the information faster because of the varied, optimized screen controls used in the form design.
Typical sales funnels have become largely standardized where the consideration funnel is largely a bespoke approach, taking more thoughtful investment into designing them. Once you identify that you’re selling a high-consideration product or service, you can better break down the needs of your customer and support their journey.