Today it's possible to connect with customers across channels and touch-points, and on a wide range of devices.
There's vast potential for innovation and differentiation, but there's also the same vast potential to open Pandora's Box if emerging technological marvels are applied without a focus on the customer first.
As a design leader working to deliver great experiences to customers in this fragmented ecosystem it's important to focus on the fundamentals first - it's critical to remember that the technology is just the enabler: A successful connected experience will be one that provides value to customers, and to your business.
Here's the key steps in the process for designing for inter-connected experiences:
1. Understand your customers
Forget technology for a moment. You need to deeply understand your customers first. There's two key inputs you will need:
- Gather qualitative research insights through 1:1 customer interviews, group sessions, shadowing and other observation methods.
- Combine insights with quantitative customer data from your business teams in order to highlight areas for improvement in the customers' experience, and those that can also drive the most business value.
A great way to bring this all together is with a journey map. Journey maps can can bring together a deep understanding of customer motivations and challenges, the business opportunities to meet those needs, and the measures of success.
Mapping your customers' journey over time also helps align stakeholders in seeing the big picture, whilst also retaining the fine details. I often find making these physically huge can be a major plus - it's hard to ignore your customers when a visualization of their pain takes over an entire wall in your head office!
Here's a great primer from Adaptive Path to get you started.
2. Explore opportunities for contextual enhancement
This is where we start to consider how we might apply business resources and technologies to enhance the customers' experience in different situations and over time.
Unlike a single-channel design solution such as a brochure or a website page, connecting experiences across channels and touch-points will have customers trampling all over your internal silos - and so a wider range of inputs is essential.
Start by bringing together a cross-functional team to explore ideas for connecting customer experiences.
Consider how users changing context might be used to trigger events to occur or for valuable content to be delivered through location-based/proximity technologies such as Beacons, for example:
- Killing time while waiting for a response for a complex action or request
- Calling up customer services from a web page with a specific problem
- Accessing a smartphone app in a physical location to do a comparison
- Moving from one location to another
Understanding Context by Andrew Hinton offers a comprehensive exploration on assessing, visualizing, and designing contextual experiences.
At the heart, it's simply about delivering relevant and valuable content and experiences to your customers wherever and whenever they are.
3. Design your data needs early
Another key difference with designing connected experiences is the need to understand what data you are going to need in order to deliver a better experience.
Building trust with customers is absolutely critical, as is clearly showing the value you are offering in exchange for requesting specific information.
Increasingly detailed examples of data you could use to offer a better experience include:
- Time of access
- User location
- Motion (or lack of motion)
- Previous interactions
- Account history
- Social graph
- Fitness tracking data sources
- Credit card details
Consider what other data sources you need to bring together and plan for how you will access it, and what implications this has for the user - do they need to accept anything, are they being bombarded with requests?
Understand the data you need from customers and their devices, when and how you will use it, and what you plan to do with it afterwards.
Involve your information management team and technical staff early in the design process as privacy and data management implications (and costs) can swiftly escalate with so many potential interdependencies, so...
4. Test and learn
Test ideas quickly and often to weed out issues with customers before taking anything to scale.
Beacons and similar inter-connective technologies are relatively inexpensive, but there's a whole lot that can go wrong with so many separate elements working together in real-time (movement, delays, unstable connectivity, physical damage or interference, and a lack of standards for interoperability for example).
Start with the minimum viable product.
5. Design the business operation alongside the customer experience
The technology infrastructure is the easy bit.
Going back to our cross-functional team who were involved in the ideation phase - it's critical to consider the team that will be responsible for support these experiences behind the scenes, including the technology connectivity to enable the services and the support and governance required to keep things running smoothly. Considerations include:
- Are you able to capture and share a single view of your customers across your organization?
- Can your team enable a smooth hand-off as users move across touch-points?
- Can you ensure consistency of service, and timeliness of information, regardless of where customers begin?
- Can you avoid bombarding your most loyal customers?
Consider that Disney invested over $1bn in their Magic Band ecosystem, involving over 1000 people and taking several years to develop and finely tune all aspects of the experience before it was ever launched to the public.
6. Pick pilot projects first
Taking your ideas and prioritizing them is a starting point, but it's too easy to generate a list of ideas and then do... nothing.
Pick the projects that can work as effective exemplars - Look for opportunities to design solutions are small in scale but high in visible customer impact in order to gain momentum for tackling larger and more complex initiatives.
Companies who take the time to understand their customers and meet their needs with more streamlined experiences and moments of delight, will be the leaders in our increasingly connected future.
Work with great partners
I spend the majority of my time with clients working to help draw insights from their customers and their data to design new ways to make their lives better, and in turn drive business growth and loyalty.
In my view there’s never been a more exciting time to be working in digital customer experience design. The pieces are all there to design the future of digital experiences.