Introducing the Customer Experience Eco System

Everyone understands the power of customer experience and how this continues to grow as a business focus. This is exciting times for retailers, but with this new focus comes problems.

The problem does not lie in the heightening of customer experience design as a business focus, it comes in how to actually achieve it! The world is full of "armchair quarterbacks" (those with no experience) publishing their views on how they think customer experience design should be done, leading retailers astray.

To make things more difficult, all documented approaches to developing customer experience design are fragmented. Specialists/experts only deliver small pieces of the customer experience puzzle, making it nearly impossible for retailers to pull it all together and turn this new business focus into reality.

This is the reason for this article. To deliver a clear holistic view of what is required to initially create customer experience design and how to nurture this design long term.

Introducing the Customer Experience Eco System

Over the years of working with hundreds of retailers, I have developed the Customer Experience Eco System encompassing customer experience design and the ongoing treatment and enhancement of customer experiences across each existing touchpoint and whatever touchpoint may come in the future.

Customer Experience Eco System

The bringing the Customer Experience Eco System to life

It starts with business strategy and the decisions behind what the retailer wants to deliver to customers. This is key. During the customer experience design phase, there will be numerous questions only the strategy can answer.

The actual process of developing the customer experience design (as shown in the diagram above) comes from the pulling together of three distinct stages:

Stage 1. Understanding the behaviours and motivations of existing customers. This is the process of pulling together the retailer’s knowledge of buying behaviours from various sources. Knowing the experiences or customer journeys that worked in the past can be exploited and bolstered in the new design.

For this stage to be useful, use as many different sources as possible. Some examples of useful sources:

  1. Employee knowledge. This can be in the form of project teams coming together from various departments. It's crucial to involve front line staff.
  2. Customer surveys.
  3. Mystery shops.
  4. Call center data. Finding trending data from incoming calls can provide clear insight into what is and what is not working.
  5. Personality development. There are specialist teams who can work with retailers to build customer profiles, but this can be costly and is reliant on the precise feedback and knowledge of the retailer in order to get it right.

The greater the number of reliable sources, the greater the accuracy and understanding you will gain.

Stage 2. Leveraging reliable data to understand existing online buying and information gathering behaviours. This stage also identifies site performance issues to be rectified and potential missed opportunities for the retailer to capitalise on. These missed opportunities normally come in the form of other new and unknown buying journeys that are working for the retailer.

These too become exploited in this process.

This is an enormous topic to cover, for now, understand the power and the need to gather the right data and having analytical specialists interpret this data to deliver the right insights. This type of skill set is not easily found inhouse.

Stage 3. The application of best practice layout and usability along with interaction cost management. This is the focus of reducing physical and mental effort in order to make the steps of the consumer journey as obvious and as seamless as possible. This is the science applied to the customer experience design process.

Stage 3 is more significant than you think.

I have worked with some of the top customer profile development teams in the world and have seen first hand their insightful work become wasted because of the inability to translate their customer mapping design into touchpoints.

If done right, stage 3 translates learnings from Stages 1 and 2 and prepares these learnings to be applied to touchpoints.

Translating strategy from Physical to Digital

As the customer experience design process (stages 1,2, and 3) mixes the art (data and business knowledge) with the science (usability - interaction cost), something amazing begins to happen. The business strategy morphs into a digital version of itself.

This is the missing ingredient or the “secret sauce” enabling traditional retailers to digitally evolve.

For years traditional retailers have had success in applying their physical retail strategies to build growth and achieve business goals. And it has worked. But it will never effectively translate to digital on its own.

In the last ten to fifteen years retailers who have attempted to apply physical retail strategy to the digital channel have been met with failure. How many times have you seen traditional retailers struggle with their digital transformation? This is why.

The customer experience design process becomes the translation mechanism wrapping the strategy around the customer not only for digital touchpoints, but for physical ones too, delivering an omnichannel focus.

This process is not just for traditional retailers, its for digital savvy ones too.

Pure plays (online only retailers) are an interesting one, and often approach customer experience design differently. Many adopt a “fail fast” approach. In the context of the diagram above, they move right to the touchpoints with no view of approaching Stages 1, 2, or 3 in the customer experience design process, but what they do a very good job of is the continuous improvement function:

  1. 1. They do a great job of monitoring and collecting data.
  2. 2. They do a great job of building insights.
  3. 3. They respond quickly to the insights and apply changes to the touchpoints.
  4. 4. And drive this cycle aggressively.

Pure plays can do this because their business infrastructure is far more nimble than bricks and mortar retailers. Pure plays learn about their customers organically, from the bottom-up. This becomes their strategy.

Its no wonder many pure plays are successful in opening up bricks and mortar touchpoints. These online only retailers have driven the continuous improvement part of the process to a point where they have enough data to fully understand what their customers want from a new touchpoint. No guessing is required.

Stop Thinking “Mobile First”, think “Customer First”

Retailers who think “mobile first” or any of the “device first” approaches are not seeing the big picture. How do wearable’s fit into this philosophy? Is a “wearable first” philosophy not too far away?

The customer experience eco-system connects the consumer journey dots between touchpoints to deliver a unified experience across all and simplifies the ability for retailers to build and grow out the eco-system. Bricks and mortar stores and new devices (such as wearables) become merely another dot to connect in the eco-system.

Because the design of the customer experience transcends devices, the introduction of a new touchpoint no longer becomes an issue and in fact it becomes easier for retailers to justify and activate. Not following this approach would lead to new touchpoints being created in isolation of the others creating fragmented silos.

Techcrunch has this to say about a system-based approach for customer experience design:

The opportunity in designing for multiple screens is to create contextual experiences, designed as part of an overall system that enables customers to interact with you on the device that most suits their needs at a particular time or location.

But it’s not a “system” it’s an “eco-system”. “Eco-system” is defined as:

A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.

A consumer’s intent and methods of interaction are organic and evolving in nature and influenced by environments.

Thinking of this approach in biological terms fuels the need to be constantly monitoring and adapting the eco system to match the ever-evolving consumer.

Retailers need to free their minds of a design view starting with one screen and translating to others.

This is why retailers should not engage in the debate over specific design philosophies for varying screen sizes. This leads retailers to develop a siloed design view through the lens of a single device.

Continuous Improvement Process

The continuous improvement function then becomes the driving force of change enhancing the customer experience design. Without it, retailers will lose touch of their customers and will become yesterday’s news.

The continuous improvement function drives changes and enhancements to all touchpoints from this point forward.

The diagram above shows the continuous improvement process feeding the touchpoints ongoing.

Important note. The only time the three stages of customer experience design become re ignited is when the business introduces new strategic initiatives.

Introducing a new touchpoint (such as wearables) or a new service (such as click and collect) requires the business to work through all three stages of customer experience design to effectively and seamlessly contribute to the eco system.

These are exciting times for the retailer who understands customer experience design and how to harness it, but more importantly, its exciting times for the consumer.

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