What comes to mind when you think of an experience? It can be a feeling, a memory of an event, a special occasion, or some other occurrence of importance. When we think about experiences we’ve had in our lives they can be deeply intertwined with emotions. How we feel about events, encounters and other interactions within our lives, affect how we form judgments, build relationships and shape our perceptions. Our experiences are subjective and relate directly to how we view the world.
Now think about relationships we nurture in our lives. They are usually two-sided and require us to invest time, energy and love in order to thrive. It’s similar in relationships between an organisation and it’s customers; to remain relative, they need care and attention.
Why are experiences important to organisations?
How can businesses competing within similar areas, with similar products and services, stand out from its competitors? One obvious areas comes to mind, and that’s experience design.
So what is experience design? It’s a design practice that aims to connect organisations with their customers through meaningful interactions. Experience design is based on understanding customer needs, through research, observation, conversation, feedback and other means. Then taking this knowledge and using it as a basis for creating meaningful and tailored experiences (for both online and offline). For example, this could be designing a positive customer experience for an online registration form, or equally supporting a face-to-face sales initiative.
Who are you designing for?
Designing a meaningful customer experience is often easier said than done. And the success, or failure, in delivering a meaningful experience can depend on the design style a designer or team employs.
As Jarad Spool points out, in his article on design styles (Spool. J, 2009), some organisations use Un-intentional Design (developing without any customer consideration) or Self Design (designing for yourself or your own organisation). At the other end of the design spectrum Spool talks about Genius Design (decisions are based on previous project experience) and Activity-Focused Design (designing for user activities). And finally there is User-Focused Design (focusing on user needs) to yield best the customer experience.
"teams look in-depth at the goals, needs, and contexts of the users, using that information to drive decisions into depths the team can't reach otherwise." (Spool. J, 2009)
Using certain design styles may result in better outcomes for customer experience. In his article Spool does not merely make a simplified argument that Self Design is bad, while User-Focused Design is good. For instance, a team of bicycle designers, where members’ include active or semi-pro cyclists, may use Self Design. In this case Self Design would be a legitimate design style to use as they share an understanding of their customer needs through active participation. What’s important is to evaluate what design style will best meet the requirements of a specific project and deliver the desired experience outcomes.
Aligning the values
To help shape customer experiences an organisation must understand, care, and empathise with its customers. Understanding and empathy help us to recognise how we can affect and shape interactions by constructing mental models, recognising biases and shortcoming in our assumptions, and communicating in a way that doesn’t just cater for one learning type.
"In social interactions people have an impact on one another; we influence and affect each other. In order to maximize the effectiveness of our interactions, we need to be 'tuned in' to what effect we have on others and, to what effect they have on us." (Thompson, N. 2009)
Experiences, like learning, does not happen in isolation. Customer experience is not a passive one-way interaction that is managed and delivered. As people engage with organisations they ‘learn’ and form their own understanding and connections.
"Learning is a process whereby learners do not merely receive information transmitted. Instead, they [the learner] play an active and strategic part in making sense of information and constructing new knowledge on the basis of what they already know." (Bourke, R, & St. George, A, 2008)
Customers are more disposed to engage with organisations whose values align with their own, and importantly, communicate and offer a good customer experience.
"According to Forrester Research, the key factor of customer experience is perception; the feelings people have about a company, based on the sum total of their experiences from the first click of a website, right though to opening and experiencing the product." (Finlay, T. 2012)
You don’t really own it
If individual experiences are subjective, then can we really design them? In reality we can’t control an experience, or even guarantee a successful outcome will deliver the same customer experience for everyone. What we can do is support (and influence) the interaction in a manner that helps guide customers towards successful outcomes. To do this we need to understand the needs and motivations of customers, and not simply create easy-to-navigate task flows.
Aligning the experience to our customers' means understanding their drivers, expectations, communication style, learning style and how they want complete tasks and interactions. Consistent communication through all channels is important to give a familiar ‘voice’ throughout every points-of-contact an organisation may have with it’s customers.
"Sometimes we can confuse other people by giving 'mixed messages'. That is, we can give a confusing or contradictory message by failing to communicate clearly and consistently." (Thompson, N. 2009)
So why not…
For me it’s not a question of offline or offline experiences. Customers don’t necessarily view organisations with this mental model; for them all parts of an organisation may be perceived as a monolithic whole. So the challenge for organisations, and experience designers, is thinking about all the customer ‘touch points’ that require interactions.
If experience design leads to better interactions, more successful outcomes and deeper (and more meaningful) customer relationships, then the question is why wouldn’t you include the practice within your organisation?
5 Design Decision Styles. What's Yours?
Jarad M. Spool (2009)
Retrieved 14 Sept. 2012
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2012)
Retrieved 14 Sept. 2012
Thompson, N. (2009). People skills.
Chapter: Self-Awareness. (pp. 3–8)
NY: Palgrave Macmillan
Bourke, R, & St.George,A. (2008). Talk About Learning: Working Alongside Teacher.
Chapter: Understanding Learning Through Theory. (pp. 13–26).
Pearson Education, Auckland
Creating Loyalty by Connecting with Customers Emotional Needs
Tracey Finley (2012)
Retrieved 14 Sept. 2012