8 things you’re doing wrong with your customer experience design

By Ross A Hall on January 7th, 2017
8 things you’re doing wrong with your customer experience design

The customer’s experience is rapidly becoming the key differentiator between companies that do well and those that don’t. Whilst some invest in professionals and expertise to understand their customer experience, many are trying to tap into their existing employees. Unfortunately, the results can be somewhat hit-and-miss, despite everyone’s best endeavours.

Over the past few years I’ve seen several internal projects try and capture the customer experience. Most haven’t quite achieved the results everyone expected and a couple have been outright disasters. There are some common themes that have emerged which anyone trying to take on a CX project should bear in mind.

Not using data

The number one issue I encounter with experience design is a failure to use data. Instead of relying on solid research and analysis the experience is mapped out based on what someone thinks, folklore from within the business and some internal reporting.

Before pen hits paper start your research and analysis. I usually look across the business to see what’s already there and map it to show how it will support my Do / Think / Feel framework. I also check to see what data is being generated proactively (usually surveys) and reactively (reports on processes and performance). Where there are gaps, I’ll aim to fill it either by commissioning research or by using my own data sources. The result is a more complete picture of the customer’s experience supported by facts and with assumptions clearly understood.

Single channel

Increasingly customers interact with business through multiple channels, yet often I see experience maps that focus only on one (and usually it’s digital!) Even a pure on-line play is likely to have customers who expect to be able to drop out of the amazing digital tool that’s been built for them and can pick up the phone or fire an email at someone.

Prompt customers to tell you about other channels during your research. First, your new tool is likely to replace something they already use and understanding what that looks like and where they access it gives you insight into the problems they face. Second, you’ll uncover needs around other channels, whether these are direct interactions (such as needing phone support) or influencing (how they find out about your product in the first place).

The wrong focus

To paraphrase Douglas Adams, the customer experience is big; really big. While some companies will invest in strategic experience design, most will use it to support initiatives and projects. When this happens work is commission that is limited in scope to the project’s immediate needs and no more.

The project exists within a continuum of experience, and you need to understand what this looks like. This will help you understand how customers will start interacting with your new deliverable, the effect on interactions with other parts of the business and how they’ll exit it. Finding this out is as simple as asking, “what are they doing before they start using it, what else are they doing, and what do they do when they’ve finished with it?”

Being too specific

The customer experience map is a proxy that’s used to help inform decision making and detailed design. While it needs to be focused, if it’s too specific and detailed you risk creating something that inhibits and restricts later design decisions.

As a broad rule of thumb keep your customer experience design focused on what the customer is doing rather than how they do it. If you’re starting to get to the level of how individual screens look, packaging design or process flows you’ve gone too far. These are important things to do, but as a customer experience designer you always need to be able to step back, take the customer’s view and ask, “Is this something I’d do?”

Calling your sales process the experience

The starting point for a customer experience map is NOT your sales process (or any of your processes). This “inside out” approach to experience design rarely works well as usually assumptions about how the customer SHOULD behave start to dominate and you lose sight of how the customer ACTUALLY behaves.

Inevitably processes will emerge from the project and if you’ve done the work correctly you will be able to trace a line from the customer’s experience right the way down to a work instruction or user story. This is probably the area where there’s the biggest potential for conflict in a project as process owners will often proclaim their process is robust, efficient and works as customers expect, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

If the business decides to take a process-led approach your challenge becomes how to create a to-be experience that influences the customer to accept the process as the way of doing things.

Ignoring the stuff you can’t see

There’s a lot that happens inside customer experiences that you wouldn’t typically see. The customer might use reviews, be influenced by peer groups or seek the advice of professionals, none of which appears in process maps and satisfaction surveys.

If you’ve designed your research correctly these will be flushed out. However, you can expect resistance to acknowledging them as components of the experience, or as areas that need to be addressed.

Confusing document and design

Creating a customer experience map is often seen as the end point. Once the map has been produced and carefully presented it sits on a wall and everyone is happy at a job well done.

Having captured the “as-is” now comes the “to-be”. You should be looking through your experience map to identify all those places you can improve: from fixing customer pain to tapping into new opportunities. Most likely these will become the core of the requirements for the project you’re working on and as the person closest to the customer you’ll be expected to guide user experience designers and service designers in the more detailed solution design.

Form over content

If lack of data is the most common issue I encounter this is the most infuriating. I’ve encountered too many projects where considerable amounts of time are wasted debating the style of the map, producing clever videos and over engineering design; time that would have been better spent on the content judging from the end results.

Teams must be able to understand, relate and refer to experience maps, so simple is better. I use PowerPoint and Keynote and have standard layouts and icons that I use as the starting point on every project I work on. It removes a whole layer of debate about what software and styles to use and focuses us on what goes into the work. Of course, later my simple, clean, effective documents can be reworked by graphic designers more capable than I!

You can make it work

As a freelancer I would love every company trying to understand their customer experience to give me a call, but as a realist I know some will try and make their own way. That’s a perfectly valid decision.

When you make that decision go in with your eyes wide open. Be ready to work with a lot of data, don’t constrain your thinking to whatever problem you think you have now and don’t waste time producing something beautiful to look at and devoid of content. If you do this and nothing more you’ve a better chance of finding those nuggets of insight that will lift you a little higher than your competition.



Image by Peter Dahlgren and used under a Creative Commons Licence

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My name is Ross Hall.
I design effective, profitable experiences.
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