Katja Forbes: Pioneering change in customer experience management
- 14 November, 2016 07:57
Photography by Felicity Ieraci
While customer experience management and design is one of the fastest developing IT sectors in Australia and around the world, it isn’t well known - and very few experts are women. But Katja Forbes wants to change all of that.
Considered an an Australian pioneer in the field of experience management and design, given her active role in education, mentoring and business, Forbes wants to boost the industry profile, inspire companies to pursue the art of user experience and design, and encourage other women to get passionate about designing customer needs.
CMO: What is customer experience management?
It is a really exciting field to be working in. Customer experience, experience design or user experience is a blend of psychology, cognitive sciences, anthropology, understanding humans and bringing that human factor - the graphic design, the industrial design - together. It involves looking at things through that human centred lens, figuring out what is going on for the human beings who you are trying to deliver a product or service to, and then designing things to be frictionless, to be delightful. It involves delivering what the person needs, rather than what the business objectives might dictate that they choose.
Service design is going to get a lot of traction and companies need to be paying attention. It is the thinking behind all the customer actions that happen in a particular journey and interaction with the company. It looks at the employee actions and the underlying processes and staff actions that have to happen that the customers never see, and then holistically and consistently designing that entire experience.
CMO: Is it a growing discipline?
Ten years ago, my job didn’t really exist or at least it had less clear definitions. No one knew what roles such as information architect were about. It has been a massively growing and burgeoning are, as people understand that the tools and techniques you use in design can be applied to every kind of problem, and every kind of business. More and more businesses are seeking to choose to direct themselves in a particular way, more around the human beings who work for them, and the human beings who they are trying to sell their products and services to, rather than looking solely at the bottom line, or at gaining efficiencies or more business focused objectives.
CMO: Are you mixing your world with those in the marketing realm?
CMO: Can you highlight an example of a company that’s really adopting customer experience in the local market?
I had the great opportunity to work with Commonwealth Bank. It is one of the leading organisations in customer experience. When I got there, there was almost no experience design. It was very basic. In the six years I've worked with them, I’ve seen that company go from strength to strength and really adopt true customer experience principles and run their projects in a deeply connected human-centred way.
CMO: What are some other notable local projects you have worked on?
The most recent projects I worked on within CBA was a very large research piece, where we had a look at what their self-service offering needed to be. When I talk about self-service, it is about encouraging people to use their ATMs, and their intelligent deposit machines. As part of that, we did over 200 customer service observations, and 100 staff observations in branches all up and down the eastern seaboard. We were in uniform and we were watching to see how staff interacted with customers, using all sorts of different technologies - their iPads, the screens - and how they also interacted with the ATMs and intelligent deposit machines. It was about identifying where was the friction in the experience of people coming into a branch and choosing to line up for a teller, rather than choosing to use a machine that would do something for them a lot faster.
We’re currently working with Qantas on its digital offerings and some product offerings. We are also working with Transport for NSW, trying to help take a massive amount of content and figure out where it all belongs and who the right audience is for it. We are about to embark on another gigantic research piece for that as well.
CMO: What inspires you about this space?
I have the license to look under the hood of pretty much everything and figure out how it works and all of the intricacies and things that people never see. In doing that, it has given me the opportunity to find ways to make things better for people. My job is to make a difference. What are the research findings telling me about the difference that I can make for this organisation. How can I bring my techniques and tools to bear so they can make it better for the human beings that work for them, and better for those who are using the products and services.
Up next: What's stopping organisations from getting their heads around service design
CMO: Why are companies slow to adopt the service design mentality?
It is really hard. It is not a specialist skillset the majority of companies have. Australia has a limited number of people who have a really true and strong skillset in this. When companies seek support, they are not sure who to go to.
CMO: What advice can to give to others - particularly women - who want to pursue this field of study?
Back yourself. It is so important women who are wanting to go forward in business, do so as confidently as possible. There are always going to be times when you are unsure. Seek a mentor either inside or outside of your field who can guide you and advise at the times that you are unsure.
I believe success in this industry, and business in general, is dependent upon creating positive relationships with co-workers, industry and other change makers. Women who believe in themselves find that they can achieve these relationships relatively effectively, despite an environment in which gender bias, pay gaps and sexism often exist.
CMO: What is next on your bucket list?
CMO: What is your final thought or key takeaway?
Any company not paying attention to customer experience, what’s going on in that landscape and the activity, is going to get left behind. And they're going to get left behind badly if they don’t seek to understand it and seek how it can be applied to their businesses. Companies need to deeply understand the people that you have working for you, and who are serving your customers. It is a cost-benefit to any organisation. It is mad not to do it.