What’s the customer got to do with it?

Reflecting on one full calendar year dedicated to customer experience design in a young company.

2018 was the first full calendar year I have worked, where I concentrated fully on customer experience; models, theories, strategies and then implications for my particular company.

I wanted to reflect on the year and got the opportunity to so by giving a short, Pecha Kucha style presentation last month at a great Dublin based design event called Defuse: Design for use.

In 20 slides, you’re asked to present on your chosen theme and get your points across within 5 minutes. I used it as an opportunity to talk about the past years work; how to shift a teams mindset to fully consider customers, changes in front line processes, tweaks in company culture…and how to be on your customer AND your teams side in order to move customer insights to actions.

I’ve pulled out 6 of the slides here to highlight the core points I made on the night.

1. Customers are not an imagined community.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

In the painting above, you can see customers at the counter. You can talk to them, ask them how it’s going, ask how the service is that day. Digital businesses need to shake off any leftover antipathy towards talking to customers. If you’re not putting time aside every week to make calls and schedule conversations you’re not properly connected to your customers.

I discussed the phrase “exchange logic” this year on a conference panel, it alludes to an old idea whereby the only role of the customer is to consume and pay. I can’t relate to this. Customers today are demanding; make it better, easier and faster. Customers will simply move on if not recognised or listened to.

I’ve made sure our customers voices are heard by including the customers first name and (with permission) a photograph. Help your team realise how real your current customers are, regularly.

2. Culture should be your first stop in any CX initiative.

Untitled (People Ladder) By Keith Haring

Caring about customers can’t feel like a job just for service or support staff, this interest needs to come from the top down. Everyone on your team should know that customer experience is a priority for growth. TL;DR - No customers = no company.

Founders and line managers should be hearing about support tickets and reading feedback reports, warts and all. And then you’ll need a team who can communicate well and work together to fix customer problems together. And how you choose to treat each other in your working day, will ultimately be reflected in how your customers feel they are being treated. So decide on company values that are authentic and viable, and live them in the office.

I celebrate closing difficult support tickets, I give kudos to anyone who leans in to help a customer with me and I remark in team wide meetings on the effort my CEO puts into having regular conversations with customers. It all matters.

3. You need dedicated internal ownership for customer experience.

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich

I’ve mentioned just above that everyone on your team should know that customer experience is a priority. In a small business, it’s obvious that every department must be focused on customers. A customer-first mindset should be applied to most things you do as a company. One person, or an isolated department will never achieve an improved customer experience alone. It’s too big and too broad. CX requires collaboration.

And while my above statements stand, I also believe its imperative to dedicate ownership for the CX strategy and advocacy for the customer voice. To build a robust customer experience over time, someone will be needed to provide the comprehensive and authoritative view of the customer so they can lead customer efforts for the company across teams.

This person should also have a voice at leadership level. Hearing and seeing the customer given time and agency at this level will re-enforce the importance to employees.

4. Take a human approach to CX and customer research.

Scene from the film ‘Ex Machina’

Positive interactions with customers lead to valuable insights so approach conversations with common sense and understanding. You’re not churning out customer research for your team just because — you’re presenting findings about real people that are paying you that will help your business find more real people like them.

If you’re speaking to a customer on a call make sure they are comfortable. Do they know why you’re speaking with them? If you’re sending a survey to customers, how is the tone of voice?

If a customer on a call seems like they are having a bad day, suggest rescheduling. If they clam up on a more personal question, move on. Have they faced a recent problem in your product? Resolve it for them before you ask for their time for research.

Listen carefully to what they say. Represent their opinions honestly.

5. Be consistent in your efforts & outputs.

Campbell’s Soup Cans by Andy Warhol

Some days, a piece of customer feedback may land at the wrong moment in time. Face it head on. Maybe a team member might take feedback personally. Keep delivering more feedback in the same way and on the same days. Stay consistent, fair and accurate.

Sometimes a piece of qualitative feedback might give a sense of ‘so what’? That’s good. Read it over and over. A customer has provided a considered response to your product. There is value in it. Qualitative really just means descriptive. Not everything needs data behind it. Keep providing consistent qualitative customer feedback.

6. Drive small actions everyday.

Alternative poster for the film ‘Drive’

After working through the five points above, you’re going to end up with a large amount of data and information about the things that customers feel and say, and a team that’s listening to them. What next?

Some feedback will need to be delivered to specific people. There will be longer term goals and projects. There will be suggested changes that don’t fit into the product vision. There will also be extremely valuable feedback that’s difficult to action and needs to be collated and remembered when the roadmap calls for it.

But make small changes for the customer, every day. It might be an edit to a piece of copy, an improved send time on an auto response or a refresh of your tone of voice in support tickets. These small tasks should not feel insignificant. They should feel like the building blocks towards your best future customer experience. Action things, now, for your customers.


That was 2018’s work.

​​In 2019 I’m going to measure these efforts and get the quantum on just how well customers are experiencing the product. I’ll continue to get to know our customers this year in a way that will allow me to move the right future insights to actions, faster.

You can see the full slide deck that this article was based on and watch my Defuse presentation here.