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Customer Experience

Keeping the Customer in Mind

Can a deliberate innovation process transform customer experience?

by Brian J. Curran and Merlyn Gordon

November 2015

Executives and board members are pushing to produce the next “big idea” as quickly and sustainably as possible in order to compete in the new “customer experience” and “digital” economies. Yet despite the strong support from the C-suite, most companies are finding that it’s not easy to innovate at speed and at scale.

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Brian J. Curran

They face three main challenges. First, innovation is often relegated to specialized groups within a company or to outside firms. Second, companies are focusing on product or service innovation, rather than on customer experience and engagement innovation. Third, it’s notoriously difficult to assemble an easy-to-use and easy-to-understand set of tools and activities to facilitate the innovation process.

Despite these challenges, innovators have a clear path forward by first separating the questions (the “what”) from the activities designed to answer the questions (the “how”).

The following are four foundational principles that can frame and direct your company’s innovation efforts:

1. Identify the actors. In the theater of customer engagement, it’s critical to identify and understand the functional and emotional needs of the customer. Likewise, you must understand how customers perceive your brand and whether their needs align with your value proposition.



Innovation is hard. But with a disciplined, step-by-step approach (that relies on tools and guides that staff can master), it is possible to repeatedly and consistently innovate at speed and scale.



2. Calculate a value equation. How do customers value and differentiate between usable, useful, and meaningful experiences? How is customer acquisition and retention measured? What does it mean to be an efficient business? How does customer value translate to business value?

3. Establish the engagement strategy. Customers are on a journey to fulfill their needs. Does your company proactively meet customers, or does it react to them? How is your engagement strategy different from your product strategy? Where and when does your company meet with customers to exchange value?

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Merlyn Gordon

4. Overcome obstacles to change. Innovation can deliver great incremental value to the business. But it requires change, and change can run headlong into inertia. So start with this question: Is our company’s culture ready for innovation?

Once these four principles have been put in place, management can create a three-step iterative process that moves an idea from business case to pilot and, ultimately, to scale.

Step 1: Empathize and ideate. Understand the motivation for change, get enough data to evaluate whether the company is meeting customer needs, and then brainstorm to develop a breakthrough idea that defines a new engagement opportunity.

Step 2: Baseline and validate. Verify and validate the educated guesses and assumptions that surface and move a breakthrough idea through to approval and sponsorship. Real customers should be engaged to ensure that stakeholders keep an outside-in view of customer needs.

Step 3: Pilot and measure. Learn and iterate by going from ideation to focused execution. Ultimately, “pilot and measure” is about “de-risking” the investment necessary to scale an unproven concept.

Innovation is hard. But with a disciplined, step-by-step approach (that relies on tools and guides that staff can master), it is possible to repeatedly and consistently innovate at speed and scale.

For a more detailed look at the Experience Design Process, or to join the community of human-centered designers in training, visit designingcx.com.

Photography by Shutterstock