When it Comes to Customer Experience Design, Satisfaction is Sufficient

In the same way that hope is not a strategy, customer experience design is not an accident.

Many companies can miss the mark when it comes to delivering what their customers desire, but most fail in what I might call a blind spot–they fail deliver on their customers’ tacit demands? Those demands are essential needs and involve how the experience of purchase or adoption or use is experienced.
With a few obvious exceptions, such as dealing with Apple, I’m shocked and amazed when my (admittedly low) expectations are exceeded by a customer experience I would characterize as truly delightful. And I’m not unusual in that way. Most consumers will be delighted if a company even comes close to delivering on a customer experience, not just a product.

At the heart of the perception of customer satisfaction is this question: How do companies define what a customer expectation actually is? A useful answer to this question is that an expectation is the sum of the demands or needs plus the desires or wants in a given context or situation.

A range of expectations
Expectations can be negative or positive. But we’re focusing on the ones that are positive, where the expectation is to have, at a minimum, a satisfactory experience. Furthermore, expectations fall along a colorful spectrum from “just barely acceptable” on one side of the equation to “mind bogglingly ecstatic” on the other.

So, how is this possible?

The answer is surprisingly straightforward. Fundamentally, customer experience design is an intentional process that companies can take to the bank; that is, once they’ve gone beyond paying lip service to it and made it a strategic imperative.

Customer experience design involves a deep empathy and an organizational willingness to anticipate the needs of and respond to those who matter most to your business, the customer. Beyond that, it requires a real understanding of the nature of experiences as interactions between people and things, as well as between people and people. Paramount to this, it involves the principles of design. (and lest you think design is about the “thing”, I want you to know that I consider design about the entire offer. But read on…)

The individual elements
While it may be a disservice to take a reductionistic look at the individual elements of customer experience design strategy, it’s the best way to establish how the sum of the parts contribute to the concepts underpinning customer experience design. Let’s look at some of the elements independently:

Customer — Designing a customer experience demands a significantly higher degree of specificity than classic segmentation models or persona work provide. It requires a detailed understanding, and an empathetic — almost clairvoyant — sense of who, specifically, through which channels, in what context, customers will be interacting with a company’s products, services, IT systems, employees, or partners.

Gaining keen insights at this level of detail requires a concrete commitment to look under the surface of the demographics, purchase behavior and personas. It requires digging into, analyzing and carefully mapping out the characteristics and attributes of the wants and needs of target customers who represent each micro-segment.

In the absence of this level of detail, your guess is as good as mine when it comes to inferring what demands and desires each micro-segment is likely to have in a given circumstance.

Developing an actionable understanding at this depth requires a company to look at customers as human beings not as market segments; or, as the Chairman of the well-known Silicon Valley financial company once said to me, as rats. Human Beings. And it pays off, ask Apple.

Experience — It may in fact be a misnomer to talk about designing customer experiences because, technically speaking, an experience is something that somebody has not something that somebody designs. And while it may be more appropriate to talk about customer expectation design, somehow something gets lost in translation.

For this context, I’m talking about crafting the conditions to support the logical unfolding of a set of related steps that a customer will engage in as they begin to, and continue to, interact with our products, services, IT systems, employees, channel distribution and delivery partners.

To the extent that a company is able to design these experiences intentionally, and for a specific type of user, we can take into consideration the “criteria for sufficiency” and the “criteria for success”. Accompanying these criteria are the boundary conditions for acceptable experience and the threshold for the conditions that create delight.

When companies take the time to understand — from the customer’s point of view — the basic demands that must be met in order to achieve satisfaction, and they expend the effort to get inside the customer’s head to explore desired outcomes that lead the customer down a path of exceeded expectations, the money will follow.

Design — This is one of the most misunderstood words in the corporate lexicon, because design means as many things as people asked to define it. From marketing communication professionals to software architects to industrial designers, ultimately design boils down to the intentional relationship created between utility value, emotional impact, and aesthetics.

Things can be designed. These are often products. Processes can be designed. These may be services. Interactions can be designed. These may turn out to be experiences.

What we’re talking about is identifying the kinds of specific people who want (or should want) to purchase products or services being engaged in a logically related set of interactions and phenomena that a company has intentionally created to help both the customer (and company) achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. Moreover, we’re not limiting these interactions or phenomena to discrete moments in the customer’s experience. Instead a more profitable way to look at customer experience design is to step back and look through the customer’s eyes, ears and heart at the processes they are engaged in from beginning to end.

Strategy — Design is the next forefront of innovation. Taking a broad design view requires that a company place customer experience design strategy in the foreground of their over-arching business goals. It’s not just about writing code to build products, but understanding the experience of how and why consumers will utilize such products.

Why? Because a business strategy has to be more than what we build. A truly viable business strategy is that one that encompasses what we deliver as a company. And that’s about design in the biggest way possible. To do it right, we have to address some fundamental questions that include: who are we, what are we trying to accomplish, how will we go about achieving it, what do we need to design to fulfill the value proposition our customers seek.

There’s no question that serious customer experience design is a costly, demanding process that requires tremendous input from multiple teams. Balancing that is the fact that it is a core differentiator and an inoculation against competitors, with real benefits at the bottom line. Want proof? Apple closed today at $163.95 with a one year target of more than $200.00.

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