Customer Experience Design: it’s not about the process it’s about the human being


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The problem with Customer Experience is the Designers

Is the engineering / six sigma way of thinking and approaching the business world the right one for designing and orchestrating customer experiences? Walk into many business, take a look at who is involved in Customer Experience efforts and the way that they are going about it and the answer is YES. I am not in agreement with this view, this approach. I wrote a post (The Problem with Customer Experience is the Designers) some time ago. The one change I would make, today, is to say that the issues is not limited to the designers – it also includes their masters, the people who commission the work of the designers.

Customer Experience design is so much more than process design

In this post I simply want to get us present to the fact that the process lens (and thus process design / redesign) whilst useful can be misleading when it comes to getting a rounded grip on Customer Experience. Designing great customer experiences means getting to grips with the fullness of our humanity. I can talk about this (and it will show up as abstract) or I can point you towards what I am thinking by using an example. Lets take look at my tea drinking experience.

How you can change the Customer Experience without changing the process

This is the mug that I normally use:

Why do I use it? I use this mug because it is just right. The main differentiator is the size/design of the handle – I can easily slide three fingers into the handle and the mould into the handle, a good fit. There is the functional component of ease, the tactical component of fit between the handle and my fingers AND there is the emotional component. There are two strands to the emotional component. The first arises out of the tactile – how holding the mug ‘feels’ in my hands. The second strand arises from memory – this mug was given to me as a Christmas gift, by colleagues, at a previous employer.

Can I change my tea drinking experience without changing any elements of the tea making-serving-drinking experience? Yes, I can. I can do it simply by changing the container I use.

Here is another mug that I use:

At a functional and tactile level this mug is poor in comparison to the previous mug. Yet I do use this mug and I am attached to it. Why? This mug was made/decorated by my daughter and presented to me with a big hug and kiss on my right cheek. It was her gift for Fathers Day and it says “No 1 Cuddly Bear”. Every time I see and use this mug I am not just drinking tea, I am in fact present to and immersed in the love of my daughter. So here we have a transformation of my experience simply by changing the mug.

Lets take a look at a different ‘mug’ and what impact this has on me and my tea drinking experience:

Notice that this ‘mug’ is not a mug, it has no handles, it is more accurately described as a bowl. I first came across this when I married into the French – at breakfast my tea was presented to me in a bowl just like this one.

Drinking tea from a bowl instead of a mug completely alters my tea drinking experience. When I use this bowl I am totally present to the sensations of holding the bowl, lifting the bowl, drinking/tasting the tea. Why? Because, the bowl requires me to hold it with both of my hands. When I am holding the bowl with both of my hands I cannot be mindlessly drinking tea (not being present to the tea drinking experience) whilst using the computer – it simply does not lend itself to that. Furthermore, the simple act of holding the bowl with two hands to cusp the bowl creates, for me, a more ‘intimate’ tea drinking experience. I use this bowl when I want to bring myself back to the real world – to be mindful of my physical experience, to really be present to and appreciate the tea experience in its fullest dimensions.

Finally, lets take a look at this last ‘mug’:

My wife loves pretty stuff and this is the what she uses to serve tea when we have guests with us. This ‘mug’ is neither a mug nor a cup or a bowl. Yet, it is a little like all three and as a result it provides with a different experience. First of all, when I see this ‘mug’ memories of family and friends rush into my mind along with pleasant feelings. Second, this ‘mug’ is too big for the handle and so a certain presence is required: it is not possible to drink tea mindlessly – I have to be present to what I am holding. Third, I like the look of this ‘mug’ – the design, the colours, the simplicity of the pattern. As a result, I enjoy drinking tea that much more. Finally, I cannot ever drink tea from this ‘mug’ without thinking of my mother-in-law (who loves pretty objects) and thinking how much my wife is like my mother-in-law and yet does not realise it! This brings a chuckle to my lips and smile into my heart.

Points to reflect upon when you are looking to improve / design the Customer Experience

I hope that I have shown up that just focussing upon and improving the process is not enough when it comes to designing / orchestrating the customer experience. You need to look broader and understand how human beings experience stuff.

Human beings see, hear, touch, walk, smell and taste. What does this mean for your Customer Experience design? How can you use the right sensory cues? How can you involve customers more so that they are more fully present and thus in the experience? Or how can you distract your customers so that they are not present to ‘unpleasant’ experiences?

We, human beings, think and they remember – the bring both of these qualities to the experience. How can you evoke the right thoughts, the right memories so as to elevate the customer experience? What do you need to do to avoid evoking unpleasant memories?

Human beings are social by design and one of main facets of social is speaking and listening. What implications does that have for your Customer Experience design? Should people be present or not in the Customer Experience? If they should be present then how many, what kinds of people? What kind of social conversations and exchanges are the right ones? And so forth.

Finally: process mapping and process design are easy in comparison to Customer Experience design. Incidentally, process mapping disguised as customer experience mapping is still process mapping. It only becomes customer experience mapping when you get access to the inner domain where experience resides and look at a lot more than the sequence of steps that the customer has to execute.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Maz Iqbal
Experienced management consultant and customer strategist who has been grappling with 'customer-centric business' since early 1999.


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