Customer Experience and Design

Love Gears, FreeImages/deafstar

Love Gears, FreeImages/deafstar

A brief while ago I had a talk with Ian Hodge, a very established Australia based consultant. One of the topics we talked about was what customer experience is and how to measure it. This led to following brief conversation on LinkedIn.

Hi Ian, you told me that you are thinking about what customer experience is about. Have a look at below article by Paul Greenberg. The main topic is something else but in the second half there are some very good thoughts. Cheers Thomas

Thx Thomas – interesting. I like the “catch 22” problem that delighting a customer runs the risk of increasing expectations etc. An interesting challenge I perceive is the integration of data analysis with creativity in design. This was always an important aspect of “marketing” and now applies more intensively and broadly with designing “customer experiences”. Look forward to keeping in touch. Rgds Ian

yes, this challenge is what I tried to voice. It is not always a technology approach. But then once could have the idea of using marketing approaches to it – at least in a B2C world something like the following could work in the digital world: Try different approaches (designs) and roll them out to different target groups. Let it run parallel to current state while gathering data. This can be usages, usage patterns, abandoned carts, changes to cross-, upselling behaviour, recommendations, endorsements, etc. Apparently this needs to be planned.

bugger – hitting enter to send should be forbidden 😉 Combine this with sentiment analysis and all of the sudden you have an approach that can cover both: The consumable experience and the general experience that Paul mentions. I tend to look at these to as two cycles, an inner one (consumable experience) and an outer one (general experience). The inner one influences the outer one, probably even drives it. Cheers Thomas maybe I should write a short blog post using these thoughts 😉

How does design and creativity factor in? A very interesting question! But first: What is customer experience at all? And let’s assume that positive customer experiences are important for businesses and brands, to reduce churn, increase customer satisfaction, facilitate customer acquisition, company differentiation, etc.

Wikipedia defines customer experience as “the product of an interaction between an organisation and a customer over the duration of their relationship. This interaction includes a customer’s attraction awareness, discovery, cultivation, advocacy and purchase and use of a service”.

According to the business dictionary customer experience is “the entirety of the interactions a customer has with a company and its products. Understanding the customer experience is an integral part of customer relationship management. The overall experience reflects how the customer feels about the company and its offerings”.

Harley Manning from Forrester Research sums it up to “How customers perceive their interactions with your company”.

I like Manning’s definition. It is short and crisp – and clearly shows the difficulty of whole industries: How to measure it? And on a more basic level: What is a touch point? Let’s start by answering that one.

Google comes up with this definition: “A point of contact or interaction, especially between a business and its customers or consumers”.

What the above definitions of customer experience are implying is that there is an inner loop and an outer loop of customer experience. The inner loop being the individual experience at every touch point, something that we can call the consumable experience, to use a term that Paul Greenberg coined. The outer loop I would call general experience. It is the overall impression of a business.

General experience is also influenced by a third dimension of experience; let me call it indirect experience, lacking a better term. Indirect experiences are all experiences about a business or brand that we gather while interacting with another brand or company. For example competitive advertisement, a friend’s recommendation, hearsay, something that comes up on my Twitter or Facebook feed, … A point in case of their existence is the way social customer service currently works: Companies tend to work on complaints coming from people with larger numbers of followers – aka influencers. While this is not illegitimate it is nothing more but the high-tech implementation of the old concept of supporting the loudest cry first.

One now could argue that indirect experiences come through touch points, too, but then these are widely outside the control of the company or brand. Therefore I’d like to keep them separately.

General experience is created by the sum of all consumed and indirect experiences and then develops a life of its own.

General experience influences how future consumable experiences are perceived, especially if it is negative.

As the above definitions agree an experience is something the person perceives – something intrinsic to the person. And not everything in our world is digital – luckily there still is human interaction; and there are physical things, too. Customers and prospects experience companies and brands physically, digitally, and by interacting with other humans. Not only the usability of the web page – or its mobile-friendliness – products and solutions, but also the location and layout of the store matter; the manner, attitude, helpfulness of staff, even their clothing! The usefulness of the offered solution, expert advice, support, if needed. All these are, in current lingo, potential touch points with a company, and their individual sequencing form a customer journey.

In a guest post on friend Paul Greenberg’s ZDNet blog I wrote

“One can argue that there is no experience without engagement. Engagement often can be managed but essentially creates data (think Internet of Things), data also about the quality of a customer’s experience. This data then can be used for improved engagements and thus experiences.”

The challenge is fairly obvious. While one can easily manage and measure digital interactions, the impact of design is a bit harder to get. This is especially true in a real-time world.

Touch points resemble a menu of possible interactions. Each of these interactions makes sense in one or more parts of the overall ‘customer journey’ from identifying a need to retiring the solution to this need. The menu part is essential here: Customers’ individual ‘journeys’ are different and customers will choose their interactions and pace of progress themselves.

Businesses are well advised to not force their customers on strict paths! The business offers touch points, the customers choose the ones that suit them at any given time and place. And customers expect the result of interactions at previous touch points are considered in the process. They also expect the business not being ‘creepy’.

If touch points are designed and built in a way that they tie into each other and provide relevant data (to both, customer and business) the customer experience can be measured. At least indirectly.

The measuring part is fairly straightforward in the digital world. Not so in the offline world. Or how do you measure the experience that my daughter has when she plays with her new toy for the first time? Things get a little easier – and scarier if you think it to an end – in an Internet of Things world, though. But until all things are connected and call back home, and humans are fully wired there are less intimidating possibilities.

Usages and their patterns can be identified, abandoned carts, reactions to cross- and up-selling attempts, purchasing history, campaign reactions, price sensitivity, recommendations, endorsements, customer movements in a store and outside, usage of things can get analysed using sensors … All these and much, much more can get measured and evaluated. And then we still have surveys and questionnaires … Add sentiment analysis and predictive (intent driven) analytics including machine learning, to the mix and there is a very powerful toolkit at hand.

Don’t get me wrong. Setting this up is a daunting task that requires quite some strategy and planning. Else one will end up with a heap of data; data that can hardly be translated to information and knowledge to be acted upon.

But I hear you wondering: How do creativity and design fit in here? Can this be measured? It can, to some extent. There are guiding principles, evolving, for sure, that indicate how to design and offer good easy-to-use interactions. Being guiding principles they can be implemented in different ways. Like marketing campaigns one or more of these designs can get field-tested using target groups of customers. This approach also gives an approach to the eternal truth that not every customer is made equal to a business. Combine this with a Voice of the Customer program and data will be gathered that allows the derivation of customer experience.

So far this is all technology. Technology in itself does not help but is a means to an end – an enabler. Implementing technology will be just a waste of effort and money if it does not follow a strategy. This means that customer experience must be implemented from the very top and be part of every IT- and business initiative. And yes, making customer experience a priority could even mean adjustments in the overall business model.

From a customer facing point of view this means:

  • Identify your customer segments and formulate a value proposition that enhances their experience
  • Deliver
  • Measure and repeat

And here we are back to my model of thinking big while acting small.