The Customer Experience has been identified as the most crucial factor for digital business development. Still, many companies move much slower than they could due to completely unnecessary bottlenecks in experience design. How they create these bottlenecks will tell us how to get rid of them. And shorten the time to market for high-quality Customer Experience development.
The Customer Experience has become more crucial than ever
Changing banks has never been something we did lightly. Actually, it used to be the commercial equivalent to a lifelong marriage. And then, just recently, when one of Northern Europe’s largest banks saw its competitor launch a new app, they also started to lose customers to them. There were no new products, no difference in interest rates or fees. Just a new interface to the same banking services.
Simultaneously, British Airways launched a new app and SAS saw travelers disappear along the Stockholm-London route. Again, no schedules or prices were changed. SAS embarked on a rapid journey to release a new app themselves and half a year later, when it was launched, they could see the travelers coming back to them.
These are but two examples in a sea of change. When developing a digital business, regardless if it’s a new, digital-only startup or a traditional organization transforming its operation, Customer Experience is now more crucial than ever. According to Gartner, 81% of Fortune 500 companies were committing their main focus on experience development last year. In business development, methodologies like Design Thinking and Design Sprints have become crucial in order to attain profitability.
Customer Experience is right now the most crucial factors for business growth.
And now when the cloud solutions we lean on for infrastructure include a lot of functionality on tap, this drives the customer experience as a competitive advantage even further. Since advanced tech is more or less available for all.
On top of all, this driving force creates its own, self-fulfilling prophecy and feedback loop. Users now change digital behaviors faster than ever, and much faster than the UX community is creating theories about them.
Many successful disruptors are in fact 'just' a new and better customer experience compared to the traditional offering from industry incumbents
Riddled with bottlenecks
We could go on with ‘evidence’, but just the fact that the customer experience is the first thing we ‘see’ and the interface that we use to interact within any digital product, should tell us how important it is if you want your product to succeed. Still, the development of the customer experience is riddled with bottlenecks in a majority of organizations. For instance, we all recognize the most common blocker in a sprint grooming: ‘But that user story needs UX!’.
The fact is that releasing new code often happens easier and faster than releasing crucial updates to design. And before you go nitpicking on us: Yes, of course, design is code as well, but that just makes the situation more interesting. Because why should we be slower when it comes to one type of code?
Actually, Harvard Business Review, as well as many others, has identified time to market for experience design as the most important gap to close for any business. So why is there a gap in the first place? Why do we have more bottlenecks in CX than in any other digital area right now?
Customer Experience is right now the most crucial factors for business growth
Common CX pitfalls
The slightly embarrassing but simple answer is that design hasn’t really been part of the ways of working that have evolved for our other digital crafts. The Agile movement has been very developer-focused and many of the methodologies, like continuous delivery and DevOps, don’t even mention the customer experience that they are supposed to deliver.
But the situation is very similar on the other side of the fence. Designers often emphasize that they belong to a completely different and more ‘creative’ tradition than developers. And even though we now have real-time user feedback available for anyone who wants to see it, user experience practitioners have a tendency to hark back to heuristics and academic tradition like creating personas we no longer need since we have real customer’s real data, live. Just look around here on Medium at all the UX articles that try to tell you how something should be designed.
In an age where we can have immediate feedback on new experiences, only those organizations that harness that knowledge as it materializes become winners. At the same time, it’s often the organizations that have created the bottlenecks themselves.
The top five bottleneck creators
In many companies, the cultural divide between the different professions is perpetuated through an antiquated organization. Specifically the upholding of separate design departments, which of course is the opposite of the Agile idea of cross-functional teams. Or make them very/unnecessarily difficult to set up.
Maybe we don’t even have to describe how this creates bottlenecks, but having a piece of work being moved step by step between different departments a multitude of those pesky handovers that we want to avoid and, more than anything, it creates *queues*. A word that clearly tells us that time to market has been increased. (Design departments without developers are as stupid as cross-functional development teams without designers!)
2. Upfront designing
You’ve heard and we’ve heard it ad nauseam. When people talk about designing an app or a site and really mean that they are going to do *all the design* for the whole product upfront This can sound right if you come from the olden days of design and it can also have the ring of a non-queue approach. After all, there’s just one big handover of the design to the developers, right? So no queue, right?
These organizations are missing the whole idea of continuous improvement and why we break down the work in as small batches as possible. They are missing the core of why almost all instances of developing now are doing their work in increments: Because the other way turned out to be very costly. If you work for a long while on something before you let it interact with the real world, there will be much more that needs to be changed then if you work a shorter while.
The creation of this bottleneck isn’t always only the fault of organizations. Unfortunately, a lot of UX people and designers also think that they should do all of the design first as we did in the past.
3. Straight to HD code
Almost the opposite of massive amounts of upfront designing is when people are skipping or going around the design work that needs to be done. There are lots of different explanations. From the classic that the change is so small that the user won’t notice the difference anyway. To the supposedly modern idea that we can go straight to code now because so much design is done in the front-end layer of a product. Well, it always was.
And it doesn’t matter what tools we use. Be they fancy versions of PageMaker or sophisticated CSS coding, We still need to do the work of designing the experience, i.e. someone with professional knowledge of developing good experiences needs too…
4. The cross-functional teams aren’t cross-functional
This one is as sad as it is common. The work of developing the digital product is organized in cross-functional teams and there might even be continuous delivery capabilities. But the teams don’t have all the functions they need to be cross the crucial skills. They don’t have UX developers or designers in the team.
In other words, the team has to go somewhere else to get design; to ‘send’ for it. And we know what that entails. Handovers and queues.
5. Splitting hairs
This is a collective term for bad behavioral patterns. And what they all have in common is when more time is spent on dividing and organizing what is what within Customer Experience development than actually doing something. When someone tells you off for saying UI when you should’ve called it UX, you know you’re in one of these contexts. Yes, technically there’s a difference — or, at least — there used to be.
But the days when UX people first spent a lot of time on doing wireframes for the whole product and then designers spent as much again before anyone started to code and release something are long gone. At least for successful companies.
Basically, erecting walls between different skills and competences is equal to creating bottlenecks. And newsflash: Designers that right now already have a career, have grown up digitally and for them, the user experience is in their blood.
Don’t read this the wrong way; we’re not ‘anti-UX’. Quite the opposite. But because this is the fastest moving domain in the professional world right now, it’s a bottleneck all by itself to uphold divisions that held true ten years ago. The question is how we work better together, not how to divide and conquer.
Solution: Admit, Accept, Act
- Admit that you actually have bottlenecks, see the diagnose for what it is.
- Don’t let different tribes argue differentiating ideologies — Don’t subscribe to the UX religion, nor coding practices that treat design as something that has to be done before development starts.
- Accept that you have to change the way you work in order to increase the speed to market of awesome customer experiences!
- Accept that a lot of the popular buzzwords (Rapid Prototyping, Paper Prototyping, Design Systems, Design Thinking) were cooked up separated from the rest of the multi-functional team, in a design first world. So tweak them to your cross-functional way of working.
- Take action and implement a time to market perspective on customer experience by following these five steps:
The Five-Step Action Program
- Stop all ‘design first’ work and habits. Don’t allow the designers to sit and work on large design scopes themselves. As much as developers need to work with designers, designers need to work with developers.
- Instead, introduce a new ideation phase that includes all functions (front-end, backend, copy/editors, animation, tile maker — whatever you have in your teams). If the whole team is working together from the start, everything becomes much faster.
- At the same time, slice down the scope of what is to be done. Let the ideation and subsequent experience development deal with a smaller slice of what you offer customers. Instead of redesigning your web, remake the start page, or whatever part you have the most problems with. Instead of improving the customer experience of an app, manufacture parts of a new experience.
- Get user feedback into the loop already in the slicing and ideation. Let behavioral data and customer interviews tell you which parts of the experience are burning the most.
- Let the ideation sprint include all the functions and competencies that are delivering the flow of things that make up the customer experience for the part you have decided to remake. At the end of the ideation, define what modules your part could be built from. Then let the team loose on developing these modules and do it in parallel. While you design one module, someone could do front end on it, or on another module. And someone else could be writing UX copy for another module. Et cetera, et cetera.