Customer experience: a mix of design and collective intelligence


Customer experience is not only something qualitative but increases both margin and “repeat business”. So, since I already discussed the characteristics of an experience, let’s see what it means exactly in the context of the customer.

Some points are obvious”. “Customer experience is what makes your customer return, spend more money and promote your brand”. Right, but it still does not tell us how to design an experience.

So here are – and even if I’m not intending – some thought on that matter.

Customer experience means putting the customer at the center of your business

My first point should be obvious but appears to be largely overlooked, especially by businesses who don’t have the “experience thing” in their DNA and try to get onboard. When one says “customer experience” the first idea that comes to anyone is “touchpoint”. That’s where everything happens. Consequence : too many still avoid any change in the organization and focus on what happens at the touchpoints. In short, keep things as they are and try to make the contact smoother at touchpoints.

That’s a mistake for many reasons. First because it aims at fixing at the end of a process the mistakes done before. In the end it’s impossible to fix everything and resources are wasted to fix mistakes made upstream while it would be easier not to make these mistakes in the first place. Then because for many people touchpoints means “front employees and website”. But products are touchpoints (most of all in the age of connected objects). Customers are touchpoints regarding to other customers and they won’t share a positive experience they did not have.

To fix the situation we need tu put the customer back at the center of the business what does not necessarily and only means care about it or content onself with incantations. It means two things :

– rebuilding around the customer an organization built on silos and processes. A major problem with customer experience is that he’s carved and managed in small pieces by 10 departments in an incoherent fashion while he’s a single and indivisible person. In a company there should not people in charge of marketing, others in charge of marketing, sales, human resources etc. but only people in charge of the customer, needing to do it in a collaborative, joint and coherent way.

– thinking “experience by design”. In other words it means thinking both the product, the related services, execution (from production to customer care including sales, shipping, installing…) from the very beginning of designing anything. It also means starting with a problem to solve and market expectations rather than having ideas looking for a problem (and customer). It’s not about selling to customers what’s been designed but designing what customer want, even unconsciously.

Experience is not only about communication

I hear lots of people taking experience from a communication perspective only. There’s a contact with the customer and we must do anything so the way we communicate and interact increases his experience. According to what precedes and knowing the characteristics of an experience, that’s not enough. Being enthusiastic because of an interaction is useless if the delivery is deceptive.

As I said when I came back from HR Tech Europe, and as it’s confirmed by many initiatives : HR – for example – have also a role to play in customer relation and must reposition themselves accordingly.[Post in french on HR having to contribute to customer experience and sometimes having new customer related titles]. We see HR people getting titles like “Customer Experience Directors” and that’s a trend any business should think about to understand its deeper meaning and the need it addresses.

More broadly, without the involvement of all the corporate departments, their joint involvement, businesses do window-dressing communication and are not “experience first”. If the product or service is not thought with an “experience by design” approach from the very beginning, the communication department will be nothing but firemen while an integrated approach would make them take a part in value creation instead of limiting the damage. Of course, in a transition phase, there’s nothing to do than improving the existing with better interactions but it’s not sustainable in a long term perspective.

Simply put, experience is digital but is not digital only. Moreover, experience is what the customer feels but its also impacted byt the message delivered and the way the company works outside of any communication activity.

Experience is more about the way you work than the message you deliver

So, design is at the heart of any business willing to base their business model on experience. But what is it about ? R&D ? Services ? Participative innovation at scale ?

Experience design is, in fact, very structured and structuring. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel but mention the process detailed in Outside In. Experience design is a process made of the following steps.

1°) Needs discovery. There are many ways to achieve this and I’m not going to list them here. It’s also about knowing the needs and motivations of any stakeholder if meeting the needs needs to redesign a process : the people involved in the process are as concerned about the project than customers and you’ll need to involve, put in motion and satisfy both of them.

2°) Analysis . What can you learn from the identified needs. That’s a key step because it can lead to reframe the original idea. Most often, businesses try to meet their customers’ needs with an idea un mind : a need to address, a new market to explore. It’s possible – and often probable – that the analysis phase cause needs to emerge more priority needs or show that the customers have not interest in the original idea. At this point the organization must be able to pivot, forget its original idea or keep it but start other initiatives at the same time.

In the end, the analysis phase helps to categorize the stakeholders with, for each category, a need, some motivations, adoption/decision/buying levers.

3°) Ideation. Once needs and motivation are known, it’s about finding a way to meet both. Product design must encompass the conditions for adoption a priori and not a posteriori. If a business wonders how to make the customer adopt the product/service once it’s designed, it means that the design process has failed. Should it be about a product or a service, experience is pretty close to change management. Change management is not something that should be done on top of a project but must be embedded in the project. Any project should sustain its own success, generate its own change power through meaningfulness, added value and easy adoption. It’s both about the what and the how, all the way through the production and life-cycle of the product or the service.

4°) Prototyping. No matter the number of people involved and how brilliant they are, the first shot is never the good one. So one needs to build prototypes and test them on a large and representative panel.

5°) Tests. That’s the last step. According to the feedbacks, the product is improved and tested again.

This is no rocket science but it should be done properly and with the right people.

Experience is the result of collaboration and collective intelligence

Two things are worth being noticed

1°) The process mixes divergence and convergence phases. Discovery is about divergence while analysis, a convergence step, helps to structure things. Ideation is about divergence since the purpose is to generate as many ideas as possible while prototyping freezes things and tests bring convergence by eliminating what does not work.

2°) It’s a collaborative process, most of all in the divergence steps. Discovery is made with customers and employees. Ideation requires all the corporate functions to participate.

Experience is not a one-way approach. If it is it’s only communication.

To end, from experience, a successful customer experience is at the crossroads between a design approach and what the company want to propose to its customers. If everything is aligned then it’s going to ok. But if the business wants to focus on the message or deliver something customers don’t want or don’t find relevant from the company then there’s a big risk.

Don’t forget that experience is the result of the meeting between expectations and a promise. Two mistakes must be avoided : promising something that does not meet the needs or promising something that meets the need but delivering it through messages and not through actions.

Customer experience is not bout what you say but the problem you’re solving and the way you’re solving it.

Image Credit: Happy Customer by Siberia via Shutterstock