Design: Because Great Customer Experiences Don’t Happen By Accident

The discipline of design remains largely misunderstood in the business world. Let me dispel a couple of myths for you: Design isn't simply about picking the right shade of blue for the company logo. And it’s not solely the domain of black-turtleneck-wearing creative types.

Design is a straightforward and repeatable problem-solving process that incorporates the needs of customers, employees, and business stakeholders. It’s also a way of working that focuses on making and refining tangible solutions. Everyone in an organization can learn and leverage design to meet or exceed their customers’ needs and desires. That’s key, because great customer experiences don’t magically spring into existence — they need to be actively designed.

In Forrester’s soon-to-publish book, Outside In, Harley Manning and I illustrate the importance of design through a case study about Mayo Clinic. The physical layout of Mayo’s outpatient rooms has basically remained static over the past six decades. The equipment for physical examinations — the reclining table, dressing area, sink, and tools like scopes and blood-pressure cuffs — still dominates each room, but these days, the bulk of each appointment is simply a conversation between the doctor and patient.

A team working to improve the outpatient experience came up with the idea of creating separate consultation and exam rooms. But that solution wasn’t going to work. There simply wasn’t enough floor space in the Clinic’s facilities to accommodate the number of separate rooms required to serve patients.

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Customer Understanding: Do You Really Know What Your Customers Want And Need?

Right now, companies around the world are barreling down a perilous path — one that isn’t illuminated by customer insights. These companies might think they know what their customers want, but Forrester’s research shows that most companies today have an incomplete — or worse, downright wrong — understanding of who their customers are, how they perceive the current interactions, and what they want and need in the future.

In Forrester’s soon-to-publish book, Outside In, Harley Manning and I illustrate the importance of customer understanding through a case study about Virgin Mobile Australia. The company recently earned the No. 1 spot in customer satisfaction in its market. But in their hearts, Virgin Mobile’s execs knew that the customer experience they provided was pretty much indistinguishable from those of their competitors. And for a company operating under the Virgin brand name, that was a big problem.

Matt Anderson, the former COO of Virgin Mobile, told me, “We weren’t interested in being up to par with industry standards. We wanted to create a differentiated customer experience: one that was uniquely Virgin.” To do that, the company had to take an outside-in view and examine what the Virgin brand meant from the customer perspective.

So Virgin asked some of its customers to create online diaries, and every day for a week asked them questions about Virgin’s brand values: simplicity, fairness, and control. (Words we all naturally associate with our wireless carriers, right?)

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Strategy: The First Step Towards Creating A Great Customer Experience

Great customer experiences are the result of countless deliberate decisions made by every single person in your organization on a daily basis. To align those decisions, employees and partners need a shared vision: a customer experience strategy.

When most people talk about strategy, they’ve often got a road map or some sort of plan in mind. But your customer experience strategy is actually a description of the experience that you want to deliver. Without that beacon, employees are forced to set out on a random walk, and their decisions and actions will inevitably be at odds with each other, despite all best intentions.

In Forrester’s soon-to-publish book, Outside In, Harley Manning and I illustrate the importance of a customer experience strategy through a case study about the Holiday Inn. In the majority of its 750 properties with on-site restaurants, the iconic hotel chain was losing dinner customers to casual restaurants like Outback Steakhouse and Chili’s. Even worse, it was losing breakfast customers to nearby gas stations — and you better believe that Holiday Inn got worried when gas stations started to provide better breakfast options than it did.

So what did Holiday Inn do?

Well, I’ll tell you what it didn’t do. It didn’t start randomly making one-off changes to the menu or the pricing. Instead, Holiday Inn stepped back to define a customer experience strategy.

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