Designing the best customer experience


Design is a lot more than just chairs, logos, websites and clothes. Design is now rightfully taking its seat at boardroom tables. Design thinking is now core to the success of most modern businesses.

As customers, we do not separate the product/service we bought, and the experience we had buying it. Customer experience comes directly as a result of how we have / have not designed our service. Why we want something is equally as important as what we want.

Most companies have identified user experience on their website as a priority for customers. But less have looked at the overall customer experience. Virgin realised that getting to the airport, although out of their control, affected their customers experience so they introduced a chauffeur service for certain customers.

But who is the customer? The customer is the buyer / user, but also your internal team and partners. The experience for all three needs to be considered. As equally important in the design of a great customer experience (aka service design) is the design of how these changes will be adopted internally. Unfortunately for some organisations, CX starts and ends with metrics like ‘how many were delivered on time’? Operational efficiency is confused with customer experience.
Understanding the customer is the key first step – giving them what they want, but also what they don’t know they want….yet! Ongoing feedback feeds into continuous improvement (Kaizen) but this shouldn’t be limited to customer service data – it also needs to include survey platforms that collect data, analytics and reporting, and qualitative feedback. The speed at which this happens is particularly important in B2B business where revenue is recurring and renewable, and where customers choice of renewing a service is dependent on their level of success, perceived value, and overall experience. Businesses now need to have the right data and processes to deliver alerts to identify any customers at risk, and be able to act immediately to recover customers in this situation.

Measuring the experience
Measurement and continuous improvement loop of product or service are essential. It needs measurement and a business process. Whether measuring Customer Satisfaction (CSat), Loyalty, Net Promoter Score NPS(R), or Customer Effort Scores (CES) – they need a supporting business process to drive improvement and value. One or other on their own will fail. Journey mapping, Process flows / 6 sigma (not everyone’s favourite) and industrial engineering principles fall into this category. Closed loop ongoing monitoring of customer feedback, and feeding back in a continuous improvement / evolution cycle will drive improvement in product and service.

Engaging Employees
One of the first requirements in engaging employees is to communicate and help them understand the goals for the business, and to translate this into local goals and targets at team level. Providing the business and corporate ‘big-picture’ context for the ‘day-job’ and helping teams understand how the duties they perform contribute to company success is key. Employees are often not seen as customers, although we should be selling to them as hard as we are selling to an end buyer, particularly in industries where employee intellectual capital forms the basis of the company’s value proposition – it is imperative to measure and understand employee satisfaction and loyalty, in much the same way as for customers.

Low Effort and Consistency
We don’t always need to design for ‘delight’ or ‘exceed expectations’. Just make it low effort, minimum interruption to customer, do ‘what its says on the tin’ and do that consistently. Consider HP and the mundane task of replacing printer ink. Through HP Instant Ink, the company has executed a subtle shift away from pure transactions – customers simply buying ink when they need it – and toward establishing an ongoing service relationship, wherein HP knows when it’s printers will run out of ink and preemptively ships more, saving customers time and effort. And making their lives easier not only makes customers more productive, but also makes them happy and generates loyalty. Research by CEB Board on Low effort correlates with loyalty over time, which of course correlates with retention. Low effort design points to many initiatives including good on-boarding, CRM management, in-app help and notifications, self service, minimal channel switching (Web> phone> X team transfers etc), good CRM tools to provide agents 360 views and customer history. Solve the issue on the first call, and solve anticipated (adjacent) customer problems.
Customers want to feel special. In reality, this amounts to empathy, good communications skills and emotional intelligence to be able to tune into to customers. Coaching your team to find out about the contact in advance or reading a company report. Segmentation also helps – a customer paying 500k p.a. might have different expectations to a customer paying 20k p.a.

Manage expectations
When things do fall short, and they do from time to time – how businesses respond determines how customers will feel. Proactively manage customer expectations, and have a plan to deal with below par situations when they do arise. (Processes approach, define the problem root cause, put a fix or workaround in place to mitigate customer impact, investigate root cause, corrective action, evaluate). And communicate all through the process. Volkswagen is a case where customers were left for weeks without communication.

Volkswagen have experienced a major backlash which will permanently damage their reputation.

So while the basics are always going to be key foundations of any service design, we are at an interesting point in time where customer expectations have pivoted and will shift more, primarily driven by advances in Technology. So what are these new expectations, and if resources were not an obstacle, what would the customer experience / service design specification include?

Immediacy – We want it now! Nobody wants to wait. If you phone a call centre and there’s a wait, you’ll probably move to live chat or another channel instead, and worst case, write a negative post about your experience on social media.

Omnichannel availability – People want you as a business to be everywhere and connected at all times and to provide a channel to customers, 24x7x365.
Automated Services – We’re already seeing a lot of things like IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and while virtual assistants may not be pervasive just yet they’re going to get a lot better as technologies like text and context analytics enrich that channel experience.
Richer interactions – Customers want to be able to receive videos instead of documents, upload a picture or video clip from their smartphone instead of writing a description, have a conversation at any time instead of text chat. They want to feel that the information is provided in a way that helps not just solve their problem but helps them be successful, and that information is being provided in a way that helps them consume it.
Clarity and openness – Increasingly, customers want to know what are the service levels they are being provided, and how you are delivering. Apps such as TripAdvisor, rate my service etc respond to this need.
From Customer support to Customer success – New Customer Success Management (CSM) solutions can monitor accounts for specific behaviors based on predefined rules, and send notifications to the Customer success team when they detect potential issues like too many support tickets, or a drop-off in application usage. The ability to merge and analyse customer behaviour data from a several databases (e.g support, purchasing, returns, billing, purchasing etc) makes it easier to accurately alert changes in customer behaviour and utilisation, and increase the effectivity of a customer success team. Data analytics, whether it’s big data, small data, or in between data analytics on customer behaviours are developing service capabilities in this way

Customer Co-Creation – All technology companies have Support forums and are cultivating communities of users that help each other, evangelize the technology and provide feedback to the ‘mother ship’ on how to improve products and services.

Education –  Helping your Customers (and teams) to extract better value from the product, and to use it’s full functionality. This has the benefit of making your product or service more sticky’ i.e. If a customer has trained his or her team on your product, or is familiar with your service, they are less likely to move (education becomes a barrier to change, increases stickiness).

Professional Services: e.g in Software, many companies may have a software platform (e.g Salesforce CRM) only to partially use it, use limited features, and not build the appropriate business process to extract multi department benefits –  i.e. don’t experience the full value. This has risks come renewals time. Having a strategy (sometimes via partners) to help customers build out the full business processes, helps maximise the value and secure renewals and ‘customer for life.’

Zappos are rightly observed as best in class for customer experience. Staff believe and deliver the brand promise to partners and end customers. And their success and customer loyalty is second to none.

They make life easy for customers by having no shipping fees on returns, and always delivering within 2 days. They give their staff discretion to make emotional connections with customers even if it takes 10 times as long as a call should take. They spend time knowing their customers – particularly the VIP ones who get priority at busy times. It treats it’s suppliers likes customers by providing free airport shuttles for them when they are visiting. Ultimately, they deliver on all core brand values – they are not just a giant pyramid of values at reception.

Zappos have designed every single part of the experience by looking at one journey and not having multiple siloed interactions managed by separate departments. Design and measure your entire customer experience, don’t leave parts of it to chance.

This article was first published in during November/December 2015 and January 2016. Special thanks to John Kelly of CustomerLink for his help with this article.

Originally published in the Nov/Dec / Jan 2016 issue of Marketing Magazine