“We know our customers and provide them with real added value.”
You'll find this sentence, in a variety of different forms, in the strategy documents of many companies wrestling with the digital transformation of their industries. Designing a customer experience to be as integrated and coherent in both digital and physical environments is now more important than ever. There are reasons for this.
Let's take media, for example. When our parents were young, choices were few. Depending on where you lived, you could choose between a couple of different local papers. Or just one. Owning a printing press gave the newspaper a competitive advantage.
Now Apple's AppStore alone has over 1.3 million titles, many of which are free to users. The vast majority of mobile applications can't be considered a part of the media, but they are competing for the user's time. And there's still only 24 hours in a day, just like when our grandparents were young. If a product or service does not offer the user something useful and interesting, he or she won't devote a single second of time or even a smidgen of energy to it.
When turning your attention to something else is easy, a good customer experience gives your company a competitive advantage.
Why all the talk about user-centeredness?
When companies were small, people responsible for the customer experience were in contact with their customers on a daily basis. A cobbler would solve any shoewear-related problems face to face and on the spot. Now, if you're unhappy with your shoes, you end up exchanging e-mails with the a variety of customer service representatives - starting with the department store chain and moving on to the importer and possibly the shoe brand.
When service development and management is far removed from the customers and feedback is only gathered when the customer experience breaks down, taking the customer's needs into account has to become a thing in and of itself. Meeting customers when the product or service is already on the market isn't enough. A good customer experience must be a part of corporate strategy and the strategy must manifest itself as concrete user-centered actions.
A good user experience isn't created at the office
If you want to develop a world-class product, you have to test it iwith the end users. A product designer can take an idea and mold it into what is theoretically a functional and good-looking product, but if the user doesn't know how ti use it, it's a failure.
The same applies to designing a service experience. In order to create a smooth and pleasant service experience, you have to understand what the user wants.
Meeting the customer is the best way to gain an understanding of what the user wants. And meeting the customer requires an open mind and an ability to keep your opinions to yourself.
When you're dealing with another person's experience, you don't go into the interview looking for pre-defined answers or validation for your pet theories. An interviewer must be able to interpret the customer's opinions as well as body language, ignore irrelevant comments and concentrate on what's essential in each interview. To improve the customer experience, you have to observe how the custmoer uses the service and how he or she behaves.
Recently we worked on a service with hundreds of functionalities. When we actually met users, we noticed that they only used five of those functionalities. It took guts to cut the functionalities down from hundreds to five. It was the users' stories that inspired us to go through with it. We built a much better and simpler service around the features that the user's found worthwhile.
Good services are created like good products: bold experimentation, feedback and iteration.
Just walk out that door
Don't be afraid of the users. By accepting them as a part of the design process, you're enabling the creation of a better customer experience. Inviting users to the office or going to their homes may feel strange at first. Presenting your unfinished ideas may even feel scary. But often this ends up being the most inspiring part of the design process, as well as a lot of fun.
Co-designing is an easy to way to figure out on a very detail-oriented level what works in a product or service. At the same time, the user experience can be developed to be so smooth and intuitive the users isn't even conscious of it. Designing in co-operation with customers helps you notice things you wouldn't pay any attention to without direct customer feedback.
Discussion helps you get to know your customers and gain a better understanding of the role your company plays in their lives. Customer contact can help you look at your strategy as well as finalize details in a service or product.