This is a guest post from Joe Macleod, author of Ends. and founder of And End. Joe is a speaker at our event Closure, Digital Legacy and Death on Thursday 19 July.
It would seem counter-intuitive to consider the end of a customer relationship as having a critical role in business and the environment, but I want to tell you why consumer endings are a vital aspect of the consumer experience and how they should inspire action, responsibility and reflection, that could, if used well, accelerate our ability to grapple with consumptions’ ills.
The consumer’s experience is biased. As businesses and society, we favour the on-boarding of a new product or service over the responsibility of off-boarding. Engagement through advertising, and marketing inspires commitment from the consumer at the beginning of the consumer lifecycle (On-boarding).
Off-boarding is overlooked. Left to governments, local council, health and welfare, and international bodies to deal with. The language, status and position of these are in counterpoint to other messages and authorities inside the consumer lifecycle. It is no wonder the consumer has little to link their action at purchase to their responsibility thereafter.
Yet, emotional off-boarding can motivate some interesting feelings in the consumer, inspiring them to be truly reflective about the products and services in the context of individual consumption, directly linked to a personal experience through witnessed evidence that creates responsibility.
In contrast, the on-boarding experience presents an aspirational, dreamlike experience to the consumer, luring them in to the consumer relationship, which can only be predictive as it is before the product or service has been experienced.
Worryingly though, the types of promises the consumer experiences at on-boarding are now being adopted to present sustainable consumption and environmental credentials. Yet these methods can only act as a proxy of real action in the consumer as they are achieved only via a purchase from the provider.
Let’s look at the two examples that are often used in business to promote environmental improvements.
The Circular Economy has a wonderful potential for improving business practice, encouraging efficiency, developing better materials and promising sustainability. What is surprisingly absent from the Circular Economy approach is the lack of disruption to the status quo of the traditional consumer lifecycle experience.
As a consumer experience, the Circular Economy promises to be remarkably similar. Where an aspirational message of new materials, new processes and new products is pushed, echoing centuries of similar sales pattern. The story of the ‘New!’
The Circular Economy relies on this aspirational commitment from the consumer about a common future and relies on the consumers’ action at the beginning of the consumer lifecycle - a purchase to start the process of environmental improvement and a common future belief.
Corporate Social Responsibility again relies upon consumer action through an act of consumption. Concerns held by the consumer about consumptions’ ills have to align with the CSR of a company for the consumer to purchase. It is a proxy of good. It relinquishes consumers’ responsibility for a personal actionable role. And in turn, blinds them to individual reflection around their own consumption.
In the absence of consumers having the opportunity to reflect upon their role in consumption’s ills, the blame falls solely on businesses.
Business has become trapped in the belief of encouraging us to consume our way out of the ills of consumption, while what we should do as businesses, is permit more opportunities for individual consumers to reflect upon their own role in consumption. And the best place to do this is at off-boarding the consumer lifecycle.
This is not to say that as a business we need to halt the good work of environmental efforts in efficiency, improved materials and reclaiming waste. But we should make efforts to expose consumers to these responsibilities as part of their personal buying or purchasing experience.
Have faith; endings are valued in most aspects of human experience, but in consumer narratives, they are strangely absent. In films, books, theatre and even gaming, the attention paid to the end of the narrative is balanced and linked explicitly to the rest of the experience.
Elizabeth MacArthur in her book ‘Extravagant Narratives’ champions the importance of endings, saying they “attempt to preserve the moral and social order which would be threatened by endlessly erring narratives.”
Further to that, Richard Neupert describes endings in his book ‘The End, Narration and Closure in Film’ as providing “solid closure in conventional narratives and histories satisfies individual and social desire for moral authority, a purposeful interpretation of life, and genuine stability”.
Reflecting upon the impact of consumption’s ills, such as climate change or plastic pollution, we witness a broken ‘moral social order’ or a lack of ‘moral authority’ and a worrying instability in the environment.
Designing endings for your businesses and the consumer experiences can provide your customers a place for personal reflection about their consumer habits.
A considered consumer off-boarding experience should be attached to the rest of the lifecycle, not broken apart from the rest of the experience. This should be done in a similar style with emotional triggers - similar to the ones we use at on-boarding, that are actionable by the consumer.
Endings are vital to consider in our consumer experiences. Designing and presenting better ones as may even advert our own environmental end.
Joe Macleod is one of the speakers at BIO's Closure, Digital Legacy and Death event.
Joe Macleod is an author, and designer of ends. His recently published book Ends, makes a compelling case that demonstrates how, over centuries, our changing relationship with death has led to the loss of our relationship with endings, giving rise to guilt-free consumers, an overly-blamed business sector and a society which finds itself at a loss when it needs to grapple with responsibility.
Drawing on a plethora of sources in history, sociology, psychology and industry, Ends argues that we are taking the wrong approach to challenging the impacts of consumption and that we need to create coherent endings in our product, service and digital experiences so as to rebalance this.
Available in Paperback (Amazon) and Ebook (Smashwords and everywhere).
BIO BOLD (Thursday 19.07.2018): Closure, Digital Legacy and Death
In design, as in life, endings are difficult. Hard to think about, hard to face up to, hard to design products and services for. Join us to think boldly about closure experiences, our digital legacy and even death (and how we might avoid it). Our speakers will take us all the way from issues with current product thinking, to scenario planning for humanity’s future. What will it mean for designers to start dealing with enhanced human biology, or the promise of uploading our consciousness to a digital realm? Join us and think bold.
Learn more about our next BIO bold and get your ticket here.