How design thinking is transforming customer experiences

There are a rising number of businesses that have had enviable success in the past but are nowhere to be seen now. Look around you- Facebook took over Orkut, phone cameras took over Kodak and blockbuster died as Netflix came along. These examples are all from unrelated businesses that have nothing but one thing in common- their failure to adapt to change and understand consumer needs. 

What does this mean for businesses in the times of disruptive economy and emerging technologies?

It seems clear that with the huge amount of data available about consumers, businesses may have more than enough information to know what exactly their consumers want. This is only true to some extent though and this is why smart businesses are evolving their entire business models instead of just focussing on business processes. 

This trend has led to three kinds of business transformations we see today

  1. Product businesses evolving into Products and Services
    Companies that have conventionally been purely about products are evolving to bring ecosystems that extend their range of offerings. Daimler and BMW ventured into the car rental business. Philips has repackaged their company as a home lighting solutions provider. 
  2. Service businesses having products in their portfolios
    Service businesses are extending their niche and launching their own range of products. Take Amazon for example. They started off as a service business that now has successful products like Amazon echo, Kindle and Fire Stick. 
  3. Ecosystems that are customer oriented
    his is where a large number of companies come into play. A large number of  businesses have begun to understand the value of building an environment for their consumer where they can offer amazing experiences to every potential customer.

Brick and mortar stores are using augmented reality and bringing a good in-store experience on an online platform. E-commerce platforms on the other hand are coming up with physical stores. This is an example of businesses that create consumer oriented ecosystems. It not only simplifies a customer’s buying process, but also gives them a delightful experience. 

What today’s customer wants

Though there is a vast magnitude of transformation in how the businesses are reinventing themselves owing to digitization and the margin between environments, services and products is getting thinner, a question we must ask ourselves is - Is this enough?

Today’s customers are different and want seamlessly connected environments. If you have a well designed state of the art e-commerce platform but a shoddy check-out process, the customer won’t think twice before abandoning the cart, never to come back to your business again. A list of cart abandonment rate statistics states that a complicated check-out process is the number one reason for customers abandoning their carts on e-commerce stores. 

Businesses however are realizing that whether it’s B2B or B2C, it’s important for their organizations to build relations with their customers. 

This is where Design Thinking comes into play, by filling the gap of human element required in the process of building delightful customer experiences. 

What is Design Thinking ? 

Designing thinking is a methodology that targets a customer’s needs or their problem by creating products, services and experiences using an amalgamation of technology and creative skills. This methodology is centered on a process. 

When they do this, businesses have a way of differentiating themselves amongst the competition. They can also keep up with what their consumers expect- in real time. But the foremost benefit of employing design thinking in their business model is that companies can build an empathetic alignment with their end user. 

The origins of Design Thinking

Designing Thinking as a phrase has been around since as early as the 1950's, especially in the architecture and other design related fields. Over time, the concept was adopted and popularised by the founder of IDEO, David M kelley. 

Design thinking is in direct contrast to companies creating solutions based on their business’s desired outcomes. On the contrary, it is the philosophy that problems can be solved by creating solutions and experiences around customer's needs and wants. 

Design thinking holds the power to disrupt markets, if it is done well. This is because design thinking doesn’t assume that the existing systems that many consumers have grown used to (but may dislike), need to exist. 
In Ruth Crowley’s (CX expert and VP of CX design at Lowe's) words , “everybody is catching up (to design thinking)”. 

How the mindset of marketers needs to change in order to leverage the best of design thinking

To enable a design oriented methodology, or in fact any methodology that is bridging the gap between customers and companies, first the business needs to realize two things 

  1. Accepting design as a business enabler 
  2. Change in the mindset of marketers with respect to collaboration, communication and the courage to think and do different things. 

“The competition for the customer absolutely includes experiences in all sectors, which speaks to the heightened need for a more disciplined design process,” Ruth Crowley was quoted in an interview with a source. “The challenge is it requires a little more patience and a lot more inclusivity and tenacity”, she said. 

Design thinking practices are spreading around the creative ecosystem, thanks to the experience economy. According to Forrester’s CX predictions, user experience designers are moving from being a doer to leaders.

In other words, advocating for design thinking will require designers to communicate why design and design thinking is so important as more companies demand bottom-line results from their CXM. 

McKinsey and Co. calls have touted design as a business building activity. According to a report based on their studies done on the business values of design, the numbers say that companies who employ efficient design practices in their everyday decisions and processes enjoy boosted revenues by about 32% over their counterparts. 

They also did a study on design practices. Their findings that services, products and experience design are merging in today’s times leaves a lot for businesses to learn. Take Nespresso for example. They put working coffee machines in stores. When customers used them, the brand got insights into evolving their offering by studying how the customers fixed themselves a cup.

“We learn so much by seeing experiences in the field,” said Tonya Bakritzes, CMO of Isobar US in an interview with a source. “Companies should understand that they need to employ teams that are constantly measuring, gleaning insights, and optimizing to meet consumer needs.”

Balancing the act of good design vs early design

Becoming a design thinker and taking this approach isn’t an organic move for most businesses. Design thinking requires the delivery of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in as less time as possible, sometimes even when it’s in the prototype stage. The goal is for improvisations to take place as feedback rolls in.

This can complicate some aspects of experience management because today’s customers have become so demanding that they measure brands based on not only what their experience with your brand is, but also that of your competitor’s. 

“It’s a balance, but being the first to advance shouldn’t mean sacrificing the thoroughness of the process or the quality of the end product,” Tonya Bakritzes told a source. “A high-performing agile program should be working iteratively toward a broader experience vision, rooted in consumer insights and data. It should also be empowered to adjust its course as new insights are gleaned from experiences in the market.”

Design thinking boils down to execution. If your minimum viable product can deliver a great customer experience that is based on insights and data that understand your customer’s needs, emotions and problems- and is also built with a state of the art design- the risk of delivering that product becomes much less in terms of losing a potential customer.

Design iterations as an open ended process 

The thought that “information is power” can get in the way of design thinking requiring collaboration amongst teams. What teams must realize is that information is power, only if it’s shared.

Continuation of design thinking is as important as activation. It is an open ended process that needs continuous iterations. There can be tensions between the creative team and the technology team. These differences can and will be brought to surface by design thinking. Similarly in retail, merchandisers will have different opinions on what the consumer wants, than the viewpoints of marketer.

It is the responsibility of CXM leaders to be the bridger between various collaborators to pull off the design sprints. 

They must be the guide and the interpreter for everyone’s voices.