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Mastering Design Thinking to Enhance Your Customer Experience

Improve your customer experience by adopting these 7 design-led competencies

If I said that 'design thinking' (or thinking like a designer) is a tool that allows you to see the future, I'd get your attention.

What if I told you that by thinking in this way you can design the product/experience/service that your customers and colleagues will adore?

Every business owner knows that understanding what customers really want will allow them to achieve their commercial objectives. But to build or re-design your organization around your customers takes a specific skill set that many businesses may not be familiar with, so it can be challenging to implement that capability in your business.

Adopting design thinking as part of your culture will allow you to motivate and mobilize your teams to imagine, design and produce better services or experiences for customers and avoid wasting time, money and resources on ideas that fall short. 

There are seven design-led competencies that will help you create the right services to enhance your customer experience. Read on to discover why they are important skills to master:

1. Create a compelling vision leads to purposeful design

Most businesses will have a vision, but a compelling vision has a big job to achieve. It’s the desired future of the business, a captivating proposition for customers, and an essential, powerful motivator for the organization to evolve.

Alongside exciting and motivating customers, a vision is instrumental in guiding your entire team, empowering them to own it, see it as achievable and embody it in their work. It must be one central idea strong enough to set-up the case for transformational levels of investment. It needs to help you plan for when your business model or product offering may need to change, and its purpose re-examined. This might mean taking difficult decisions about what to stop, start or continue doing. Having a vision that covers these areas, will equip the business to pivot as necessary.

IBM manufactured mechanical measuring and calculating machines for businesses, became a market leader in personal computing, and is now a global IT services business. From simple beginnings in antiques, energy company Shell expanded into the import and export business, moved into shipping and then merged with an oil company. Netflix started out putting DVDs in the post to customers. It may be luck, but I bet these shifts felt like huge risks at the time. These would have required a compelling vision to convince shareholders, investors and staff to get behind such change and design the services that became part of their success and longevity.

2. Designing beautiful services that work, pays off

You can easily recall products that are beautifully designed in the same way quality customer service feels – interacting with it should be seamless, it should intuitively perform well, and make you feel good throughout the transaction. The goal is for customers to value this enough that it becomes an integral part of their buying behaviour. Businesses should invest in beautiful designs due to the emotional connection they create with customers, which carries on working long after the interaction is over.  

Products/services that are well-designed also cost less to create, operate and use; enabling the business to reap benefits in savings and create maximum value for all users. It’s important that business managers get into the habit of spotting what good service looks like, from the connection, process and metrics used to measure them. Put yourself into the frame and imagine what you would enjoy in specific situations. Tune in to what makes a great service experience and what makes a poor one. Spot these characteristics in the services you provide to identify what’s working and what is not

3. A clear value reassures decision-makers

To successfully launch a new idea, people must be excited by it, yet assured somehow that the process is going to be worth it. It’s common to have an established process or criteria to guide such decisions, but often these criteria don’t work so well when assessing something completely new or visionary for which there is no data. In this instance, taking the time to create a strong value case will reassure decision-makers and allow you to set out quantifiable benefits to both the business and customers, showing the link between specific investments in the service and the key benefits and business outcomes, rather than solely cost versus commercial return.

4. Ready-to-build designs get to market with fewer compromises

When you have put so much time and effort into designing the best service for your customers, a lot needs to happen before it is deployed within the real-world constraints of your business. The value you’ve designed-in is at risk of erosion by many possible interpretations as investment decisions are made and the project expands to include the teams needed to implement and operate the service.

What’s needed is a detailed design scope with clear descriptions of the specific features, qualities and capabilities necessary for making it a reality. If you were building a house, for example, you may decide to draw up sketches yourself, but a trusted route is to engage with a professional architect who can draw up proper, detailed plans including materials and measurements of what you’re hoping to build. In the same sense, engaging with a service designer on a new project can be invaluable. A service designer can help make sure that your design is ready by removing the guesswork and opportunities for misinterpretation. They’re able to protect the benefits you set out to realize, help you avoid losing any subtle elements that are intrinsic to success and avoid any unwanted surprises during implementation.

5. Creating the right conditions means change happens quickly and efficiently

Preparation is everything and it is important to share not just the steps involved but what challenges lay ahead, and what effort is needed and why the stages happen this way.

Service transformation projects can take many months, and sometimes years, to deliver in full. Even the most enthusiastic colleagues will find it challenging to maintain their initial enthusiasm across an extended period of time. People may forget the exact reasons behind it and may revert to tactical objectives and funding ad hoc initiatives. In this instance, the work you’ve done up front, the vision can be called upon to remind them what the transformation is for.

Creating the right conditions for change is important because it helps you to maintain pace and avoid circling back. The project will quickly gain its own momentum and blockers will be removed. It allows you to not waste time restating the purpose of the plan because everyone is signed up to the objective, knows what time and resource are required, understands the path laid out ahead and is motivated to stick with it.

6. Engaging and fun projects get everyone to participate

I’d hazard a guess that your organization is not short of projects on the go with others waiting to be signed-off at any time. The ones that do make it off the mark are the most engaging ones that get teams excited and wanting to commit.  The experience of working on these project needs to be given as much thought as the creation of the service or product itself. It sounds simple, but if it’s a fun experience - you’ll get a better result, generate better ideas and engage people across the business. All the work that you have done upfront on the vision and case for change will make it easier for you to unlock resources from different areas and functions of the business and encourage other projects and teams to align with yours.

The right attention and commitment from key people in your organization has the added benefit of helping those at the top say "yes". When they can see the ‘social proof’ that the right people are engaged and contributing, they’re less likely to default to a low-risk no.

7. Thinking like a designer is important for your business

Thinking like a designer helps you to imagine fresh solutions, think visually, be able to make more of your ideas tangible, be curious and have an insatiable appetite for improvement. When you think like a designer you’ll start to see constraints as a source of inspiration, you’ll think ahead, and your mind will be open to creating distinctive solutions as part of your customer experience.

Mastering these seven competencies will allow you to transform your customer experience by adopting a much more imaginative and ‘outside-in’ approach.