The Evolution of Customer Experience

“We have to look at this from the customer’s point of view”

“What will the customer’s experience be like?”

It’s absolutely fantastic that we hear these comments. Over the last five years or so there has been a massive paradigm shift to put the customer at the heart of everything we do. Usability testing, wireframes, customer journeys, there is such a wide variety of tools to design around the customer’s experience.

Today, I argue that we are now entering a new phase, where we have matured. We have learned the tools. We have applied the methods. Now, we have to evolve, and the core of that evolution is around the organization: nurturing a truly customer centric organization.

Why do we need that? Let me explain.

All customer interactions are parts of your brand

Whenever you get in contact with a brand, there is an interaction. From how a receipt is laid out, from a product’s packaging, to how you were addressed by a customer service representative. All these touch points and interactions form your opinion about the brand, its products and services.

Let’s use a metaphor. I had a discussion with a colleague the other day and we thought that the concept of national identities and brands are very much alike. Think of Italians for instance. How would you describe an Italian? Your opinions are formed over many years. You might have met them while travelling. You might have worked with one, or you might have seen an Italian film. All these interactions form your opinion of Italians and Italy. Of course not all Italians are alike, but this is something truly human. We generalize to make sense of the world.

The same behavior is applied when it comes to brands. Every time you interact with a brand, you shape your generalization, your opinion about the brand. These small and large points of interaction are all part of the overall customer experience.

That’s why it’s so important that we meet our customers in an optimal way in every interaction: a daunting task for any business.

So how can organizations adapt to this reality?

1) Be self-organizing

The traditional organizational hierarchy has been around for thousands of years. It has been fantastic in taking us this far, but the concept is fundamentally slow. Have you ever experienced frustration when dealing with management that approvals take too long? The trickle down effect of management is a tardy process. In todays fast past world, disruptive changes can happen in a single day, which means we need to look at an organization from a new perspective. Valve and Zappos are adopting a new approach within their organizations. They give autonomy, responsibility and remove the notion of “management”.

“Every company will tell you that “the customer is boss,” but here that statement has weight. There’s no red tape stopping you from figuring out for yourself what our customers want, and then giving it to them.”

The Valve Handbook

At Valve, there is no classical management. On your first day on the job, you decide for yourself what you want to work on and who to peer up with. Imagine that? Deciding for yourself what you want to work on? There are obvious downsides to this autonomy, but Valve is a forerunner. Companies will adopt new ways of mobilizing themselves for innovation and customer focus. We should stay tuned.

2) Work autonomously and get stuff done

“Skunk Works”, a quirky term coined at Lockheed Martin in the 1940’s, is becoming part of our vernacular. The term stems from a unit within Lockheed that had autonomy and could work independently on secretive projects without the traditional corporate bureaucracy.

During recent years, companies are starting to set up similar small units within their organizations to increase velocity of innovation and to decrease the amount of administration. An example of such an organization is Google X, a covert unit within Google that experiments with such projects as the self-driving car and augmented reality contact lenses. Essentially, these units are set up to get stuff done.

3) Connect insights

Qualitative, quantitative, social listening, analytics, there is such a plethora of different insights that we can get about the market and its customers. Unfortunately, there is hardly a single point of reference to connect these insights. Commonly, the marketing department use tools that other parts of the organization might not know about. In order to learn from our customers, their needs, wants and behaviors, we should strive to connect the intelligence. I see a great need for products that connect insights and visualize data, not just quantitative but also qualitative. Imagine being able to get real time data from all your sources of insights. You could adapt in moments to cater to your customers’ needs.

4) Connect your organization

Being touted an “expert” is something that many people strive to be. To have deep knowledge and skills within a specific subject is what an expert stands for. However, in today’s complex digital ecosystem, we need to nurture another mindset: seeing the complete picture.

As designers, we should strive to understand technology. As technologists, we should strive to understand marketing. Having macro-level knowledge of all our customers’ interaction points and at the same time have the skill to carefully perfect details are fundamental characteristics of how we as professionals will succeed in this always-on world.

Summary

In order to be successful in today’s fast paced digital reality, organizations need to be optimized to be nimble, insight-driven and responsive. The most useful brands will be the ones who can quickly react to shifting customer behavior and at the same time provide consistency across channels. To quote, Charles Eames: “The details are not the details. They make the product”.