How to spot a ‘design-led’ versus ‘design-fed’ company

Forrester details how design-led companies are winning the customer experience game, and Australia Post reveals its customer-centric journey

Companies with a ‘design seat’ at the highest levels of decision making, and tout a ubiquitous ‘design thinking mindset’ throughout the company are the ones best resonating with customers, according to Forrester principal analyst, Ryan Hart.

“Either the CEO is a designer himself, or he has embraced design as the way of working moving forward,” said Hart, explaining companies that have design at the core of all major business-making decisions, and designers strategically placed throughout the organisation, are finding success.

“Design thinking is the secret sauce of these companies. It is not just design thinking with a select group of resources in the company, but a scaled design thinking mindset.”

Speaking to a crowd of 350 business executives at the Forrester CX Forum in Sydney, Hart revealed the difference between a traditional, often limited ‘design-fed’ company versus a collaborative, more customer-centric ‘design-led’ company.

Forrester's Ryan Hart
Forrester's Ryan Hart

“A company that isn’t design-led is design-fed. Essentially, you have a design department in your company that is feeding into lines of business throughout your company. You don’t have to look any further than Japan to find design-fed companies,” he said.

“Sharp, for example, is a company that embodies this zombie company, which a big problem that they are facing now in Japan. For so long, they [Sharp] led with technology. They didn’t lead with the customer. The customer was going one direction and they took technology in another direction. So you have Panasonic, you have Toshiba, you have Sharp, that are all on life support now, barely making ends meat and very close to going bankrupt.”

Hart noted design-fed companies are not design-led and they are actually “very immature” when it comes to creating customer obsession.

“Sure, they are customer aware. They realise they have customers. They may have a lot of data as well. They may be data rich. They also move to realise their products and services they put out are perfect, which means they are working with a ‘waterfall’ methodology in terms of developing products and services," he said.

But those companies, who plan resources and the milestones and chart a lengthy course for product development, are slow to address customer needs.

“During that time to create the perfect product, the customer has sinced moved past you. Those expectations are rising too quickly and unfortunately companies are now struggling to keep up with that,"Hart continued. "And frankly, companies that are doing this are highly siloed and they are not connected.”

On the flip side, successful design-led companies make sure they collaborate, make together, break together, and reassemble.

“Not only do design-led companies realise they have customers, but they are led by where the customers are taking them. They are closely aligning their products and services with what the customer actually want and need," Hart said. "They have data, but they are also using that data, abstracting insights and using that data to drive new innovations and products and services.”

Additionally, Hart said the successful design-led companies have given up trying to be fast, but at the same time are pumping out MVPs (most viable products) to market in order to be quick-to-market and have it user tested. “They can test and they can iterate and move forward from that.”

These companies have also broken down siloes, he suggested. “They move and they work in a highly connected fashion.”

Hart outlined a number of operating principles for a customer-obsessed company, mainly being customer-led, insights driven, fast and connected.

“Design-led companies take it a step further: They use the word design, the language of design within the organisation, to actually coalesce all of the employees and everyone around the idea that we are designing incredibly beautiful products that customers love," he said. "And design is a language we use to express that, and everyone rallies around.”

Hart also urged companies to invest in a design-focused space. “Whether you call it an innovation hub, a future lab, or you call it a design centre, you need to have some collaborative space where people can work together in an open environment.

“An environment that is safe to creatively take risks and to share ideas - and somewhere where you can bring customers in, or bring other stakeholders from other parts of the business to work together in a shared space.”

Highlighting steps to scale the design-thinking mindset, Hart urged companies to seek external education to ramp the key employees; transfer the skills with outcome-specific workshops (“create the light-house"); cycle project teams through to broaden benefits through the shared space; cement the mindset with design leadership; and don’t forget the loose ends and don’t stop (people that don’t normally interact with customers including HR, procurement and legal).

“It is like learning another language. You have to internalise a new way of thinking, but once you start learning the language of design, then you can begin spreading it and democratising that skillset across your organisation,” Hart said.

Customer-centric moves at Australia Post

Australia Post chief customer officer, Christine Corbett, said her organisation is well placed to embrace design thinking and get the executive team on-board.Corbett's role was created in July last year.

“We’re making sure it is led from the top and it actually has that c-suite support, which is crucial. Because then people know you are serious,” she said.

Australia Post's Christine Corbett
Australia Post's Christine Corbett

In sharing Australia Post’s ‘secret sauce’ on customer strategy to attendees, Corbett said employees - which comprises of 54,000 staff - need to be part of the customer-centric journey.

“There are a lot of fads that come and go, so people need to know that you are serious about customer obsession. They need to know we are serious about working a different way, and that means it needs to be led from the top," she told attendees. "It needs to be felt and embraced by the people who face our customers each and every day.

“If you’re going to be customer-centric, customer obsessed, you have to get people to believe what you say. It has to start with putting the tools in their hands and listening to what they are experiencing. What are going to be your customer pain points, invariably are the pain points that your people experience every day.”

Corbett said Australia Post has rolled out a number of tools and programs to deliver enhanced customer experiences and address design led thinking.

In creating a customer-centric approach, one of the initiatives involved trialling a parcel delivery experience, which extended delivery until 8:00pm up until Christmas.

It also boosted resources in the complaints part of the business, introduced ‘how long’ a customer would be on hold in peak hours, introduced call back functionality, live chat and 24/7 service for small business customers. It also offers the Safe Drop app, which lets consumers choose to have eligible parcels left in a safe place.

“Customer experience is the new battleground. Customers these days want access, they want convenience and they want control,” she said.

In order to compete in this new battlefield, Corbett said the organisation focused on four key pillars: Creating seamless experiences; listening to customers and taking action; knowing its customers; and empowering its people.

“It is not enough to just design and think. My personal problem with the word design thinking is that that word turns off a lot of the more traditional executives because a lot of them want to be able to focus on outcomes. So design thinking has to be linked with outcomes,” she said.

Additionally, Corbett said it’s crucial to know your customers. Digital disruption over the last 10 years has revealed a new Australia Post customer, she said, explaining the operation has over 10 million customer interactions a day.

“We always used to rely on the person who paid us the money, which was the sender. They are the people we had a contract with, whereas now, we really need to focus on the receiver, the end consumer, who is really driving change. They are demanding more and causing us to adapt our business model and indeed how we go about the way that we work.”

To address demands, Corbett said the organisation rolled out a range of delivery choices, including MyPost, which enables users to receive parcels where and when they want them. Last July, it also rolled out an accelerated workflow app that allows employees to log and track a customer issue, and have it resolved within 24 hours.

In June, Australia Post will launch its community cloud platform, which is a campaign that will go out to every Australian, seeking answers to ‘‘what matters to you?’

“We aren’t going to create new initiatives for next year - you’re going to tell us what matters to you," Corbett said. "And this is going to be an online portal where we will be able to look down to a neighbourhood level, what are the things that matter to that community. How do we feed that information through to the local workforce? And more importantly do we do things about it? That will form our branding and marketing activities over the next 12 months.

“It is those sorts of things that actually drive customer obsession within an organisation."

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu


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