Designing for Growth: How to Bring Design Thinking Into Your Customer Growth Strategy


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measure-1.pngI’m left-handed, musically inclined and emotionally expressive, but I’m also an analytically oriented consultant who spent my childhood geeking out over logic puzzles. Perhaps that’s why I’m so intensely drawn to the discipline of customer experience. Good CX requires equal parts EQ and IQ. 

To deliver an excellent customer experience, we must do four things very well:

  • Measure and analyze: How good is the experience that our customers have?
  • Explore and understand: What is our customers’ experience journey and where are the pain points?
  • Inspire and design: How can we design a better experience across the journey?
  • Execute and deliver: How can we sustainably and profitably deliver an improved experience?

Historically, I’ve seen a lot more focus on measurement (CX metrics from surveys and other listening posts), understanding (customer journey maps) and execution (call center operations), but recently, there has been a growing emphasis placed on design. This trend is both refreshing and necessary. No matter how well we analyze, explore and flawlessly execute the experiences that we deliver, we aren’t actually moving the needle if we haven’t designed optimal experiences to begin with. In other words, what is CX without design?

Recently, I joined 40-plus other local CX professionals in Chicago to dive into this topic of design. The evening was entertaining and enlightening, highlighted by presentations and a panel Q&A with three local CX designers: Jen Levin and Natalie Scoles from United Healthcare, and Katie Finley from Northern Trust. I owe a big thanks to Jen, Natalie and Katie—and also to my ZS colleagues for helping me host this event. 

Here are a few takeaways from the presentations, panel Q&A, and other discussions throughout the night: 

  • In-house, human-centered design teams are an effective way to bring design thinking into your organization, but there’s still a lot you can do without a dedicated or named design team. Find ways to introduce design thinking principles like these into your organization: 
    • Adopt a user lens; innovation comes from designing for real people.
    • Share perspectives and prototypes as early as possible.
    • Iterate frequently.
    • Challenge assumptions.
    • Seek ideas from analogous spaces.
  • The broad scope, focus and role of design thinking (service design, design strategy, user research, interaction design, communication design, etc.) necessitates a significant amount of cross-functional collaboration.
  • Good design (and overall CX) requires balance. One speaker referred to the “hard plus soft,” or I often talk about “right brain plus left brain” and “EQ plus IQ.” As individuals, we don’t need to have a perfect balance, but the ecosystem in which we operate should be equally nimble on both sides of the discipline. To share a perspective recently expressed by a friend of mine, might the next frontier of CX be the intersection of data science and design? If so, sign me up.

While these ideas just scratch the surface of what we discussed that night regarding how to better leverage CX design principles, I hope that you’re as excited as I am by the possibility of how your organization could be transformed with an injection of design thinking. Some of you may be well on your way, while others are just getting started. Regardless of where you are on the journey, be sure to involve a diverse group of people and talents. There’s a place—and a need—for all types at the CX table.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Will Carter
Will Carter is a manager at ZS in Chicago and a leader in the firm's customer experience and voice of customer practice. Will's areas of expertise include B2B and B2C customer insights and customer experience analytics, voice of customer programs, marketing strategy, qualitative and quantitative customer research, opportunity assessment, and market segmentation. He holds an MBA from Stanford's Graduate School of Business, and graduated as valedictorian from the College of William & Mary with a B.A. in psychology and marketing.


  1. Hi Will: the very terminology used in these discussions presents a huge challenge for design thinking. Ironically, CX professionals commonly advocate the importance of seeing customers as individuals, but in the same breath they adhere to anonymizing terms like users, the user, user base, prospect, ideal customer, and target audience. When I hear these terms, I recommend that my clients visualize the generic head profile they see online when someone hasn’t uploaded a personal photo. Or the ‘egg’ they see on Twitter when a personal thumbnail image is absent. Now, using that as your primary concept, design away!

    For many, including me, these generic terms convert living, breathing, deciding people into enigmas. Sure – saying our user base likes . . . . offers a convenient verbal shorthand, but bringing soccer mom’s, stay-at-home-dad’s, and other archetypes into the conversation early and often adds essential texture and reality to the discussion. It also avoids the risk of lumping a bunch of disparate people into a seemingly homogenous sack of decision makers.


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