FEATURE3 October 2014

Following the customer journey


The process of buying a product or service is a messy, non-linear affair, full of twists and turns and influences that are often unpredictable. Which makes researching it a challenge.


In 2009, ethnographer Siamack Salari created EthOS, the first mobile ethnographic research app. And now, he has launched an app – Journey HQ – which was a year in development, and is able to capture natural behaviour, unobtrusively, as participants record any step or influence along their decision-making journey.

“The real issue is naturalism and reality. Journeys are not linear and mapped out simplistically, they are irrational and there are no tools designed to capture the reality of decision-making. Retrospectively you can ask and plot and that’s a fairly linear path but you don’t get what people nearly do or don’t do and the influences along the way,” explains Salari.

“There are the weirdest things that come to people out of context. On one project we did we were getting posts from people saying: ‘on the train, tourists got on, made me think…’ we wouldn’t get, or know to ask people that.”

Journey HQ allows people to monitor their own decision-making and captures their emotions throughout the process. The app doesn’t ask questions or set tasks but rather leaves participants to register their own actions providing “untainted customer insight”.

Salari adds: “The only task is to buy or don’t buy a product. We make clear that it doesn’t matter if you don’t buy. The only encouragement is a thank you or acknowledgement. The only time we’re connecting is if, for example, people are only texting, we might ask them to send some pictures as well.”

He says the app was designed to be easy to use, with as few screen taps as possible. It can capture multiple entries on an event (up to five) so that, for instance, audio and text can be sent as one parcel to a time-line.

Marketers monitor participants’ activity via a secure website. Journeys can be watched live or reviewed over time to trace triggers and different sources of influence. A graphical display allows users to highlight behaviour patterns, compare events and track sequences.


“We also use an emotional slider which can be configured project by project. Respondents can mark how far or how close they are from buying using the slider; it gives an emotional backdrop.  Even though this is qualitative research from the emotional slider you get lots of data points,” says Salari.

While he doesn’t think the app is restricted to specific sectors, it is most appropriate for long journeys rather than short decision windows.

So finally, has the advent of smartphone technology been the most important advance in ethnographic research? For Salari, the power of the smartphone is in the closeness it offers, without a researcher being physically present and all the associated influences that has.

“[It gives us] the ability to have intimate contact that you couldn’t get being present. People sleep with their phones and wake up with their phones. This is in the moment, it gives us a new perspective.”


1 Comment

8 years ago

Siamack, This looks quite intriguing. Let's have a chat sometime. Nice job. Scott

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