How Design Emotionally Fuels the Customer Experience


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If you are interested in the customer experience you must get the latest issue of Fast Company (October, 2007) and read the article “All About Yves.”
The article is about Yves Béhar the hot product designer. As you will see in the axioms listed below, he sees product design as part and parcel with the customer experience. And, he has some profound insights into what it takes for a company to successfully pull this off.
First, let’s deal with the business implications. The article cites a three-year study by the research firm Peer Insight. They report that companies focused on customer-experience design outperformed the S&P 500 by a 10 to 1 margin from 2000 to 2005.
The Seven Axioms of Yves Béhar

  1. Design is how you treat your customers. If you treat them well from an environmental, emotional and aesthetic standpoint, you’re probably doing good design.
  2. Design must be integrated throughout the organization. Design-driven businesses foster creativity and innovation at their core and reward factions typically at odds (marketing and operations or engineering) for working together.
  3. Design is not a short-term fix. It’s a long-term engagement that requires you to think about how design affects everything that touches the consumer—from product to packaging to marketing to retail to the take-home experience.
  4. As in marketing or operations, you must be willing to fail at the design level.
  5. Design must be driven from the top. CEOs in most industries today must have a true relationship with, and understanding of, the creative side of the business.
  6. With design, the solution to a problem will be different every time. Doing what your competitors are doing is not the answer. The connection to your customer has to unique, not formulaic.
  7. Never ask the consumer about the future. You can ask them what their aspirations are, but you will not get an answer about what you should do. Design will bring those stories to life.

Two more Béhar quotes that are sure to strike a nerve with those committed to inside-out business practices:
Design in the Silicon Valley is consensus-driven, and that isn’t the best way for strong ideas to come out.
Béhar estimates that only about 1% of American companies really dig in on design, and that the rest will be left in the dust by companies that do. Over time, they will fail to connect to consumers in a relevant way and become obsolete.

John Todor
John I. Todor, Ph.D. is the Managing Partner of the MindShift Innovation, a firm that helps executives confront the volatility and complexity of the marketplace. We engage executives in a process that tackles two critical challenges: envisioning new possibilities for creating and delivering value to customers and, fostering employee engagement in the innovation and alignment of business practices to deliver on the new possibilities. Follow me on Twitter @johntodor


  1. Customer experience optimization should be the consuming goal of every company, whether product or service, b2b or b2c, almost irrespective of inustry. Jonathan Tisch, the CEO of Loews Hotels, has covered this extensively in his new book, Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough: Reinventing the Customer Experience. He understands, as we do, that customer value must be built on both trust and quality, that is delivering both the rational (functional, tangible) and the emotional (service, information, proaction, personalization and customization) elements of the experience. So, when it comes to designing (or redesigning) a product or service, it must be done with absolute customer partnership and participation.

    Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
    Vice President and Senior Consultant
    Harris Interactive Loyalty

  2. John

    I am always a little suspicious when a politician start extolling the virtues of a particular policy, a consuiltant starts extolling the virtues of a particular methodology, or a designer starts extolling the virtues of his own particular stock in trade; design.

    Having said that, I am a big fan of great design. It can lift even a mediocre technical product into the halls of marketing fame. But great design for me is a product that is so easy to use that there seems to be no real design involved at all. “Hasn’t it always been done this way?”. To do this, as Behar suuggests, you have to design products, services and experiences to enhance customers’ feelngs about what they are trying to achieve, rather than focussing on design just as a component of the brand.

    Yves’ comments at the end of your post (and in his article) seem to suggest that only strong design works well and that by implication, only designers know how to do strong design. Although this is not news coming from a designer, it does rather fly in the face of the current movement in blue chip companies (P&G, Burker King, GM, Motorola, Eli Lilly, Amazon, etc) towards involving customers intimately in the design process.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  3. Graham,

    Here’s a product designer who understands that design is not a personal statement by the designer. Rather, product design is about the customer experience. This in itself is radical. All too often designers and engineers get wrapped up in the “thing” and themselves rather than the people it is for and the emotional way it will engage them.

    For more than a decade businesses have been encouraged to be less product-centric and more customer-centric. Here’s a designer who argues that product design itself should be customer-centric.

    While BÉhar repeats the word design through out his axioms, I see them as making a statement about business practices and processes that enable a company to enable compelling customer experiences.

    To be successful customer experience initiatives cannot be silo’d events or something tacked on as a promotional tactic. Since so much of the customer experience happens during the use or consumption phase, companies need to grasp this perspective. It helps if the CEO thinks this way and encourages the rest of his organization to follow suit.

    I re-read the quotes at the end and in a literal sense I can see how you might think that only designers can deliver strong design. I am now a little trouble by the statement. If works for me if design is taken if the broader sense of taking the customer experience seriously from every perspective, by design.

    John I. Todor, Ph.D., author of Addicted Customers: How to Get Them Hooked on Your Company.


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