Illustration by Ed Abbott

Experience Design is Human-Centered; Our Metrics Should Be, Too

Design Has Matured

As experience designers, we spend our days developing solutions that solve meaningful and latent human needs. Our ambitions begin with seeking to empathize and understand human behaviors, emotions, and pain points. In the end, we’re using insights we’ve uncovered to design and ideate on experiences that help people do the things they care about most — things that can have a material impact on their lives. As design continues to mature and permeate corporate culture, designers have begun to help build and develop a customer-centric mindset. Companies across the globe are recognizing the importance of beginning with their customers to create cohesive and consistent experiences that delight and exceed expectations. They realize that great marketing isn’t enough — that it’s five times more cost effective to retain customers than it is to acquire new ones.

Such progress has meant opportunities to infuse ourselves more purposefully with the business. In order to speak the same language, we connect customer needs to business outcomes. We marry data with qualitative customer feedback and highlight our results on conversion rates, engagement, operating costs, and higher net promoter scores. It’s a cyclical partnership — we measure, iterate, and measure again.

The trouble is, when you peel back the curtain, you quickly realize these metrics and outcomes aren’t inherently customer-centric.

This is great! A business has to be viable and we’re materially contributing to its success. The trouble is, when you peel back the curtain, you quickly realize these metrics and outcomes aren’t inherently customer-centric. We’ve made a difference, but in our zeal to prove design’s worth we’ve begun using the business’ definition of success instead of our customers’.

Measuring Customer Impact

We can do more. Business metrics are valuable and absolutely necessary, but they’re not the only thing we could be measuring. As customer advocates, it’s important to also measure our impact on people.

We often think of design as primarily qualitative in nature — we uncover needs by talking to people and observing their behavior. Certain aspects of our field are quite subjective, but we can measure the customer impact by quantifying the effect our experiences have on those needs, motivations, and goals we uncovered earlier on in our research.

Let’s take MyFitnessPal as an example. Do you think their customers care about how often they engage with the app? I’m willing to bet they’re much more concerned with meeting their weight loss goals, getting encouragement from a support network, and living a healthier lifestyle.

Could MyFitnessPal measure their customers’ average weight lost per week? What about the average person’s ability to maintain their weight? Can they determine the percentage of customers who have a healthy BMI given their height and weight? Are they tracking the average progress of customers from sign-up to their current state of engagement with the product to highlight the impact?

Perhaps nutrition is part of the equation. If so, are they measuring the discrepancies between actual nutritional intake at a micro- and macro-level with those recommended by the FDA? Could they use this data to see what intake is most effective for reaching one’s weight loss goals and pass that along to the customer in customized meal plans?

Regularly measuring customer impact metrics on a dashboard alongside business outcomes does more to create customer advocacy than another corporate presentation.

Measuring customer impact has two key benefits, it can:

  • Ensure we keep the customer at the center of our experiences.
  • Contribute to building a strong internal culture by giving teams a sense of purpose.

Again, I know it’s easy to err on the side of important business metrics and stop there. But it’s important for designers to remember (and remind our partners) why we’re developing experiences and services in the first place.

Regularly measuring customer impact metrics on a dashboard alongside business outcomes does more to create customer advocacy than another corporate presentation.

Further, measuring customer impact positively affects our internal company culture. As designers, having on impact on people — on the world — is what gets us up in the morning. Product managers, analysts, etc. are all here for the same reason. They want to know that their work is having an impact on the world — that they have purpose.

In his book The Purpose Economy, Aaron Hurst argues that we’re entering a new age, one that’s primarily marked not by information or technology, but our desire for connection — for purpose. Hurst states, “Purpose comes when we know we have done something that we believe matters — to others, to society, and to ourselves.”

If we all know our work — and the experiences we create together — are contributing to a better future, it helps us feel that we belong to something bigger than ourselves; that the things we’re working on go beyond the business strategy and bottom line. Delivering impact for our customers and our business is our shared strategy.

Nothing makes an employee feel that they’re in the right place quite like working for a company that values its customers and more importantly, humanity.

In the spirit of measurement, a recent in-depth analysis by BCG/Brighthouse uncovered a clear link between purpose and performance. They found that an ingrained purpose correlated with 10-year total shareholder returns. This shouldn’t be a surprise — nothing makes an employee feel that they’re in the right place quite like working for a company that values its customers and more importantly, humanity.


Customer Impact at Capital One

You may be shocked to think a bank would care about its customers. Most people I talk to seem surprised to hear I work for a bank, let alone (gasp) enjoy it.

Who could blame them? The public perception of a bank is anything but that of an Apple, Google, or other innovators. The mortgage crisis and recent fines certainly haven’t helped matters — regardless of competition. The fact is, while the broader corporate landscape is being transformed by businesses focusing more on the customer experience, banking has predominately lagged behind.

Financial anxiety is an epidemic in our country.

That’s a shame really. For something that deeply affects so many facets of our life — like money — it’s sobering to read recent studies highlighting the fact that 55% of the population doesn’t have one month of income in their savings accounts, and that 44% of households earning $100,000-$149,000 do not have over $1,000 of liquid savings to their name. This, corroborated by what we hear from customers we talk to regularly, makes it clear that financial anxiety is an epidemic in our country.

You might be asking, “Can a bank really care enough about customer financial health? Isn’t it contradictory for a bank to keep its customers’ best interests in mind?”

It shouldn’t be.

Contrary to popular belief, banks don’t make their money off overdraft or low balance fees. The real benefit to the business comes from strong, deposit-healthy accounts. The two are mutually beneficial — just like the benefits of good design.

If we, as a bank, are creating products and experiences that provide clarity and empower our customers to live healthy, confident financial lives, could we measure (on average) if our customers are spending less than they make? Could we look into their ability to (based on a recurring direct deposit) weather a financial crisis? Could we see on average, how many months of savings our customers have in case something happens and they need to rely on their reserves? What about measuring the credit health of the communities we have a presence in?

We believe that if we can materially impact these customer-centric metrics with our experiences, then our customers and their communities will thrive.

At Capital One, we are embarking on finding creative ways to measure our customer impact.

We believe that if we can materially impact these customer-centric metrics with our experiences, then our customers and their communities will thrive. They’ll be better equipped to weather the oft financial storm or realize their dreams and aspirations with wise credit decisions and healthy spending habits.

Practical Steps to Start Measuring Customer Impact

If you’re interested in getting started measuring customer impact in your own organization, don’t be limited by what currently exists. It’s certainly possible that these metrics are being gathered by your teams, but they most likely won’t be.

You’d be surprised, while the company may not be measuring specific customer outcomes, I’m willing to bet they’re capable.

Bring your business partners together and brainstorm ways to measure customer impact in your workplace for a product or company-wide. You’d be surprised, while the company may not be measuring specific customer outcomes, I’m willing to bet they’re capable.

This isn’t rocket science. It’s a natural extension of what we seek to achieve as we create innovative solutions to customer problems.

It’s a call to continue to prove the value of starting with people and, as the product lifecycle continues, finding ways to consistently remember them too. It’s a call to share why we’re solving specific customer needs with our peers so they too can feel empowered to make a material and measurable impact for them — to have a purpose beyond the bottom line.


Looking to make an impact? We’re hiring.