The right customer interactions, implemented the right way, don't just happen. Instead, they must be actively designed. This requires learning — and then sticking to — the steps in a human-centered design process. But this approach is not for the faint of heart.
If you want to embrace human-centered design, you have to admit that you don’t know the answers to your problems. At its core, design is a problem-solving process. It takes into account the needs of customers, employees, and stakeholders — and it can be applied to create new (or improved) products, services, and experiences. While that all sounds good, embarking on a problem-solving project implicitly means you don’t have the answers to your current business problems. And in today’s solution-focused business environment, not having an answer can be seen as a weakness.
In fact, we’re so solution-focused that providing answers has become almost a knee-jerk reaction. Here’s a quick experiment: Ask the next colleague you see how to solve a particular problem, and she’ll likely give you an answer or two — maybe even three. It’s very unlikely that your colleague will pause for a moment, reflect on your question, and proceed to ask you more about the challenge you’re facing. But that’s exactly the approach that human-centered design takes.
Looking for the perfect gift to show your clients or employees the value of customer experience? How about a copy of Outside In signed by one of the authors? We’ll be happy to oblige, as long as you have a mailing address in the US. You’ll buy the books, and we’ll do the signing and pay to ship them back to you. Here’s how it works:
Contact Forrester’s Megan Reinhart (email@example.com) to let us know you’re participating and how many books you’d like us to sign.
Go to the Outside In page on 800CEOREAD.com. Buy enough books for your clients and employees and have them shipped to us. 800CEOREAD.com offers books at 43% off, $14.25 each, for bulk orders. Ship to either address, depending on the author you’d like to have sign the books: Harley Manning
60 Acorn Park Drive
Cambridge, MA 02140 Kerry Bodine
150 Spear Street, Suite 1100
San Francisco, CA 94105
When we receive the books, the author will sign them (Harley in Cambridge or me in San Francisco). We’ll also include a short message of your choosing, as long as it’s something we’re comfortable with.
We’ll ship them back to you at our expense.
You can distribute them to your clients or employees however you’d prefer — by mail or in person.
I was talking to a client the other day who was very frustrated. She told me that her executives talk about customer experience all the time; they seem “bought in” to the idea that it matters. But when push comes to shove, none of them have done anything to drive real improvement.
She asked me . . . how can that be? If they get it, why don’t they do something?
I struggled with this question for a long time but finally came up with an analogy that made everything clear. It’s this: Customer experience is the “eat healthy and exercise” of the business world.
Think about it. We could say the following about both topics:
Everyone knows it’s important, and why.
When talking to others, we probably pretend we do it better than we actually do.
Deep down, we aren’t quite sure what we should do — it’s complicated and confusing.
The things we know we should do just aren’t that fun or exciting, so we often avoid them.
You just bought something at your favorite store. You walk out with a skip in your step thinking about when you might wear this new purchase. You give into your compulsion to check your email on your smartphone, and there, waiting for you, is a survey from that very company asking about your experience. You groan, but you click on the link. The survey isn't formatted for your phone, so you have to pinch to zoom in and out. You don't understand the first question. Or the second one. Frankly, you don't really care. You close your browser window, curse the company and every other company that has ever asked you to complete a survey, and vow never to shop anywhere ever again.
I'm no doctor, but I'm confident in my diagnosis: You are suffering from survey fatigue.
You're not alone. Survey fatigue has even made it into pop-culture as a known malady, thanks to articles like this one in USA Today. It's no surprise that consumers are irked; most companies' customer experience measurement programs and voice of the customer programs rely on surveys for the necessary data. As a result, consumers are getting barraged with requests for feedback, and, really, it's just because companies have good intentions. They want to know how they're doing and how they can improve the experience.
If you're one of these survey-reliant companies, what can you do? I'm working on some research right now on that very topic with our new analyst, Maxie Schmidt-Subramanian. We're exploring indicators of survey fatigue to help you spot the problem as well as best practices for reducing any fatigue that does exist.
In the dozens of conversations I have each week with companies charting their paths to a better customer experience, the role of employees often comes up. We talk about the importance of employee empowerment and how critical it is that employees feel free to make decisions that are right for customers. We discuss tactics like hiring, socialization, and rewards that can help organizations build corporate cultures that reinforce customer-centric attitudes and behaviors.
But rarely — if ever — does anyone ask me about actually designing the employee experience.
As I’ve said before: Great customer experiences don’t happen by accident — they have to be actively designed. In other words, you need to follow a structured process to ensure that you’re meeting customers’ needs and enabling interactions that are easy and enjoyable for them. While the discipline of design hasn’t yet become mainstream in the business world, companies around the globe — E.On Energy, Fidelity Investments, Mayo Clinic, and Virgin Mobile Australia, just to name a few — have started to embrace the value of design in customer experience. They’re conducting ethnographic research to uncover customers’ hidden needs. They’re bringing customers in for co-creation sessions to develop new experience ideas. They’re iteratively prototyping and testing the proposed solutions.
Like millions of Americans who live along the Eastern seaboard, my family got hit by Hurricane Sandy.
Now don’t get me wrong: Compared with residents of New York, New Jersey, and several other states, we had it easy in our little suburb north of Boston. Even so, there were a few exciting episodes, like this tree that fell on my neighbor’s house.
And then there was this power line that came down on the sidewalk across the street from our home, about 4 feet from where I had been standing 20 minutes earlier (I had been talking to a firefighter).
What fascinated me, however, was what came after all the excitement: service recovery by our electrical utility and telecom provider.
Let’s start with our local electric utility, NSTAR. As you can probably guess from the above, our power had to be cut. To restore it, NSTAR needed to coordinate with both our local fire department and our local public works department in order to get that giant tree off the power lines before it could repair them.
When I looked at the job ahead for the utility, I guessed that we would be without power for at least a day. But exactly 12 hours after NSTAR cut power so that the burning lines wouldn’t pose a hazard, the tree was gone and our electricity was restored. In fact, NSTAR beat its own estimate by about 90 minutes.
In response to many requests to feature more business-to-business (B2B) content at our events, next month’s Outside In: A Forum For Customer Experience Professionals will feature several B2B keynote presenters, including Randy Pond, EVP of operations, processes, and systems at Cisco Systems. In preparation for the event, I caught up with Randy to talk about his keynote and the importance of championing the voice of the customer at Cisco. Check out a preview of Randy’s session in the below Q&A, or join me in Los Angeles, November 14th to 15th, to hear Cisco’s full story.
Q: What gets in the way of delivering the right experience to your customers?
First, in some areas, I believe we lack consistent policy and practices in the business that we can inspect, enforce, and govern. It’s a combination of the legacy of our entrepreneurial spirit, drive to market, and speed to market. The second is related to the fact that we have a regular influx of acquired companies that we have to embed into our offering, scale into the marketplace, and turn loose to our customers. This can get us into trouble when we may not have the same sense of urgency when we release products. As well, there is a big push on the sales team to get new products moving and out to customers and a big pull from our customer base to get these new offerings in the marketplace. And that stretches our ability to make them as effective and easy to use as we would like.
I'm about to start a gut renovation of my kitchen, which, of course, is an incredibly stressful — not to mention expensive — project. For cabinets, we got a recommendation for a designer at a local cabinet store. We met with her, got some great ideas, and went home to wait for the quote.
After no word for a week, we reached out for an update. Several days later, she finally called and quoted a dollar amount over the phone. I was thrown off. No written quote? No detail? When I asked for more info, she emailed me a fantastic quote that included drawings and details on every component but had a slightly higher price at the end than what she'd quoted verbally. Odd. Then, as we made changes to the design, this miscommunication pattern repeated. We ultimately decided to get cabinets elsewhere.
That’s pretty damning. Consider that customer experience occurs at three levels: meets needs, easy, and enjoyable (emotionally engaging). So what the judge is really saying with his ruling is that the emotionally engaging iPad differentiates itself based on customer experience — whereas the Samsung Galaxy does not.
As a result of this ruling, Apple must run ads in newspapers, magazines, and on its website publicizing the fact that the two designs are different.
Does anyone else see the irony in that? I don’t know whether Apple can get away with what I’m about to suggest, but here’s the ad I’d love to see it run:
"Official Government Verdict: The iPad Is Cool And The Samsung Galaxy Is Not Cool
According to a recent ruling by an appeals court in the UK, the Samsung Galaxy isn’t cool enough to be considered a copy of the Apple iPad. Here is what the judge said in praise of the iPad:
'The extreme simplicity of the Apple design is striking. Overall it has undecorated flat surfaces with a plate of glass on the front all the way out to a very thin rim and a blank back. There is a crisp edge around the rim and a combination of curves, both at the corners and the sides. The design looks like an object the informed user would want to pick up and hold. It is an understated, smooth and simple product. It is a cool design.'