Design Thinking is the key to tomorrow’s excellent customer experiences

Author - Claus Pertou Østergaard. Ph.D. Concept Manager

At one of the year’s major Customer Experience conferences, CX Europe 2018, many presentations focused on one theme in particular: Design Thinking.

CX Europe 2018, one of the year’s most prominent conferences, brings together many different companies and consulting firms, who make the most of the opportunity to ‘nerd out’ in all aspects of customer experience.

In addition to the opportunity for exciting dialogs with a large number of the industry’s key players, the driving forces behind the conference are, of course, the many presentations by the organizers themselves, Forrester, and by a wide range of companies that are particularly successful in creating unique customer experiences.

Throughout the two-day conference, there was one recurring theme in particular: Design Thinking.

Various speakers and participants reiterated the point that Design Thinking is the way of the future for creating excellent customer experiences. This subject is therefore relevant for all companies who work professionally with customer experience.

Here I would like to give a brief introduction to this type of thinking in the light of the conference. Hopefully, it might help you in your work developing excellent customer experiences.

The global CX Index has dropped

At the opening of the CX Europe 2018 conference, George F. Colony, CEO, Forrester, explained that on the global level there had been a fall in Forrester’s CX Index Score.

Each year, the CX Index Score shows how CX Quality and CX Loyalty are distributed globally across industries and across more than 800 brands. It is a widely recognized indicator and an overall benchmark for global customer experience.

This has sparked many thoughts at companies and consulting firms in many parts of the industry. Why has the score fallen and what should companies do to reverse the trend?

This set the scene for the conference, and most of the presentations focused on the latter challenge.

Involve customers and make room for failure

One of the factors that many people believe is the reason for the fall in the CX Index is that customers are becoming increasingly demanding and are expecting an ever better customer experience. What might have been perceived as a good customer experience a few years ago is not enough to impress customers today.

There were two overriding and recurring takeaways from the conference in terms of how companies can enhance customer experience in practice:

  • Increase customer involvement in the development of products and services.
  • Create a culture where it is important to experiment and test – and not least where it is OK to fail.

These two points are fundamental principles of Design Thinking, which is closely related to User Experience, which in turn has a strong connection with Customer Experience.

We can therefore see a trend towards the principles of Design Thinking being implemented by companies who are striving to build excellent customer experiences.

As someone who has worked for many years with User Experience Design and Design Thinking, I am naturally excited about this development. I am also convinced that the active involvement of end users – customers – early in the development of products and services is the way forward if we are to succeed in developing solutions for a hyper-complex and dynamic market.

Let me explain.

Design thinking a part of future customer experience

The term Design Thinking is trending at the moment. Not only within Customer Experience and design, but actually in a large number of industries – and there is a good reason for that. Design Thinking is a mindset and a working method based on a series of fundamental principles that significantly reduce development time and put the focus on the end user from day one.

#1 Customer empathy and contextual understanding are vital

The first general point at the conference was about not just focusing on customers, but directly involving them. In the Design Thinking approach, product and service development is based on acquiring a deep understanding of customers and the problem or need that they are experiencing. This is achieved by means of familiar quantitative methods, but also with qualitative methods such as interviews, observations and shadowing of customers – and it is important that this should occur in the customers’ natural context in order to correctly understand the use situation.

The optimum method for creating a deep and empathetic understanding of customers is by immersing yourself in the organization, in the store, in the workshop or wherever you are looking to create a good customer experience.

Empathy is essential for success with a human-centered approach. It gives the company the opportunity to set aside its own assumptions about the customer’s needs and problems and to gain a deep insight into the users’ real needs and challenges.

Once the foundations are in place, product development can begin. Here again the customer is always part of the process.

In short, the Design Thinking concept consists of five stages, in all of which the customer is actively involved throughout several iterations:

  • Empathize – understand the customer
  • Define – identify the problem
  • Ideate – generate ideas
  • Prototype – create an actual product shell
  • Test – obtain direct feedback from customers

While the Define stage is about defining the problems from the customer’s perspective, the Ideate and Prototype stages focus on generating actual prototypes that can be tested with and by customers. Customers are thus continuously providing feedback on prototypes, which can basically range from sketches in PowerPoint or a visual interactive PDF through to impressive websites without any real engine behind them. In other words, they are just a visual shell.

My own experience shows that customers can easily relate to such prototypes. This allows you to quickly gain a valuable insight into whether or not your vision for the prototypes provides value. It gives you an opportunity, at a very early stage in concept development, either to modify functions in the prototype or to add new functions that you had not even thought about internally.

I also know of companies that have completely stopped product development early in the process because their prototypes simply did not provide any value for the customers. This saved the companies enormous product development costs, because they managed to fail fast.

This leads me to the second general point at CX Europe 2018.

#2 Create a culture of experimenting and failing fast

The conference offered some good examples from and about companies that have been very successful in implementing principles in their development of new customer experiences.

These included, among others:

  • 7-Eleven, which is identifying new customer segments and ultimately developing a new customer experience for them
  • The Telegraph, which is successfully reaching new target groups on social media with specially designed content
  • Credit Suisse, which is implementing a radical change in its development methods, so that Design Thinking will permeate every aspect of its development of new products.
  • And I could go on and on…

A common feature of this trend is that companies are creating a culture of experimenting with products and solutions, from the very beginning through to the product launch. The earlier companies test the prototypes that will show whether it is a hit or a miss, the better the final product will be, and the cheaper it will ultimately be to develop. The takeaway is that it is positive to fail – and preferably early in the process.

Companies are therefore working towards a culture in which it is acceptable to fail. It takes a long and determined effort to implement this cultural change, and even Credit Suisse, which has devoted a lot of resources to it, said that it was a journey that they were still on and that they still encounter internal resistance with the argument that “that’s not how we usually do things.”

If we look at Denmark, the trend is the same. Design Thinking is becoming more and more widespread among Danish companies. A survey conducted by the Confederation of Danish Industry and the Danish Design Center shows that 68 percent of companies that use design believe that it creates increased user understanding and higher customer satisfaction.

For example, LEGO has implemented Design Thinking in its concept development at a strategic level. Every year, they carry out around 150 ‘Design Sprints’ – a 5-day intensive workshop in which the team goes through all five stages in five days, focusing on the concept development of a single product or service.

CX Europe 2018 therefore began by asking why the global CX Index Score is falling. The rest of the conference generally reflected the view that one of the keys to creating excellent customer experience in the future will be the implementation of Design Thinking.

In this post I have merely scratched the surface of Design Thinking, and it will be exciting to follow and be part of future developments.

Claus Pertou Østergaard. Ph.D. Concept Manager

Claus Pertou Østergaard. Ph.D. Concept Manager

With a PhD In Mobile User Experience and several years’ experience of involving users in concept development, Claus works on designing user-friendly applications and solutions. In this, he also uses his expertise in Design Thinking.