Category Archives: Experience Design

User stories & customer journey mapping

noun_1213168A big mistake that many organisations make when they try to map the customer journey is that they stick too close to their own perspective.

The result may be a customer view of their process map, but it’s not a true customer journey map.

Why not? The tell-tale problems are:

  • Too much detail
  • Ignoring context in customer’s life
  • Focused on products, processes & touchpoints
  • Starting too late in the journey
  • Finishing too early in the journey

How can we overcome this tendency to let the inside-out view dominate? The best way is to use qualitative research and allow customers to lead the creation of the journey map.

User stories are a really useful tool to make sure you approach the journey with the right mindset. They’re normally written in the form

As a__________ I want to__________in order to__________.

Doing this will allow you to stretch your view of the journey, so that you start when the customer became aware of their need, not when they first got in touch with you. This more accurately reflects the customer experience, and opens up opportunities for innovation.

It also puts the customer’s goal (not your product) front and centre. This helps you to make sure that the experience you design is addressing the right problem, and opens you up to the possibility of solving it in new ways.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

—Theodore Levitt

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The Graphic Gameplan

noun_75258My job is to give clients actionable insight about their customers.

“Actionable insight”—what a dreadful phrase! Can we make it a bit less management speak?

My job is to help clients understand what their customers want so that they can do a better job of giving it to them.

The trouble is that understanding is only the first step. If we stop at understanding we’re likely to do more harm than good. I like to quote Bruce Lee:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply.

Willing is not enough; we must do.”

Bruce Lee

So how do we turn our knowledge about customers, and our willingness to improve, into action?

You need three things: top-level commitment, buy-in from throughout the business, and ideas. To get them, you’re going to need to go further than simply presenting the results of your customer insight—you need to involve your colleagues in creating an action plan.

That means some kind of workshop. Workshops are great, but they can often be feelgood days that generate loads of ideas and enthusiasm with little in the way of concrete results.

Good workshops require structure. Build exercises to explore and generate ideas, but finish with a converging exercise in order to deliver a clear way forward. ‘Gamestorming’ is a great book I turn to when I need an exercise for a workshop.


One of my favourites for helping people move from insight to action is the “Graphic Gameplan“. The beauty of this exercise is that it forces participants to break ideas for improving the customer experience into specific actions, slotting them into a strategic timeline view. It leaves you with momentum, accountability, and a clear vision of what is happening next.

If you don’t have a gameplan for improving your customer experience, maybe it’s time to organise a workshop?

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Is it time for zero-based customer insight?

There’s a debate in marketing about the merits of zero-based budgeting.

It doesn’t necessarily mean spending less. What it does mean is figuring out, from scratch, what you need to spend in order to achieve specific returns.

Which sounds pretty sensible.

Mark Ritson discusses Unilever’s announcement that they are adopting a zero-based budgeting approach to marketing. His summary is useful:

The zero base approach is not a cost cutting method or belt-tightening approach. It’s just a better, more strategic way to plan your marketing. First you forget about the total spend and where that spend was allocated last year – hence the zero. Second, the marketing team do their research, construct their marketing plan and conclude it with a budget in which they ask for a certain amount of investment and promise a specific return for that investment. Senior management review the plan and either grant the amount or push back and ask the team to make changes.

The appeal to the business is obvious—it forces departments to be accountable for their spend, and do the work to justify it. It seems to me that we should think about working towards a zero-based model for customer insight.

Does that sound like a turkey voting for Christmas?

It might be if we all switched overnight, but I think the principle of accountability and being able to demonstrate return is important if we want customer experience to be taken seriously.

It’s important, I think, to make sure that budgeting doesn’t lead to prioritising short term returns. If a marketing team spends its budget on vouchers rather than brand-building then they’re almost guaranteed to see an impact on sales in the short term. But what’s the long term benefit?

Similarly, for customer experience, you need to understand the links between investment in particular transactional journeys and longer term customer attitudes and behaviours. The benefits can take a long time to filter through; but they’re real, and they’re measurable.

It’s up to us to start proving it.

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A simple test of trust

noun_29932I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about trust recently.

While researching my talk at our client conference this year, I dug deep into different theories and models of trust. The more I dug, the more I became convinced that trust is the single most important underlying factor in almost every aspect of our working lives; as organisations, employees, and customers.

Interesting stuff.

But it’s nice to step back from the detail sometimes, and reduce all of the theory to one simple idea. As he so often does, Seth Godin nailed it, and it’s a frightening thought:

Organisations routinely lie to their customers.

Seth gives the example of “unexpectedly high call volumes”, but we could think of a thousand more. Lies that we tell customers, knowing full well that they know we’re lying.

So why are we surprised that they don’t trust us?



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Are you Sherlock or Alexander?


Cause and effect is tricky.

It’s a natural human instinct to try to understand why things happen.

In fact we can’t help ourselves—psychologists have had fun getting people to ascribe narratives, personalities, and motivations to little animated shapes.

But we also know that we can be easily fooled, and that we don’t always agree about causes.


Experiment versus observation

Scientists have developed clear formal approaches to cause and effect. The randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, trial is the gold standard.

Unfortunately it’s not always possible to use a controlled trial.

Take smoking as an example. There’s no realistic way of testing the impact of smoking on lung cancer in an experiment; but almost everyone now accepts it is a major cause.

Getting there took a lot of work, and sensible use of the “Bradford Hill” criteria for establishing causation from observational data.


Do you need to prove it?

When you use customer insight as a springboard for service design or innovation, you are making assumptions about causes. Customers feel like this because we did that. Customers would feel like this if we did that.

Often that will lead to arguments about what we should or should not do.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to prove your guesses about cause and effect beyond reasonable doubt. That takes careful, patient, detective work.

More often the most effective approach is to take a leaf out of Alexander the Great’s book, and simply cut the knot instead of untangling it.

Either way, stop debating what to do—prove it, or decide.



If the ins and outs of causality interest you, have a look at this two-part article I wrote back when I had hair:

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Design vs UX vs CX

Maybe you’ve seen one of the several versions of this photo doing the rounds? “Design” versus “User experience (UX)”.

It makes an amusing point about the fact that the user experiences we design are often different from the ones customers create for themselves.


I think there’s a bit of a trap in this way of thinking, which is to assume that users are responsible for what happens when they deviate from our design.

We shouldn’t respond to situations like this with a rueful smile and a weary shake of the head; we should be asking ourselves why it’s happened.

For one thing, it’s an opportunity to design experiences that better match customer needs, rather than trying to channel them down some pre-determined choices.

We also need to be aware that customers will hold us responsible for the choices they make. One day (sticking with the metaphor in the photo) a customer will complain to you that their shoes are muddy because they took a shortcut.

If your member of staff says “Yes, we’re sorry, let us sort them out for you. Also, we’ll try to make sure you don’t have to take that muddy shortcut again.” then you can legitimately claim customer experience (CX) maturity.

Design versus UX versus CX.

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How segmentation can damage your customer experience

noun_254122Big organisations often seem to spend most of their time running segmentation projects.

Projects that will unlock deep insights into the motivation and behaviour of customers, drive up sales, and deliver exceptional, differentiated, customer service.

All of which would be wonderful, if it wasn’t the third big segmentation project in five years. This one won’t be any better than the last two, and secretly you know it.

Customer experience segmentation almost never works. Why? Because businesses assume that marketing segmentation and CX segmentation are the same thing.

What makes a good marketing segmentation?

Let’s start with what doesn’t make a good segmentation—lazy stereotypes. As Mark Ritson points out, that includes silly generalisations based on gender, age, or even generation.

“Clearly millennials as a generational cohort do exist – they are the two billion people on the planet born between 1981 and 2000. But the idea that this giant army all want similar stuff or think in similar ways is clearly horseshit.”

Mark Ritson

Good marketing segments are those which reliably predict which messages will resonate and who is most likely to respond, allowing businesses to target the right customers with the right messages.

Segmentation, in practice, is usually built on statistical tools such as cluster analysis or archetypal analysis, which brings us to our next question…

What makes a good statistical segmentation?

When we segment, we look for a way to group customers together that maximises the differences between groups while minimising the differences within groups. The customers in a group are not identical, but they should be similar to each other and dissimilar from people in other groups.


If you can find groups with big differences and little overlap, that’s brilliant. If not, even small differences in average responsiveness can be useful for targeted marketing (particularly in old-school direct mail).

Why? Because the cost of making the wrong judgement (i.e. not targeting someone who would have responded) is only the missed opportunity, it doesn’t do any harm. Marketing segments can be useful, even if they’re not very good. The same isn’t true for customer experience.

What makes a good CX segmentation?

Bad CX segments have the potential to harm your customer experience.

If you can genuinely find segments which are clearly separated, that’s great. More often, in reality, segments are barely differentiated, with a lot of overlap. Unlike choosing whether or not to send someone a piece of direct mail, making the wrong judgement about which customer experience you offer can have serious negative consequences.

Rather than tailoring the experience, bad segments make feel customers that they have been slotted into clumsy, stereotypical, boxes.


So should you give up on trying to segment customers? Not at all. But stick to a few rules for safe CX segmentation:

  • Segments should increase choice, not diminish it
  • Segments which reinforce stereotypes are usually toxic
  • Segments should clarify which needs exist, but…
  • Segments should not be boxes to put people in
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Too early to tell or too late to change

DonkeyEdward Tufte, the “godfather of information design”, has a really interesting take on how people resist changes.

Products existed only in two states: either too-early-to-tell or too-late-to-change.

Think about some examples from your own experience, and I’m sure you’ll start to see how insightful this is.

Variations on too-late-to-change are:

  • But we’ll lose our tracking data
  • That’s what we’ve said on the website
  • Everyone else does it this way

You might see too-early-to-tell in the guise of:

  • Let’s gather another month of data before we decide
  • We’ll wait until the new director starts next month
  • That’ll be addressed by a project coming down the pipeline

The solution for both is to commit to action, now.

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Why journey mapping is an effective metaphor

In this video Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the creators of South Park, discuss what they have learned about storytelling:

One crucial point is to avoid chaining the events of a story together with “and” (e.g. “This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened…”).

Good writing is based on events linked with “therefore” and “but”, giving them a strong narrative drive. Garr Reynolds analyses the video with some great extra commentary.

This is one of the reasons customer journey mapping is such an effective tool. It forces us to acknowledge flow and dependency (i.e. “therefore”). It also makes lets us examine the points of pain which can derail a whole experience (i.e. “but”).

Customer journey as storytelling

Customer journey mapping as storytelling

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On copying

Pablo Picasso said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”.

Copying is how we learn.

It’s true when we’re children, and it stays true right throughout our lives.

As we become more expert, that copying tends to consist less of aping and more of blending diverse influences.

But it’s still fundamentally copying.

Copying allows us to explore process and understand thinking.

It lets us get under the skin of how the people we admire achieve the things they do.

Counter-intuitively, copying is a necessary part of the creative process.

Which is why a rich vein of management books has focused on showcasing successful companies.

We hope to look at what they do well, copy it, and achieve the same results.

But what if we copy the wrong things?

What if we copy how they look, rather than what they do?

That won’t work any more than sitting in a cafe with a MacBook will make you a writer.

Let’s say you want to copy the experience John Lewis creates for its customers.

Not a bad idea.

You could try to copy the partnership model.

Or maybe start calling staff “partners” without even adopting the model.

Chances are it wouldn’t work.

Better to find a way to create an experience that feels like the one they create.

Business books tend to present the one secret to success, so you only need to copy one thing.

It doesn’t really work.

Companies like John Lewis are doing a lot of different things right to create the experience they do.

The only way to understand those things properly is to copy the experiences they create.

Good companies copy, great companies steal.

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