Category Archives: Experience Design

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.

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?

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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?

SherlockAlexander

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

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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.

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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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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:

http://www.mtvu.com/shows/stand-in/trey-parker-matt-stone-surprise-nyu-class/

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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The importance of risk in service innovation

Rock climbing is different to many sports because it is a little bit dangerous. The psychology of a successful (long-lived) climber cannot simply be “go for it”. Business is much the same—we know we need to take some risks in order to succeed, but which ones are reasonable?

Yes-fail and No-fail

The sports psychologist and climbing coach Arno Ilgner has a useful approach: climbers should consciously evaluate objective danger before deciding whether they want to attempt a move. He calls this judgement “yes-fall” versus “no-fall”.

Separating out judgements of difficulty and danger enables us to be both safer (we don’t get lulled into danger by easy climbing) and bolder (we can risk failing on a hard move if we assessed it as safe to fall before starting). If we never risked a fall, we’d never reach our full potential. I think there’s a clear parallel here with innovation, and particularly with service innovation.

Jeffrey Baumgartner writes about an innovation process he calls ACT or Anti Conventional Thinking. One of the most powerful ideas in his approach is that the risk-averse part of our brain he labels the “mental bureaucrat” is merely silenced in a traditional brainstorm.

That’s why brainstorming produces stacks of mediocre, conventional, ideas. Not bad ideas, necessarily, but almost never creative ones. Being anti conventional means not just silencing the mental bureaucrat, but actively opposing them.

The mental bureaucrat is the organisational equivalent of self-preservation. Unless we actively judge that we’re in a “yes-fail” zone (like Ilgner’s “yes-fall” zone), we’ll always tend to play it safe.

It’s easy to think of “no-fail” situations. When we’re dealing with a customer that has already been let down we cannot risk any sort of failure, so now is not the time to try something new.

But what about the rest of the time? When do we put ourselves in a “yes-fail” situation. How often to we deliberately separate out the act of thinking about customer experience versus the day to day of doing it? Do we prototype creative new experiences to see how they might make people feel?

Givens and delighters

There are aspects of the customer experience which do not lend themselves to creativity. We tend to call those “givens” or “satisfaction maintainers” – things with a high cost of failure and low reward for success. But to create a really great customer experience, I believe you have to be prepared to accept some risks.

The most important, and it really does set the best apart from the rest, is trusting your staff. Humans have an amazing ability to react flexibly to the customer in front of them and anticipate their needs. Perhaps one day computers will be as good, AI is a topic for another post, but they’re nowhere near there yet.

That creates huge opportunities to delight customers, if your staff feel empowered to act on their instincts. It requires a culture that supports them…in other words a culture that will accept appropriate risks in order to achieve its objectives.

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