We've published a series of blog posts that examine the findings from our research report return on investment in customer service: the bottom line report, looking at how the drivers of ROI are set to change over the next few years, and how organisations like Eurostar are beginning to implement and measure these new drivers.

In our next post we'll look at what this means for the people who design customer experiences. How do they go about designing experiences for increasingly demanding and complex consumer needs and desires?

Simon Smith is head of multi channel customer and employee experience at O2 UK. O2 can claim to have got many of the ‘hygiene factors’ right — they regularly top their sector in the UKCSI and they have a customer service director on their board. But Simon feels that many ‘customer centric’ organisations still fail to meet their customers real needs.


I've been thinking about why, when a customer is served, they often feel that their ‘real’ needs aren't met, despite the amount of investment in customer centricity by organisations such as O2.

After all, we purport to know so much about the consumer and their world — we collect all sorts of feedback about his or her satisfaction with our products and services and begin to design experiences accordingly. Yet something is missing; experience design faces a challenge (and an opportunity).

Experience design has been based on ‘fixing’ historical problems

Experience design is predominantly thought of as a skill to create change through customer centric processes, people and policy. We invest in listening to our customers and employees' functional needs based on previous challenging encounters.

As designers we fix these problems and can easily measure the positive impact of these response driven changes. But how far do they go toward making a customer’s experience positively memorable?

On the whole this makes things better for the customer rather than memorable. Our approach to change today is skewed towards learning from past experiences and then creating reactive change to common problems, or ‘repairing’.

“Surely you have my details, don’t you?” “Sorry, no” so we adapt process and systems, or “I was told by your colleague you would help” “I can’t”, so we develop the people skills and process.

We rarely examine our customers' delighted experiences. We invest huge energy in problem solving. Could we invest more energy in replicating those great experiences and focusing more on creating consistency in experience design and delivery?

The simple truth is that the consumer has become more demanding; tolerance and patience have diminished as our worlds centre ever more around enabling the simplification of our lives.

Move beyond problem solving: Explore (unvoiced) customer aspirations

The challenge is a significant one. Today when we talk about experience at board level, we often refer to investing in ‘evolutionary change’; traditional measured and manageable problem solving. This is understandable as we can identify and clearly articulate the size of the issue and understand the risk and the cost of failing our customers and employees.

However, to truly delight and surprise our customers and employees and generate a real leadership position for the business, we need to not just measure past experiences and fix issues, but pay more attention to what the consumer aspires to — even if they do not necessarily know they want.

In other words, we should do as futurologists do: use today’s insight as a mere benchmark for current wants and needs, and then project the process of design into creating the unexpected or otherwise unconsidered future.

Henry Ford asked why? in an innovative way

If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses — Henry Ford

We should start using the phrase customer centred innovation in customer experience design. Ford didn’t just design a quick fix to a problem — he innovated.

Innovation occurs from a deep understanding of your customers — their problems and their needs; expressed, or — where I see the real opportunity — unexpressed.

Suppose that Ford had asked a customer “What do you want?” and the customer had answered “I want a faster horse”. I’m willing to bet that Ford would have explored this a little further, perhaps using the 5-Why’s approach to root cause analysis:

Ford: “Why do you want a faster horse?”
Customer: “So I can get to the store in less time.”
Ford: “Why do you want to get to the store faster?”
Customer: “So I can get more work done at the farm.”

So the customer didn’t want a faster horse and we didn’t even need five questions to find out what they did want. They wanted to get more work done. And the car that Ford created provided that benefit. So Ford asked why? as an innovator and, much like our futurologists and designers, he must have also asked what if?.

Begin asking what if? in addition to why?

Take the example of baking a cake. What if we started the cake baking process by always asking why?

“Why do I want a cake?” draws out largely rational responses such as ”I am hungry, it’s someone’s birthday”, so we understand the rational challenge we have in needing to feed you. Great.

But ask…

“What if I bake a cake?" and you elicit a response such as ”That would be delicious.” Instantly you tap into the emotion and start to form a picture of what the experience of eating the cake is like.

Place this questioning into the context of customer and employee experience design and very quickly you start designing a vision for change which everyone from board level through to sales and service advisors can visualise and articulate:

  • What if we inspire employees to deliver great customer experiences?
  • What if we focus on the right customer?
  • What if we create differentiating experiences?
  • What if we deliver customized experiences to different customers?
  • What if we measure experience effectiveness at every touch point?
  • What if we get all touch points to work together?
  • What if we measure the economic impact of customer loyalty?
  • What if we adapt processes to support our customer experience goals?

Find new, non-transactional ways of measuring customer experience

Now place this theory into the context of current measurement methodology in live response feedback. We currently ask the how: “How was your experience?”, “How was the attitude of the advisor?” etc. through a series of questions with the request of an answer. This process is merely transactional and yet often seen as the route to validate change.

It is the verbatim survey responses that create real insight — “would be great if you served coffee”, “would really help if you gave a direct line”, “you need more staff” etc. These answers point to the crucial what if? and a real sense of what could shape the customer experience of the future.

The development of continuous dialogue with our customers through social media channels is therefore key to ensuring we hear more about the desires of our customers, not just a commentary on the past.

Front line staff are closest to customers and have the answers we're searching for

We need to understand that the answers we're searching for often come from the people closest to our customers. Front line advisors and assistants released from the complexities of the business and process architecture invariably ask What If? rather than Why?: “What if we could get complete visibility of our customers' history?”, “What if I could see the survey detail live?” etc.

Continuous dialogue between design teams and advisors is therefore critical in experience design change; internal communications and engagement strategies become ever more important in the development of experience design and deployment.

5 tips for better experience design in the future

To drive a change in the way we think about designing customer and employee experience we need to:

  1. don't just ask why?. Use research but at the same time find non-evasive ways of getting customers to engage with the brand and ask what if?. And don’t forget to respond.
  2. consistently recreate and deliver exceptional experiences by focusing on the things that are working.
  3. create a clear and continuous dialogue with your customer facing employees and experience design teams.
  4. use social media to draw out the desires of our customers and focus less on the historic issues.
  5. see internal and external communication as a key tool for experience change.

Simon Smith is head of multi channel customer and employee experience at O2 UK.

Do you agree with his thoughts on the future of experience design? Leave a comment below.

Further reading:

Find out more about the Institute

To ask a question or find more information about how the Institute can help you improve your customer service click here