Couples therapy as an approach to strategic consulting
In another life, had I not become a user experience expert, I would almost certainly have donned the mantle of therapist, specifically couples therapist. I’ve always had a profound interest in human beings and the different ways we behave. I like learning about how the conscious and unconscious minds intersect with the environment to influence people’s actions and interactions.
The number one thing you’ll find in any relationship, whether it be romantic, platonic or familial, is feelings. And the thing I’m most intrigued by is how these feelings can be an equal source of happiness and misery, within a single relationship.
The undisputed expert on the subject of couples therapy is celebrity therapist Esther Perel. In one of her books she says, “Love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning.”
As a customer experience expert at Adviso, I like to think of myself as a couples therapist for my clients and their customers. I make sure they have a healthy, long-lasting relationship in spite of the hyper-competitive environment they exist in, the constant changes happening in the digital ecosystem and the technological advances that can throw things into confusion.
It all starts with a first consultation to get to know the client, their products or services, their customers and their industry. Our goal is to understand the problems and challenges they face – whether it be related to business, technology or people. Once we’ve figured it out, the next step is to look at their existing digital ecosystem (when necessary), in order to establish what needs and goals ultimately need to be met.
Much like a therapist with a patient, a customer experience expert needs to listen to their client, and pay attention to the broader context that client exists in. This exercise allows us to make a diagnosis and put together a picture of the state of the relationship to identify what’s gone wrong with the way the client is communicating, and what needs to be improved. Different methods, quantitative and qualitative, are used to extract data and determine how to turn it into actionable insights.
Next comes the counseling stage. What, in the end, is wrong with our couple, doctor? Do they need to start over from square one? Or do they just need to get better at listening and communicating? Recommendations on digital development strategies will often lay out the steps to take.
You’ve let things go, you don’t really listen to each other anymore, you’ve forgotten who you are – in short, time has passed, and your platform for shared communication has become obsolete. You therefore need to relearn how to get to know each other, and rebuild a new platform that works better.
To do this, you first need to try to understand what it is that isn’t working with the way you communicate. I like to say that we put on our lab coats to get to the bottom of what’s not working, we run a few scans using tools like Hotjar to see where the problem lies, and we use cognitive behaviour therapy to analyse your communications.
Unlike human beings, companies need to maintain relationships with multiple types of consumers. In a sense, they are in a polyamorous relationship. It is therefore essential to define your personas, understand the customer journey of each and adapt your communications based on what you learn. It’s what we call “embarking on user research,” and it’s a crucial and useful step for all your marketing efforts.
So, now that you know what’s broken and have a better understanding of who your audience is and how to talk to them, what’s next?
It’s time for the therapist to help their client conceptualize their new communications platform, ensuring that it will be sustainable over the long term, meaning that it respects best practices and responds to users’ needs. And it’s not just about design! A new platform, even if it follows the current design trends, still needs to be able to live in your ecosystem and be used as a tool to achieve the goals set by the company. That’s why support is often the key to a successful redesign – it allows you to stay the course as you implement the strategies that you’ve determined really are aligned with the company’s priorities.
A second reason to see a couples therapist is a desire to keep your existing relationship healthy, from a preventative perspective. In the language of digital, we call this relationship marketing and marketing automation.
Don’t focus all your attention on big occasions like birthdays, Christmas or Valentine’s Day. Everyday actions, regular outings and little personal gestures are the things that nourish and prolong your relationship.
Good relationship marketing and automation will also allow you to prevent your customers from cheating, one of the most common consequences of a neglected relationship. Just like in a romantic relationship, communication and listening skills are the keys to success.
Relationship problems will always exist. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: listening and communicating can help prevent you from needing to one day start over again from scratch.
In a corporate context, this means staying attentive to all your different user groups, and testing various communications approaches before finally implementing the one that works best. By continually optimizing your communication techniques, you can ensure your company has a long life and loyal customers.
In short, there’s no miracle recipe, any more than there is one for the perfect romantic relationship. The most important thing is to build a solid base from which to improve and perfect your customer relationships, while staying constantly aware of your environment. And it’s totally normal if, sometimes, you have to go back to the drawing board for certain parts of the relationship.