The allure of innovation has always been in the chance of finding the next “big thing;” however, businesses often find themselves on the treadmill of relentless innovation as markets mature and technology advances. In addition, innovation has a poor track record of delivering commercial success for businesses. Often, the value of the innovation requires a broader system of products and services for the true benefit of experience to be available to consumers.
Great customer experience is both a necessity and an advantage as competition for customers intensifies. Unfortunately those that use this to their advantage are often the nimble start-ups who emerge free from legacy constraints. They can often set the bar higher than many pre-existing businesses will be able to meet.
Yet the growing complexity of operating in the omni-channel world where the customer relationship is always on, makes understanding — let alone improving and existing customer experience a challenge for all. The journey a customer has with a business typically crosses multiple functions and managers. Customers often wind up dealing with a headless beast of experiences with inefficient communication and too many businesses make the mistake of assuming that superficial design efforts can fix the problems.
The age of image as brand is closing and fixing the experience at the 11th hour through brilliant design cannot create value that doesn’t exist. Businesses must accept the limitations of placing blind-faith in innovation and brand and focus on keeping customers engaged, without sacrificing the quality of the experience, while developing new products and grow into new markets.
The key is to understand that engaging customers in experiences they find value in. Innovation, brand, and customer experience all support this goal, but they aren’t the end-goals in and of themselves.
The successful businesses will be the ones that learn to navigate the most efficient course, keep the passengers happiest, build faster engines, all while keeping the plane in the air. They will use a new playbook that begins with understanding the strategic role of experience and how to use it to design products, services and customer interactions accordingly.
This playbook has a name: experience design. It’s based on a simple idea that everything a business does should be based on the following assumptions:
- An engaged customer is worth more than a loyal customer
- Engagement comes from meeting expectations, which means being relevant, which means providing value
- It’s more expensive to acquire a new customer than to keep an existing one, so figure out how to grow value for existing customers while they still are customers.
Experience design is not a checklist, a recipe, or a series of maneuvers; it is a way of thinking. It uses brand as a compass for identifying differentiated value and experience. It considers how products, services, and solutions play a role in delivering value over time and how this must be accounted for even in the early phases of innovation or the product design process. It considers all stages of the customer journey as opportunities to provide value and further engage customers. And it brings the concept of time to the table as a way of exploring options, innovation, implications, and interdependencies.
Experience design doesn’t replace innovation. It complements the efforts. Innovation should augment and extend the current portfolio and brand. Innovation for existing products, services, and customer experiences is low hanging fruit and doesn’t require hiring innovation consultants. It starts with visibility into how you act and then fixing problems and enhancing strengths.
Deeper innovation efforts can begin by looking at the interface between what is changing at the limits of value you provide and the emerging needs of your customer, since you will use value to drive adoption. And innovation can’t occur in a vacuum. It’s never too soon to start planning for how a new product or service integrates along the lifetime of the customer relationship.
Experience design doesn’t replace brand strategy, but pushes beyond the traditional approach of defining brands. It advocates using the concept behind the brand as a way to identify and define value for customers in ways that can be differentiated in the way that products and services deliver value. And this becomes the purpose and intent of the business — to deliver products, services, and experiences that deliver the value that the brand represents, as a way of giving the brand meaning.
But it also means measuring that value from the customer’s perspective, and continually investigating new areas of value that are natural extensions for the brand. When you look at the world in this way, it becomes easier and more natural to proactively identify gaps between what a customer may need or expect, and what they are likely to get. And this can also become a framework for ongoing evaluation and modeling change as new products and services are considered.
Experience design provides a way for the business and the designer to both discuss objectives and options. It creates a way for business to invite design to the table earlier, and understand how design can help solve problems. And it also helps businesses rethink how they engage design partners in ways that are more likely to produce success with less risk.
It’s time to start the conversation about how the integrated view of experience design can change how we pose and solve the problems ahead.
Patrick Newbery is Principal at Method.
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