How Mature Is Your Customer Experience Focus?

To say the word experience is used often may be an understatement. At the moment, it seems to be everyone's focus, everyone's goal and everyone's desire for competitive advantage. However, this focus on experience and design is certainly a very good thing. Gaining the understanding that they need to actually focus on their users and create experiences is the first step in a journey that many companies have taken to become truly experience-focused. Organizations are realizing that Experience is more than a word on a slide, more than just the look and feel, but the whole approach, the way of thinking, and, the very core of business strategy.

Many organizations have invested in great designers, or focused on creating profiles or conducting journey mapping activities, but, what does it actually take to be an organization where experience design is really at the center of all you do?

Don't get Distracted by Confusion, Remember that Experience Design is a Strategy

Having worked in experience design for a while, seeing all this industry focus is great, but, in these stages, it also brings with it all those complexities and confusions that tend to arise with any growth in industry spotlight. The most obvious ones, in this case, seem to be confusion over terms, understanding what experience design even means, as well as the negotiating of new roles and responsibilities.

To avoid getting bogged down in all the rhetoric it is very important to know where to start in all this. Over the years, the growth in industry focus has brought to center stage many types of experiences - customer experience, employee experience, user experience, service experience...the list continues. But, and you may want to sit down for this, at the very core, all these really just require a different application of the same approach - an approach centered in knowing your target audience, understanding what people are trying to do and how they feel about it, and then figuring out the best way for them to be able to do it.

What's more, is that everyone has the potential to develop their way of design thinking, because all innovative enablers will have used some of these skills, in some format before. Having an approach, or framework, can simply help you put these skills into practice across the business. There are indeed, specialized skills across the experience spectrum. There are people who have deep knowledgeable in their specific craft, and, there are more strategic skills utilized by those who are great at pulling it all together and driving the vision to fruition. The truth is, experience design has to be both strategic and tactical. Just as you may bring in a great painter and a great plumber for your house, you will still design the whole house cohesively, addressing questions like how do you want it to feel, how should the objects in the various rooms be placed, what is the best flow through the house...etc. This, is experience design.

Furthermore, there is also a lot of discussion around who owns the customer experience. Really, does this matter? As long as you have someone who can give dedicated time and effort to driving the Experience Agenda and they have the right Experience Design skills needed to innovate and influence from the top, then the truth is, this leader could have a background from various functions. Also, leadership aside, it is critical to internalize the fact that you need the cross-functional skills across the organization to deliver the desired experience, as well as enabling each and every employee to be driven by a shared purpose.

When an Organization has a Culture of Design, You Feel it

Design is becoming more and more known not simply for the process of designing a product or service itself, but as the approach that brings everything together. We are seeing a time where all types of designers are coming together to focus holistically on how every part of the experience connects to make sure that the overall feeling the customer is left with is the desired one.

One thing is clear when you interact with those companies and organizations that excel in creating experiences, you just simply know. You can feel it in their products, their way of being, their offices, their employees - everything just feels like they are an experience-focused company. It is more than having a leader for CX, more than doing journey mappings, more than having a great design.

So what does it mean to really have a "culture of design" and a true focus on experience? It may seem overwhelming to even think of the journey needed for you to grow such a culture, but it can be achieved.

It Requires Mindset and Behavior Changes

Just as with achieving any great change, there needs to be a level of understanding of what it will take, where you are now, and how your journey will enable mindset and behavior change.

Think about it. When you want to lose weight, for example, you start by finding out your current weight and maybe writing down your goal weight. That alone, will not lose the weight, but it is a valid first step on the journey. Next, a mindset change and daily behavioral changes have to happen as this new way of life becomes integrated into your everyday living. The same is true for growing a culture of experience design. Saying you are focused on experience, putting it as a goal, creating an organization, hiring a leader, or using the word as many times as possible, will not mean you are suddenly an experience design organization. However, some, are tactical steps. You can start your journey by identifying a way to understand your progress. Thinking about weight loss, whether you have a target weight, a feeling where you have more energy, feel more confident, or your clothes fit better - there is something that you are "measuring".

Now, I know people can have an adverse reaction to the word "measures", but you do need some direction and to know how you are doing. To go back to the weight example, if you know where you are and what your goal is, you will know if you are progressing or not and be more likely to meet it. The truth is, that measures are important in life and in business. You do not need a ton, just the right ones.

The same is true here. If you are trying to instill, nurture and grow a true focus on experience and a culture of design, you need to understand what it will take and where you are on your journey.

Creating and Growing a Culture of Design

A part of our mission is to make having a true design culture achievable to all organizations, especially those who are trying to grow it, or regain it after perhaps losing it due to complexities of growth or changes in leadership. To do this, we wanted to make sure people understood what it would take to get there. After helping organizations increase their level of maturity in experience design and researching what makes successful organizations, we created an Experience Design Culture Maturity Index to help you on your journey. We found that most organizations go on a journey that has some common phases - starting out, growth, integration, and expansion, through to achieving experience design as a part of their "DNA". This is where experience design becomes the "way of thought", and the approach, a core strategy at the very heart of the organization, not siloed, but innovating from the top.

Remember, it is a Journey

For those trying to understand what it takes, or those that have made some investments and a priority of experience design - well done. You have started your journey. But remember, it takes actions, thought and purposeful planning to achieve culture change. You can start by learning where you are currently, but, remember some key points:

  1. You need to make sure everyone in the organization understands their role in delivering the experience.
  2. You must have a shared purpose and vision to guide alignment.
  3. A shared, measurable experience goal, regardless of functional design, can bring everyone together with a common purpose.
  4. You must facilitate an environment of connection and collaboration.
  5. Experience must be enabled from the top for it to be able to innovate and influence.

Finally, it is not bad to be in any particular stage right now. Many organizations trying to change or grow a culture will need to go through the stages to enable the different mentalities and behaviors to be learned and to become the new normal. After all, change is always a journey.

We developed the Maturity Index to enable organizational leaders to successfully grow a thriving culture of design, understand what it takes to get there, and give insight into the tangible steps they can take. Growing a culture can be difficult, even feel overwhelming. We aim to make it achievable to all, by breaking it down into tangibly attainable steps. The first step, is to see where you are now.

Experience Design Maturity Index Assessment