Putting experience design and strategy in the spotlight

Tracy Brown

Tracy has 17 years of digital experience, working as a visual designer, creative director, UX, innovation consultant and service designer before compiling all of those skills into her role as an experience strategist. She has worked with a number of FTSE100 organisations, NGOs and startups across the UK, and also led ambitious research projects, such as designing a change to the Chinese medical referral system. This involved ethnographic research and designing a service prototype for AstraZeneca in Asia. Tracy joined DT at the beginning of 2014 and is now a strategic and UX advisor to multiple clients including Bupa, Coles, Macquarie, NAB, Hesta, Deakin, Beyond Bank, Kmart and ASB.

A few years ago, there was lots of chatter about the elusive UX unicorn; a mythical person capable of delivering everything from research to design to development. It became an obsession for the industry, sparking debate about whether this was the metaphor for how unreasonable our expectations of designers had become, while some felt it was what all designers should be aspiring to.

While those debates were happening, the world shifted, channels merged and we started seeing digital as a part of a bigger service offered to the customer.

Service designers then became the unicorn. They were going to design the entire ecosystem. It seemed like a perfect approach for a post-channel world. Except they, too, struggled to deliver on every expectation. In particular, service design can be a tough sell to clients, who want ROI as soon as possible, because the mapping and research phase can be lengthy. Often, you can only show a return when each opportunity for improvement or innovation is surfaced and broken down into work packages.

It then became obvious it was even tougher to get that experience implemented and supported by a business.

This is how we get to ‘experience strategy’ - part strategy, part design. Strategy is largely problem focused, setting up a framework for a solution at the end of it. In contrast, design is largely solution focused, basing those solutions on (ideally) a well-articulated problem. Combined, they have the best chance of getting a great experience up and running.

All strategists follow a pretty straightforward process:

  1. Uncover insights
  2. Find opportunities
  3. Set success frameworks

The design process picks up the baton here:

  1. Create multiple possible solutions, based on the insights above
  2. Test and learn with users
  3. Refine one solution

Some might argue these six steps are simply a design thinking process, which is somewhat true, but the balance is focusing on both ‘users’ at the same time - the consumer and the business. Experience strategists still put the customer needs first, as this is part of their DNA, but they ensure they understand how this aligns to the needs of the business and what the impact will be to develop and support the experience.

Let’s look at examples of what this all means in practice.

Step 1: Uncover insights

In short, it’s all about designing the right research around each phase of the customer experience across every touchpoint, such as stores, websites, social media, call centres:

  • How do customers become aware of the experience?
  • How do customers compare the experience to other options?
  • How do customers access to the experience?
  • What happens during the experience?
  • What happens when they reflect on it?
  • What happens if they choose to leave?

We then break their activity down into:

  • Their actions
  • Their feelings
  • The people, events and environments that are influencing their decisions

It is now experience strategists look at the ‘other’ users, specifically the business. What are the people, technical systems and operational systems doing in each phase to support every touchpoint? How are they contributing or detracting from the experience? Why?

Step 2: Find opportunities

Once you have a clear view on what is happening across the experience and where the gaps lie, you need to convert those gaps into opportunities. Sometimes these might simply be fixing what is clearly broken, in which case insights will lead you to opportunities very quickly. However, sometimes an opportunity requires innovation. To find these, you need to have the skill to connect the dots between seemingly unconnected things in order to create a new whole. That’s largely a creative process.

For example, when mapping the experience for an airline, it was noticed no-one was providing a messaging service for passengers so that they didn’t have to text their relatives as they boarded, before taking off, after landing, or after disembarking. It’s a small experience feature, and yet a valuable one for the passenger.

Step 3: Set success frameworks

Experience strategists create a roadmap in this step and look at how each phase can be measured through customer satisfaction, such as NPS scores. Another approach is to ask the business to mutually agree what a benchmark of experience excellence would be and distil those down into qualities you can measure.

To do this, gather a range of stakeholders and ask them to think about an app, website or service they like - one which has nothing to do with their industry - so they can think like a user themselves. Then ask them to describe their example experience and record the qualities they mention. Bundle similar qualities together into one before determining how you will measure that the experience is successfully hitting those qualities. For example, ‘easy-to-use’ can be measured by how easily a customer completes a task on an interface or through a service.

We aren’t unicorns but we have mythical powers

Other than connecting design to strategy, Experience Strategists exist to eliminate digital waste; making sure they are building the right thing in the first place while understanding how that experience should be built and how businesses and customers can both get what they need from it. Certainly they are part of the design process, understanding how to feed designers the right insights and set them up for success, but they are also here to help businesses to pivot around great experiences to the benefit of everyone.

Tags: customer experience management

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