What customer experience professionals can learn from screenwriters

Many companies, both on and offline, try to create successful customer journeys by reducing negative emotions and stimulating positive ones. But what is a customer journey? What does it entail? Where does it start and how does it get to his ending — if there ever is one.

One way of looking at it is by comparing it to the hero’s journey in movies. That’s what I want to explore in this article.

But let’s take step back first. Let’s look at our own lives. Let’s explore happiness. 
 
HOW DO YOU RATE YOUR LIFE
 
Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk states that there are several traps when it comes to measure happiness. He explains that our minds are manipulating us all the time. He says that one should be very aware of the difference two forms of the ‘self’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XgRlrBl-7Yg

The experiencing self knows the present and it looks at individual moments. The remembering self answers retrospective questions like “How have you been feeling?” 
 
Most of the moments we experience, don’t leave a trace. They are completely ignored by the dominant (and if I may say, manipulating) remembering self. This means that, in a way, this remembering self just makes up its own story, which may vary from the truth.

You may grade your year a 9. However, once you start analyzing all the moments that made up this year, you can start doubting your grade. Maybe it wasn’t that good? Maybe there were just some highlights that convinced you the whole year was great?

So we have to construct a story where we only highlight the positive emotions and suppress the negative in order to create (and manipulate) an event with eventually the best experience ever. How do we know what we value most and what we tend to forget? Many companies attempt to fabricate the best customer journey to reduce these negative emotions or at least, to let them walk away positively.

LET’S CREATE A HERO AND PUT HIM ON A JOURNEY
 
Let’s create a hero. One that has an adventurous journey and gives a good feeling afterwards. Let’s call on Joseph Campbell for help. 
 
In 1949, Campbell introduced his well-known theory of the Monomyth in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He describes the Monomyth as a single consciously controlled pattern, which is exhibited in folk tales, myths religious fables. Today it can be found as an underlying structure in movies, books and games all over the world. 
 
It always starts with a hero. This hero, whether it’s Leonardo di Caprio, Denzel Washington or Pinocchio is called to adventure, crosses the threshold to an unknown world to endure tests and trials and usually returns with a boon that benefits his fellows.

This Monomyth doesn’t come from our minds, but from our body. It may sound odd, but according to Campbell we respond chemically to certain symbolic stimuli. He stresses that the adventure that will be told in the new story has always been told before. 
 
So, what can companies learn from that?

Let’s use the theory of the Monomyth on a well-known Customer Journey; The quest of the Ikea. Let’s use the moments that we remember, whether they are positive or bad positively or bad, and see explore how a customer’s journey compares to a hero’s journey.

Stage 1. The Ordinary World

Let’s step into the world of Luke, a sympathetic young professional living together with his pregnant wife, Nora and his white picket fence. 
 
Little did he know, that his life was about to change…

After a hard day of work, Luke drops down on his couch. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to get comfortable.

He dragged this couch everywhere ever since he was 18. He’s too attached to the old piece of junk and would never get rid of all those wonderful memories, even though he knows deep inside that his last days are numbered.

Stage 2. The Call to Adventure

The situation will be shaken up in a short period of time. Later that week, Nora and Luke are watching TV. 
 
Out of nowhere, Nora yells: “It’s kicking!” 
 
How amazing! Luke jumps towards Nora to grab her belly. While doing this, the spring in the couch perforates through the fabric and stabs Nora’s leg. 
 
She firmly concludes that it’s time for a new couch, in fact, it’s time for an entire new decoration. Luke doesn’t respond.

Stage 3. Refusal of the Call

“Maybe it’s an idea to stop by the IKEA”. Luke doesn’t respond to his wife’s comment and focuses on the road ahead of him.

“Luke?”

Luke nods. Nora doubtfully looks at him.

“If you want to, you should take this exit.. Okay now you’re too late.”

Luke can’t suppress a tiny smile.

Stage 4. Meeting with the Mentor

Back home, Nora hands him his laptop opened with the website of the IKEA. She walks away without saying anything. 
 
Luke stares at an unknown soul-less couch. His father in Law sits down next to him. While staring at the website he mumbles: “You’re not gonna buy that new piece of junk, are you?”

The couch squeaks while he leans back.

“Debby made me do these things too, I didn’t want to lose my beautiful wall decoration I painted in the 70’s, but I did, sometimes you just gotta let go son.” 
 
Luke stares at the website. 
 
He suddenly feels a source of courage and wisdom. He has no choice, it’s now or never to buy this couch his wife needs so badly. He knows deep within that it’s time…

Stage 5. Crossing the Threshold

There he goes, Luke jumps in his car and leaves the Ordinary World. Soon he enters the new region of the Ikea wit unfamiliar rules and values. 
 
Luckily the Ikea wasn’t that hard to find. The parking lot isn’t that awful either. The threshold has been passed easily.

Stage 6. Tests, Allies and Enemies

Luke is now inside the special world of the Ikea. He grabs a cart and enters the first area. 
 
What now? 
 
Will he find the way in this maze of showrooms? 
 
Before he knows it, he is faced with his biggest enemy: The self-service! 
 
Where to go? Luckily the Do It Yourself shopping tools, the labels and signs introduce themselves as his ally in this ordeal. 
 
All he needs to do, is follow the white rabbit, I mean… black arrows. 
 
When he is on his way and going with the motion, everything changes. There they are, in the back of the aisle: the other shoppers! 
 
They are everywhere. 
 
They stop in front of him, blocking his way. They run past him, chasing obnoxious children that are only interested in jumping on each and every couch.

And where the hell is the toilet?

Stage 7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

Luke is nearly there, almost at the section to fulfill his major challenge in this special world: finding the perfect couch. 
 
The map shows him that there are only a few lanes and corridors left to prepare him. 
 
What will he encounter? Does he have enough information?

Stage 8. The Ordeal

Luke is grabbing onto a bed, he’s getting hungry. He hasn’t found the couch section yet and he’s halfway through Ikea already. 
 
He’s feeling dizzy and is reluctant towards the rest of his quest. The round tour makes him feel as if he has no control over his own choices. He wants to go home. 
 
But then… 
 
Luke enters a special place in this world: the restaurant. 
 
Hundreds of pastries, burgers and meatballs. He grabs a bite and starts to feel stronger. 
 
Out of the moment of death comes new life; ready to move on!

Stage 9. The Reward

Luke is back at the round tour. Stronger than ever. And finally, after all these hours, there it is. 
 
The couch department! Couches as far as the eye can see. His heart fills itself up with joy. The horror, long gone. The frustration? Lost and forgotten. 
 
He skips towards the couches. Looks around. What would work in his house? What makes his heart tick? 
 
Everything is beautiful. Some are more expensive than others and he’s in total control of what he will choose and what not. 
 
This leads to a moment full of stressful doubts. Finally, he makes a decision. It’s his decision. 
 
While writes down the number of the stock in which the components are located, a heavy man sits down next to him on the same couch. His couch. 
 
The guy is too close, in his space. The danger of losing his treasure sneaks up on him. The man looks keen on buying the same couch. There might not be enough of them in his preferred color. How can you know? 
 
Luke certainly doesn’t want to lose his treasure.

Stage 10. The Road Back

Luke is now at three-quarters of his journey. He is driven to complete his adventure and on his way to leave this special world to be sure the couch is brought home. 
 
He walks fast. Through the reflection of a mirror in the bathroom department, he sees the heavy guy following him in the same direction. The horror!
 
The urgency and danger of this mission are indispensable at this very moment. He receives a call: “Luke, it’s your father.” “Dad, this is not the right time”.

Stage 11. The Resurrection

Luke hangs up and runs towards the pick stock. It’s now or never. 
 
He looks at the numbers he wrote down. ‘Where are these stupid components,’ he mumbles to himself.

He’s tested severely on this threshold of home. The heavy man scans the other lane. 
There it is! 
 
Luke grabs the box, throws it onto his cart and walks towards the counter. 
 
He is purified by the last sacrifice: the payment. He can now let go of the feeling that he will always be stuck with the same couch. The polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

Stage 12. Return with the Elixir

Returning home from the Ikea, Luke is now bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform his house as he himself has been transformed as well. 
 
He gets rid of his old couch, and throws himself on his new quest: the purchase of a new kitchen.

There’s no doubt Ikea consciously created its specific shopping experience with the intention to give the consumer an invincible feeling in the end.

Of course, with a little bit of irony, the theory of the Monomyth suited very well to this customer quest and enabled us to look into experiencing self and remembering self. 
 
What became clear, is that the memory of this experience (overcoming the unknown and retrieving the treasure) is indeed more important than the individual moments, as we can say that there are also some negative elements when shopping in the Ikea.

So, the stages of the hero’s journey might be really useful for a company they might stimulate the remembering self into thinking the customer had the best customer experience ever!

In an age of storytelling, intuitive design and contextual customer experiences, you may just get your idea from a traditional hero’s journey. It doesn’t matter whether Luke is on a mission in a galaxy far far away, or out shopping for a new couch. As a company, it’s your duty to create an engaging experience.

This article was written for CX Company:

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