Design the Experience from the Customer Viewpoint


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I’m going to ask you a really tough question about customer experience design. It’s a challenging one, and some of you might get it wrong, so give it some thought and let me know what your answer would be. Here goes.

If I asked you to design a zoo for me, would you design it from the animal perspective or from the human perspective? OK, wait, that is a tough question. Let me rephrase it. If I asked you to build me a zoo – and after you made sure the animals were happy in their pens and enclosures – would you design your customer experience from (a) the animal point of view or (b) the human point of view?

How many of you would raise your hand for “(b) human?” Great! How many of you would raise your hand for “(a) animal?” O, you, over there in the corner. Yes, you, Los Angeles Zoo. Put your hand down.

Let me tell you why.

Over the weekend, I took my boys to your zoo. They are 7 and 10, and they love animals. We’ve been to the San Diego Zoo, the Wild Animal Park, and the Aquarium of the Pacific many, many times. They’ve been to other zoos, as well. Recently they got a ball python for a pet, so they have a renewed enthusiasm about all things creepy crawly. So, as you can imagine, they were so excited to see the new “The LAIR” exhibit.

We arrived on Saturday morning, planning that if we got there right when the zoo opened, it wouldn’t be as busy as it would likely be in the afternoon. This was the case, as there were far more people there when we left several hours later. But I’m no fool … it was still a Saturday morning at a (Los Angeles) venue with a new exhibit… so I was expecting a lot of people. Unfortunately, I don’t think you were. We waited in line for 25 minutes just to pay… and then we waited in yet another line to get into the zoo. That line was unbelievably long because you had two people at one turn-style taking tickets. Why do I have to wait in two lines? I went from one bottleneck right into another.

Customer Experience Design Tip #1: Plan ahead on staffing for heavy traffic times. This includes times when there are special events and promotions, new exhibits, and weekends.

Customer Experience Design Tip #2: Think about your traffic flow. Ensure that it is logical and expeditious.

When you enter into any theme or animal park, the first thing you see is someone wanting to take your picture to commemorate the trip. I love this. While I could just hand someone my camera to take a picture of all of us, I typically go for these pictures because I think it’s a fun way to remember the trip; usually you have some cool frame or quirky pose you put us into, and it’s a nice item to take away. Hold this thought for later…

After an hour-plus drive to the zoo, the parking, the two lines to wait in, etc., the boys were thirsty and wanted a snack. There were a lot of places to stop for refreshments, so that was well executed. We stopped at one of the snack stands to grab popcorn and some drinks. But wait! Whoa! Not so fast. You can have a drink, but you can’t have a lid or a straw for your cup. “I can’t what?” Nope, you don’t put lids on your cups or straws in the drinks because, wait for it, “they could harm the animals.”

I’m an animal lover as much as (or maybe more than) the next guy. I grew up on a farm and had aspirations of being a veterinarian. Well, until I found out I needed six quarters of chemistry to get into vet school. But I digress. Trust me… there are a zillion things that you can buy in that park that could harm the animals more than a straw and a lid.

If it was just me, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. (Besides, I got a bottle of water, which, you guessed it, has a cap on it. Couldn’t that harm the animals?) But it was my kids. Have you ever watched a 7 year old (or a 10 year old) stumble through a park with an open drink in hand? Well, no, of course not. That’s because his mom had to carry the drink for him. So he didn’t spill it on himself or your other guests or on the ground, leaving a sticky mess for the next person to step into.

Honestly, that pretty much ruined the experience for me because (a) my kids thought it was ridiculous, and they were annoyed, and (b) I had to carry the drinks, which meant that I couldn’t take pictures, which I love to do when I take my kids to parks like yours. After all, parks like yours are about family, creating memories, etc. Right?

Customer Experience Design Tip #3: Think about whether your policies really makes sense before you implement them. Do away with policies that are nonsense.
Customer Experience Design Tip #4: Trust your customers.

Next we got in line to go into The LAIR. Because we were there earlier in the day, we only had to wait for three groups to go in ahead of us. We got inside, and it was rather disappointing.

The first part of the exhibit was dark and quite warm, with no air flowing through it. I understand that these creatures have to be warm, but honestly, I don’t need to be that warm. I had beads of sweat pouring down my face and felt light-headed; it was hot outside; there was no ventilation or air circulating through the building; and there were so many people in there that body heat was adding to the conditions.
Customer Experience Design Tip #5: Forget about ambience if it hinders the experience. Or change the ambience to make it work for the theme and for the customer.

The reptiles were hard to see because the viewing windows were so small, and the tanks were dark. The signs on the tanks were white or light gray text on black, which were hard to read. The cave-like walls that you used made it really hard for multiple people to view critters at a time, so we were literally waiting in line (again) to see the animals. I appreciate that you are trying to create a theme or an ambiance, but honestly, all we want to do is see the animals. Why not allow for viewing from multiple sides. The Aquarium of the Pacific has this nicely figured out. Further into the exhibit, the viewing area opened up, but the first area had me concerned that the entire exhibit would be as cumbersome.
Customer Experience Design Tip #6: Remember your purpose. Remember what the product is supposed to do. Remember the customer.

As we made our way through The LAIR, I was in desperate need of a trash can. My kids had finished their drinks with no lids or straws, and I would have loved to have thrown the cups away, but alas, no trash can. I noticed this throughout the park: very few trash cans. You see, if you have more trash cans, I bet that trash is less likely to end up with the animals. And I bet you could then let your guests have lids and straws.
Customer Experience Design Tip #7: Provide tools, resources, and supporting items to help make it a great experience.

At some point, we stopped to have lunch. The boys both had ICEEs, and as we sat down to eat, they both said, “How are we supposed to drink these without straws?” Good question.

Well, about that time, after finishing all those drinks, we needed to find a restroom. Yes, you guessed it. That was a bad experience, too. Really? When you designed your restrooms, you thought it was OK to put the row of sinks in front of the row of stalls, with no more than two feet between the stalls and the sinks. Have you ever tried to use your own restrooms? Have you tried to go to the empty stall at the far end of the row, while a row of customers is standing at the sink, washing their hands? No, I didn’t think so. Because it’s not possible. The entire row of hand washers would have to step aside or squeeze forward and lean into the sink in order for you to walk by. No, I’m not exaggerating.

Customer Experience Design Tip #8: Use your product. Shop your stores. Does it all make sense? Is it easy to use?

My 10 year old had read on your website that we could name or adopt an animal. We asked several employees about this, and no one seemed to know anything about it. We ended up going to the Administration Office, but there was no on there.

Finally, we’d seen all that we were going to see for the day and headed to the exit. As we neared the exit, I saw a sign that reminded me to get my zoo photo, which was (supposed to have been) taken as we entered the park. O, but wait. Our photo was never taken. Your photographers were busy standing there talking to each other. I wonder how many customers they missed.

Customer Experience Design Tip #9: Make sure your employees are: doing what they are supposed to be doing; engaging your customers; trained on all of your initiatives, programs, and promotions; and delivering the best possible – memorable – customer experience.

Customer Experience Design Tip #10: Remember that the little things matter. It might just seem like a piece of plastic to you, but one small detail can change the experience entirely.

Customer Experience Design Tip #11: Create a customer journey map. Think about the experience from the customer’s perspective. Design it for your customers.

Interestingly, the Los Angeles Zoo website uses a tagline, “Nurturing Wildlife and Enriching the Human Experience.” While I can’t speak to the former, I believe the latter still needs a bit of work.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Annette Franz
Annette Franz is founder and Chief Experience Officer of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, consultant, and speaker. She has 25+ years of experience in helping companies understand their employees and customers in order to identify what makes for a great experience and what drives retention, satisfaction, and engagement. She's sharing this knowledge and experience in her first book, Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the "Customer" in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business).


  1. thank you for sharing a very frustrating day at the zoo. It is rather unfortunate that the custome experience is not typically understood or designed from the customer’s view point, but is still really just a corporate process paying lip service to the concept of customer experiecne. An organization can gain significantly by looking at themselves from the outside in rather than just looking mostly inside and occassionally taking a glance outside.

  2. made this content-rich article very fun to read. It was like we were having a conversation!


  3. Suzanne, thanks for reading and commenting. I couldn’t have put it any better than your last sentence: “An organization can gain significantly by looking at themselves from the outside in rather than just looking mostly inside and occassionally taking a glance outside.” Words to live by!

    Annette 🙂

  4. Hi Jill. Great to hear from you. Hope you are well. Thank you for reading and for commenting. Glad to you enjoyed the content and my writing style!

    -Annette 🙂

  5. I’m based in the U.K. and we usually look to the U.S. for examples of immaculate customer experiences. Try going to Disneyland Paris and compare the experience to the U.S. – it’s recognisably different. I truly believe that if an organisation wants to distinguish itself from competition, it needs to really, and I mean really look at the journey’s that their customers take. That is where the moments of truth and pain points come out. Then if the combination of those are important enough, the question becomes “what if we fix them?” – the how comes later, right?

    Thanks for the article – I laughed because it’s true, and although you could feel sad because of the experience you had – I see the immense opportunity at hand to solve those types of problems.

  6. Thank you for reading and for your comment. You make great points. I agree that this isn’t isolated to just the LA Zoo – and that there’s a huge opportunity here!


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