Touchpoint
Posted: 29 October 2007 01:44 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hi all, languagehat pointed me to this forum. For the past week or so I’ve been trying to research the origin of the term “touchpoint” as it’s used in this 2003 McKinsey Quarterly quote:

Brands are delivered at touchpoints, which for a hotel include reservations, check-in and checkout, frequent-stay programs, room service, business services, exercise facilities, laundry service, restaurants, and bars.

Today the term is widely used within the service industry to describe all the ways a customer comes into contact with a business, but I can’t pin down exactly who coined it or how early it came to be used in this way.

I’ve been able to trace back examples to 1993 but there’s no smoking gun. No book or academic paper or journal article that proposes this use of the term (the literature had been using the terms “tangibles” or “service evidence” for this concept in the 80s and 90s). Early citations generally refer to it in quotes as “touch point” or “touch-point.” In a few cases authors (or their editors) feel obliged to briefly define the term but the earliest references are offhand. No one seems to frame it as a new concept or bother to reference its source.

OED traces the term touch-point to a 1602 text on astronomy but that’s not what I’m looking for. I can also find plenty of appearances of the term before 1993 in other contexts but not used to describe the points of contact between a customer and a business.

By 2003 it was common enough to appear as touchpoint, without quotes, in McKinsey and many other publications though as late as Feb 2007 Harvard Business Review still put it in quotes as “touch point” and defined it. Is it possible that this term doesn’t have a particular source? That it simply evolved into common use sometime in the mid-nineties?

[ Edited: 29 October 2007 02:01 PM by howardesign ]
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Posted: 29 October 2007 01:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here are some other senses of the term:
Touchstone, milestone, checkpoint, pitstop, counterpoint, liason, nexus, jumping off point, cause celeb, catalyzing event, boundary object and point of friction. It’s also the name of a series of books on child development, a series of books on Christianity and a polyandrous networking group.

Also, here are some of the earliest uses I’ve found of the term in a service-oriented sense:

12 rules for customer retention.
Bank Marketing; Jan93

Try education as a customer touch-point and remember customer research does more than tell you about your customers. It can give you an opportunity to build a relationship.

Health Care Book of Lists - 1994 (pg 77)

CRM (customer relationship management) identifies contact points between customers and the company, and enables the organization to use each “touch point” to learn more about customer needs.

The Morphing of Customer Service
Management Review; Dec95

Over and above the music, there were other drivers of patron satisfaction that included the encounters we have with patrons, all the communications-related activities, the parking, the whole experience from the customer’s point of view,” says Reynolds of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s interactions with customers. As a result, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra worked to improve the touch points, such as brochures and other correspondence.

[ Edited: 29 October 2007 02:02 PM by howardesign ]
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Posted: 29 October 2007 02:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Although the meaning of the term is readily understood even in US English, I wonder if it might have originated in the UK, where they have “power point” for an electrical outlet, “fire point” for a cabinet of firefighting equipment (extinguisher, hose, or what have you), “cash point” for an ATM, and so on (well, actually, that exhausts my list, but there may be others).  Just a thought.

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Posted: 29 October 2007 10:02 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Thanks Dr. Techie. The UK connection might have some weight. Service design has a much more robust history in the UK and the first service design firm was founded in London in 2001. They started using the hyphenated version of touch-point in their literature around that time. But I think they borrowed the term wholesale from marketing and branding rather than coining it. Since the founders had a history in traditional design disciplines in the UK, I think the timeline fits. I’m just not sure who taught it to them…

I’ve been using online article databases such as infotrac, proquest and ebscohost. Are there other tools that are more UK-centric?

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Posted: 30 October 2007 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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As the first person to “define” touchpoints on Wikipedia, I am very interested in this thread. In 2002 I became familiar with a company in the East Bay of the San Francisco area called “touchpoint.” Interestingly, I believe that they hold a trademark on the term. I am not sure when they started or when they filed for their trademark, but that path could hold some clues as to the origin of the word. If I think of anything else, I will post. Good luck and I hope we can dig up the origin.

[ Edited: 30 October 2007 09:13 AM by Hank ]
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Posted: 30 October 2007 08:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Possibly they hold a trademark on the term.  It is not possible to copyright individual words.

Oh, and I encountered another UK “point” phrase in New Scientist: “till point” for a cash register location.

To howardesign: although my intent was to suggest that you check UK-based sources, I have no knowledge of what there might be.  Maybe some of our Rightpondian members can make suggestions.

[ Edited: 30 October 2007 08:15 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 30 October 2007 08:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Hi Hank, I came across your company during my research. Could you provide some insight about how you came to choose the word “touchpoint” for you company? Was it through the world of CRM?

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Posted: 30 October 2007 09:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Ah yes, trademark - thank you, and I have edited my post. We came up with the Touchpoint Metrics name based on the development of proprietary research methodology we called “Touchpoint Mapping,” for which the company holds a trademark. We were working on the ability to identify and measure the effectiveness of each individual customer interaction that created experiences and formed the basis for the overall relationship. For each interaction, we adopted the term touchpoint, which was already in limited use at the time (as noted). I suspect that it resonated with us. This is something that I have found regarding the word. For many, the concept of touchpoints has almost a Kool Aid affect. And it tastes good. Wish I could provide an earlier origin.

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