Why user centric design should lead to business transformation

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Paul Boag Posted by: Paul Boag On Monday, 10th February, 2014

Why effective user centric design always leads to business transformation

Many companies pay lip service to user centric design, but the harsh truth is that without business transformation, most will fail to satisfy their users.

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The web has made life hard for a lot of businesses. There was a time (before the web) when consumers had limited options. If a company gave their customers poor service it was hard to find an alternative. Even bad mouthing the company to friends and colleagues only had a limited impact.

The web has changed all of that. The competition are only a click away and a single post by a disgruntled customer can have devastating effects (just see Jeff Jarvis post about his ‘Dell Hell’).

Graph showing Dell Share Price halving following Jeff Jarvis post

In the year following Jeff Jarvis’ post about his experience with Dell, their share price was halved.

If you are to believe some vocal web designers, user centric design is the answer to this changed business landscape. They argue that if you create a great user experience online then you will have happy, satisfied customers who recommend you to their friends.

Although user centric design is part of the solution, it is not the whole thing. Ultimately user centric design is nothing more than a starting point that eventually has to lead to business transformation.

For a start, customers don’t just interact with organisations online.

Considering the web within its broader context

You can build the best online experience, but if the customers offline experiences are bad then you have wasted your time. This is something we see all of the time.

Hosting companies are often a good example of the web experience being let down by offline touch points. Their web sites are often superb, with all of the functionality you need to manage your account. However, the moment something goes wrong and you need to speak to a person, things turn sour.

The truth is that customers interact with companies in a huge range of ways from telephone calls and email to retail stores and printed catalogues.

Take for example travelling by air. A typical customer would…

  • Book tickets online.
  • Print their tickets or access them via a mobile app.
  • Receive a receipt of purchase via email.
  • Receive notifications of delays and changes via SMS.
  • Speak to a member of staff at checkin.
  • Be served by staff on the flight itself.

The list could go on.

What all of this shows is that looking at the web in isolation is largely pointless. It needs to be considered in its larger context.

This means tackling each of these touch points and making sure they operate as effectively as the website. It means ensuring consistency between web and printed brochures. It means establishing call centres with adequate capacity and well trained staff. It means considering the layout and operation of retail stores. In short it means business transformation.

Unfortunately, this can be challenging because of the departmental makeup of many organisations.

Departmental structures are leading to fragmented customer experiences

When you start talking in terms of a customer journey, instead of organisational structure, you start encountering problems with the way most organisations are configured.

For example retail stores are not likely to be managed by the same team that tackles the web. Strangely product catalogues are handled separately to the website in many cases. I have even worked with companies where telephone support and online support are handled by separate departments. This inevitably leads to a fragmented experience for the customer.

Of course throwing around words like business transformation is easy, but making it a reality is considerably harder. Most organisations departmental structures are deeply embedded and many suffer from deep rooted cultural divides between various departments. How then do we create a more integrated customer experience?

Service Design and the Chief customer officer

This drive towards a more integrated customer experience has led to the relatively new discipline of service design. This brings together designers and business specialists to look at the whole scope of a customer’s interactions, rather than focusing just on a single component such as the website. It is an area which is gaining popularity as we see customer service grow as a differentiator.

As organisations embrace service design they are creating cross disciplinary teams of user interface designers, retail experts, marketers, sales professionals and numerous other specialists. These teams operate outside of the traditional departmental structure, with the single goal of improving customer experience.

Some organisations are even going as far as appointing a Chief customer officer (CCO). The CCO is a board level appointment who is responsible for bringing a single vision across all areas of customer contact including call centres, sales, marketing, user interface, finance (billing), fulfilment and post-sale support.

Not only does the CCO ensure that the customer is represented at the highest level of the organisation, it also provides a place for digital to sit outside of the limitations of marketing and ensures digital is represented at the highest level of the organisation.

In an economy now driven by outstanding customer service both online and off, it makes perfect sense to me that a role such as a CCO exists. It also makes a lot of sense that digital reports into the CCO rather than being seen as nothing more than another marketing tool.

“Woman Screaming On Telephone Conversation” image courtesy of Bigstock.com

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