What is Customer Experience Design?

In short, when we create things people love, they are more likely to buy them and use them. That is what former IBM CEO, Thomas Watson Jr. meant when he said in 1973, “Good design is good business.”

Katrina Alcorn, GM, Design at IBM

In today’s information-rich world, customers demand exceptional experiences. Customer experience refers to the overall interaction that a customer has with a brand. Customers form their opinions about a company’s products and services based on various channels and interactions.

To understand customer experience, let’s take the example of IKEA. The company has designed its in-store experience to be similar to its online presence. When you interact with IKEA, consider how you discover their products and services, how you feel about the physical and digital experiences, whether they are similar or frustrating, how effective their customer service is, and whether you would recommend them to others. The experiences you have with IKEA are carefully designed by their team of designers who consider the internal aspects of their services and the manifestation of an exceptional experience across their physical and digital touchpoints.

Customer Experience (CX) design is the practice of understanding, optimizing, and designing around a customer’s needs, emotions, and desires at each point of their interaction with a brand, from discovering the brand to customer service to making repeat purchases. CX design is holistic. It aims to create seamless, intuitive, and emotionally powerful experiences by placing the customer at the center of decision-making. CX designers empathize with customers’ needs and expectations while aligning with the business’s strategy and objectives. It is a multidisciplinary practice that encompasses elements of human-computer interaction, service design, business strategy, change management, and design thinking.

The Intersection of Service Design and Customer Experience Design

Service design and CX design are two powerful partners that work in tandem to ensure an exceptional customer experience. Service design is a design approach that focuses on crafting and improving services to meet customer expectations by considering both the customer’s journey and the behind-the-scenes functional processes in your business. Just like CX design, service design maps out the customer journey, identifies pain points, and optimizes internal services that ultimately impact the customer’s experience. By using both service design and CX design, organizations can ensure a seamless and positive customer experience across all touchpoints.

I love this image from Maarten Boks at boksdesign.nl that visually explain different experience design disciplines

Approaching Customer Experience Design

The role of a CX designer is critical to an organization’s success as they can work as a bridge between the business, functional teams, and the customer. The role involves conducting qualitative and quantitative customer research, analyzing and synthesizing customer data (e.g., the voice of the customer (VoC), market research, net promoter score data (NPS), and customer satisfaction data (CSAT), mapping current and future state customer journeys, design strategy, experimental testing, and co-creation with customers.

While a CX designer can create personas, journey maps, service blueprints, and other artifacts, the role of the CX design takes an organization-wide approach. It involves examining and documenting all aspects of a customer journey, but working across functional teams eliminate points at touchpoint in an experience.

To use the IKEA example again, as a customer, you should never know when you call customer service about your cabinet installation that you are being handed off to a partner vendor. The experience should be seamless between ordering the cabinets in-store, buying them online, and working with a vendor on installation.

Why Customer Experience Design Matters

By developing a strong understanding of a business’s customers and their needs, CX design can identify pain and gain points in a journey that leads to increased customer satisfaction, increased purchases, and ultimately differentiation, growth, and competitive advantage.

CX Design is also a way to create a unified vision across an organization. When customers have positive experiences, they become advocates for your business, they refer others, and they are more likely to remain loyal over time. Poor experiences or ones that mimic your internal structures, lead to loss of revenue, and erosion of trust and credibility over time. By putting CX design in an organization, a business can begin to break down silos formed by internal structures, politics, and personalities, drive customer loyalty and unlock growth opportunities.

Critical To Business Success

In this fast-paced, data-driven world where customers expect simple and streamlined experiences, businesses should strive to go beyond their internal thinking to create moments of genuine connection. CX and service design help transform thinking and unravel the complexities of understanding the customer’s journey. By prioritizing these efforts, organizations can prioritize more effectively and can ultimately create more positive experiences, ultimately leading to growth and success.

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