• Marissa Forbes

Why Before X: 3 Pillars of Great Customer Experience Design

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle concept tells us that beliefs are what drive people to follow those they see as leaders, as well as purchase certain products and services. The limbic system — the part of the brain Mr. Sinek refers to — is what controls motivation and emotion. It is where all our decision-making processes begin. The science behind it is undeniable, and Mr. Sinek has gotten very successful spreading the word. So what? How does this priceless piece of information translate to making money, helping your organization succeed in its mission, and developing a cult-like following for your brand? Experience. It all comes down to the customer’s experience. It’s about how they feel when they engage with you, your company, or your product. How your customers feel is everything. The only power you have over whether you win or lose at the game of business resides in your ability to create desirable experiences for your customers.

What makes for a desirable experience will vary by person, by organization, by industry. But there are three things that won’t. Three static things that, if done right, can support consistent production of desirable experiences for your customers. Three things, or pillars that reveal the why you do what you do and the why your customers care about what you do, and then turn that why into X — profit and growth.

In his book Drive, Daniel Pink introduces three innate human needs that translate to what motivates a person to act — autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I believe that these motivating factors apply at not only the individual level, but also at the organizational level. And that in purpose, above all else is where organizational success is founded. What is purpose? It’s what we believe in. It’s our why. X, regardless of what that means for you, cannot be achieved without putting the why first. The three pillars of great customer experience design allow you to find the shared why between you and your customers, show you how to put that why first, and give you an edge in solving for X.

The Three Pillars

1. Feedback

Feedback, not a new concept, I know. In fact, nothing I say here on any of the three pillars is new. What is new, is how I present them. Until around 2016, only a handful of great organizations understood the power of customer feedback — Apple, Amazon, Starbucks, and other such well-known companies built their notoriety on selling what they believed to customers that believed the same things. How were they able to align their beliefs with those of their customers? They knew how to gather and use customer feedback. And not just the feedback of current customers, potential customers and past customers too. They focused on where their beliefs and their customers’ beliefs intersected. Then they built the future they both desired.

In practice, a feedback process is a continuous process that provides opportunities for project refinement or leads on new customer needs and pain points. Feedback comes from many places, both formal and informal, and it comes in many forms, both qualitative and quantitative. What makes feedback valuable is the art behind the science of a feedback process. The art is in the organization, structuring, and filtering of the feedback data. This is what makes the data usable. Data alone is worthless. Data only presents us an opportunity. For what? I’m so glad you asked.

Feedback, on the surface is neither good nor bad. It just is. We give feedback a “good” or “bad” designation based on what we perceive positive and negative to be. This method has value, because it allows us to make sense of the feedback or data we receive. Humans can feel good or bad, therefore those designations for our data make sense to us. Unfortunately, that’s where we often stop. We get our scores, and our analysts report them, noting the lowest scores as our areas for improvement. What if we didn’t stop there? What if we provided our structured data to our analysts along with a greater expectation? Produce insights.

Data and insights are not the same thing, and while most people generally understand that, they still struggle with the concept. The process of deriving insights from the data — that’s number two, analytics — is where all the magic happens. And who doesn’t like magic?

2. Analytics

Yep! Not new. Most, if not all companies have some sort of analytics role or department in play. They’re churning out reports on the daily and measuring key performance indicators like a boss. Where I often see a problem is where feedback and analytics meet (or rather, where they don’t). This meeting point is the place where insights can be formed; it’s where you find the intersection of your beliefs and those of your customers — your shared why. When feedback and analytics come together, it’s like a beautiful masquerade ball where insights become unmasked during a mysterious, romantic dance. Okay, that may be a little dramatic, but it can be fun!

True analytics goes beyond operational reporting and measurement. It looks deep into the soul of the customer through the lens of their feedback to figure out what they’re really saying, what they really need, what really hurts. Software can mine the data and spit out pretty displays, but it takes a human being with beliefs, values, and desires to see what the machines can’t. You need a team dedicated to the constant combing, questioning, listening, and yes, feeling of the data to get to meaningful insights. It takes immersion and observation to move analytics to the next level. Once you level-up, you’ll find yourself in a whole new game.

3. Strategic Planning

Again, not new. What company doesn’t do some form of strategic planning, at least on an annual basis? It’s table stakes in order to stay profitable from year-to-year. But what makes it into a strategic plan isn’t always rooted in good customer insights. The focus is reasonably on profits and growth, but what’s missed is the connection to the customer. I doubt most organizations begin their strategic planning with a conversation about where their customers beliefs and the organization’s beliefs are aligned. I doubt that conversations occur about what beliefs need to shift in order to prepare for the future. What I don’t doubt is that many organizational leaders don’t really know how to have these conversations. They feel more, well, squishy. Somehow it doesn’t seem right to make major business decisions based on squishy conversations. However, they don’t have to be squishy at all.

When feedback is turned into insights using people-focused analytics, the conversations about beliefs become grounded in data. And you can’t argue with the data! Not all the outcomes will be winners, though. They never are, no matter what approach you take. But the more these muscles are worked, the stronger the pillars will be. As a result, more and better insights will emerge. When those insights are used to feed strategic planning in the form of focusing the future on customer experience design and improvements, something wonderful happens — greater profits and organizational growth become the natural byproducts.

When that shift occurs, the paradigm of strategic planning shifts too. It turns from something that is done once a year into an ongoing cycle of innovation. Hopefully, with it comes a renewed sense of purpose and excitement that reverberates throughout every role in every department no matter how big or small. I can feel the energy now!

These three pillars are only the foundation of great customer experience design. There is so much more that’s needed for an effective experience design model, but it’s a great place to start. I recommend taking some time to evaluate the feedback, analytics, and strategic planning aspects of your business. Ask yourself the following questions, and let the answers guide you.

  • Are the pillars interconnected, or are there gaps in the information flow between them?

  • Does the feedback process provide usable, structured data for analytics?

  • Is there an expectation and process in place for producing insights?

  • Are data-driven insights utilized in strategic planning?