Aug 17 Want to Improve Customer Experience? Start With Human-Centered Design

Customer experience, or CX, is the word of the day around the world’s leading companies. As consumers increasingly expect brands to deliver superior services and experiences, organizations are focused on getting CX right. According to a recent Gartner survey, an incredible 89 percent of companies plan to compete primarily by CX differentiation this year—up from just 58 percent a year ago.

CX—the interactions that consumers have with your organization across various touchpoints over time—isn’t just important; it’s a competitive advantage. Companies that are investing in CX and offering easy, seamless, and enjoyable experiences enjoy 60 percent higher customer satisfaction according to a 2009 Strativity study, a 94 percent retention rate according to CEB’s Effortless Experience, and a 27-point higher Net-Promoter-Score according to a 2015 Temkin report. And ultimately, CX leaders outperform their market competition, outpacing the S&P 500 Index by 35 percent in 2015 (Watermark Consulting).

So, how can your company improve its CX? Employ human-centered design.

At Rêve, we’ve been working with numerous organizations to leverage the principles and tools of human-centered design (HCD) to transform consumer experiences. By engaging the people we’re designing for as participants in the design process, we uncover deep insights and ensure the innovative ideas we’re generating actually address the needs of our clients’ customers and improve their experiences across all touchpoints.

When your organization makes the decision to differentiate on CX, consider leveraging three primary principles of the human-centered design process to transform experiences and establish yourself as a leader:

1. Empathize with your consumers

What we mean: Before you begin generating ideas about how to improve consumer experiences, it’s important to explore and go beyond the assumptions your organization has about your consumers. Through ethnographic research, you can more fully understand consumers’ needs, motivations, and feelings across their interactions with your organization and beyond. This doesn’t mean just knowing about consumers’ goals and pain points. Instead, it’s about truly being able to put yourself in their shoes and experience (and feel!) what they are thinking and feeling as they interact with your organization or brand.

Why do it: Creating empathy for your consumers helps uncover insights and latent needs that you may not have been previously aware of—sometimes even unearthing experience flaws that consumers themselves may not realize or be able to verbally articulate. Identifying unmet needs will help your organization focus its CX efforts on creating and refining offerings that address consumers’ biggest pain points or challenges.

How to do it: Build empathy with consumers through qualitative, ethnographic methods such as one-on-one interviews, observations, or shadowing to get as close to experiencing things from their perspective as possible. At Rêve, we often invite our clients to participate in our consumer interviews or observations in order to empower them to directly identify with their consumers.

What it looks like: Earlier this year, Target’s corporate leaders, including CEO Brian Cornell, visited their customers’ homes incognito to develop a better understanding of how their increasingly diverse and urban consumer base lives and shops today.

2. Co-create with your consumers

What we mean: Once you’ve identified opportunity areas to address your consumers’ needs, you’re ready to begin re-designing the consumer experience. This involves ideation (brainstorming a multitude of open-ended ideas, incorporating input from consumers) as well as prototyping (making your ideas visible or tangible so they can be tested with consumers).

Why do it: Engaging consumers in generating ideas and evaluating prototypes ensures that their needs and perspectives inform both initial concepts and refinements. Prioritizing consumer desirability (over other aspects like the feasibility and viability of an idea) when narrowing down ideas helps ensure the ideas you’re developing will improve CX.

How to do it: Create channels or facilitate activities for consumers to generate and share their ideas about how to improve the consumer experience. In instances where organizations can’t create concepts with consumers, we leverage tools like personas to keep consumers and their needs top of mind. Use physical or digital prototypes that consumers can interact with to help them imagine what new experiences could look like.

What it looks like: In 2014, Kraft hosted an “Idea Café” which invited 50 consumers to a three-week innovation convention to work with industry professionals to generate new product ideas. Other organizations, like retailers Burberry and Everlane, are creating digital channels to test prototype products with exclusive communities of their consumers.

3. Implement and iterate with your consumers

What we mean: Finally, after you’ve developed and refined ideas alongside your consumers, engage them in the launch and ongoing evolution of the products and services you offer.

Why do it: Given the pace at which technological capabilities and consumer expectations are changing, redesigning the consumer experience is no longer a one-time effort. Organizations should continually gather and respond to consumer feedback, evolving their offerings to ensure they remain distinct in the experiences they offer their consumers.

How to do it: Establish additional channels to capture key input from consumers (e.g. satisfaction) on an ongoing basis. In addition, consider building intimate, engaged consumer communities where people are incentivized or rewarded for providing feedback at key moments or at regular intervals. At Rêve, we’ve found the latter to be successful in not only improving CX but also creating a more consumer-centered culture.

What it looks like: Companies like Google allow users to opt-in to anonymously send data about their browser use. Google then uses this data to get an idea of how people use its services, so it can address pressing needs and critical product challenges in real time.

As an alternative to more process- and engineering-driven approaches to innovation, human-centered design has become a well-established approach for generating innovative products or services that truly address unmet consumer needs. Today, consumers interact with an organization across an increasing number of touchpoints, channels, and products. As a result, companies have the opportunity to apply human-centered design to holistically consider and improve the entire consumer experience. Organizations can invite their consumers into each stage of the CX design process – empathizing with them to uncover opportunities, co-creating with them to generate and evaluate ideas, and iterating with them to continuously improve offerings.

When your organization joins the 89 percent of companies who are differentiating on CX this year, leverage the tools of human-centered design to stand out from the crowd, creating experiences that provide what your consumers truly desire, not just what you think they might want.

Additional resources: Interested in leveraging Human-Centered Design to improve your consumers’ experiences? Consider our 1-Day intensive HCD Lab offering.