Why UX Designers Should Influence Customer Experience

Many successful designers are applying their methods, tools, and approaches to business challenges that stretch beyond making yet another app or website. We’re seeing this first hand when user experience designers are influencing, and in some cases leading the execution of an organization’s customer experience strategy.

Such a shift escalates the value of the designer-as-influencing-business-strategy in ways few organizations have attempted in the past.

But much like how organization may define their design team differently than another, defining customer experience seems to vary from company to company as well.

Contrary to what still persists in some organizations, customer experience isn’t synonymous for customer service or support. Instead, it’s the methods, tactics, and relationships companies engage in to win, serve, and retain customers. It’s part of what companies do before an entity is a customer, and it’s also what they do after that individual or company has become an invoice-paying customer.

Does this sound like service design? Sure — and there are volumes of service design research and decades of firms who have been practicing service design (particularly outside the United States). Others subjugate customer experience as a discipline within user experience.

Setting aside theoretical org charts for a moment, many companies are finally realizing that they need to address their customer experience strategy. But not surprisingly, many aren’t exactly sure where to start. Or how to staff it. Or manage and maintain such an effort.

In many cases, a lot of those questions can be addressed by turning to a well-staffed team of designers already on the payroll.

Is this just one more instance of a designer land-grabbing for more headlines, responsibility, and a bump in an already comfortable paycheck? Yet another case of the designer usurping Marketing or Product Management’s responsibility?

Some will certainly think so. But as a design leader who is contributing to a new customer experience strategy, I’m seeing first hand where applying what is familiar to designers is more effective and efficient at getting the right people in the room to arrive at practical, successful tactics to shape that strategy.

If your organization is planning to revisit its customer experience strategy, or such an effort is already underway, and as a designer you’re not a part of those discussions, your organization may be missing out. Here’s why.

Designer as Facilitator

One of the primary advantages to appointing a designer to lead a customer experience strategy effort is the designer’s comfort with spanning organizations, teams, and silos — now at greater scale. Whereas the UX designer working on a software project likely brought people from product management, development, marketing, and design together, the larger team now must include sales, purchasing, legal, support, and commercial teams.

Don’t mistake this for keen skills in scheduling meetings in Outlook. Rather, asking or identifying who isn’t in the room can be more valuable than any wireframe or prototype if that yet-to-be-involved party could sink your project before it ever got started.

Designer as Listener

One of the foundations of an effective customer experience strategy is an accurate, unvarnished understanding of the current state. And that takes listening. But not just getting out of the building and talking to customers.

Just like a good user experience designer talks to more people than just the primary user of an intended product or service, she needs to explore the insights all these groups of people have to offer:

  • Customers who bought the service
  • Prospects who didn’t purchase the product or service
  • Customers who left
  • Support teams
  • Sales teams
  • Purchasing/procurement teams
  • Usage Analytics
  • Social channel sentiment

This exhaustive commitment to listening isn’t a phase or a step — it must become habit, and revisited over time to note swings or variances in patterns.

Doing so gives you the widest lens to understanding customer and prospect behavior long after the conversion is complete and the revenue booked.

Tweak familiar deliverables

Though UX designers are sometimes accused of fetishizing deliverables, knowing when one approach or technique has served it’s usefulness and when another can be adjusted to meet new challenges is tremendously valuable.

Customer Journey

Rare is there a conference that doesn’t have a workshop or presentation about how to conduct a customer journey. In many instances though, these customer journeys continue to focus on software. The preamble is usually focused directly on the need to pull out a phone and use an app or sit down and open up the computer, and finished when the earlier need has been met.

Customer experience journeys pull back and often address when prospects become aware of a product or service, and continue after the need has been addressed. My pal Boon Sheridan once said he hesitates calling such journeys as “journey maps” since that frames the exploration as having a finite end or resolution.

The difference between such a journey for a software project and a customer experience strategy likely just lies in when and where you start digging — both in the sequence of events and people you’ll talk to for the insights you need.

Buyer Persona

Personas are also widely used throughout product development organizations, some far more effectively than others. But similar to customer journeys, buyer personas take something you may already have, and reframe the thinking that leads to your new conclusions.

For instance, the buyer persona may never use the actual product in enterprise, education, or children’s software. And user personas likely don’t address the sales cycle, and the multiple parties who approve or torpedo a decision.

Other user persona shortcomings may include how the buyer interprets the marketing or positioning of a product. Lastly, buyer personas allow your research and product teams to group or separate your findings across various marketing segments which may not be relevant for user personas.

What’s in it for designers?

Just what I need: yet another blog post advising me to stroll in on my white horse to tell teams and departments that don’t know me that they’re doing it wrong. Must be a Medium article.

The quip is a legitimate concern that spans further than just designers engaging in new projects.

For instance, any customer experience strategy effort needs top-down support from executive or senior management. And that support must be vocal and consistent. As a result, procurement teams or customer support will be aware of the larger effort and shouldn’t have their guard up.

In addition, many designers are comfortable leading and facilitating collaborative workshops to uncover priorities, assumptions, risks, and opportunities. Working with teams you’re not familiar with — again, with approaches you have been using in software projects for years — will also offset tension with hope.

Designers also expand their influence for future opportunities and challenges by forging these new cross-organizational ties that previously didn’t exist. Or you now know who to actually talk to about a customer problem when prior instances left you shrugging your shoulders and hoping someone else could take care of the problem.

But it also greatly expands your understanding of the business and the challenges individual businesses, teams, and people face in the silos they’re trying to escape from. And that perspective advances the expectations and responsibilities of the design team by senior management and the executive team.

Make yourself more valuable to the larger organization, and simultaneously foster new relationships with people who could help you, your team, and your company in the future.