Even customer-driven businesses have their challenges
It’s true that when it comes to being customer-centred and design-led, each organisation we work with is at a different level of maturity. Those that are furthest to the right on the maturity scale have their problems too. Right now, on their grand journey towards customer-centeredness and being truly adaptive and design-led, these organisations are grappling with several new challenges:
Connecting the whole organisation, not just the few, to the customer experience challenge.
There are no longer any organisations we work with in which we find people who don’t appreciate that the experiences their customers are having impact the business’s bottom line. Yet, not every individual has a practical understanding of how their role impacts the customer and many well-intentioned attempts to embed customer experience principles have failed for this reason. It’s easy enough to appreciate the role you play if you speak to customers every day. It’s easy for those in a marketing role to see the value of a customer-driven proposition and a service that delivers it. It’s much harder when you’re in a role that’s distant from the end customer, when you perceive that you only have ‘internal customers’. It’s especially hard if your job is explicitly to make or to save as much money as possible for the company. Yet, more of our work is commissioned with the purpose of broadening the extent to which organisations are customer-centred, to take these perspectives and practical methods to parts of organisations were previously they were seen to have little relevance, for example: in financial management, corporate HR, corporate IT, legal and compliance, procurement or facilities management.
Today, we’re running projects with such departments and functions to include them in the development of visions for service and in the design of the customer experience. We’re also working with functions traditionally distant from end customers to help them interpret the vision and principles in their role. These projects have a dual purpose: to design a better business function, which ultimately improves the experience for customers, and to equip the people who ‘are’ the service (including the functions invisible to customers) with the understanding and practical approaches needed to play their part.
We’re also seeing more mature organisations applying their customer experience design tools and ways of working to the colleague experience and to interdepartmental services and business processes such as procurement, commercial and human resources processes, for example, the recruitment process.
Ensuring the whole organisation, not just the few, understand what it means to be design-led.
The organisations we work with today are very different from those we worked with when Engine began in 2000 (although ironically some are the same brands albeit with very different businesses in a very different environment). Back then it was very difficult to get many of those we worked with to appreciate that Design was about more than what something looked like. The need to design websites for the ‘World Wide Web’ and specifically Steve Jobs and Sir Jonathan Ive changed many businesses’ perception of the value of Design to business. Yet, Design was still a delivery activity rather than a strategic or organisational one.
The emergence of Customer Experience as something businesses had to think about and of the Customer Experience professional meant that the ‘experience’ became the ‘product’ and could be considered in the same ways as businesses had previously thought about their products. The customer experience became something that could be designed. This opened the door to the application of tools originally developed for industrial product design and human-computer interface design to the design of services and experiences. The central idea of ‘user-centred design’ combined with ideas of customer-centred marketing and design tools combined with marketing ideas (for example, Service Blueprints) to form a new toolkit for customer experience design and a new role for Designers.
Over the last five or six years, we realised that designing a new service and experience is relatively easy compared with the challenge of designing a really great one – and more so, making it happen. We also realised that often, in the process of running our process, the people we were working with changed too. We began to see the value of the approach and process itself as part of getting new services and experiences out there into the world.
We think we’re on to something. Simply put, Design is the considered application of insight and imagination to solving problems and improving the things we do and use. That something works well and looks great is important, but only as a means to an end. The objective of good design is a better way of living. And because this is what it is, design thinking and tools can be used to improve the approaches people take at work as well as to the solutions they create. And we’ve seen first-hand how using such tools and working in these ways helps people to think and work differently, not just while they are working with us on projects but in their jobs and with their teams.
The challenge is that this is a very big idea and strays far from many people’s experience of design and of Designers. Promoting this idea more widely in even the more mature organisations will take time. Unfortunately, the Design industry isn’t helping to clear up the confusion or make the case for the value of Design beyond its direct role in product development. Many in the Design industry still describe their value solely in terms of the designed ‘output’ not in the value to the organisation of the design ‘process’ and tools, nor as a ready-made approach to creative and constructive collaboration across departments and disciplines – a valuable social technology.
Creativity and bridging the imagination gap.
This is the hardest challenge of all to crack even for organisations sailing across the customer-centeredness maturity scale. It’s vital to build a robust design process, and the tools described in this book will help immensely. However, there’s no getting away from it, challenging and imaginative ideas are needed and these remain hard to summon on demand. More than ideas, organisations often falter because key people struggle to take the leaps of the imagination required to either, appreciate the problem the organisation is facing, or that there might be better ways of serving customers.
In preparation for larger programmes of work with organisations, or at a point when more people need to be involved, we run training workshops in which we train teams in the customer experience design process and the tools we use. As part of training we often discuss creativity and find ways to make it more accessible to people who don’t see themselves as creative. Let’s be honest, some people are more creative than others. They just are. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to make original ideas and challenging perspectives more likely, as we’ve explored in the chapter, Think Like a Designer. Using the tools and asking the questions we’ve set-out in this book are a great starting point.