Experience Design: Crafting Solutions and Driving Customer Behavior

To excel at Experience Management (XM), it is always important to look at challenges and their potential solutions from the customer’s perspective. That may never be more critical than during the experience or service design process.

Service design begins with, and is fully dependent on, developing a deep understanding of the customer experience within your organization – plus what your customer is experiencing in life outside of their interactions with your company. It goes well beyond the transactional phase. It depends on utilizing your operational data to define the demographics that are representative of segments of your customer base. Even more importantly, it takes building empathy and an emotional connection with your customers.

Begin at that point of understanding, proceed through the time-proven service design process, and your team can deliver results – results that not only solve problems but elicit positive emotional responses and ultimately propel customer usage and influence business outcomes.

First, as described above, use available operational data to define customer segments. Depending on the size of your customer base, you may have several segments. Select the customer segments that are most representative of your customer base to create personas.

Personas help your organization visualize who your customer is, creating a more human connection. A persona should use demographics from the customer segment to describe age, occupation, family life, likely behaviors and actions as well as needs and pain points. If you don’t have all of this information available, fill in the gaps with additional qualitative research, such as conducting customer interviews. It’s common to name the customer segment and create a fictitious name and image for the persona representing the segment.

Once you have your personas created, select the persona that will resonate most for the service design process. You are now ready to host a service design workshop. Participants of the workshop are commonly cross-functional employees at all levels of the organization. It’s important to include those who are not customer facing in addition to the frontline employees to help the organization understand that every employee is responsible for experience management.

Using the persona, develop an empathy map at start of the workshop. Discuss what your customer might be seeing, hearing, thinking, feeling, doing, and saying in relation to their demographic and experiences within and outside of your organization. The persona and empathy map should be referenced throughout the service design process.

Based on the persona and empathy map, as well as insights you have already gathered about your customer experience, start to brainstorm problems your customer could face that your organization might be able to solve. In order to be comprehensive, there could be as many as 50 problem statements. If you are working in small groups, each group should narrow down to one unique problem statement. These can then be narrowed down to one by voting or through section based on largest impact or known issue. Once you’ve selected the problem you plan to solve for, apply the “five whys” method to ensure you are solving for the right problem to refine and finalize the statement.

Your team must fully understand the current state of events regarding the challenge, which can be assisted by building a journey map of the customer’s experiences and emotions. It can also be helpful to create a parallel journey map outlining employee encounters.

The next crucial step is ideation, or brainstorming ideas to address the problem. This is an opportunity to dream about the future state of affairs. There should be no limitation on the number or extent of proposals. This is the time for out-of-the-box thinking without any restrictions or judgments. Consider what others are doing as best practices both in your field and outside the industry as well as what your persona expects compared to other experiences.

This can also be one of the most difficult phases to execute. All who participate must be clear on the “rules” and supportive of the open concept. If not, too many ideas may be cut off before they are fully vetted. One way to accomplish this is to focus on “and” statements instead of “but” – “this is a good idea but …” needs to be avoided at this time.

At this stage, ideas don’t have to work – you just have to think they might work.

Next, the ideas must be narrowed down to three. This can be accomplished by asking a series of questions:

  • Is this something the persona would want?
  • Is it something your organization could implement?
  • Is it financially viable?
  • How difficult would it be?

An impact/effort matrix is another complementary method of analysis. Ideas can be plotted on the matrix to determine potential effects compared to the resources required to achieve those results.

After a top idea has been selected, prototype development takes place. Success measures must be defined, but this series of concepts is often less formal than a final product or feature. The prototype can be tested by soliciting feedback from within and/or deploying a pilot with some customers. Implementing a QR code that links to a brief survey can lead to helpful data. All information gathered and potential results/impact are used to continue to make revisions.

Finally, take all the information gathered to make the ultimate decision on whether to proceed. If a go, how big will the project be? If a no, go back to the next idea, do a prototype, and proceed through the ensuing steps. Remember, it’s not unusual for the first idea in a major project to be unsuccessful.

Depending on the magnitude of the challenge, service design can be structured in a variety of methods. A two-day immersive workshop puts a singular focus on problem identification, brainstorming, and ideation. On the other side of the equation, a six-month timeframe, with group work taking place between formal team sessions, is also feasible.

No matter the approach, service design should be considered cyclical. It is not a one-and-done effort. As one problem is solved, it is likely that new ones are forthcoming. In addition, the steps within the design may not always be sequential. As solutions are tested and prototypes revised based on feedback, new ideation may be taking place.

As mentioned earlier, be sure to avoid any limitations during ideation. Similarly, it can’t be emphasized enough that success depends on fully embracing the customer point of view. The company’s processes and procedures are irrelevant to the end user. They are focused on results, not how they are achieved.

Another caution area comes in the prototype stage. Be sure not to underestimate the significance of the change that is being proposed. Often, not enough time is allowed to see the impact of the modification. The more complex the solution, the more patience is required.

Most importantly, dedicate resources to ensure successful prototypes are implemented and not let go. Share the story internally and externally about what you heard or discovered, how you made a change to improve the experience, and what the impact was to your customers and employees. You want to ensure your employees see their effort was not wasted and your customers see the impact to their experience.

Yes, the goal is customer solutions. Yes, that customer viewpoint is essential. But the benefits to your organization should not be forgotten.

Done right, service design benefits include getting the creative juices flowing for your team, establishing buy-in, helping overcome the status quo, creating a standard for evolution and improvement, and identifying and recognizing champions for change.

Employees from across the organization can participate in service design. They can apply to be part of the team or can be invited based on their potential contributions. No matter who is involved, the collaboration and camaraderie are huge pieces of the equation.

People, some of whom may never have worked with each other, can come together to create solutions. Tremendous satisfaction is a vital byproduct when employees truly connect with customers and help solve problems. 

Those solutions provide opportunities for the communication and marketing teams within your organization to tell a story of company teamwork, client service, and potential industry-changing innovation.