6 Innovative Approaches for Customer Experience Design

by Chris Thomason

Want to consider some new approaches to your customer experience design process? Here are the six that we think merit the most consideration.

(1) Use Touchpoint Terrain Maps instead of Customer Journey Maps

I’ve written before on the subject of Touchpoint Terrain Maps (here). The key area where a Touchpoint Terrain Map is of greater value is in the earlier, chaotic stages of the customer lifecycle. For when you are competing to get the attention and subsequent patronage of the customer, it’s a highly chaotic time, and the customer is prone to change brand, channel, their intent and commitment at a whim.

But this is where you need to fight harder – for in these earlier lifecycle stages the customer is yours to win. Later on when they are in an established relationship with you – then the customer is yours to lose if you perform badly in the experiences you deliver to them.

The Alternative: Make your touchpoints work hard

In the early stages, a Touchpoint Terrain Map helps you understand the potential and the opportunity that each touchpoint delivers for you as a stand-alone entity. Recognise that its prime purpose is to advance the customer onto the next stage to get them closer to the point where they commit to using your service. Obviously doing this in a manner that appeals to the customer’s nature.

Touchpoint Terrain Map 4

Later on in the lifecycle when the customer is engaged with you, then customer journey maps can take over, as the relationship processes are more defined and linear in nature. The chaos (hopefully) has disappeared – as long as your experiences deliver what they require.

(2) Put your employees before the customers

If customer experience had to be boiled down into a single mathematical equation, then it would be this: CX = EX. The truth is that for great customer experiences to be achieved, your employees need to be empowered to deliver these through great employee experiences of their own.

But what’s your company’s attitude to this? You will certainly have strong views on how you want your end-customers to be treated, and how you’d like them to feel about your brand – but do you apply these same values to your internal customers – your own staff?

A simple example might come from your retail channel where your store environment exudes the look and feel of your brand and your brand values. This is the public space where your staff live and breathe these values as they strive to serve your customers and deliver great customer experiences.

However, when it comes time for these staff members to have a tea-break, and go behind the scenes into the staff room, what sort of experience is that for them? Do broken furniture, chipped coffee mugs and torn, dated wall-posters really help to show how committed you are as a company to your brand values internally?

The Alternative: Get your employee experience aligned first

Today, employee experiences need to be integrated with customer experiences so the employee truly understands what experience the business wants to deliver. And to know and feel empowered to deliver these to their customers.

To achieve this, increasing numbers of companies are aligning the oversight of customer and employee experiences under one management role as this helps ensure a better integration. These companies recognise that to give great customer experiences you need to start with your employee experiences.

(3) Recognize that digital isn’t king

Digital seems to be the obsession de jour for many organisations – but while the future may appear to be digital, humanity still rocks!

Digital is only great when it works – which should of course be the 24/7/365 norm. Digital will always be responsible for setting ever-higher levels of standard expectations, for as soon as a customer experiences something interesting on one supplier’s website – they will rapidly expect to see this feature adopted whenever they need to do something similar on any other website too.

In most organisations it’s the marketing department who make the promises of what the brand will deliver, while it’s the sales and operations teams who have to deliver on these espoused promises. Invariably companies that over-promise and under-deliver will not be attaining their brand values – and this will soon be noticed by the customer. And when things start to go awry, that’s when the human aspect of a great service recovery becomes apparent.

As digital drives the expected standards ever-higher, the true differentiator of your experiences over those of your competition will be in how you recover from any broken promises.

The Alternative: Create brilliant human fixes

There will come a time in the not-too-distant future where the incremental gains that can be added by the digital channel will offer little in the way of meaningful, additional value for the customer. The human recovery of failed promises will be your key differentiator.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean great cost being involved in pacifying irate customers. See this example from Lego where the cost of their recovery was probably a few pennies for a new Lego minifigure – but the content of the related email back from their customer service person to the young individual involved went viral.

Lego letter 1And the brilliant reply…

Lego letter 2People talk about human experiences. If they talk about digital experiences, then it’s frequently about their emotional, negative interaction with them. Never underestimate the power of great human interactions – and ensure you keep a focus on driving your ‘humanity’ to higher levels.

(4) There’s more than just Pain Points and Moments of Magic

Idealised customer journey maps frequently contain sad and smiley faces to represent the Pain Points and Moments of Magic. It’s essential to recognise those Pain Points in your service that annoy your customer or make them work too hard – and then to fix them as a matter of priority. Before you can start to get credibility for any wowing that you do, you absolutely need to get your basics right – the things that really matter to your customers.

When it comes to wowing your customers, it can be difficult to truly justify the value added by Moments of Magic, or even if customers recognize them as especially positive moments. Have customers told you they find these interactions to be special in some way?

It’s important to identify the key interaction points in your service proposition where you have the opportunity to gain significant business leverage and value. For example, Moments of Truth are those few instances in a customer’s interaction with you where you need to ‘come good’ with your next action. They may be more related to an emotional state where there’s an expectation from the customer, for example in how you resolve a complaint such that the customer is willing to continue to do business with you. But do you understand where all your Moments of Truth are?

Similarly your Makers or Breakers are the instances when a customer makes a decision to continue a particular activity with you – or to continue it with someone else. These Makers or Breakers are less significant than the Moments of Truth – but they are much more prevalent – and they ultimately determine whether the customer spends their money with you or with someone else. Makers or Breakers could be related to the cost of your service, your opening hours, the choice of offer you have, the ‘feel’ as someone walks into your store, or the perceived quality of your service.

This is why the primary aim of every single touchpoints needs to be to smoothly and easily encourage and enable customers to move on towards their desired goal through your next sequential touchpoint – and not via someone else’s. However, some touchpoints have a higher potential to make or break the deal than others, and these are your Makers or Breakers moments.

The Alternative: Focus on your Moments of Truth and Makers or Breakers

Create an understanding across your business of where the Moments of Truth and your Makers or Breakers are. These need to be clearly identified on your Touchpoint Terrain Map.

You also need to ensure that these touchpoints are allocated to individuals who have significant understanding of your business, and also of customer experience design, as these will be among the most important touchpoints on your map. Treat them accordingly and with great respect.

(5) Don’t aim for seamless experiences

The generally accepted wisdom is for an experience to be seamless in the manner that a customer transitions between channels. Naturally, the experience shouldn’t be negative in any way, but these seams are opportunities for you to do something special – so your aim should be to create beautiful or sensational seams. Your seams are opportunities to add unexpected delight for the customer – so don’t hide them!

A prime example of this occurred to me with Dell. I’d bought a new laptop and monitor and wanted to buy a sound-bar that would fit onto the monitor. On the website I couldn’t get clear confirmation that the sound-bar I planned to buy could be fixed to the monitor, so I went to the help page. As webchat wasn’t available I asked for a call back.

I entered my phone number in the online text-box and was then prompted to state when I wanted to receive the call-back. The options ranged from two-hours time to five-minutes time – or I could be called immediately. I selected the option for ‘immediately’ and then clicked the SUBMIT button.

On my SUBMIT mouse-click, I got a shock – for my phone rang at that exact same instance. I answered it to hear two ringing tones before a voice answered “Welcome to Dell, how may I help you”. My issue was resolved in moments. This is an example of a sensational seam by Dell which surprised me in a great way – as it’s a story that I tell regularly.

The Alternative: Create beautiful seams

Recognize that the transitions in your experience are ideal opportunities to deliver surprise and delight to your customers. Design them with this in mind. It’s not always easy, and it’s not always possible – but applying good design thinking will often produce something you can practically consider.

(6) Don’t assume that great experiences will keep you ahead

Customers only became truly, and widely, engaged with their experiences around 2010. This was due to a nexus developing of three prevailing trends, namely the widespread penetration and usage of the smart phone; the advent of 3G mobile coverage and wifi connectivity; and the mass engagement of consumers with social networks.

Around this time, customers expected to interact with a touchscreen phone, and instantly share a photo or an update with other people anywhere in the world, whenever they wanted to. This feat would have been considered unbelievable by most people just five years earlier – but in 2010 that was the expected norm. This is just one example of how the smartphone ignited people’s belief of, understanding in, and desire for, ever-better experiences in all aspects of their lives.

And things have moved on dramatically since 2010 too, such that great customer experience isn’t great anymore – it’s the expected base-standard today.

The Alternative: Leapfrog where you can

You need to re-calibrate your experiences to determine what you will provide as your minimum standard of great. But don’t worry, as not everything has to be brilliant. However, the basic essentials of your core proposition and its related experiences need to be great – for great has become the new standard. The question is Have you defined what ‘great’ means to you and how great experience aligns with your brand promise?

The majority of businesses will be playing experience catch-up for the next few years, so don’t expect to have the greatest experiences across your entire customer landscape.

For example, many larger businesses include these online support services on their website:

  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Support discussion forums
  • A virtual assistant (eg National Rail’s Ask Lisa or O2’s Ask Lucy)
  • Web-chat

And some are even developing ways for a virtual assistant to offer a handover to a web-chat agent when the question is too complex for the virtual assistant to handle. This includes an introduction to a named web-chat agent with their photo.

But which of these do you need to deliver your desired level of service? Do you need to worry now about a virtual assistant hand-off when the technology is still in development – or can you wait until it becomes experientially and commercially proven?

Instead, know where you need to fix up your weaknesses and identify where it’s essential for you to be strong – and focus on these aspects of your experience in the meantime. For the remainder, you’ll be able to observe the ever-dynamic landscape of best practice evolution and cherry-pick those practices that will boost your overall experience in the most opportune and value-effective manner.

Solutions through alternate approaches

Finally, here’s a summary of the suggested alternative approaches you can take to your customer experience design work.

  1. Use Touchpoint Terrain Mapping to truly understand the landscape of your experiences
  2. Focus on your employee experiences first to give better customer experiences
  3. Create brilliant human fixes to digital problems
  4. Incorporate Moments of Truth and Makers or Breakers into your experience landscape
  5. Create beautiful experience seams to boost customer delight
  6. Focus your limited resources on the essential experiences for your business and leapfrog ahead with relevant best practices as they become known to you

This article started by offering fresh thinking around stale customer experience perspectives. This may have attacked and battered some of the conventional wisdom that exists in customer experience management and design, but the purpose was to meaningfully disrupt our design thinking as an industry. And to achieve this I need to get you (the CX manager/designer) to think differently by reconsidering your established views.

I hope I’ve achieved this!

image credit: bigstockphoto.com

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Chris Thomason is Managing Director of Ingenious Growth, a business growth and customer experience design company. He is also the author of The Delicate Force which explains what drives our ideas, inspiration and creativity. The Delicate Force is available from the Amazon online bookstore.

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